A while ago, I talked to a friend struggling with his mental health after his not-yet-girlfriend broke up with him. I asked him if he practiced self-care, and he said: “I couldn’t care less about self-care.”
I tried to explain to him that self-care isn’t feminine, bubble baths, or an extra task added to an already overflowing task list. Instead, self-care is taking care of yourself, so you’re in the best state mentally and physically.
A day later, I saw a shared update on Facebook from Kayla Itsines about self-care. Unfortunately, it’s been deleted, so I can’t link to it, but I wrote down the most essential part:
“To me, [self-care] means being disciplined enough to do things that I may not feel like doing at the time, but I know are going to make me happier and healthier in the long run. For example, I could easily spend some nights lazing around and scrolling through social media once Arna is in bed. But I KNOW I will be happier if I am disciplined and do a BBG workout instead.”
For me, it took a LONG time to see working out, cooking nutritious meals, and going out for walks as self-care. They always were activities I HAD to do to be a healthy adult.
I did think of bubble baths and face masks as self-care, even though I didn’t particularly enjoy them.
Then I got a burn-out and really noticed the difference in my health and well-being when I cared for myself.
So if you also think of self-care as mandatory (and expensive!) bubble baths that only stress you out, read on and let’s discuss what self-care can look like for you.
- What is self-care?
- How to create your self-care plan
- Types of self-care activities
- Examples of self-care
What is self-care?
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-care as:
“The ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.”
“Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.”
The International Self-Care Foundation focuses on
“self-care in the preservation of wellness in healthy people, to help prevent the epidemic of lifestyle diseases,”
and uses the Seven Pillars of Self-Care to illustrate what self-care looks like:
As you can see, self-care involves all five lifestyle factors:
- Relaxation—or sleep, stress management, resting, recreation, and entertainment
I like this view from Gracy Obuchowicz, self-care coach:
“Self-improvement comes from a perfectionist mindset, where we think there is something we need to fix about ourselves. (…) But self-care is different because it’s about allowing yourself to have a nurturing experience of life right now as opposed to when you work harder in the future. Self-care is something that when you do it, you wake up the next morning feeling better, while numbing is something that when you wake up the next day, you think, ‘Maybe I didn’t need that extra glass of wine or dessert.’”
Or, even easier, Agnes Wainman, clinical psychologist, explains self-care as:
“Something that refuels us, rather than takes from us.”
So what is self-care? It’s just what it sounds like: taking care of yourself to manage your mental, physical, and emotional health.
Note: This is different than me-time. That’s when you take time for yourself and only do things to recharge. Self-care includes things like self-development, coping, and attending to your needs.
Why is self-care important?
Looking after yourself is vital to control (and improve) your health.
In our modern society, more and more people are struggling with anxiety and depression, and our lives are increasingly busy. It can be easy to forget yourself, especially if you have many responsibilities and other people to care for. But you can’t take care of others if you’re not taken care of.
Benefits of self-care include:
- Improving your physical health
- Reducing stress and anxiety
- Boosting your self-esteem
- Protecting your mental health
- Leading to better relationships
Why do we fail at self-care?
Because self-care has an image problem. It’s seen as a luxury for privileged people.
Research from Samueli Integrative Health Programs (2019) shows that:
- 44% of US consumers believe self-care is only possible for people with enough time
- 35% believe self-care is only possible for those with enough money (and nowadays, nobody has enough time or money!).
- 28% of Americans say they feel guilty when practicing self-care
Most of us are super busy, have stressful jobs and families to take care of, and easily fall into the social media trap. Result? We don’t feel like we have time to spend on ourselves or feel guilty if we do.
People also think they don’t need self-care because
- They don’t want to be selfish
- They believe they aren’t worth it
- Results are worth more than their well-being
- They’re tough men, and self-care is “for girls”
Another reason we fail at self-care is because self-care is not built into our routines. It’s not a one-and-done thing—self-care should be made up of tiny, regular habits making sure you’re at your best.
