Taking care of yourself is a full-time job.
No matter how you pay your bills, your well-being requires constant attention. When you have the energy, this is a great thing — you can focus on nurturing your well-being and finding balance.
But sometimes, the demands of life might get in the way — and especially of work. In 2021, 95% of workers felt pressured to overwork, and 53% started their day early or stayed late several days a week. It’s no coincidence that 52% of workers feel burned out or surrounded by a toxic work culture.
And with so much energy going to the workplace, self-care practices might be at the bottom of your to-do list.
If this sounds familiar, it’s time to learn how to protect your energy. That means setting boundaries to avoid burnout and anxiety and guarding against the people and things that drain you.
What does it mean to protect your energy?
Protecting your energy means communicating your needs and setting healthy precedents in both personal and professional settings. When defending your energy, set sustainable limits to what people can expect from you and avoid being asked for more than you can handle.
Finding ways to limit negativity in your life, whether that’s ending toxic relationships or building healthier habits, means prioritizing your needs over others.
Avoiding things that drain or frustrate you isn’t always realistic. Difficult situations are often unavoidable. But by setting boundaries and communicating your needs, you can set a precedent and dodge many obstacles before they happen.
Why is it important to protect your energy?
Protecting your energy is an investment in your mental health.
Imagine an hourglass. The sand slowly falls to the bottom as seconds pass. Eventually, there’s no sand left at the top, and you have to flip it over and let it recharge.
Emotional wellness is similar. Each decision takes away a few grains of sand. All day, you’re expending mental energy, whether it’s making decisions, completing hard tasks, or communicating with people who have toxic traits.
Even if we think we can take on everything at once, we don’t have infinite mental energy. And as social beings, we’re also susceptible to other people’s feelings.
For example, at work, team performance depends greatly on the moods of each member. People with negative energy — who are tired, angry, or insecure and might be taking it out on you — affect your own mood and drain your energy quickly.
As mental energy drains, we lose physical stamina, lack motivation, and are more prone to procrastination. When you read the room and observe how others’ moods affect you, you can better practice self-preservation.
Protecting your energy means saving some sand in the hourglass for your time after work or on the weekends.
How to protect your energy daily
Here are some ways to protect yourself from depleting your battery.
Find out what drains you
Identify what attracts negative energy, or in other words, figure out what makes you feel drained. Some people might find sharing a space with a work partner stimulating, while others might feel their social battery run dry.
Take some time to get to know yourself. This is the first step to safeguarding from mental distractions.
Give yourself downtime
You need to recharge after draining activities. If meetings tire you out, schedule time to take a walk, grab a coffee, or do something else relaxing to decompress rather than jumping straight into another task.
Listen to how you’re feeling
Responsibilities and stressors fill our days. It’s easy to get lost in the hustle and forget our biggest priority: taking care of ourselves. Emotions predicate many of our decisions, so listen to how you’re feeling before making big decisions or expending more energy.
Acknowledging your emotions puts you in the driver’s seat of mental wellness. It facilitates taking breaks, asking for help, and building stronger relationships with people who bring value.
Protecting your energy also means avoiding distractions that affect your workflow and mood. In 2018, 69% of workers agreed that checking their devices interfered with concentration. Plus, after an interruption, it takes several minutes to re-enter work mode.
Here are a few ways to limit distractions:
Take necessary breaks
Many people feel pressure to work constantly. Some are so engaged with their work they feel guilty taking sick time. And if you’re working on an important project or need to hit a deadline, taking a break might feel counterproductive.
Even when you don’t feel like stepping away, the key to staying productive is taking breaks before the mind and body start shutting down. There are several methods for scheduling break time, like the Pomodoro Technique, which proposes taking breaks between 25-minute focus periods.
Plus, spending time with yourself every day is vital to physical and mental health. A healthy amount of free time increases well-being, so find things to do with your free time that decrease different types of stress and recharge you.
Control your schedule and activities
It’s hard to focus and relax if you’re constantly on the go. Meetings, in particular, take the time you could be using to complete other tasks and can be extra draining if they require to travel. Here are a few ways to gain control:
Limit meetings to a certain time of day: Hold them at the beginning of your work day, or wind down with meetings at the end of the afternoon. Having longer stretches of non-meeting time could increase focus.
