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Self-Care at Work - how is it going? A straw poll.

Between August and December 2017 an anonymous online survey was undertaken to ascertain from people across many workplace settings what they felt about self-care, how working life felt, and the degree to which self-care is practiced. Fifty-seven people responded, and whilst this isn’t a large number it is possible to draw some simple conclusions from the responses.

Of the 57 who responded 7 were male and 50 were female, aged between 18 to 74, of whom 48 were employed, 8 self-employed, 9 ran their own business, one was a student, and two were volunteers, from around the Globe (not just UK). Job roles ranged from a clinical microbiologist, to a complementary medicine therapist, a workforce and OD manager, a programme administrator, a coach/mentor, a waitress, a carer, a project supervisor, a marketing co-ordinator, a housing and support advisor for the homeless, a Psychiatry higher trainee, a range of nurses in different settings including mental health, learning disabilities, a full-time student, a district nurse team manager, clinical governance lead, clinical nurse specialist, in addition to a financial controller, a physiotherapist, a Head of Care, a barista, an NHS manager, a teacher, an anaesthetist, a flight attendant and a research fellow in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. And the type of workplaces varied from hospitals, to a local authority, universities, residential care homes, a bank, cafés, offices, retail store, schools, an aircraft, community care settings, or working from a home base. Whilst this is a lot of detailed information, it shows that the responses which follow regarding self-care in the workplace and in life are relatable to many of us, in many workplaces and many environments.

When asked how respondents would describe their work environment the most commonly used words are: busy, fast paced, disharmonious, pressurised, as well as supportive, productive, people focused, and welcoming. Additional comments were made that the environment can be tiring, confusing, overwhelming, unappreciative, although there was a sense from some that health and wellbeing for people at work is supported.

In respondents rating their current level of self-care at work, on a scale of 1 – 10 (10 being high), most respondents rated their current level of self-care as between 3 and 8, the majority being midway at 5 out of 10.

When asked ‘when you don’t take care of your health and well-being at work do you notice this has an effect on the quality of work?’ 82% said yes, and 8 % said no.

Comments relating to this included:

“Not always as it should be, good intentions don’t always happen”

“If I don’t take care of myself I miss things, I become moody and am easily irritated”

“When not taking care of my wellbeing I get less focussed, feel more tension in my body and possibly physical pain”

“I feel tired and grumpy when I don’t take care of myself”

“I feel more tired when I don’t look after myself”

“I get very hungry so I crash and burn with diet, I don’t go to the toilet, it takes me longer to unwind and my memory takes a dip”

“It feels like if I am not on top of my game caring for myself all the lack of care around me gets increased, and as a team we don't flow smoothly”

“Without self-care I become snappy and I get breakouts on my skin”

“If I do not take exercise regularly or take breaks it has a massive impact on my health and wellbeing”

“I often get more tired at work and end up making mistakes”.

When asked ‘what effects the quality of my work?’ the responses were that concentration, spatial skills, ability to focus, mood, energy levels, body (e.g. I feel sore, aches and pains), as well as affecting how I am with people, are ALL affected by the following:

· Dehydration,

· Not going to the toilet when I need to,

· Eating foods that don’t support,

· Not taking a moment/break,

· Poor posture,

· Not sleeping well,

· Not regularly exercising or stretching,

· Not asking for support when I need to,

· Not speaking up/expressing,

· Over riding what my body feels it needs.

When asked for examples of habits or things we do that don’t support our wellbeing these included:

· “Not being assertive enough to challenge others.”

· “Doing work that isn't purposeful. Being busy without reason.”

· Posture, stretching, moving:

“If I don't move around start to feel very tired and loose concentration.”

“I easily fall back into poor posture, which leads to discomfort and pain, tension in my muscles, and in turn leads to me feeling grumpy and unhappy.”

“If I don't move around start to feel very tired and loose concentration.”

· Food/Eating:

“If I don't eat and drink correctly, I cannot perform my tasks well.”

“Not getting time to eat healthily so grabbing sugar rich snacks, then feeling low in energy and disheartened.”

“Eating/snacking when I don't need to.”

“Eating junk food makes me feel tired and low in mood.”

“If don't eat, then feel distracted and get stomach cramps so affects concentration.”

“If I don't bring the right food to work, I struggle to concentrate and have urges to eat food which isn't good for me.”

“Eating too many sugary products makes me feel restless and unfocused.”

“If I don't eat enough I loose my focus.”

“If I have too much sugar e.g. biscuits or drink sugary drinks I feel edgy and unable to concentrate as well as usual.”

· Hydration:

“Because I work as International Flight Attendant if I don't get enough water it really affects my quality at work and my energy levels and I begins to feel very tried and low energy”

“I don't drink enough during the day, which affects my running in the evening.”

“Not drinking enough affects my concentration.”

· Not taking a break/going to the toilet/space:

“Taking time out during the working week, e.g. for reflections, and giving my brain a rest; it's not always easy to schedule in but I definitely noticed the difference when I did take those breaks - I feel relaxed and energised because I have given myself opportunity to rest and to plan.”

