10 Self-Care Moves You Can Do at Your Desk

Self care is all about taking care of your mind and body, so you feel less stress and more joy. Considering the hectic pace of the work world, most of us could benefit from more self-care during the workday—to crank up productivity, form stronger relationships with co-workers, and ace performance, says psychotherapist Suzie DeVaughn, owner of Self-Care Specialists in Wichita, Kansas.

If you already have a self-care routine at home or at the gym, then you know how it can make you feel happier and more in tune with yourself and your needs. So try incorporating these expert-backed easy moves into your workday as well. They’ll help you shake off motivation-killers like anxiety and stress and give you the tools to thrive from 9 to 5.

Nourish yourself at lunch.

With breakfast the most important meal of the day and dinner a time for reconnecting with loved ones, lunch tends to get short shrift. (They don’t call it a sad desk salad for nothing, right?) Instead of wolfing down another on-the-fly veggie bowl or sandwich, make your midday meal more of an opportunity for nourishment. Pack or order foods you love that offer energizing protein and complex carbs, which can put you in a brighter mood and help you power through the afternoon.

Check out a #funny site.

Chase away stress by scrolling through the latest adorable animal viral video at @cutepetclub or watching a Saturday Night Live clip on YouTube that you missed over the weekend. Laughing can prompt the release of feel-good endorphins in your body, and in turn make you feel more relaxed and revived. Even a few minutes in the break room with a co-worker whose stories always crack you up will do the trick.

Get up, stretch and move.

Stretch your arms and legs at your desk, do laps around the office, walk up and down the stairs, or take on some other activity that allows you to move your body. “When we start to feel our body signaling that we need a break, stepping out of your workspace for 5 to 10 minutes can help shift perspective and gain mental clarity,” says DeVaughn. “Running quick errands, going to make coffee or tea, or visiting with a co-worker are very helpful for rejuvenation.”

If you can get outside at some point during your workday, go for it: a 2017 study echoed previous research, finding that exposure to sounds found in nature has a soothing effect on the heart and brain.

Calm yourself with essential oils.

Therapeutic-grade essential oils of lavender, wild orange and bergamot can relax and uplift you, says Krista-Lynn Landolfi, a life coach and self-care specialist. Hiding a small stash of these in your desk drawer and occasionally dabbing some on a cotton ball to sniff will help revive your spirits without disturbing others sitting next to you. (But ask your desk mates if they have a hypersensitivity or allergy to these oils before you use them, just in case.)

Declutter and decorate.

A messy environment can intensify the tension and anxiety you already feel, says DeVaughn. No need to be a super-organized neat freak if that’s not your natural style. And yep, today’s open-concept workplaces don’t give even high-up employees much room to personalize. But take some time every week to organize your workspace and decorate it with family or pet photos, artwork that resonates with you, or quotes that inspire you.

Snack smartly.

Vending machine runs are convenient, but you know that diet soda and sweet treats aren’t exactly the best snack choices when you’re racing against a deadline or feeling overwhelmed by a report. “When people are filling themselves with caffeine and sugar, it’s going to give them a frenetic energy and create an ultimate crash,” explains Landolfi. Avoid that by opting for high-protein nuts, filling air-popped popcorn or a healthy smoothie.

Repeat an inspiring mantra.

The way we talk to ourselves shapes our performance and attitude. It’s a good reason to come up with a go-to saying or a list of affirmations to recite out loud (or quietly to yourself) when you’re feeling doubtful or need a confidence boost, suggests DeVaughn. “I am the Beyoncé of this office” has a powerful ring to it, as does “I will succeed on this project with ease.”

Take 3 deep breaths.

You’ve heard that inhaling deeply can help energize and calm you. But Landolfi is a fan of a breathing exercise called “three to be free” breathing. Three times a day, stop what you’re doing and take three deep breaths to free the tension, stress and worry that has been building up throughout the workday, she says. What makes this self-care move so good for work is that you can do it discreetly while you’re sitting at your desk, and even your closest cubicle neighbor won’t be disturbed.

Speak out in a meeting.

Doing something bold—writing a memo outlining your concerns over a new project, for example, or volunteering to take on a client who you know will challenge you—can put you back on your A game at the office. Why’s that? Accomplishing something that you once feared can give you the adrenaline rush that you need to finish the day strong, says Landolfi. You’ll feel more a part of your team and more invested in your work.

Pat yourself on the back.

Take stock of what you’ve accomplished on the job once a week or so—and congratulate yourself for your efforts and anything you’ve done to boost the bottom line or improve performance. Reminding yourself of your contributions gives you a psychological boost and helps you feel more positive, which is the ultimate goal of self care.

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