“I should be able to do this better,” thinks April. “I just can’t get this project to go well. My work is so hard!” April, like many people, is feeling frustrated and upset about a task at her workplace. As a result, she blames herself, which likely increases her stress, sadness, and job satisfaction. Some people also externalize: they blame their coworkers, their software vendors, other departments, or even competitors. Neither of these practices help people in the long-run.
Research has found that that when we are tough on ourselves (or others), we are more likely to experience depression, loss of self-esteem, perfectionism, and anxiety. When we are critical of ourselves or others, we often end up with decreased performance and strained relationships.
For these reasons, it is important to use self-care at work or school. Here are some tips that can help.
Increase your self-compassion at work
Acknowledge that this is a moment of suffering or struggle. Everyone struggles or gets frustrated at some time. And not only is it okay, it is normal. We all struggle to learn new things at times, and we all make mistakes. Ironically, recent research also tells us that when we are stressed, we are not only harder on ourselves, but we expect more from others too.
Be a friend to yourself, not a bully
When you notice you’re being hard on yourself over a problem, imagine a loved one coming to you with the same problem. What would you tell them? Would you tell them that they are stupid and never going to understand something? Absolutely not! So why would you say that to yourself? Consider what you would say to your friend. You might say, “It’s ok. You’ll get it.” You also might say, “This stuff is hard, but you’ve learned hard things before.” Now try giving these responses to yourself. Feels better, doesn’t it?
Make your breaks or lunches mindful
Take a few moments to just notice your senses. Notice what you see, hear, smell, feel or taste. When you eat, take a moment to notice the sustenance that you’re giving yourself. You can choose to eat something that makes you feel good. Time your time to savor your food and water if you can, even if it is just a few bites. Take time to offer yourself a few deep breaths, and maybe a renewing statement, such as, “Live well in this moment.”
Take time to notice your thoughts, but remember you don’t have to believe them
As I discussed in this blog-post, we have many thoughts daily, and somewhere between 50-80% of them are negative. Many of these negative thoughts are not helpful to us living healthy or satisfying lives. For example, telling ourselves that we should be able to do something better or that we need to control something is unlikely to be helpful to our work performance (or our satisfaction). Instead, just noticing the experience of these thoughts can be helpful, without having to accept them as true. For example, we may tell ourselves, “I’m experiencing frustration. What can I do to be kind to myself in this situation?”
Like it or not, school and work are important parts of our lives. They help give our lives meaning and often a way to support ourselves. But, like all parts of life, they can be hard. By using self-care, we will likely find our work more enjoyable and enriching.
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