We’ve heard the mantra a million times. “Self care isn’t selfish”. But sometimes, it’s hard to tell how and when it’s most important to care for yourself. We all need to take time for ourselves. Yet, this past year and a half has been particularly challenging for our well-being. We were isolated and working apart from one another. Companies were scrambling to find ways to build community in virtual work environments. Employees were feeling distant from their colleagues, family and friends. If this sounds familiar, self-care may be especially important for you. Read more to find out how self-care can buffer you from the impacts of work loneliness.
What is Self-Care?
When you hear about self-care – or self-compassion as the academic literature calls it – you might think of yoga classes or spa treatments. But, the literature shows that it’s a bit more nuanced. Self-care actually has 6 components, and they are more psychological than task-based. The first is avoiding over-identifying with negative things. When things go wrong, it’s harmful to get into a negativity spiral. People who avoid over-identification tend to realize that bad times happen to everyone and don’t last forever. The second is self-kindness, which is being patient with yourself and taking time to ensure you have the care you need. This might mean taking time to forgive yourself for missteps. It might also mean seeking the help of a professional!
The third component is mindfulness. We have talked about the value of mindfulness before. In this case, it’s about making sure that you’re seeing the whole picture and keeping your thoughts and emotions in balance. The fourth and fifth components are about feeling connected to others, and avoiding isolation. This entails recognizing that you’re not alone when you fail. It also requires recognizing that others share similar struggles or negative feelings sometimes. Finally, the last component is avoiding self-judgment. This means accepting your strengths and weaknesses and being patient with yourself.
What is Workplace Loneliness?
As we know, people worldwide have been facing greater isolation than ever during the pandemic. While you might not think about being isolated from your coworkers as related to well-being, it can actually be harmful. While you can find ways to create connections virtually, many companies were not well-trained or prepared to create community remotely. So, employees tended to suffer the brunt of feeling alone and disconnected.
Loneliness at work occurs when you lack companionship or don’t have friends you can talk to. It also occurs when you feel left out by coworkers. Finally, part of being lonely can just be feeling that you’re not talking to coworkers as much as you’d like. If any of those ring true, you might be experiencing workplace loneliness. Recent research shows that workplace loneliness is related to depression and ceasing to help others at work. In other words, when you’re lonely, you might withdraw from others and feel more down on yourself.
How Does Self-Care Relate to Loneliness?
Recent research helps us understand how self-care and loneliness are related. When you work remotely more frequently, you are at greater risk for feeling lonely at work. Further, if your company is not good at communicating important information, or your job is not secure, you may also feel more lonely. This is because you feel more disconnected when you’re not able to see or communicate with coworkers. Further, if you’re not sure what your future with the company will be, you might also feel more estranged at work. Overall, companies can create conditions in which remote work is not isolating, but it takes some dedicated effort. Without that, companies risk making employees feel lonely.
But, the good news is that self-care is able to buffer the impact of the effects of loneliness on outcomes. While you’ll still feel more lonely under the circumstances listed above, you may be able to better avoid depression. Interestingly, those who are lonely and higher on self-care may also be more likely to conserve resources by focusing even more on themselves. Those who are higher on self-care realize that, when they are lonely, they need to help themselves before they help others. Overall, if you practice self-care when you feel lonely at work, you can help to avoid feeling depressed and make sure you’re dedicating time to healing. So, if you’re feeling lonely, take time for you! It can make a big difference.