The last two weeks at work have been long! I have quite an intense job anyway, I come across things day to day which most people on hear about in the news, but things have been especially bad recently. Working in the sector I do has made me very aware of secondary trauma and the need to “protect” myself and those that I manage from it but I can still get overwhelmed. In the last few weeks there have been a lot of things happening at work to add extra stress and the week before last especially got too much for me.
I had too many problems to handle at once, so I fell back into unhealthy coping mechanisms, and by last Sunday was in a very dark place. The problem I have with my negative/ unhealthy coping mechanisms is that they are so easy to use. They are easy because I relied on them for so long, they helped dull the problems I had, distracted me from what I didn’t want to deal with and helped me just keep ploughing through. But they don’t help long term, it might have shifted the problem but it is still there and the longer it goes unresolved the bigger and worse it feels. When you numb yourself to pain and stress you also numb yourself to excitement and joy. If you can’t feel the highs then how will you convince yourself there is anything better waiting at the end of the lows? Most likely you won’t, you’ll look to the same unhealthy coping mechanisms to avoid dealing with what feels too difficult to deal with.
I’ve seen where I end up when I keep ignoring things and just try to struggle through, pushing myself to a point where I can’t take it anymore, and I know now that it doesn’t work. I need to reassess and look after myself before trying to tackle the external factors which are causing me problems.
Whatever job you have there are going to be problems. If you work in a bar you’ll spend shifts dealing with rude drunks who treat you like scum, in a corporate business you are constantly having to meet targets and if you’re a nurse then… good god I can’t even imagine!
Anyway, the point is stress is contextual. Whatever job you have it can really impact your personal life and self-care is a really important way to manage stress at work. If you don’t find space to de-stress outside work you won’t be able to deal with the stress of work. Now self-care can be looking for a new job to get away from stress at work which is too much but it isn’t going to be immediately effective. Self-care can’t solve all your problems but does give a light relief. My light relief might be quite different to yours, but regardless of what it is, the important part is not what it is but recognising what is healthy and helpful for you. Self-care is regular practice which refreshes you, gives you a chance to enjoy something without judgement and lets you process and let go of the stress in your life.
Set up clear routines, having a clear process in the morning and evening are great ways of resetting after a hard day. Whether that is cooking, showering or reading it will be useful is setting a mental boundary between work and home. My colleague told me she uses the drive home to process her day at work and by the time she gets home she feels able to relax. On occasions when she has to finish a report or something and works at night she can feel the tension come back. If you forget or miss part of your routine don’t beat yourself up about it, just keep trying to build self-care into your routines.
Give yourself a break. Lots of work places don’t have staff rooms or don’t have set times for their staff to take a break. Especially when your colleagues don’t take breaks or time for lunch it can be awkward for you too but you deserve break. Take the time you need, if you don’t have a table and need to use your desk put your computer on sleep, don’t let yourself be distracted by work or go outside and find a nicer spot to eat.
Make plans. I have just started this myself, I used an old meal planner book I hadn’t used to plan out my next two weeks. I wrote out all of the self-care I would do for myself, yoga every other day, laundry twice a week, phone calls to family, deep cleaning my teeth. As I have said I can easily get bogged down, come home from work frustrated, stay in my room watching tv and then beat myself up for not being more productive. This week I haven’t done everything I said I would on the list but I have done a lot of it and I’ve felt much better mentally.
Chair dancing. So this one is very specific to me but might work for you too! I get really unsettled in office environments, I like being able to move around and work with people face to face but that is pretty rare in the office. So when I am feeling frustrated or unsettled I put on my playlist of favourite songs and do a little lip-synch/dance at my desk. It is stupid and I sometimes worry that my colleagues will spot me but it makes me smile! For those 3-4 minutes that’s all I need.
Whatever you choose to do, give some of them a try and write down how you are feeling at the end of the day. This will help you reflect on what works and what doesn’t.