By Sharon Wilks, HSG Wellbeing Expert
Whilst a level of stress can be motivating and exciting, too much stress all the time wears you down and can even lead to burnout. When you feel unwell or irritable, work isn’t much fun. There’s a flow-on effect where you impact the well-being of everyone around you. Bringing self-care to work helps you make a better, more meaningful contribution, models self-care for others and creates a more enjoyable work environment for all. Take a moment to consider when you feel at your best. How would you describe it? Perhaps you feel clear-headed, aware, present, open, and connected.
Beyond healthy lifestyle habits, three simple strategies offered below are helpful to refresh and renew at work and to feel better anytime, anywhere. These simple bouts of self-care peppered throughout your workday can make all the difference to how you feel, your results and your relationships.
“Bringing self-care to work helps you make a better, more meaningful contribution, models self-care for others and creates a more enjoyable work environment for all.”
Take just two to three minutes at a time to Move, Breathe and Relax. Notice the impact on your well-being, creativity, productivity, and enthusiasm as you practice self-care.
Move. For your body and mind to work well, take opportunities to bring movement into your day. Think about how you get to work: could you cycle or get off a train stop earlier and walk the remaining distance? Take the stairs instead of the lift. Take a break and go for a brisk walk around the block. Suppose you find yourself sitting at the computer for hours on end. In that case, movement becomes even more important, not only for your physical vitality but also for mental prowess.
When you’re short on time:
- Bounce up and down on the spot for a minute or two. Feet apart, arms and shoulders relaxed, bring a little sideways freedom movement in, and release any muscle tension as you move. Imagine you’re a puppet being dangled by strings as you let yourself loosen up and get your blood pumping. (If this is embarrassing, head to the restroom.)
- Take a stretch: reach your arms up overhead. Try a “power pose”, popularised by Amy Cuddy. Take up as much space as you can and hold for two minutes to refresh and evoke a feeling of confidence and authenticity. This may be especially helpful before a difficult conversation.
- Roll your shoulders. We often hold much tension in our shoulders. Stand or sit up straight, and take a few big, slow circles with your shoulders – it feels like a delicious massage. You can do it at your desk, standing in a queue, or practically anywhere, anytime. Shoulder rolls are also great prep for our next strategy.
Breathe. Soften your belly and let it blow up like a balloon as you slowly fill up with air through the ribs and chest to your collarbones. Breathe in as much air as you can and hold your breath for as long as you’re comfortable; maybe count to five. Then slowly, mindfully, with control, release all that air out through your nose, let it all out and let go of any tension as you do. When you think you’ve breathed all the air out, breathe out a little more until you feel your lower belly constrict. Slowly. Pause. Then repeat: take two more long, deep, nourishing, rejuvenating breaths in this way, right now, as you’re reading.
Extending your exhale and mostly breathing in and out through your nose (rather than your mouth) are two tips, backed by much research and science, recommended by expert James Nestor in his book “Breath”. Breathing out longer stimulates your vagus nerve, which activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which reverses the flight or fight response in your body and mind. In just a minute, you can lower your heart rate and blood pressure and gain more clarity by extending your exhale and slowing down your breathing with your mouth closed and teeth unclenched.
Controlling your breathing can also help boost your energy. If you find yourself a little drowsy, perhaps in a mid-afternoon slump, try doing the opposite. That is, extend your inhale, shorten your exhale and speed up your breathing for 30 seconds. Notice the effect on your heart rate and energy level.
Relax. Feeling calm and clear helps you make better decisions and not react impulsively. Creating space to relax can help you find inspiration and solutions. The best ideas seem to occur when you’re seemingly not grappling with a problem but rather allowing the solution to present itself. Insights often occur when doing something unrelated to a problem or challenge: maybe in the shower, while preparing food, or going for a walk. You can allow a spark of inspiration to occur when you’re relaxed.
A simple technique to relax at work is to ground your feet and do a body scan, relaxing each part of your body, moving upwards.
Try this as you read.
- Sit up straight, legs uncrossed.
- Feel your feet flat on the floor.
- Relax the soles of your feet and toes, the tops of your feet, and ankles.
- Like a wave of relaxation, let this move upwards, relaxing your lower legs: shins, calves, knees.
- Relax your thighs as you feel them supported by the chair.
- Relax your seat, hips, pelvis, lower belly, and lower back.
- Imagine your internal organs are relaxing.
- Relax your stomach, ribs, torso, chest, shoulder blades and shoulders. Relax your shoulders down even more. Pause.
- Soften your fingers, palms, backs of your hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, upper arms, and shoulders (again, as shoulders can hold so much stress). Relax your shoulders, and soften your neck, throat, and scalp.
- Relax your jaw and give it a wiggle side to side.
- Let your face soften and relax.
- See if you can increase the space between your eyebrows. Relax.
- Soften your forehead and let any lines there melt away.
- Relax your whole head.
- Relax your whole body.
- Close your eyes for a few moments.
- Feel the state of relaxation in your body as you notice your breath coming in and out through the nose.
- Take a moment to simply be present, here, now, with your body. Smile.
- As you relax your body, you relax your mind.
See if you can take this feeling of well-being and self-awareness with you throughout your workday.
You don’t have to wait until you’re at the end of your tether to deploy these strategies. Make self-care a habit at home and at work so you can feel better, in general, every day and become more present. Set the alarm on your phone or watch to ding a few times throughout your day to remind you to move, breathe and relax.
Your team may thank you for it.
About the Author
Sharon Wilks, HSG Wellbeing Expert, Workshop Facilitator and Keynote Speaker
With a background in corporate sales, Sharon understands the pressure and challenges of business. After a successful sales career, Sharon transitioned to facilitating wellness workshops in 2017. She’s passionate about boosting morale, wellbeing, teamwork, and collaboration. To these ends, Sharon especially enjoys the topics of positive psychology, leveraging strengths and emotional intelligence. She also has a wealth of experience in teaching mental health awareness and resilience skills to diverse audiences. Sharon relates well with team members at all levels of the organization. Her workshops are highly engaging, interactive and solution-oriented. She believes team communication about wellness topics helps embed new skills and builds accountability, which raises the bar for wellbeing and positivity throughout the entire team.