The Secret To Being Happy, Healthy, and More Productive at Work

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self-care meditation image

Image courtesy of Moyan Brenn on Flickr

I used to be bad at taking breaks. I would sit down at my computer every day around 8am and not come up for air until 1pm or later. I think part of the issue was that, as a freelance writer, I am my own boss — and for many years, I was an unforgiving one; a taskmaster, you might say. Not only did I force myself to fix my eyes on a glowing screen for too many hours at a time, I also expected myself to respond to emails within half hour of their arrival, say “yes” to every assignment (even if I was overbooked), and put the needs of others before the needs of myself.

Americans Are Stressed

How did this all work out? Well, I was pretty stressed. And I know I wasn’t alone; a 2013 survey by the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence found that more than one-third of working Americans experience chronic work-related stress. And stress is not only bad for the individual, it’s also bad for business. The World Health Organization estimates that stress costs American businesses $300 billion dollars a year. The good news is that more and more people (myself included) and more and more businesses are starting to take note of the detriments of stress, and there’s a new trend toward self-care. Self-care is exactly what it sounds like; it’s taking care of yourself. Here we’ll look at why self-care is important, and how you can start treating yourself better today.

Why is Self-Care Important?

Stress costs a lot. As indicated above, it can cost businesses in dollars. But for the individual, it can cost you your health. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, two-thirds of office visits are for stress-related symptoms. And a wide range of diseases — such as diabetes, heart disease, and depression — have been linked to stress. In addition, The Energy Project, a company that “partner[s] with organizations to create workplaces that are healthier, happier, more focused and more purposeful,” has found that day to day, workers are exhausted. According to their research 79% of workers don’t regularly get at least 7-8 hours of sleep and/or often wake up feeling tired, and 69% have trouble focusing on one thing at a time and are easily distracted. “If you do not put your needs first, then ultimately you will not be able to perform well and show up for others consistently and happily,” wrote Tony Schwartz, The Energy Project’s CEO.

Self-Care As a Lifestyle

Arianna Huffington — President and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post Media Group (and one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, I’ll have you know)–has written a new bestselling book called Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. In it, Huffington draws on groundbreaking research to illustrate the importance of self-care, from meditation and mindfulness to unplugging (e.g., putting that cell phone down). “If you take care of your mind, you take care of the world,” Huffington writes. Taking care of your mind, however, is not as simple as the occasional lunch out at work or the occasional massage (though both of those things are great). According to North Carolina State University’s Student Health Center, “Building up a repertoire of reliable self-care habits now can affect your quality of life both now and in the future.”

Make Self-Care a Habit

Habit–that is the key. Self-care shouldn’t be for special occasions and it shouldn’t be something that you have to try to squeeze into your schedule; it shouldn’t be optional. It should be a set of regular behaviors that contribute to your overall health and wellness. Among those regular behaviors should be enough sleep (for most adults that is 7-8 hours) and good nutrition, but beyond that we can (and should) define what self-care means to us.

For me, it’s a leisurely walk before I start work every day, a mid-morning cup of tea (megaphone voice: “look away from the computer”), yoga 3-4 times a week, turning off work emails at 6pm, and setting boundaries, whether that means saying “no” to assignments or declining an invitation to a social event so that I can have time to myself. For others it might be finally quitting that awful job to start a more impassioned career path, taking time out of your morning to meditate, or doing breathing exercises between emails at work.

The point is that self-care looks different for everyone, but the important idea is that they are habits, not just one-offs. These are the things I need to thrive (hat tip to Ms. Huffington), and I’ve found that since I’ve started practicing self-care, I feel better and my work is better, too.

I’ll wrap this up with a quote from Thrive and a wish that you find a way to your own self-care, your own happiness, and your own success. “And every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling, ‘This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!’ And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, ‘No. This is what’s important.’” – Iain Thomas

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