So how do we do that?
How to create your self-care plan
Implementing small self-care habits into your daily routine ensures you regularly take this time and energy to care for yourself. Who knows, maybe you’ll even be able to build it out a little and fit in some more extensive self-care!
Dr. Wayne Jonas, from Samueli Integrative Health Programs, says: “People assume they have to do [self-care] as a separate activity rather than build them into the routines of their life, yet they’re spending time on them anyway but not doing them in a way that keeps them healthy. We all sleep and move and eat and have ways of addressing stress in positive or negative ways that come up every single day, so the most important part of self-care can be built into a routine habit that you’re already spending time at.”
Remember: Self-care can mean different things to everyone and your self-care routine may even change over time. The general rule is that anything that brings you health or happiness qualifies as self-care.
- Assess which areas of your life need more attention and self-care. For example, a college student with a busy social life might need to focus on physical and emotional self-care. Someone who works from home may need to emphasize social self-care. Read more about types of self-care below.
- Determine which activities qualify as self-care for you. Ask yourself, what do you do to keep yourself healthy? Which activities make you feel accomplished, happy, productive, content?
- Start small. Choose one activity and think of how you can incorporate that into your routine in the next week or how you can re-think it from a chore to self-care. Is it a daily activity or x times a week? How, when, and where will you do it? Remember, you can start with habits that take less than a minute!
- Practice that new self-care habit for a week and reflect on how it feels. Does it help you? Do you need to adjust?
- Add or modify self-care habits as you go.
Try to start with some basics. Don’t try to incorporate a completely new self-care routine right away because that’s overwhelming and you’ll find more forms of self-care that work for you over time.
Self-care is something that you need to plan—it doesn’t just happen. Add it to your calendar, look for opportunities to practice self-care. Try to be conscious about it. If you don’t see something as self-care, it won’t work as such. Be aware of what you do, why you do it, how it feels, and its outcomes are.
Even if you don’t have a lot of time, you can still practice self-care by turning things you already do into self-care practices. For example, pick your favorite scent for your morning shower, look out the window during your morning commute and notice people, reflections, colors, feel the accomplishment of making your bed in the morning, etc.
Your healthy coping mechanisms and comfort activities also qualify as self-care!
Types of self-care activities
There are different types of self-care activities, although they may overlap.
- Emotional self-care (mind): I mentioned healthy coping mechanisms just above, and these comfort activities help you process your emotions. I give 30 examples of comfort activities in this blog post.
- Physical self-care (body): Take care of your body if you want it to run efficiently. Eating well, working out, sleeping enough, and caring for your physical needs (doctor’s appointments, medication, etc.) all help with your physical self-care. As a result, you’ll feel better and have more energy too.
- Spiritual self-care (soul): Whether you’re religious or not, including spiritual practices in your routine helps you develop a more profound sense of meaning and understanding. This could be praying or attending a religious service, but also meditation.
- Mental self-care: Mental self-care includes things that keep your mind sharp (like puzzles or learning) and keep your inner dialogue healthy—practice self-compassion and acceptance.
- Social self-care: When you’re busy, it’s hard to make time for friends and relationships, but close connections are essential for your well-being. Everyone has different social needs, but it’s crucial to figure out your social needs and build enough time for friends and family into your routine.
- Practical self-care (your surroundings): Keeping your surroundings clean and neat is good for your physical and mental health. For some people, doing chores is an act of self-care as it makes them feel accomplished.
Some also consider environmental, financial, and professional care under self-care. Environmental care would be using fewer single-use products and recycling and reducing waste, for example. Financial care means paying your bills, getting out of debt, and staying on top of your finances. Finally, professional self-care involves activities that help you consistently work professionally, like coaching, reading professional journals, or attending development programs.
