How can you take better care of yourself—without it feeling like another task on your to-do list? Here are a few self-care tips and ideas that have helped me.
For much of my twenties, I was very wary about self-care. It felt a bit indulgent, selfish, and (for lack of a better word) a bit ‘woo-woo’. I had a picture in my mind of pampered women wearing fluffy robes with clay face masks, drinking tea from tiny cups.
It sounded nice … but it wasn’t something I could imagine incorporating into my daily routine. I told myself that I didn’t need self-care (and if I’m honest, I thought self-care was for the weak).
By my thirties, my feelings began to change because I noticed a pattern. Whenever I had a bad day (a fight with my husband, a stressful day at work, or just a generally bad mood), I could almost always trace it back to not taking care of myself.
On the other hand, I realised that I could handle difficult situations with ease when I was well-rested and cared for. I spent less time getting upset about little things and more time enjoying my life.
I realised that it was time for a change and I set out to make self-care an active part of my everyday life. But I soon discovered it was much easier said than done. Finding organic ways to incorporate self-care (without it feeling like a chore or just something else on my to-do list) took a lot of time and practice.
If you can relate here are a few self-care tips and ideas that are working for me. Keep in mind that self-care is personal, but I hope my practice will inspire you to incorporate more self-care into your life.
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Self-care Starts With Self-Awareness
A quick Google search up will bring up hundreds of ideas for your self-care practice—but before you dive in, spend some time asking yourself these questions:
- How do you know when you need self-care? What are your warning signs? (Are you snappy? Easily frustrated? Distracted?)
- What type of care do you need? For example, sometimes what I need most is physical care (a nap, exercise, or a healthy meal) and other times I need more emotional support (I have a tendency to feel anxious and overwhelmed when I have too much on my plate).
- What activities give you the support you need? For example, if you’re anxious, do you crave time alone or time spent with friends? The answer isn’t always obvious, so one tip is to be observant when you’re feeling your best—take note of what makes you happy—so you can replicate the feeling when you need it most.
You might not have all the answers right away, but being mindful of these questions will guide you as you experiment with your own self-care routine. Keep these questions in mind as you consider the other tips and ideas in this post.
12 Realistic Self-Care Tips and Ideas
1. CREATE A ‘RESTART’ ROUTINE
This is one of the most powerful tools in my self-care toolkit. I have a simple routine that helps me restart when I feel myself going down the wrong path (like obsessing about negative thoughts or feeling overwhelmed by life).
It’s the mental equivalent of starting a new year or turning to a fresh page in your journal. Once I’ve completed this routine, I feel like I can let go of the past and start fresh in a better state of mind.
My personal routine involves: drinking a glass of water, doing a short yoga video, and then taking a hot shower. While in the shower I take a few deep breaths, indulge in some nice shower oil, and then I get out and put on a fresh outfit.
When I’m short on time, I modify this by drinking water, doing a few simple stretches, and spritzing my face with a rose water toner.
Of course, experiment and find your own restart routine—read a set of favourite quotes or mantras, go for a walk around the block, meditate, or make a hot beverage—but whatever you choose, approach your routine with the intention of letting go and starting fresh.
2. FEEL SMALL
This is a go-to trick when I’m feeling anxious but can’t define why: I go somewhere that makes me feel small. I prefer to get out into nature (among the big trees, blue skies, or mountains if I’m lucky), but I can also invoke the same feeling by getting lost in the city.
Or when I don’t have the freedom to go exploring? Even just taking a few minutes to look out the window helps me a lot. I’m reminded how big and beautiful the world is, and it makes me feel small (and my stress and worries feel smaller too).
3. INVOLVE YOUR SENSES
Studies have shown a link between sounds, smells and memories—so why not use this to our advantage? Try creating playlists that remind you of happy times (like a relaxing holiday) or use special scents that signal to your brain that it’s time to relax.
4.WRITE A LOVE NOTE
I am a very sentimental person, so one guaranteed way to put a smile on my face when I’m feeling down is to write a love note. I like to write to myself, my husband, my babies or even my friends.
No matter who it is, the physical act of writing a love note helps me turn my attention away from my problems and towards the joy in my life. It leaves me feeling grateful—and almost always puts a smile on my face.
Bonus points if you decide to share your letter. Then you get to put a smile on someone else’s face too!
RELATED POST: 5 Ways to Be Kinder to Yourself
5. FOCUS ON YOUR BREATHING
One of the simplest things you can do for yourself is to take a few minutes and focus on your breathing.
In fact, try it right now: close your eyes, take a deep breath, and notice the way it feels passing through your body. Do you feel better?
6. DO SELF-CARE FIRST
When I first started experimenting with self-care, I would use it as a reward to entice myself to do things I didn’t really feel like doing. For example, I’d promise myself I could take a nap or write in my journal once I finished washing the dishes or clearing out my inbox.
