If you’re feeling unmotivated—or even unwell—at work right now, you’re hardly alone. What you’re feeling is valid, as your newsfeeds and social feeds are likely filled with atrocious and graphic updates around war, terrorism, and gun violence. Toggling from a breaking news story to a non-urgent work email can be emotionally distressing, to say the least.
One of the most important reminders in this climate, and always, is that your worth is not determined by your productivity at work.
“Remember that you’re navigating unprecedented times, and feeling overwhelmed is normal,” says Thomas Vance, Ph.D., psychologist and founder of ClearMinds. “Your well-being matters. It’s OK not to be your most productive self all the time. Practice self-compassion and reach out for support when needed. Employers and colleagues should also understand the challenges we’re facing collectively. Prioritizing self-care is a sign of strength, not weakness.”
However, prioritizing your well-being can be tough to navigate when the work asks, meeting requests, emails, and Slacks keep pouring in. If you’re fortunate to work for a company where your management cares about your well-being, you might have paid mental health days you can take.
If that’s not the case, talk to your supervisor about your needs and discuss whether they can accommodate certain work arrangements so that you can best take care of yourself.
“Excessive news consumption, especially when it involves so much negativity and repeated crises, is related to feelings of anxiety, fear, despair, anger, and disgust,” says Chrysalis Wright, psychologist and associate lecturer at the University of Central Florida. “These feelings can take a toll on us and our well-being, but there are things we can do about it.”
We asked mental health experts what self-care can look like, both for people on the job and during a mental health day.
How to invest in self-care at work
Take mindful breaks. These don’t have to be long stretches of time, but carve out small windows throughout the day where you can separate yourself from the work. “Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and focus on the present moment,” Vance says. “This can help reduce stress and improve focus.”
Get some fresh air. Being in nature is good for your well-being. It can be as simple as enjoying a mindful break in your garden, taking a stroll around the neighborhood, or spending your lunch break at the local park.
Disconnect from screens. Media saturation overload can cause stress, so it’s important to step away from screens and the news for a bit each day. Find an offline activity that brings you some inner peace, whether that’s knitting, reading a book, baking some cookies, going for a walk, meditating, journaling, or whatever your hobby of choice is.
Evaluate your relationship with the news. This one’s less about stepping away from screens and more about monitoring your news intake. It’s about finding a balance of staying informed and not reaching an overwhelming threshold. Wright recommends hiding or deleting news and social media apps, turning off notifications, unfollowing news organizations and journalists from social media, avoiding images and videos, limiting your news dive to one block a day, and making sure you’re not repeating the same news stories over and over. “If you are experiencing negative emotions prior to checking the news, skip it, and if you start to experience negative emotions while checking the news, turn it off,” she says.
Live a healthy life outside of working hours. Your self-care audit doesn’t begin and end during the workday. When you’re not working, make sure you’re staying physically active, getting enough sleep, eating well, connecting with your loved ones, and engaging in activities that bring you joy.
How to maximize self-care during a mental health day
Take advantage of being offline. You have the work day off, so don’t wake up and check your email and other online spaces with news and work updates. Vance suggests creating a calm and tech-free environment.
Engage in relaxing activities. Now that you’re free from any work distractions or tasks, use that time to focus your energy on a self-care practice, like meditation, yoga, a warm bath, or journaling—or all four. The latter is a great tool to reflect on how you’re feeling. “Write down your stressors and explore strategies to manage them,” Vance says.
Get outside. As we mentioned, nature has positive effects on your well-being, and with a mental health day, you can dedicate a more meaningful amount of time outside.That can mean going on a peaceful nature hike, riding your bike, or taking a long run or walk.
Engage in creative expression. Using your mind and imagination can be therapeutic. If you’ve been wanting to try something artistic or creative like writing, painting, or dancing, now’s a great opportunity to do so.
Connect with loved ones. Whether it’s a phone call or an IRL meet-up, find time to talk with a trusted friend or family member in your support system, and tell them how you’re feeling.
Bottom line: The best way to take care of yourself is to be mindful about how you spend your time, and to move away from passive or active pursuits that aren’t serving your well-being. This is also a gentle reminder not to feel guilty about how you spend your mental health day, as long as it helps to bring you some inner peace.
“Even with all of the negativity in the world going on, it keeps going, and many times we can’t pause our lives and responsibilities,” Wright says. “The goal is to calm yourself, mentally and physically, so you can focus on the task at hand.”