Keep them short: After 30 minutes in a meeting, your brain gets tired. Take breaks during meetings or plan to keep them short.
Share information in different ways: Resolve non-urgent decisions over email, a messenger app, or a brief phone call to limit meeting times.
Clean your space
The more cluttered an environment is, the more energy your brain spends filtering it. If you have a task that requires focus, straightening up your space might help. Create a work-from-home setup that sparks productivity, or tidy the office every once in a while.
Don’t look for perfection
Perfectionism makes you more susceptible to burnout and discontentment. If you’re constantly editing tasks or feel like you can’t trust anyone else to do them, take a deep breath.
It’s okay to want to do well, but learning how to let things go is part of a healthy mindset. Rather than seeking perfection, find areas for betterment. Ask for constructive criticism and trust others to work without micromanaging.
Build a positive social circle
Energy is contagious, and paying attention to your own energy isn’t enough. Check-in with others. When you’re surrounded by people who suffer from workplace stress and make non-constructive comments, it can affect your own feelings.
We mimic others’ emotions, both positive and negative, which means surrounding ourselves with positive energy can help us feel the same way. Find colleagues and friends who make you happy, respect boundaries and root for your success.
People tend to focus more on negative situations and feelings than positive ones. Negative experiences help us grow and learn important lessons, but focusing too much on what’s wrong can lead to insecurity, fear, anxiety, depression, and lower general well-being.
Instead, try to find the things you’re grateful for. Practicing gratitude at work and in life helps foster positive energy, and identifying the things that bring joy helps you seek them in the future.
Tips to regulate your energy at work
For many Americans, work is especially draining. Here are some tips to help you focus on the positives and put yourself first in the workplace.
1. Avoid non-promotable tasks
Non-promotable tasks are the things that help a company but not individual professional growth. These might be tasks that aren’t your job or could easily be completed by anyone, like organizing meeting minutes, putting together work events, or filling in for a co-worker without compensation.
Saying yes to everything might feel good, but chances are your time and energy are better spent elsewhere. You might be sacrificing a chance to move up the ladder or improve on skills.
Before taking on extra work, weigh out the pros and cons. Consider what you’re turning down when you say yes to this task, whether that means getting home early or team bonding events. It’s okay to set boundaries, say no, and stick to the job you were hired to do.
You don’t have to do every task as soon as it lands on your desk. Gauge its importance and its timeline and find its place in your schedule. Trying to tackle everything at once can lead to burnout, so prioritization is an important step.
Try keeping a calendar or writing out a daily or weekly to-do list to spread out tasks and prevent taking on too much.
3. Practice positive affirmations
Positive affirmations — statements in the present tense that assert your worth and validate your feelings — help control your mind. Saying them out loud or writing them down helps avoid negative emotions and fosters a healthy mental attitude. Here are a few examples of positive affirmations:
I am capable and good at my job.
I am improving every day.
I am in control of my own energy.
I am motivated and full of good ideas.
Practice affirmations if you’re feeling down, but incorporating them into daily life, even when you’re already happy, helps keep the positivity flowing. Search for positive phrases you identify with and turn to those quotes to protect your energy. Keep them on your desk or post them in a mirror to remember your worth every day.
4. Help others, to a point
Teamwork is an important part of any job, but practicing balance is just as vital. Being constantly distracted by other people’s tasks could impact your ability to work efficiently. While it’s nice to lend a helping hand, remember that you were hired to do your job and nobody else’s.
Be mindful of whether you’re simply helping or taking on too much. Help your team within reason, learn where your boundaries are, and communicate them. If you’re feeling drained, let a supervisor, co-workers, or friends know so they can better respect your energy.
Create a positive energy field
Negative situations and draining people are unavoidable, so surround yourself with meaningful activities that prop you up rather than pull you down.
Burnout is a common phenomenon, and we’re all susceptible to picking up the bad energy around us. With intentional self-care, we can protect our energy, avoid burnout, and set healthy boundaries.