The Path to a More Fulfilling and Productive Life

Today, people are more focused on health and wellness than ever before. While the COVID-19 pandemic may have accelerated this shift toward a holistic lifestyle, self-care is more than just a passing trend. It is taking root not just in people’s personal lives, but also in their professional lives as well.

Consider some of the following statistics which point to the intersection of self-care, our work, and mental health:

  • For many, self-care has been a means of self-preservation during a time of uncertainty. A majority of Americans surveyed by Healio in 2021 said that they intend to find ways to maintain their physical, emotional, and spiritual health after the pandemic.
  • Industrial and organizational psychologist Andrew Naber recently found that the average person spends approximately one-third of their life at work. That’s 90,000 hours over the course of a lifetime.
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that as many as 1 in 5 adults in the United States report living with a mental illness.
  • According to a Glassdoor report released in October 2021, the number of job reviews posted on the career website that include the word “burnout” increased 100% since the start of the pandemic.

A common theme? Strategies for managing mental health and reducing stress in the workplace should be a priority for employers and employees alike. Being sharper, more energized, and more focused has tremendous business-building benefits. One way we can all get there together is through a shared commitment to practicing self-care. The advantages of self-care at work are more powerful than you might think.

Recognizing the Warning Signs
It’s important to clarify that self-care is a preventive measure. Too often we don’t take care of ourselves until our cup is empty. Taking a short respite won’t make up for months of burnout, so regularly integrating self-care into the workweek is crucial. But we all know that the pace of life is fast, and creating a self-care routine can be easier said than done.

What we may not realize is that we all have emotional, mental, and physical clues that are trying to tell us something. Stressors activate different parts of our body and are often present during and after work. The benefit of a self-care mindset is knowing the deeper meaning behind these signals and how we can use this knowledge to our benefit personally and professionally.

In my experience as a psychiatrist for adults, children, and adolescents, I have seen my patients exhibit their warning signs in different ways. Fortunately, you don’t need a medical degree to spot and investigate them on your own. The symptoms of stress, poor mental health, and burnout can be grouped into four categories, each characterized by conditions that might sound familiar:
• Headaches
• Upset stomach

• Feeling overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
• Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind

• Forgetfulness and disorganization
• Inability to focus

• Drinking alcohol too much or too often
• Overeating or developing an eating disorder

Creating a Work Culture That Prioritizes Self-Care
As more employees advocate for their overall well-being, support for mental health in the workplace is no longer a nice-to-have, but a must-have. Aside from the ethical motive, there is a financial incentive for employers to improve mental health in the workplace. Increased absenteeism and reduced productivity make poor mental health quite costly.

Businesses of all sizes can take these steps to improve workplace well-being:

Find ways to make work more sustainable
• Promote autonomy and flexibility and establish new norms
around responsiveness.

Shift the culture
• Leaders should lead with empathy and foster a sense of psychological safety, an environment that encourages taking interpersonal risks as a group in the workplace.

Create a policy around mental health at work
• Outline courses of action that ensure employees get the mental health support they need.

Self-care is fundamental to self-preservation and empowers us to show up as the best version of ourselves. In the workplace, self-care should be considered a competitive edge. Both employers and employees have a shared responsibility in prioritizing overall well-being. When we all genuinely commit to the self-care habits that are essential to being creative, successful, and stable, we can lead more fulfilling and productive lives.