How to Really Take Care of Yourself at Work
You’re a dedicated professional. You take great pride in getting stuff done.
Some would even call you unstoppable because they’ve seen you push through pain, illness, and sheer exhaustion to make things happen.
You feel that’s what it takes to be successful in today’s competitive work environment.
You believe career success depends on an undying willingness to show up and do what it takes for the benefit of the team, the company, the project, etc.
You recognize that sacrificing family time, relaxing time, or time out for your well-being is just part of career success.
Especially when you’re a leader who is responsible for setting a good example. Or a high-achiever who is on the fast track eyeing a promotion. Or a team member who’s a reliable contributor.
What you may not realize is ignoring your own needs can negatively affect your overall health and well-being.
Leaving your needs out of the equation leads to stress related illnesses, like heart attacks, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Bypassing what you need can affect your mental well-being and contribute to depression, resentment, and burn out. It can affect you psychologically by stirring up negative emotions, causing anxiety and low self-esteem.
So how do you show yourself some love when you’re a busy, accomplished professional?
You do it by putting a different kind of self-care back into the equation.
Let’s take a look at a common scenario that many high-achieving professionals face and how you can handle it to really take care of yourself at work.
Should I Go or Should I Stay?
Let’s say you wake up on a Monday morning and you don’t feel well. In fact, you feel like you’re coming down with the flu.
The conversation you have with yourself most likely goes something like this:
I just don’t feel well and I’m so tired, but there’s a huge deadline coming up. I’ve got so many things on my plate. Things are stacking up and getting out of control. If I stay home, I’ll never get it all done. It’s not a good time to be out of the office. I think I can drag myself in there. I’m pretty sure I can make it. But wait. If I go in, I could infect my co-workers and it wouldn’t be fair to get them sick.
Anyone who is dedicated to “getting it done” and cares about others has probably come up with a decision after considering, do I:
a) push through and get to work;
b) stay home so I don’t infect my staff; or
c) stay home because I’m sick, tired and suffering and my body really needs the rest?
How often do you choose option c) and stay home because you’re suffering and you need the rest?
Most likely, if you stay home, it’s because you don’t want others to get sick, showing compassion for their well-being. But in doing so, you’ve just left YOU out of the equation.
Taking Care of You
If you’re like most professionals, you want to take care of yourself and may get a pedicure or massage to do so. That’s a great way to reduce stress and take care of your body. But what about taking care of your psychological well-being?
Putting the needs of others — be it co-workers, teammates, or someone you’re a caretaker for — above your own, creates a need for another kind of self-care. It’s called self-compassion.
What is Self-Compassion?
Self-compassion answers the question “What about my suffering?” It is about considering your own needs by recognizing you’re suffering too, and bringing some balance into the situation.
It’s about treating yourself as kindly as you treat others.
Meika Hamisch, LMFT a psychotherapist for over 30 years, and co-founder of the Monterey Center for Mindfulness and Compassion says, “self- compassion is the other side of self-care. They’re two sides of the same coin.
Self-care, like getting a pedicure or facial, is sometimes in response to your suffering, because it makes you feel good. While you may be thinking about other people’s well-being, a lot of leading meditation teachers say it’s not compassion if it doesn’t include yourself.
Self-compassion is a quality we all have. It’s innate. But in work cultures centered around achievement and success, it isn’t often developed,” says Hamisch, who is a certified teacher in Cultivating Compassion Training® (CCT) developed by Stanford University’s CCARE Program.
Self-compassion “is the recognition that: ‘I’m, ok, this is a moment of suffering. I’m tired, right now. I feel that I’m tired right now. It’s ok, we’re all tired. I’ve got to crank this out. I’m not alone in feeling tired, but I am tired. And I think it’s important for me to crank out this report.’ Rather than ignoring your own suffering and pushing through telling yourself, ‘I’m not tired. Don’t even think about feeling tired, or pay any attention to your body. Just get to work and do it!’ Self-compassion is recognizing your own feelings and allowing them to be there in that moment,” Hamisch says.
