The psychological contracts we hold with our workplaces continue to change since the upheavals of 2020. More and more, employees and employers are looking to balance workplace productivity with newly established work/private life boundaries. And with conversations about wellbeing at work becoming ever present and increasingly encouraged, we’re seeing more focus on simple self-care rituals that strengthen our capacity to maintain mental clarity, peace and positivity.
As a someone who has experienced huge shifts and changes in his own professional direction in recent years, Julian Sarafian; grad of Harvard, Berkeley, and Biglaw alumnus; discusses some easily adoptable self-care practices that he feels directly support his own well-being.
I remember when I was working in Biglaw - the high-pressure side of the legal profession - and it felt like work would do anything it could to suffocate me. Emails at all hours of the night, weekend projects, and an endless flow of incoming deals kept myself and many other lawyers tied to our phones.
Then the pandemic hit, and things turned darker. With no separation between work and home, burnout began rising quickly. Clients, also stuck at home, became more feverish in their requests and worked attorneys harder and harder. My mental health - already on the fritz before the pandemic - doured even further.
Fast forward 15 months or so and I quit my job to focus on mental health and advocate for its importance.
Self-care is a pillar of mental health. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Bread dough rises when you let it rest. You have to put your own life jacket before your child’s in an airplane crash. Time and time again we hear it: we need to put our own well-being first. But what does self-care mean, and how can we effectively practice it?
Let’s start with the basics.
We are not taught about breathing in school. We, collectively, have habitual-ized shallow, short breaths. When I was handed down my diagnosis of severe anxiety the first thing I did was begin working on my breathing. More specifically, I practiced breathing in as deeply as possible to expand my lungs (holding my breath on inhale) and slowly exhaling. With every breath I watched the world and my mental state slow down. Do this video once per week.
As often as I can remember - be it while driving, while on the phone, while working - I will take a long, deep breath. I just did one as I wrote this sentence! That’s the power of breathing, it is always by your side if you pay attention to it.
I never understood what “overthinking” was until I began unpacking anxiety. Only then did I realize that I would often come to a rational conclusion about a problem, and then start doubting myself: “well, that makes sense but what about this? What if this happens? Ahhh.” Thought spirals threaten to consume us on the regular.
Journaling helps sort out our thoughts and put an end to these spirals. Even if it’s just blabbering down what I’m thinking on my Notes app on my phone in an Uber, every time I journal I walk away more peaceful, more calm, and more understanding of how I’m feeling. Effective methods of journaling abound, but I lean on the following: (1) journaling out my thoughts (stream of consciousness), (2) listing out my top five stressors and analyzing them, (3) writing about things that have gone “better than expected” recently, and (4) writing my future self a letter via FutureMe.
Try to journal, even if it’s just one sentence per day.
You probably think you are in touch with yourself because you are aware of what you are thinking, right?
Well, you are not your thoughts.
Self-talk is one of the most insightful exercises you can do to build emotional resilience. It’s exactly what it sounds like - talking to yourself as if you are a different person. It may feel uncomfortable at first (after all, we’ve been stigmatized to believe that talking to yourself makes you mentally unwell), but with a little bit of practice self-talk can become a superpower that you can use anytime, anywhere. As a daily ritual I talk to myself about my day, for five minutes each day. These check ins let me challenge my own assumptions I’ve made in my head, get me out of my endless thought loops, and build a stronger relationship with myself.
If you want one prompt to start, you can try the following: tell yourself about the problems you are facing right now, and then console yourself as if you were consoling a friend.
Do not underestimate the power of talking to yourself.
BE YOUR OWN BEST FRIEND
Self-judging lives in our social fabric. Whether it’s because of historical trauma, bad habits, the media, or even the structure of the English language, we collectively suffer from beating ourselves up, saying mean things to ourselves, undercutting our own accomplishments, and indulging in self-hatred. Social media hasn’t helped with this trend as we constantly compare ourselves to the best and brightest exteriors of those around us.
As often as you can, practice being your own best friend - whatever that means to you. Take yourself on dates. Get yourself a gift. Stop the inner critic when they speak up and threaten to make you feel bad - just as you would if someone were unjustifiably criticizing your best friend. Build up the voice of yourself being there for you and stopping the self-judging.
No matter what actions you take to focus on mental health, you are only human. As such, your fulfilment will hinge on fundamentals of mental health (and health, generally). Some fundamentals to focus on and consider:
Leave your phone, as often as you can
Be in nature
Go on a walk, no screens
Eat normal meals, and healthy ones if possible
Cut substances like alcohol or marijuana
Build good sleep habits (early, no eating before bed, same sleep time each night, etc)
No matter how you tackle self-care, the important thing to remember is that any impact requires discipline in the long term. I’ve seen how my mental health has quickly deteriorated if I stop my self-care habits.
The good thing is, you can always start them again. So, what are you waiting for? Take a breathe, you got this!