Strategies for self-care at work

24 April 2017

Generally, we don’t invest nearly as much time, energy or money into taking care of our minds as we do our bodies. Even though we sustain far more psychological wounds than physical ones such as failure, loneliness, rejection – the list goes on.

Despite the multitude of strategies available to us to address the daily barrage of mental hazards, we don’t spend as much time applying them than we should.

The most effective way to improve mental health is by prioritising your own! Most people are aware of the basics – get lots of sleep, eat well, exercise – but there are lots of things you can do while you’re at work as well.

Education is the key to improved health. Individuals can only make steps to improve their mental health if they have knowledge about the best ways to do so. Why not share the following strategies with your workplace via email, internal newsletter or the intranet?


Get to know your stress signs

LifeWorks psychologist Rebecca Henshall says it can be difficult to recognise the mental signs of stress until it’s at an extreme level, but with practice it’s possible to learn. “It creeps up slowly,” she says, and it can also become a habit that’s hard to break. What types of indicators can you notice early on? Sometimes it helps to write them down each day so you can pick up on patterns.


Don’t jam everything into one day

Henshall says we can reach the point that we’re saying to ourselves, “I’ve got to exercise, work, take the kids to school, relax, do something after work as a hobby” and it all becomes too much. Try to look at your days and your weeks to create some unscheduled space. “If you’re constantly rushing from one thing to another, and if you feel like you’re juggling a number of things all the time, then you’re already stressed,” says Henshall. Slowing down, even for short periods of time, can make all the difference.


Establish good relationships

The relationships you have with your manager and colleagues are a common source of workplace stress, if you have a lack of communication or feel judged or pressured. Having good social support and strong relationships at work, however, can be a great protector against mental health problems. Try taking time to invest in these in an enjoyable way.



Avoid peer pressure 

Peer pressure continues into adulthood, and the workforce is its prime habitat. Worrying what others think if you’re the last one into the office or the first to leave can be a stressor, and Henshall advises having some conversations about those issues with your team.


Tell others your limits

It may be difficult to say no to your manager or workmates, but you do need to be realistic about your time to help avoid the stress of being over-loaded. Henshall says it’s not only about knowing your own boundaries, but letting others know them too: “You need to educate those around you about what you can and can’t do.” She says this is just as important after work as it is during your regular hours. “Tell others when you’re available, perhaps letting your manager know that you’ll respond to something urgent after hours, but if it’s not urgent then I won’t respond after 6pm, for example.”


Take regular breaks

Set up routines like a reminder on your computer to take a break, stretch or get a drink of water, to allow your mind and body to reconnect and recharge. “When you’re at the computer you’re cognitively distracted, so you forget about your body,” Henshall explains. If you can take some breaks outside, that’s an even better stress reliever for both your body and your mind.



“As they work, most people take shallow, fast breaths from their chest,” says Henshall. “Take 10 or 20 seconds to notice your breathing and your body will automatically start to breathe more deeply from your diaphragm.” This is stress relief at its fastest.

Of course – these are all nice ideas but it’s making them a reality long-term that often proves to be difficult. To ensure you find the most appropriate mix of strategies for yourself and stick to them, why not make a self-care plan? Some people have two versions of a plan – one for ‘ideal’ days or weeks and one ‘bare minimum’ plan for when it’s too difficult to manage the full plan.