Like many of my generation—because contrary to popular belief, millennials actually work extremely hard—I nearly succumbed to imposter syndrome during the earliest years of my career. Every day seemed to plunge me into a deeper spiral of anxiety that I could be doing better, despite the fact that I was already going above and beyond my job description. And as I continued to put in more energy, more hours, and more of myself, I naturally began to lose my grip on everything outside of the office walls.
My social life went first: I was so burdened to my email that when I was out with my friends, I wasn't actually there. Then my closer-knit relationships began to suffer, and finally, my health. It wasn't until I realized that I wasn't just unhappy but teetering dangerously on the edge of a nervous breakdown that I knew it was time to reassess.
When I moved from New York City to Los Angeles for a new gig and a new life, it was with a silent vow that I would finally put myself first. The transition wasn't easy—it took some time to internalize the fact that prioritizing my mental and physical health made me a better employee, not a slacker. But by adopting new rituals that forced me to step away from my computer and find some balance, my work performance continued to soar even as I fostered a new group of friends and felt truly rested and content.
It's a lesson that has only been magnified by the incredibly turbulent (and often depressing) state of the world: that in order to be the most productive members of society, we need to ensure that we are at our sharpest and healthiest. That, by the way, is what self-care truly is—not the status symbol into which the mass-marketed wellness industry has manipulated the term. It's a gut-check to ensure that we can effectively negotiate our world (and address anything that might be standing in the way of that).
With this all in mind, I asked my colleague and peers which self-care rituals and practices they adopt during the workweek to keep them at their sharpest and healthiest. Keep reading for our best suggestions.
Give yourself a hard out
Barring meetings and last-minute deadlines, making myself log off at a certain time every day allows me to step away, take a breath, and separate my working brain from my home brain. If I absolutely need to return to my inbox later, I will, but the hours immediately following the workday are mine.
I like to schedule a workout on most days, as it gives me true incentive to leave and really forces me to forget everything else for an hour. Once the endorphins have hit, I have a better perspective on the urgency of my to-do list—and often the "problems" I was freaking out about at the end of my day can actually wait until tomorrow.
Take regular breathers
"I have this problem with staying chained to my desk all day," says Maya Allen, digital beauty editor at Marie Claire. "Sometimes I even forget to eat—that's how bad it is. To give my brain a mental break, I try to get up at least once every day and take a walk outside (even if it's just a short lap around the corner). Something about the fresh air rejuvenates me a little. When I do this, it's like I press restart and I'm ready to work on my next task."
Incentivize the little things
Associate editor Erin Jahns likes to treat herself on a small scale. "Vowing to take short mental breaks throughout the day is really key for me, and I try to give myself a few small things to look forward to," she says. "For instance: I love my morning coffee, but I try to hold off until I get into the office. That way I have something comforting to ease into the day with as I peruse my inbox and to-do list. After that, small things like exchanging a quick text with friends or family, using a standing desk for a couple of hours, or listening to a favorite playlist keeps me energized and efficient."
Queue up a great playlist
Music has a profound impact on our moods, and contrary to popular belief, aka my dad, it really doesn't mess with our productivity. "Music has always been a source of happiness in my life ever since I was little kid bopping around in my diaper to Cheap Trick," notes Byrdie managing editor Lindsey Metrus. "Any time I have a daunting task like cleaning my apartment, queuing up Alexa and blasting music makes the time fly. So when I start to get that tight-chested feeling at work as deadlines start to near and my inbox piles up, I pop in my earbuds and blast the most upbeat tunes in my Spotify playlist—suddenly the stress starts to dissipate. It's such a mood-booster that I subconsciously start dancing in my seat (sorry, neighbors)."
Decompress with regular workouts
Allen shares my strategy in scheduling workouts immediately after office hours. "One time I missed one of my absolute favorite cycling instructors' classes because I was working late, and I literally had an emotional breakdown," she recalls. "It's really important to me to dedicate 45 minutes or an hour every single day to my well-being, and working out is my release." That said, if sweating doesn't do it for you, figure out your calming activity—whether it's reading or taking a bubble bath, the choice is yours.
See a therapist
I used to think I was too busy to see a psychologist on a weekly basis. These days, I am no less busy, but I can't imagine not seeing my therapist every Friday. We can always come up with countless reasons not to make the commitment, but when you find the right person to talk to, it all becomes irrelevant. What started as a way to process the aftermath of my eating disorder has since evolved into a weekly practice of self-awareness; a tool to help me gain perspective on different concerns and emotions, even when they seem relatively inconsequential. And I know that I am a better person—and in turn, a better employee—for it.
"I hate to credit this to my ex, but going through a nasty breakup was the inciting incident that made me sign up for therapy," adds associate editor Audrey Noble. "When it happened, I had been struggling with my parents' divorce for a year with no support, and I started a job that wasn't a great fit for me. It was an emotional pileup that I couldn't handle on my own anymore, so a mentor of mine suggested I see a therapist—she said therapy was the best decision she has ever made.
"She was right. I schedule my sessions on Tuesdays toward the end of a workday to end things on a reflective note, and it clears my mind for the rest of the workweek when things are really busy. There's something to be said about having an outside party with no ties to your life not only weigh in with his or her objective opinion but also call you out on unhealthy behavior. It also serves as a great outlet to express emotions in a healthy way."
Next up: Learn how the term "self-care" became such a status symbol—and how to take ownership of it again.