The following blog was contributed by Kelen Townsend, Partnerships Development Manager at Virtual Internships.
The recent shift to remote work has brought many positive changes, including increased flexibility and less time wasted on long commutes. This shift has also left many of us with new anxieties, increased feelings of isolation, and questions. For example, “is it okay to still take sick leave in a remote position,” or “if it is after working hours do I still have to respond to that email?”
While the benefits of remote work are widely discussed, sometimes there is not as much focus on the possible negative side effects. This can perpetuate a false narrative that remote work is “easier” than the typical routine of working in the office every day. It is important to continue to care for our emotional well-being and not operate under the misleading assumption that a virtual work environment eliminates much of our life and work stress.
Over time, increased levels of stress and anxiety, even in small doses, can have lasting physical and mental effects. For example, according to Healthline the release of stress hormones, even in small doses, can build up over time and can negatively affect the cardiovascular system, decrease our immunity, and cause a whole host of other issues.
Therefore, it is vital to understand self-care, what it looks like to each of us, and to commit to engaging in self-care activities as much as possible.
What is Self-Care
According to Good Therapy, “Self-care refers to any activities that an individual engages in to relax or attain emotional well-being.” This includes our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Self-care activities bring us joy and peace and allow us to refuel and re-energize.
What Self Care is Not
Self-care is not necessarily every activity that is “good for you.” Some of us love to exercise, eagerly setting early alarms to race out the door the moment the sun comes up to jog and discover that elusive “runner’s high;” while some of us simply tolerate exercise. We engage in it because we “have to” and we know it is good for our overall health. If you fall into the latter group, you can still exercise knowing that it has positive effects on your health, while finding other activities to engage in for self-care.
Self-care is also not selfish. In graduate school, I once had a mentor tell me “You can’t pour into anyone else’s cup if your own cup is empty.” We cannot show up as our best selves for our family or friends and even our supervisors and colleagues if we are worn down and empty. We will not perform quality work and our ability to innovate and think creatively will be severely limited. We will aimlessly “go through the motions” doing things as we always have, just to check it off our to-do list.
The best investment that we can make in our career and our personal life is to invest in ourselves.
How to Practice Self-Care
So, what does it look like to really invest in ourselves and take care of our well-being? The answer is not a one size fits all because effective self-care is really determined by the individual! Self-care feeds our souls and gives us energy. I have included a few suggestions below, but each of us knows ourselves best!
Take a Walk
As mentioned above exercise is not self-care for everyone but taking a walk is a great way to clear your mind and refresh. If it is safe for you to do so, try to take a walk outside. Getting out of your workspace will encourage creativity and bring you energy. Do not feel like you must keep a certain pace or walk a specific distance. According to the Mayo Clinic, walking not only improves overall physical health but gives a natural mood boost. Remember to be in the moment, and enjoy yourself and the change of scenery.
Be Quiet – Meditate
Today, more than ever, we are constantly being bombarded with noise. While technological advances have greatly increased our ability to connect like never before, always being “available” can cause increases in stress and anxiety and affect our overall brain function. In fact, a study by the University of Texas, McCombs School of Business, showed that “simply having a smartphone within reach, even if it’s switched off or placed face-down, reduces cognitive capacity. However, putting your smartphone in a different room can give your brain a boost, even if you consider yourself to be highly dependent on it.”
Spending just 10 -15 minutes in quiet, taking time away from our devices, allows us to recharge and reconnect to our foundation. Quiet creates space for us to be still and not feel the pressure to constantly respond to others’ needs.
Quiet time can look differently for everyone. This might be a time to read a book, do yoga, or practice some deep breathing. Mindful.org, and The Calm App have some great guided meditations to help you get started. Remember the goal is not to have to achieve anything but to spend time in the moment, away from the distractions of everyday life.
Learn Something New
Doing someone new and out of your normal routine allows your brain to function in a new way, and can increase confidence and creativity. According to the Good Life Centre in the United Kingdom, learning a new skill reduces stress and leads to an overall greater quality of life. The great thing about learning something new is there is no pressure to be perfect! It is something you have never done before, so let go of your control and give yourself permission to create and play.
If you feel comfortable, check out your local area to see what classes are being offered. There are also plenty of online classes available that can teach you something new from the comfort of your own home. Also do not be afraid to reach out to your network! Chances are you have a friend or family member who makes a favorite dish you have always loved, or who has a knack for photography that you have long admired. Let them teach you something new and offer to share one of your own skills with them!
It is important to remember, especially in a time of “social distancing” that we are not built to be in social isolation. You should take time for genuine connection with other people. When connecting over the phone, use video chat to emulate in-person conversation as much as possible. Do not underestimate the impact of being able to see who you are talking to. In fact, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) reports that only 7% of all communication is verbal, while 38% is our voice and an overwhelming 55% is body language.
As a part of self-care, it is important to connect with others who support you and with whom you feel comfortable to be your most authentic self. Everyone has a friend or family member where after you talk to them, you wind up feeling drained or agitated. This does not mean that you need to stop communicating with this person completely but talking with them should not be considered your personal self-care. As a part of your designated self-care time, connect with someone who will lift you up and be a positive influence in your life.
Be Protective with Self-Care
Whatever you choose to do for self-care is up to you, but the most important step is to actually engage in it. Self-care is typically the first thing to go when we get busy and start to feel stressed or overwhelmed. Instead of taking 15 minutes for ourselves, we keep pushing until we are utterly exhausted and empty.
The best way to avoid burnout is not to keep accomplishing but to just be. Relax, and engage in an activity that refocuses our thoughts and gives us the energy to move forward and be engaged in what we are doing.
You should schedule self-care into your day just like you would an appointment or a work meeting, and then I encourage you to honor and protect that time! You would not cancel last minute on a meeting with your supervisor, so do not cancel on yourself! You should treat yourself and your time with respect just like you would anyone else’s.