One of the best ways we can cultivate mental health is to practice self care. Self care helps us cope with daily stressors and makes us less susceptible to feeling overwhelmed or burnt out. It seems self-explanatory on the surface — it’s just taking of yourself, right? But ‘taking care of yourself’ is different for everyone and will likely shift for each of us as we move through life. We all have to find and redefine our own unique ways to practice self care, and that road is bound to have some barriers and bumps along the way. Here are some tips for practicing better self care, whatever ‘taking care of yourself’ means to you right now.
1. Challenge misconceptions about self care
Self care has become a bit of a buzzword over the last few years. And as with many concepts that find their way into pop culture vernacular, it’s become vulnerable to being distorted, co-opted, and misunderstood. Common misconceptions are that self care needs to be expensive, glamorous, elaborate, or time-consuming. You don’t need a lot of extra time or money to practice self care, and your self care doesn’t have to be instagram-worthy. Another misconception is that numbing activities (such as excessive eating, drinking, or 'retail therapy') are self care. Self care is about doing what we know is best for our wellbeing and what aligns with our values, not about indulging in quick-fixes that hurt us in the long run.
2. Consider self care in different areas of your life
A helpful way to think about self care is to consider how you take care of yourself in different parts of your life. Some common areas for self care are listed below. You can take these as is or you can use them to come up with categories that better fit your life. You might also find that these categories overlap for you.
Physical self care: doing what makes your body feel good — eating, sleeping, movement, health care, physical pleasure
Emotional self care: processing emotions — feeling your feelings, expressing your feelings, using coping skills, self-reflection, emotional pleasure/joy
Intellectual self care: nourishing and challenging your mind — learning new things, hobbies
Social self care: getting the amount and type of connection that feels good — friends and family, boundaries, community, social media
Practical self care: tending to the tangible things that support you — finances, home, work
Spiritual self care: connecting with something bigger — prayer, ritual, meditation, identity
3. Unhook from productivity and self-improvement mindsets
When self care becomes a way to ‘fix’ ourselves or optimize our life to get more done we miss the point. It can feel like a reminder that we’ll never be good enough or like one more activity to check off of our to-do list. Self care isn’t about self-improvement or doing it all; it’s about looking out for yourself because you are worthy and deserving of care. If you struggle to unhook from productivity or self-improvement mindsets, try setting an intention before practicing self care. You can intend to be there for yourself, be on your own team, or accept yourself as you are in the moment.
4. Address guilt
We’ve been socialized to think that taking time for ourselves is selfish (especially women and femmes), so it’s completely understandable that guilt might arise around practicing self care. Do what feels right to you to work through this emotion and create a new narrative.
5. Schedule and prioritize time for self care
Think of self care as an important meeting with yourself. Block off time in your calendar (even just a few minutes) to practice self care. Try to commit to this as best as you can. Ride out any urges to cancel or reschedule on yourself.
6. Build self care into your routine
Established routines can be a great place to practice self care, even if it only involves a shift in mindset. For example, your morning shower can become self care if you approach it as taking care of your physical wellbeing. You can also adjust your routines to add in small pieces of self care, like reading a few pages of an interesting book before bedtime or thinking about what you’re grateful for as you brush your teeth.
7. Learn how to check in with yourself
Sometimes we need to focus on self care outside of scheduled time or daily routines, and that’s okay. Learning how to check in with yourself can help you develop the self awareness to recognize your needs and do something to meet them. To check in with yourself, pause, take a breath, notice your body, and try asking yourself some of these questions:
How am I feeling today?
What’s going on in my body?
What emotions are here?
What thoughts are here?
Do I feel safe?
What do I need right now?