Whether you love, hate, or feel indifferent about your job, incorporating wellness is still important. Research has shown that burnout and stress are "at an all-time high." The American Psychological Association reports that 36% of workers "reported cognitive weariness," 32% said they've experienced "emotional exhaustion," and 44% reported "physical fatigue"—a 38% increase since 2019. It seems cliche to continue to talk about the effects of the pandemic as well as other world events and everyday trauma, but that doesn't mean the struggle isn't indeed real for many of us as professionals.
This points to a major reason why putting your wellness first, especially during your workday, is important. Here are five smart, and several easy, ways to add a bit of relaxation and release to your day in order to combat stress and headache.
1. Ask for what you need at work.
It's oftentimes a good idea to not only plan to add activities that you love and that allow you to take a break from your work during the day (or night), but you can also ask your supervisor to make it official. Many jobs offer professionals the opportunity to section off time for prayer, meditation, or other wellness activities. You can literally make yourself unavailable for anything but a self-care activity, even if it's just taking a nap. And a huge perk to that: This isn't just "extra" time off the clock. This is paid time to rest. (Several companies offer this as part of their culture and workplace standards.)
As a freelancer, this is especially important. I often discuss certain time boundaries or my wellness values upfront with clients, and nine times out of 10, the requests are granted. Having flex-time to incorporate wellness and balance is important considering the fact that, essentially, working for yourself involves the added stress of being financially responsible for all aspects of self-employment that some folk who are employed by a company don't have to worry about.
2. Schedule wellness activities like you'd schedule important appointments.
If you find yourself working through your lunch break or not having enough time to work out, do something fun, or simply rest, add an alarm to your phone or a calendar alert that will remind you to do these things. Sometimes simply setting a notification for wellness and self-care will help you keep yourself accountable. I often set alerts that say "Stop, breathe, and pray," on my Google calendar, and, as silly as it seems, helps me to really slow down, release the anxiety of a deadline, and take a moment for myself to reset mentally.
You can also set aside time during your 15- or 20-minute workday breaks (outside of lunch, since that time really should be spent nourishing yourself) to participate in a quick online class, meditation session, or even a massage break. The key here is to set a specific time during the day and keep to it just like you would an important meeting or business call.
3. Add a bit of fun and wonder to the way you approach your work.
Companies have used creative ways of doing a job to boost engagement and make solving problems fun. For example, gamification is used to build brand awareness, promote teamwork, and think of new products or services. If it's safe or appropriate to do so, start that next meeting with a game, dance session, or a contest. I once had a very horrible in-between-clients-and-need-to-pay-the-bills job that, while I loved interacting with coworkers and customers, just wasn't creative nor relevant to what I went to college to do for a living.
One manager had this routine where she'd require us to "hold a circle" outside for mid-week check-ins or she'd start in-office meetings with ice-breaker games that you'd typically play at dinner parties. I found it to be like a soothing balm to the mental scab of resentment and regret I felt while working at that particular company. It was also a reminder to enjoy the moment, learn the lessons, and focus on other aspects of the job that I did like i.e. my coworkers and customers.
You can do the same, even if you're not a manager, by creating a little friendly competition between you and a coworker (or even a whole team of coworkers) or including incentives to finish a project or innovate within something new. Find ways to add joy or intrigue to how you do your job. Take the work outdoors or to other settings that can get you out of the cubicle or office space and into nature, where the fresh air and sounds can do wonders for your mental and spiritual health.
4. Find ways to partner with others.
It's very clear the wellness benefits of having healthy interactions and connections with others, especially in the workplace. And oftentimes, two heads are better than one when trying to achieve a goal. Think about ways you can team up with others to do your job versus trying to keep your head down and burn the midnight oil alone. While it's sometimes great to get all the shine and spearhead a project solo dolo, splitting the load can be better for your long-term health and for expanding your network of advocates and sponsors at the office. I found this to be super-helpful when I felt burnout creeping up due to wearing that overachiever crown at a publication I used to work for.
Not only did I gain more workplace friends (one or two who previously thought I was a snob) but it did wonders in terms of removing a lot of pressure from my day. And if you don't quite feel comfy doing this for projects that might land you that promotion you've been eyeing, try this for other initiatives such as volunteer efforts or your company's philanthropic activities. I loved participating in Steps competitions (where you'd track steps you'd take during the day and have to check in with your team at the end of the week to win a prize) or joining in for a breast cancer awareness walk with a team to help them reach their fundraising goals.
Many companies are sponsors of major health initiatives or serve as hosts for events connected to healthcare and wellness nonprofits. If yours is one of them, get on that planning committee or become an active participant. If your company isn't, be the change you want to see, and organize that team walk, field day event, partnership, or wellness retreat. For some, you might have to pitch and convince in terms of the return on investment for the company, but in these pandemic streets, that's not quite a hard sell.
5. Listen to podcasts, books, or apps while working.
Again, when it's appropriate, this can be a great way to not only enrich your mind but give yourself a mental break from work-related thoughts and activities. I like to play the Calm app's rain and mountain sounds sometimes when I hit a mental writing rut or feel a tad bit too overwhelmed. It helps me, again, calm down in times of stress, usual work-related pressure, or anxiety, and it reminds me of my favorite remote work spot: Jamaica. I get that mental push to finish up and remember who and what pays for my trips there and how grateful I am to be able to be a creative working in the space I'm in.
Whatever you choose, just remember to deliberately add joy, wellness, and balance to your workday so that you're able to enjoy the job you do regardless of its nature or the company. Whether you're ready to exit or are planning to make a move to advance where you are, you'll be mentally and spiritually prepared to take the next step.
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