While this tactic might work for some, for me it was a total failure. Instead of incentivising myself to get things done, I’d end up negotiating with myself and giving up self-care in exchange for putting off chores.
As a result, I’d end up getting nothing done AND I’d skip self-care.
You might have more self-discipline than me, but if not, what I found worked much better was doing self-care first. The logic behind this is simple. Self-care makes me feel good and when I feel good, it’s easier to get tough jobs done.
7. CREATE A SELF-CARE SWIPE FILE
There are a few variations on this idea (such as a self-care plan or a self-care box) but regardless, the idea is simple: plan and prepare for when you’re feeling [insert difficult emotion here].
For example, you might have a collection of favourite quotes, a list of favourite blog posts, and a playlist you turn to when you’re struggling with confidence.
Or you might have a go-to meditation, a favourite candle, and an inspiring poem you turn to when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
There are a million different combinations and practical ways of making this work. You could create a folder on your laptop, write a list in your journal, or stash a keepsake box on your dresser. As always, find what works for you when you need it most.
8. DO SOMETHING TOUGH
Most of us are used to thinking of self-care in a soft, gentle light (think meditation, candles, etc.) but keep in mind this isn’t the only way to practice self-care. Sometimes one of the most powerful thing you can do for yourself is to check something tough off your to-do list.
It doesn’t have to be an epic project. Sometimes something as simple as responding to an annoying email or making a doctor’s appointment is enough. The key is to take something tough off the table, so you get a feeling of relief when it’s done and dusted.
Alternative idea: try giving yourself permission to simply cross a task off of your to-do list (without doing it!). Sometimes our must do’s aren’t really as important as we think.
9. TRY A LOVING KINDNESS MEDITATION
A few years ago, I discovered Jack Kornfield, an author and meditation teacher. I’ve read two of his books: A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life and Bringing Home the Dharma: Awakening Right Where You Are.
In both books, Kornfield talks about something called a Loving Kindness Meditation:
This meditation uses words, images, and feelings to evoke a loving-kindness and friendliness toward oneself and others. With each recitation of the phrases, we are expressing an intention, planting the seeds of loving wishes over and over in our heart.
He instructs the student to repeat the following mantra, over and over, throughout the day:
May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be well.
May I be peaceful and at ease.
May I be happy.
I decided to give it a try and must confess, at first it felt silly. But I kept at it and after one afternoon of consistent repetition, I really did start to feel full of loving-kindness—so much so that I now try and incorporate this meditation into my daily life.
I don’t have a set routine, but I repeat it whenever it crosses my mind, especially if I catch myself getting anxious or annoyed.
10. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO PRACTICE SELF-CARE
This might sound obvious, but sometimes one of the biggest hurdles to practising self-care is simply giving yourself the permission to do so.
At the start of this post, I told you that I used to think that self-care was for the weak. Now I can see that this belief stemmed from insecurity and feelings of diminished self-worth. I couldn’t make myself a priority because I didn’t believe I was a priority.
This is why I kept trying to use self-care as a reward for doing tough things. I thought I had to earn it first and then when I didn’t follow through with my plans, it just proved my point. Believing that self-care was flaky or unnecessary was a way of protecting myself.
This is why it can be hard to devote time to self-care, even when our logical brains know that it’s important. What we believe emotionally has to catch up with what we know intellectually, and the best way to do this is with practice. Keep making self-care a priority and you’ll start to feel like a priority.
RELATED POST: Finding the Balance Between Rest + Hustle
11. WRITE IN YOUR JOURNAL
Regular readers won’t be surprised to find this on the list. I made a serious commitment to writing in my journal a few years ago and it has been, hands down, one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. After my “Restart Routine”, journaling is probably my number one form of self-care.
If you’re new to journaling, my best advice is to simply open up and write without expectation. Don’t worry about saying anything important. Instead, just write whatever’s on your mind and let it go from there.
You might write two lines, or doodle in the margins, or scribble an epic rant about your day—it doesn’t really matter. Do what feels natural and don’t make it a chore by setting expectations. (Hint: that last bit applies to almost all self-care activities!)
If you’re already a regular journal writer and you’re looking for more structure or new ideas, check out these resources:
- Five Ways to Use Your Journal for Self-Care
- 7 Mindful Journaling Prompts to Calm An Anxious Mind
- 21 Journaling Ideas + Prompts For Self-Discovery
12. LOOK FOR A CURE, NOT A BANDAGE
I hope that you enjoyed the self-care tips in this post—but there’s still one important thing that I want to mention.
If you’re constantly feeling tired or overwhelmed, be careful that you don’t use self-care as a bandage. You have to do more than treat the symptoms. You also want to understand the heart of the problem, and if you can, change it from the roots.
For example, if you’re consistently working yourself to the point of exhaustion, a hot shower might feel good but it’s not the same as asking for help or setting strong boundaries. You can’t “self-care” away a busy and cluttered life, and no candle is going to solve a mental health issue.
How do you practice self-care? Let us know in the comments! x