“Eating at the desk instead of taking a lunch break. This can make me feel fatigued by mid afternoon.”

“I know that if I stay late and so overwork I am less fresh the next day and this has a knock on effect as I am not as sharp and will miss things and make mistakes so it ends up being counter productive.”

“Not taking small breaks (walking to get some water). I know I should do it, but I forget or I think 'let me finish this first', and then I suddenly realise I am all cramped up and stiff, and my ability to focus decreases dramatically once I am physically uncomfortable.”

“Not allowing sufficient time between clients.”

“When I do not stop when my body is asking for a break my body tenses up, my quality of output drops.”

“Hold urine for too long… I respond very abruptly to colleagues. If in a meeting, I miss a lot of information and appear very distracted and disinterested. I also experience discomfort.”

“If I don't take a break around lunchtime I can't concentrate so much in the afternoon, I get more fuzzy in my head, it takes me longer to do what I need to do and I am less clear on what I need or want to do.”

“Eating/snacking at my desk and working at the same time and not giving myself a proper lunch break to eat or have a little break away from the screen.”

· Sleep/Rest/Bedtime:

“One thing I have learnt is that I need enough and "quality" sleep to perform at work, lack of sleep impacts on my focus and concentration.”

“I don't give myself enough sleep. I can often be working through to 9 or 10pm some nights and after trying to log off and relax will not usually be in bed before 12. The alarm goes off at 6am and the day starts again. I know this has an impact on how well I function the next day.”

“I often don't get enough sleep and it affects my ability to concentrate in meetings.”

“Not sleeping well - has an affect on all systems and mood.”

“Late to bed - I lose my vitality.”

“Not going to bed early.... watching TV.”

“Not enough sleep means I can't keep focused and jump from task to task.”

When respondents were asked for examples of when feeling 'off your game' or unwell and you pushed through/kept going at work (knowing you were putting your body under pressure) - what happened? The responses were:

· When pushing through leads to tiredness, moodiness, errors, tension:

“Short attention span and short fuse. Worse at home when pressured at work

"Holding back a loo break. Started to feel negative about myself, snappy and resentful towards colleges until I snapped at myself and said 'enough!' and went to the loo, but this only occurred after two hours of negativity.”

“When I get ill, my pace tends to slow down and this impacts my confidence.”

“Just working whilst very tired - became less guarded with my comments.”

“When tired and need a break can be grumpy and restless and lack focus on delivery.”

“When I allow this to happen I become tired and tearful, ache, lose interest in other things outside work.”

“It impacted upon my clinical work and I felt that decisions I made during that period were not as well reasoned.”

“If I push myself too far, I get tensions throughout my body, that leads to not being able to focus on writing.”

“I've never had time off work but I push myself to the limit until I'm exhausted and this affects my home life. I then need to take stock and make changes to get back on track.”

“I was fine at work, it's then when you get a day off you are tired, grumpy, not wanting to do things as the week has taken its impact.”

“Pushed through due to high demand in work environment (bullying boss). Led to feeling burnout and very low self esteem where I was tired all the time, and overeating”.

“I do this everyday and I end up eating rubbish food to reward myself for having a stressful, busy and tiring day. The knock on effect of that means I then go to bed late, have less quality sleep, don't feel rejuvenated and then I repeat.”

“Just before my holidays I still had a ton of work that I could not hand over to colleagues and which I was already late in finishing. My body was extremely tense (shoulders, arms, neck, back, legs) and my head / thoughts felt very full and panicky. I was unfriendly and very curt to colleagues. It made me feel anxious at work and at home, and very unhappy. Small setbacks in my tasks made me extremely frustrated. In the end I still wasn't able to finish all my work and e-mailed people with a message that I had done all I could. It made me feel guilty and as if I had failed, and was very anxious during my holiday because I was afraid what responses I would find in my mailbox.”

“These sorts of situations have arisen several times, where I only indicate I can't take the work anymore once I feel I am about to break. It has not led to a burnout officially, but seems to have a very negative effect on my existing psychological problems (anxiety, panic-attacks).”

“Spent all of Tuesday at desk clearing e-mails without getting out of office. Felt lethargic and stopped working efficiently.”

· When pushing through leads to illness/feeling unwell or exacerbating illness:

“I have done this and then when I do stop I have been generally low and exhausted.”

“I kept going and got the job done. I fell ill afterwards and had to take a couple of days off work to get well. I also felt very mentally drained.”

“Last year I had a cold, not bad and manageable. It wouldn't go though. I had it for a month and took two days sick leave as just felt rough all the time. I did nothing but sleep eat and drink (not alcohol) and came back so much better and felt more focused.”

“Pushed through sinus problems recently and eventually became ill and needed time off and antibiotics.”

“I often suffer headaches, often I'll push through but then they become migraines and it ends up effecting my time off. I then return to work unrested and lack focus on work.”

