Morning routines, healthy eating, and the perfect meditation app – that’s what most of us think about now when we think about self-care. It often feels like there’s pressure from industries to have the perfect self-care routine down flat. Most of the time, those routines include purchasing something – either a product or a long-term subscription to a service.
The self-improvement industry nets billions of dollars a year, and yet many people feel more and more stressed out by self-care – it’s yet another thing to add to your To-Do list, yet another thing to use to compare yourself to others. Sometimes, it can feel like there is an industrial complex behind the self-care movement. When you’re trying to improve your mental health, it’s really hard to know where to start.
In some ways, the term “self-care” has lost its meaning. How do we genuinely pursue self-improvement when it seems like the requirements never end? When you’re low on funds, time, and mental space, self-care can feel next to impossible. But the reality is, self-care doesn’t have to be a competition, and it doesn’t have to break the bank. Self-care doesn’t have to be a buzzword – instead, we want to see it as a holistic practice that involves the whole body, mind, and soul.
When we lose sight of the real intention behind doing self-care, we fall into the self-care complex. We tell ourselves: I can’t self-care because I don’t have the time, money, or headspace for it. So, let’s revisit what it means to self-care in the first place.
What is Self-Care?
The National Institute of Mental Health defines self-care as “taking the time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical health and mental health.”
Self-care has an extremely broad definition: but really, it just means taking the time to prioritize your own well-being, whatever that might look like for you. Even with a broad definition, there is one thing about self-care that is clear: anything that makes you feel better and healthier day-to-day counts.
Self-care is about showing your soul and your body the love they deserve. It doesn’t have to be about reaching a goal or showing other people that you are healthy. Instead, self-care should be all about YOU. Your body does everything you need it to, and your mind commits itself to your tasks every day. Self-care is about thanking your body, mind, and soul for the work it does every day, keeping you alive. It’s a process of returning to peace and rest, letting yourself feel whole again.
It’s okay to not have the perfect diet, morning routine, or self-care practices. In fact, self-care will look different for everyone, and that is something that we should celebrate.
How to Find Self-Care that Works for You:
If self-care can be anything that makes you feel better, then how do we find what works? We have a few short steps that might help you discover what works best for you:
- Make a list of the activities that bring you joy – any activity that makes you smile, lightens your heart, and makes you think and feel more positively about yourself
- Pick a few of these activities that you can do every day or every few days
- Stick to a schedule – create a wellness journal for yourself, or a self-care schedule that will help you be consistent
- Set reminders on your phone or your calendar so you never miss an opportunity to take care of yourself
Everyone’s self-care routine can and should look different. We all have different ways of treating ourselves and feeling better. What works for someone else might not work for you, and that’s okay!
Here are some examples of self-care techniques that I use in my own life:
- Practicing the ukulele
- Writing down how I felt that day in a self-care journal (you can make one yourself!)
- Taking a long, hot bath
- Listening to music from my favorite video games on YouTube (Animal Crossing!)
- Sitting in the sun for five minutes
- Wrapping myself in a soft blanket
- Writing a letter to myself that focuses on how proud I am of me
- Lighting a candle
- Singing at the top of my lungs in the car
- Asking for a hug from my best friends and roommates
- Taking my dog on a walk around the block
- Coloring in my adult coloring book (I highly recommend this one!)
- Reading a favorite book from childhood
- Knitting or crocheting
- Dancing around my room with abandon
How to Use Self-Care Every Day:
Self-care often feels like a chore. When it’s time for me to self-care, sometimes I don’t want to do it. I would rather keep feeling overwhelmed and sad. That’s why it has helped me so much to create a schedule to keep me on track. I even asked my best friends and family members to remind me to self-care when they can – that way, I know how important it is to care for myself. Here are some ways that you can incorporate self-care into your life:
Block Scheduling: Block scheduling is the practice of creating large (or small!) chunks of time dedicated to one activity. This method of scheduling is also called “time blocking,” and it has been used in schools for a long time to increase productivity in students. You can use block scheduling in your own free time, as well! This is a great method to make sure you have enough time in the day to get everything done, including self-care. You can use any scheduling software, but I recommend using Google Calendar! It’s a free and easy way to plan out your time to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. Find out more about block scheduling here.
Create a wellness journal: Having a place to track your self-care practices can really help you enjoy the process more. Writing improves cognition, which in turn connects you to the work you’re doing for yourself! Try repurposing an old journal or notebook by putting dates on the pages and list your self-care activities whenever you can.
Set reminders on your phone: If you have a smartphone, you can download a reminder app or use the one provided to remind you to do your self-care practices daily! You can also set alarms to remind you periodically throughout the day.
Ask your loved ones to remind you: Tell your loved ones about your self-care habits and ask if they would be willing to remind you to keep up with it! A simple text or a call every now and then might help you remember to prioritize your health and well-being. Just letting your loved ones know that you are working to self-care more will help to keep you more accountable with your wellness practices.
Put sticky notes around your living space: Some people learn much better visually, which is why sticky notes can be a great option for keeping up with self-care practice! Place sticky notes in strategic places where you know you will see them every day. Put sticky notes on the objects and in places where you do your self-care practice: this will help you have a visual reminder.
Do it at the same time every day: Assign yourself a time of the day when you have nothing else going on; this can be first thing in the morning, right before bedtime, or any time in between! Doing your self-care practice every day (or every few days) at the same time will help you build confidence and consistency. Soon enough, you’ll start to look forward to that time.
Incentivize yourself: Reward yourself when you get your self-care work done. Let yourself have a great meal, a day out with friends, or something special that you’ve had your eye on! By incentivizing your self-care, you start to train your brain – you’ll see self-care as a positive, helpful thing that comes with rewards when you do it.
Pick one day of the week to dedicate to self-care: Choosing one day out of the week to practice is an easy way to manage your self-care schedule when you have a lot of other things going on. If you have an especially light Monday evening, focus on doing your self-care on that day! If Sundays work best for you, then do your self-care on a Sunday and make a habit of it. Having a whole day dedicated to loving yourself and giving yourself what you need is a powerful way to keep your momentum going throughout the week.
Be Kind to Yourself:
The most important part of learning how to self-care effectively is recognizing that you are on a journey. There is no right or wrong, no forwards or backwards: everything you do to care for yourself is about practice and progress. It takes practice to learn how to support yourself, and every time you try, that means you are making progress. Be proud of yourself for the work you’ve already done to get here. Some days, I feel like I’m moving in the wrong direction: when you have one of those days, know that you are always making progress, no matter what your brain tells you. Be kind to yourself and be proud – you have come a long way, and there is still an exciting journey ahead of you.
Let us know if these practices help you figure out your own self-care journey! And remember: learning how to self-care takes time and practice, but it doesn’t have to be expensive or competitive. Self-care should be your time to love yourself unconditionally, and we all need that in our lives.