Think of yourself like you’re a Sim. You know how they have the bars with hunger, hygiene, bladder, energy, fun, and social needs that need to be kept green to keep the Sim healthy? We’re the same, except we don’t have visual reminders to show us which bar should be a priority at all times.
Examples of self-care
Honestly, almost everything can be seen as self-care. It’s so different for everyone! In reality, anything that makes you feel better or cared for and is not detrimental to your health can be considered self-care.
- A nutritious, balanced eating pattern.
- Think of what you’re grateful for each evening before bed.
- Get enough good sleep. Your sleep can have a massive effect on how you feel and function, so make sure you sleep enough and well.
- Set intentions for your day right after you wake up.
- Take care of plants, a garden, or keep a vegetable garden.
- Exercise. Contrary to what you might think, exercise is as good for your emotional health as it is for your body. It increases serotonin and dopamine (happy hormones!), which improves your mood and energy. It doesn’t have to be the gym if you don’t enjoy that. Find a form of exercise that works for you.
- Watch a documentary.
- Get your medical care. Even if nothing’s bothering you, get your check-ups done at your doctor’s and dentist before something starts bothering you.
- Stop hitting snooze—don’t start your day with not wanting to live that day
- Spend time with family and friends.
- Edit your social media and unfollow, unfriend, or mute people whose updates don’t do you well.
- Help someone. Acts of kindness boost the well-being of both the giver and the receiver.
- Create routines for your day.
- Write down compliments you receive from people (and read through them)
- Interact with pets, especially dogs! If you don’t have one, head to the park and ask if you can pet someone’s dog.
- Catch some sunshine.
- Unplug for a bit. An hour or even 15 minutes of switching your electronics to airplane mode and enjoying uninterrupted time will do you good!
- Stretch your body.
- Look at pictures of cute animals. Studies show that looking at photos or videos of cute animals can increase your mood and decrease stress!
- Say no to something you don’t want to do.
- Exercise a signature strength.
- Read a good book.
- Get organized. This can mean organizing your clothes, books, kitchen, whatever, as well as planning, keeping lists, or writing down plans in your schedule.
- Listen to your favorite music.
- Create an X-care routine to add to your day; skincare, haircare, dental care—something where you spend a few minutes just caring for yourself.
- Floss regularly.
- Talk to a therapist. Contact your general physician and get a referral to a psychologist. If that’s not an option for you, check out online therapists. They usually don’t require a referral and have shorter wait times. BetterHelp is available worldwide in several languages.
- Take a deep breath (or three).
- Dance! Whether you think you can or can’t, just turn up your favorite up-tempo song and move your body for a few minutes.
- Drink enough water.
- Go for a walk.
- Look up at the clouds.
- Make a list of five (or more) things you like about yourself.
- Get a new haircut.
- Make a menu for the week.
- Go outside. Being outdoors can help reduce stress and fatigue and lower your blood pressure—even before you’re doing anything. The fresh air will also help you sleep better at night, especially if you combine it with physical activity.
- Write. About your day, your thoughts or feelings. A book. Do prompts. It doesn’t matter what you write!
- And yes: A bubble bath or spa day also qualifies as self-care—but only if you enjoy it.
And so much more!
Self-care is not indulgent or selfish!
So while self-care can be running errands and hanging out at Target with a coffee in hand or taking a bubble bath surrounded by candles, it’s also doing your groceries and meal prepping, getting your steps in before sitting down with Netflix; setting boundaries.
Self-care is not an indulgent, pampering, selfish luxury, although there are activities that could qualify as self-care that might be indulging, pampering, and luxurious to you.
Self-care is NEVER selfish. Ever heard of putting on your own oxygen mask before someone else’s? This is because you can’t take care of the other person if you’re dead. It’s the same with self-care. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of others.
Don’t click away from this article and put pressure on yourself to add self-care to your routine. Take it easy, (baby)step by (baby)step. Ask for help if you need it.
What are some things you do for self-care—intentionally?