Self-Care Isn’t Selfish – Fostering a Positive Work Environment for Yourself

By Natalie Wallace, Senior Education and Events Coordinator, Real Estate Institute of Canada

There’s a lot of talk these days about mental health, especially in the workplace, and how to best take care yourself and those around you. As someone with high functioning anxiety, I’ve had to learn the importance of self-care, and figure out how that would balance with my working life. It doesn’t do me any good to work myself into a frenzy, only to trigger my anxiety and become useless to myself and to others.

That kind of life isn’t sustainable; as well, it’s likely to lead to burnout. When first starting in an association, I was so accustomed to the hectic balance of shift work that I wasn’t sure how to accommodate myself to this new 9-to-5 lifestyle. Its taken five years, but I’ve finally started to understand what is best for me when it comes to taking care of myself, which has led to me working with some of my colleagues to help them achieve the same kind of balance. While what works for one person doesn’t always work for another, below are my top five tips that help me stay balanced in a hectic, busy world, with the hope that at least one of them can help you find your own balance.

1- Set and maintain your professional boundaries

Know your limits – work within it! Being able to set your boundaries – how often you work overtime, how often you overextend yourself – is important. Setting boundaries for yourself, and communicating them to those around you, is key in maintaining your relationships, not only with your co-workers, but with yourself.

2- Routines are key

I find keeping a regular routine helps me from getting too overwhelmed, and helps center me so I can take on anything. Ensuring that I get enough sleep at night is mandatory for that routine as well. For that reason, I have a night time routine and a morning routine, so that no matter how hectic my day may be, part of it is structured. This brings a kind of peace of mind that is absolutely essential to balancing workload and the daily stresses that life brings. My own morning routine involves getting up at 6am, working out, and doing meditative stretching. My night routine involves proper dental care (flossing AND mouthwash), as well as taking a moment to write down what I’m grateful for. As simple and as small as it may be, everything else that happens in the day becomes more manageable when I can maintain my routine. Sometimes when I travel it’s not as easy to maintain, but having the flexibility to adapt it, while still keeping some semblance of it, helps me keep the balance. Everyone needs to figure out their own routine – what works for one is not the answer for all. So take some time to figure out your routine, and what helps you get through the day.

3 – Be serious about your breaks

I think the most important thing I learned lately is to not skip a lunch break. Don’t cheat yourself of time to recuperate. My first five years in the association world, I skipped lunch. Every day. I would eat at my desk, keep on working, and wouldn’t really stop for air; I found myself burning out earlier and being less productive in the latter half of my day. I would get more easily distracted as well or more easily frustrated with things. It took me a while, but I learned that even just taking a half hour away from my desk was more productive for me than expected. I found myself being able to reset and refresh myself, and I could tackle everything again with a renewed vigor.

On top of it, one night a week, I schedule a night to myself – no plans, no extra work. I will toss away my phone for the evening (as I have the chronic issue of checking emails well into the evening, and then continuing to fret over things I cannot immediately take care of), and watch a movie. Or have a night in with friends. Either way, having one night a week where there is relatively less chaos helps reset my brain. But these breaks need to be taken seriously in order to have any effect – no phones, no computers, no emails. Otherwise, I find I fall back into old habits.

4 – Learn to say no

This is probably the most difficult one. Obviously you can’t say no in some situations, but I’ve learned that before saying yes, I think through the decision more. Take into consideration your needs and your abilities before committing to a project, committee, or an event. As someone in the event industry, I find myself inundated with invites to other events – networking sessions, learning opportunities, etc. While I loathe saying no to anything, I always need to look at my week – am I giving up my night off? How many other things am I already doing that week? Balance is key. And sometimes, that means you need to say no. Prioritization is key to learning when you should say no, and you should always make yourself a priority.

5 – Surround yourself with good people

As best as you can, you need to be around supportive individuals. While you may not be able to avoid that one toxic coworker in your office, you can still set up boundaries so you aren’t as impacted by them. This translates mostly into my personal life – I make sure the company I keep is with positive individuals who have similar values and goals as myself. We can then support each other, which is vital when there are stresses beyond your control. When you can control it, remove from your life anyone who gives you anxiety or that you just can’t stand to be around – that kind of energy will only deplete you, making it harder to manage your routines and overall disrupting your life balance.

I’m aware that this article may make me sound like a stereotype of my generation, however by properly taking care of myself, I find I can accomplish so much more than when I let myself get run into the ground, which also happens to be when my anxiety creeps in and causes chaos. By taking care of myself, I can properly take care of my coworkers, my family, and the relationships in my life. They say you can’t pour from an empty cup – you need to care for yourself first before you’re going to be able to care for others. It’s not a luxury – it’s essential.

Article by Natalie Wallace, on behalf of the CSAE Trillium Young Professionals Task Force. Natalie Wallace is the Senior Education and Events Coordinator at the Real Estate Institute of Canada, a member of the Young Professionals Task Force for CSAE Trillium and the recipient of the 2016 CSAE Emerging Talent Award, Executive Member.