The Three Elements of Self Compassion
There are three elements of self-compassion according to Kristin Neff, Researcher, Author. and the first person to measure and define the term self-compassion. They are:
1. Self-kindness versus self-judgment. Understanding and accepting your feelings when you suffer or feel inadequate rather than ignoring your pain or being self-critical;
2. Being gentle with yourself when you experience something painful or feel disappointed when life doesn’t meet your expectations; and
3. Recognizing that we all make mistakes, we’re human and suffering is a part of being human, and to balance negative emotions by ensuring that they aren’t suppressed or exaggerated.
The Benefits of Self Compassion
“Over the last decade or so, research has consistently shown a positive correlation between self-compassion and psychological well-being.
People who have self-compassion also have greater social connectedness, emotional intelligence, happiness, and overall life satisfaction. Self-compassion has also been shown to correlate with less anxiety, depression, shame, and fear of failure,” Allison Abrams writes in her Psychology Today article, How to Cultivate More Self-Compassion, March 3, 2017.
In the same Psychology Today article, Psychologist Carla Marie Manly says she “believes self-compassion is a necessary ingredient for healthy relationships:
‘If an individual is geared toward neglecting the self while doting on others, this uneven balance will eventually take its toll. When a person has true compassion for the self, that compassion then supports healthy, balanced relationships.’”
Neff says, “that self-compassion was the perfect alternative to the relentless pursuit of self-esteem. Why? Because it offers the same protection against harsh self-criticism as self-esteem, but without the need to see ourselves as perfect or as better than others.
In other words, self-compassion provides the same benefits as high self-esteem without its drawbacks … if you’re self-compassionate you’ll tend to have higher self-esteem than if you’re endlessly self-critical.
And like high self-esteem, self-compassion is associated with significantly less anxiety and depression, as well as more happiness, optimism, and positive emotions.
However, self-compassion offers clear advantages over self-esteem when things go wrong, or when our egos are threatened.”(Greater Good Magazine, Kristin Neff, May 27, 2011.)
How to Bring More Self-Compassion into Your Life
One way to bring more self-compassion into your work and life says Hamisch “is to cultivate mindfulness, which is having present awareness without judgement.”
Many companies offer mindfulness training to help employees cultivate self-awareness. Self-awareness is an important skill in Emotional Intelligence (EQ), which is often part of leadership training, to help employees more effectively manage emotions, communicate more effectively, empathize, and reduce conflicts.
In addition to cultivating mindfulness says Hamisch, “we can practice specific meditations that help us more aptly respond to our own suffering and other people’s suffering.
When we cultivate the qualities of mindfulness and awareness, we recognize the suffering of others. We become aware of it and it gives us the choice to respond compassionately, or not.”
There are many resources available to increase the innate qualities of cultivating self-compassion such as private sessions, classes, retreats, meditations, and resources. Hamisch provides meditation tips on her website.
When I asked Hamisch for her thoughts on the impact of having more people practice self-compassion in the workplace she said, “We all know the experience of when someone is really compassionate to us and we turn to someone else and we feel compassionate and kind toward them.
That’s what happens collectively when we start responding with kindness, mindfulness, or compassion.
If someone’s very compassionate to us at a time when we’re really suffering, we remember that, and then a lot of people will do that to someone else. And it’s the same with kindness. Self-compassion empowers your heart and leads to a common humanity.”
Start Practicing a Different Kind of Self-Care
Perhaps more than any other factor, ignoring your suffering and acting like it doesn’t exist by just pushing through to get stuff done means you’ve left YOU out of the equation.
But that isn’t fair.
This month, as we focus on Valentine’s Day, you can start practicing a different kind of self-care, one that has you really taking better care of yourself at work and in your life.
How can you start? Notice. Become more aware, and mindful of when you’re suffering.
Begin incorporating self-compassion in your decisions for a more empowered heart and increased balanced and well-being in your work and life.
You deserve just as much love, kindness, and compassion as the next person.
© Linda Hardenstein, 2020