These beliefs stem from the family business that my grandfather started and my father continued. Like other family members, it was my first job and it became tied to both my family history and my expectations of how to live successfully.
When my grandfather started out as a business owner, he was the only employee until he established it, and his work ethic was great.
There were no days off, leaving my grandmother to raise her children and take care of household chores in a time before most modern conveniences. This same tradition was carried on by my father, and although he took evenings and weekend parties, the work ethic and feel-good ideas remained.
Fast forward to my professional life. I brought that same expectation to all my jobs.
Without a doubt, I was a dream employee, taking extra shifts, staying late, and coming in early. Normal, as things used to be, and all without the perks that giant companies like Google offer their employees like nap rooms or snack bars.
Holidays when you are self-employed are different from those you have when you work for someone else. The same goes for self-care, which is a reasonably new term. When you’re self-employed, it’s easy to put even regular breaks into your workday because there’s always so much to do.
Whether you work for yourself or for someone else, self-care is an integral part of your well-being. Considering how many hours you spend awake working, the question becomes, “How can self-care be integrated into more of your day and not just when you’re ‘off the clock’?” ?”
Today’s self-care trend rarely includes activities that help your body, mind, and spirit. The only reason I know this might look different and happen at work is because of some unusual activity on a Friday afternoon among a small group of phenomenal employees.
What a self-care workplace culture looks like
While we can read with awe what’s on offer at these great companies, the truth is that no matter where you work, it’s important to take the time to rejuvenate. Of course, the work culture and your attitude have to change enough for that to happen. Just like mine had to when I was hired to work at this women’s shelter.
This is where I discovered what self-care could look like. Not as mandated by management, but by the staff themselves knowing what they needed to do for themselves.
It all started with a power outage.
So I was there on a Friday afternoon of my first week on the job ready to finish strong and then the power went out. I thought I could manage, even if there was no working technology.
As I sat at my desk considering my options, other staff came out. My office was open and in the middle of the center. I still didn’t know anyone beyond a friendly smile, but soon they were congregating near my office, sitting on the stairs that led to the upper level. Chatting together, talking about weekend plans, until someone suggests a drum circle. Say what?
It turns out that several of the councilors had drums in their offices, as well as tambourines and maracas. They walked outside and the women gathered on the stairs as the sun streamed in from the skylight above. The instruments were passed out, and they invited me to join them, but I only shook my head “no” and watched in disbelief as they joined one after another.
Despite how odd it seemed, I couldn’t help but smile at their laughter and levity. They invited me again until finally, although feeling stupid, I joined them.
It was then that I understood the need to put our worries aside for a while and get out of sanctioned or cultural and unhealthy forms of self-care. In this workplace, these instruments were tools to be used with their clients, but they also knew how to use them for their own ends to release tension and invite happiness.
It was through them that I realized the importance of knowing how to enjoy time and when to embrace spontaneity as part of a self-care regimen.
Although it was uncomfortable to participate in their game, it was that day that I learned how others, even at work, can take personal responsibility to participate in healthy self-care. It was also at this time that I began to learn to let go of the deeply ingrained and much-loved hustle mentality.
New models for taking care of yourself
As you can imagine, counselors whose work involves the daily stories of families affected by domestic violence are in an environment of constant stress. You cannot be indifferent to the situation of the women and children you counsel every day. That’s why their work culture is rooted in self-care, because to be effective you need to know what works for you and practice it.
A nurse at a Colorado hospital realized this and created a program to use at work. It is a practice of mindfulness and self-reflection put in place to offset the stress and burnout faced by the nursing population.
It has been studied for its effectiveness and the results have been positive.
“This work suggests that this program improves job satisfaction and can reduce burnout, leading to better environmental and safety measures.”
Related stories from YourTango:
One person looked around and saw what might be possible, then created a program to improve the work situation for everyone. He saw it as a necessity in the workplace, not a suggestion at home.
Self-care is what you do regularly, not just on holidays, weekends, or evenings. While you might not be ready to break out the drums and tambourines, there are plenty of self-care options out there that will recharge your batteries.
Consider these possibilities:
- A walk outside your office space
- Meditation, mindfulness or breathing
- Coloring books for adults
- Small stretching exercises at your desk or elsewhere
- Read a chapter from a personal development book
Relegating self-care to an activity outside of work alone is shortsighted in the grand scheme of things. Taking time away from your desk will improve your mental clarity and energy while reducing your stress.
Whether you’re self-employed or working for someone else, try to find ways to disconnect from your tasks and engage in activities that will help you recharge. Do this and you will find that you are more productive and happier, without the continual pressure of the old school work ethic or new school restlessness mentality.
Frances Hickmott is a writer, speaker and author. She is the author of Journey To Joy: How to Overcome Life’s Setbacks to Create a Life You Love. She writes about mental health, self-improvement and resilience.
This article originally appeared on Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.