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Self-care at work

Posted 2:28 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023

Mindfulness and meditation are forms of self-care. Here students in MIND 110: Introduction to Mindfulness sit in a circle practicing mindfulness on the UW-La Crosse campus. The class is another way the Recreation Management and Therapeutic Recreation Department is contributing to the greater goal of self-care.

Recreational Therapists share 11 ways teams can create a sustainable environment for self-care

Self-soothing activities like a warm bubble bath or a movie marathon can help us de-stress in the moment. But true self-care is about long-term sustainable changes to our everyday routines that are good for us physically, mentally and emotionally — like eating healthy, meditating, or getting our bodies moving. 

Creating long-term changes to promote self-care requires a commitment — not only from oneself but also from the people and communities around us, explain Jennifer Taylor and Tara Delong, UW-La Crosse Therapeutic Recreation professors. 

“The myth of self-care is that we alone are responsible for what keeps us healthy, happy, and thriving. We know systems play a role in sustainability of this,” says DeLong. “Leaders, administrators, communities, individuals, systems, workplaces and governments all contribute to better self-care ... You can't soothe yourself out of distress, and you can't do it alone. Healing happens in relationships.” 

So how do we build a self-care work environment where everyone is contributing to the routines that keep us healthy? Taylor and Delong provide tips from some of their past workshops and seminars. 

11 tips to integrate self-care during the workday

Turn an unused office into a self care space for employees.

1. Create a designated space for self-care at work. Turn an empty office space into a wellness room with a table to eat lunch together and room for relaxation and self-care items. Our brains are hardwired to make the easy choice when it comes to finding ways to de-stress — we want something that is easily accessible and will soothe us quickly. Self-care activities like meditating or creating art aren’t always the easy choice in the work environment as they require finding space, time and tools to do it. But what if all of this was readily available in the work setting? UWL Therapeutic Recreation students helped create a self-care room for a Whole Foods store in December 2022 that included a card making station, lounge chairs, and a QR code that led listeners to a five-minute meditation session. Workers had easy access to tools to make good self-care choices on their breaks, explains Taylor.  

2. Normalize taking breaks for movement. Evidence is mounting about how serious sedentary lifestyles can be for our health. Getting movement in your day is a great way to engage in self-care. Getting up to walk around – even for five minutes can make a difference. In some work settings, it may be difficult or impossible to get a short break. Imagine a healthcare setting where workers are assisting someone with a serious injury. In these cases, it is important for the team to keep track and be aware of who hasn’t had a break, and purposefully substitute in another employee. 

3. Try habit stacking. Better incorporate self-care strategies into your day through a method called habit stacking. Habit stacking is adding a new habit into an existing one you already have like washing dishes after a meal or making coffee every morning. Align a self-care habit with one you already have at work, and you’ll be amazed how much more likely you are to do it. Every time you go to the copy machine, take a minute to do some stretching. During your morning walk to the bathroom, stop and fill up your water bottle. This way, your brain doesn’t have to consider whether you want to do it or not, you just do because it has become automatic. 

4. Plant visual cues. Create visual cues in the work environment such as a posted calendar to jot down self-care habits. UWL students created visual cues for Whole Foods staff when they made the QR code linking to a five-minute meditation podcast. Look around your office space and assess what cues would help you and your team remember to make healthy choices. 

5. Take walking meetings. Studies have shown physical activity is linked to imagination and creativity. So, why not take a meeting to a new level of creativity by making it a walking meeting? 

6. Resist having meetings and lunch at your desk. During the pandemic, virtual meetings became the norm. But in-person meetings have their benefits and shouldn’t be forgotten. Walking to a meeting is good for your physical health. Physically connecting with others helps to crush silos that can exist in the workplace, and creates the opportunity for chance encounters that help build new connections. Likewise, eating lunch away from our desk improves physical health and connections with others. 

7. Police non-promotable work. Are the same people in your office continually asked to do things that require emotional energy and bandwidth, but aren’t promotable tasks — like planning a party? Consider what your team can do to navigate these type of tasks in a more equitable way, so everyone participates and they don't always fall on the same people.  

8. Find self-care champions. Find multiple people in your office who want to be self-care champions. Having someone who has a passion for self-care is important instead of assigning someone who may not have interest.  

9. Incorporate self-care into your commute. Many people drive to work – sometimes for an hour or more. How do you use this time to care for yourself? Taylor says she uses her long drive to call friends and catch up, listen to music or make a more purposeful intention to take in her surroundings on a beautiful stretch of road.  

10. Verbalize your self-care strategies.Taylor and DeLong say a key to improving the self-care culture at work is to make your intentions known. So, if you plan to go for a wellness walk to generate creativity, don’t be ashamed to let co-workers know that. If you want people to engage in breaks during a three-hour long seminar, write it into the agenda and have someone prepared to lead stretches. It is important for managers and leaders to model these strategies as well. Discuss self-care ideas and introduce potential new concepts such as self-compassion and resiliency with your teams. Addressing these concepts together can create opportunities for people to share their personal stories and help team members understand they are not alone in their need for self-care and compassion. 

11. Keep it simple. Don't think that you have to change multiple things at once. Small changes — one by one — can lead to a better overall self-care lifestyle at work.   

About Tara DeLong and Jennifer Taylor

Tara DeLong is a teaching associate professor in the Recreation Management and Therapeutic Recreation Department at UW-La Crosse. She is dually certified as a therapeutic recreation specailist and health education specialist, as well as a practicing therapist in behavioral health at Gundersen Health System for 25 years.

Jennifer Taylor is an assistant professor in the Recreation Management and Therapeutic Recreation Department at UW-La Crosse. She also instructs a first year seminar course on the science of happiness.