Conventional wisdom says that self-care is a weekend and evening thing. It's when you splurge on a spa deal, or cook a healthy Sunday breakfast after meditation and a jog. It's a state of mind that's downright incompatible with work, in part because it's supposed to be the counterweight to it. The two should never, ever be mixed.
To that we say: You've got it wrong.
Why suspend your well-being during the 40-plus hours you spend at work every week? And shouldn't your career actually further your well-being in the long run, both personally and professionally, rather than run you down?
Here are five ways to make sure you're taking good care of yourself during the work week.
1. Be Proactive to Reduce Your Stress
Don't mistake proactivity with obsessive type-A-ness. It's actually a way to make your life easier and your career more worthwhile.
How? If you don't need a boss to tell you what to do because you can figure it out for yourself, that's one less person breathing down your neck. And if you are all the things that proactive people typically are—organized, prepared, problem-spotting and -solving, etc.—then you are likely coasting through work in a state of serene competence, which is actually a nice place to be.
Plus, building a reputation for being on top of your game not only makes your job more secure, it helps you build the momentum that makes your work pay off faster in the form of promotions and salary bumps come review time.
2. Don't Take "Lunch" Literally
The hour you take for lunch is sacred—that's not news to you. What may be a surprise: Lunch doesn't have to be about food.
Think of lunch as a personal hour and see how it changes for you. Sure, make it about eating with friends if that's restorative for you. But if you'd rather use the time to pause the mental treadmill of the workday, do that.
Hop on the bike for 30 minutes if you have access to a gym and shower. Have a coffee and people-watch. Meditate. Whatever works.
Then, eat at your desk when you're done.
3. Grill Your Boss From Time to Time
A lot of stress at work comes from not knowing exactly where you stand—what your boss thinks, how you're doing on a day-to-day basis, whether you could be doing your job better, and so on.
Rather than wondering what's up, put some time on your boss's calendar to check in and get the candid feedback that will get you out of the dark and into a place where you can grow and improve.
4. Get the Standing Desk, and Whatever Else You Need
Sitting is the new smoking. Cold cuts are the new bologna. Harsh lighting can grind on your mood. Knowing this, would you smoke, eat bad food, or tolerate bad lighting outside of work? Probably not. So don't let it fly at work, either.
Point is—the things that you wouldn't neglect in your personal life shouldn't be neglected in your work life either. If fitness is important to you, request a standing desk. If diet affects your afternoon mood, don't eat junk at lunch that will send you crashing at 3 PM. And if you can't handle the fluorescent lights, buy a warm-light lamp for your desk. Don't be shy about requesting the things you need to stay healthy and happy while you work.
5. Don't Settle for Superficial Work Relationships
It's always a little tricky balancing work and friendships, but that's no reason not to get to know the people you work with on a personal level. We're social creatures, and studies have found that strong interpersonal relationships are critical to health and longevity.
So, take five minutes in the morning to say "hi" to your co-workers. Take 20 in the afternoon to grab coffee with whoever you can drag out. Take a couple hours every few weeks to drop by happy hour. It'll make your days much more rewarding.
Self-care should not be on hold Monday through Friday. The idea that you can beat yourself up during the work week and recover in a flurry of wellness pampering over the weekend is an all-too-common myth. Rebalance with some career care and watch your work life improve dramatically.