“Had a hormonal headache one day and had to write a briefing paper. The following day when I read it again it was not up to my usual standard and I had to re-write it.”

“About 18 months ago I had a chest infection and carried on working although I felt dreadful. It took a lot longer to recover than it should have. I then experienced repetitive cold sores and poor sleep for a few months before seeking help from my doctor.”

“When I was unwell and pushed through, I ended up sick for 2 months.”

“I recently had a cold at work but still continued to work through it. The office can become quite stuffy which didn’t help the symptoms whatsoever and my cold ended up becoming much worse meaning it lingered for a it longer than it should have.”

“A minor cold ended with pneumonia.”

“When I recently had a whiplash I kept working as though nothing had happened the headaches got worse, my mood got worse, I got too tired.”

“Years ago I had chronic fatigue and it was because I kept pushing myself when I was sick rather than resting. I did eventually take a block of time off to rest, but from when I first got sick, I was always wanting to get back to work to be 'normal' again.”

“I ended up with a severe migraine for having worked through and had to go to bed on arrival home, I got through the workload but my own time which should have been downtime for relaxation was useless.”

“Some time ago I have been under a lot of stress, and I ignored the symptoms and pushed through work thinking that I have to and that I can get through the issues. It resulted in having a nervous breakdown and having to leave work mid-day, and take time off. The effects on my body were: lack of sleep, lack of concentration, feeling scared and anxious, feeling not able to perform simple tasks at work and at home.”

“I recently had a cold at work but still continued to work through it. The office can become quite stuffy which didn’t help the symptoms whatsoever and my cold ended up becoming much worse meaning it lingered for a it longer than it should have.”

“I was ill went to the doctors received antibiotics but then still came in and as a result had to have more time off work.”

When you are not taking care of your body what does it say? Out of 57 respondents these are the symptoms/feelings and how many people regularly felt these:

Tense = 39

Head ache = 34

Restless = 31

Unsettled = 28

Bloated = 28

Back ache = 27

Neck ache = 25

Skin changes (e.g. rash) = 19

Sinus/runny nose = 16

Plus a range of other symptoms were cited including – indigestion, flatulence, tired/fatigue, variety of aches and pains, migraine, sore eyes, constipation, inability to sleep.

Respondents were asked what they do that supports your health and wellbeing at work – the most commonly cited responses are at the top, with walking, food, hydration, toilet breaks/breaks, and exercise being the most common:

1. Walking

2. Eat healthy food

3. Drink water/fluids

4. Regular toilet breaks/lunch break/time off – to rest and reflect/flexible working

5. Exercise - Fit bit to ensure 10,000 steps a day/standing at desk/not sitting for too long/gym/changing posture

6. Being present in my body/not rushing

7. Getting support e.g. body work/massage

8. Hot water bottle to kidneys if I feel cold

9. Allow myself one coffee from costa each day

10. Using the mindfulness app.

Finally respondents were asked for an example of one simple thing you would like to commit to doing to support your health and wellbeing at work. The responses are clustered as follows:

1. Drink more/regularly/more water/less coffee

2. Look at food/healthy eating/healthy food/vitamins

3. Take a break/lunch/walk/step away from desk/posture/get support/fresh air/move/pee break/time between meetings

4. Body aware/staying present

5. Space between meetings/leave on time/better time management

6. Exercise/walk/swim/Pilates

7. More sleep/power nap/rest or early night

8. Wearing extra layers at work for when the air conditioner is too cold

9. Get support from others

10. Meditation

11. Mindfulness

You could say that these responses speak for themselves.

But let's summarise what this straw poll indicates about the state of our 'self-care at work':

· Our level of self-care could go deeper.

· The quality of our work is affected when we don’t take care of ourselves – and it is affected in a number of ways – from focus to mood to energy levels, to errors, to relationships with others, to productivity.

· More so our body is affected when we don’t take care, when we push through, and when we don’t listen to it.

· That pushing through/not taking care of ourselves exacerbates any ailments or medical conditions.

· That these stories as cited above are common amongst us – yet, we all continue to live and work in this way, which raises a question as to why?

· That deep down, and practically we do know how to self-care – e.g. hydration, food, posture, rest, sleep - so why don't we self-care more? why isn't self-care the norm?

· That we always have something we ‘wish’ or desire or would like as a new year’s resolution that we will change e.g. more exercise, join a gym etc.

But, what if it was super simple and practical too?

What if we simply focused on one thing e.g. hydration – and observed the difference it made – not just at work but in our lives? And what if when we did that it had a ripple effect whereby others around us through observing us naturally felt the pull to also deepen their self-care focus?

In the end – you are the Chief Executive Officer of your body – you are the boss – and whilst work and life can be intense, or busy or we get curve balls – no one actually says ‘don’t hydrate, or don’t eat’ – and I have never seen an employment contract that says ‘don’t self-care’.

Any change in the world of work and life as regards self-care starts with us. Why not give it a go?

Thank you to all 57 of you who took the time to complete the survey.

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