A guide on self-care; the importance of it and how to practice self-care.
In today’s day and age, it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself.
However, this can be difficult when it’s precisely because of the busy schedules of our modern lives that we need to take the time to focus on self-care in the first place. It feels selfish to take time out to focus on yourself and on things that make you happy - but it’s not.
To help you understand the full importance of self-care, and to tell you about some of the benefits of incorporating some self-care practices into your routine as well as how to go about them, I’ve put together this comprehensive and complete guide to self-care.
From spending more time asleep to taking time during the day to do the things you love, there are a number of things that you can do to practice self-care and reap the rewards.
The Importance of Self-Care
The daily stress and burnout that is being experienced by the masses more than ever before has made self-care a necessity. Think I’m just exaggerating? According to Google Search Trends, the phrase “self-care” has been searched for twice as much as it was back in 2015.
So, clearly, people are looking for answers. Paula Gill Lopez claims it’s obvious and goes as far as to say “we have an epidemic of anxiety and depression”, and that “everybody feels it”.
This is why self-care is so important, as it is able to help us deal with the everyday stresses and difficulties in our daily lives. Without self-care to alleviate the pressures of your busy schedule, it can become impossible to continue chugging on, as much as you may want to.
What is Self-Care?
In its most general sense, self-care is a popular term used to describe any acts of kindness - but instead of showing this kindness to others, you’re focusing it on yourself.
Self-care comes in many forms, although if you believe what you see online, social media will make you think the only way to practice self-care is if it’s Instagram-worthy. Think bubble baths and spa days so you can have a photo-shoot to get the self-care content you need.
Or actually, don’t. These may be perfectly lovely things to do when you’re feeling low and if that’s what you like then you do you, but it’s not the only way to “do” self-care the right way.
“Self-care is not synonymous with self-indulgence or being selfish. Self-care means taking care of yourself so that you can be healthy, you can be well, you can do your job, you can help and care for others, and you can do all the things you need and want to accomplish”.
Most of the time, self-care involves acts that aim to replenish the mind, body, and soul.
Benefits of Self-Care
Seeing as self-care is “the set of activities in which one engages throughout life on a daily basis” as it’s defined by a 2012 study in the JBL Library of Systematic Reviews, it can promote better health, prevent illness, and can help you manage any issues that arise in life.
Some of the other benefits of self-care include:
Increases productivity: When you make time for yourself within your schedule, you may feel like you’re taking time away from what needs to be done, but you may actually find that you’re more productive after taking a bit of a break for self-care.
Enhances self-esteem: Taking better care of yourself is a great way to improve your self-esteem as you’ll naturally begin to feel better about yourself the more you pay attention to and meet your needs. It’s a reminder that you are worthy of kindness.
Encourages self-awareness: As you start to think about what you need to do in order to practice self-care, you might start to spot what it is that’s stressing you and you will become more aware of when you reach a point of needing some self-care.
Improves social interactions: Social connections are a form of self-care in themselves, but they can also be improved with the help of self-care as you’ll be in a better mindframe to hang out with your friends and family in the first place.
One of the main benefits of self-care is that it can help you manage stress either by providing a break or offering you some time to yourself to work through what is stressing you out. Self-care can also promote a more positive mindset which can help relieve stress.
Examples of How to Practice Self-Care
As I’ve mentioned, there are a number of different ways you can practice self-care. You don’t necessarily need to spend money or book a whole week off work (although feel free to if that’s what you think you need… capitalism be damned!) in order to take care of yourself.
I’ve put together a list of some of the best and easiest ways you can practice self-care. Keep reading to find out what they are so you can start implementing them in your own life!
If you feed your body healthy, nutritious foods, then you’re going to feel healthier and happier.
Even when you’re actively trying to take better care of yourself, it can be quite challenging to make sure you’re getting the goodness that you need from food when you feel burnt out.
Think about it. After you’ve (heroically, by the way - well done) dragged yourself to the end of a busy work week and you’re in desperate need of some self-care, even though you know a bowl of healthy food will help energize you, it’s much easier to reach for a takeout menu.
Meal planning is an excellent way to help combat the mid to end of week slump that the majority of people face. You can create a rough or a detailed plan depending on your needs and you can even prep some of your healthy meals in advance so they’re easy to reach for.
To make healthy eating even easier, there are now numerous meal prep services and healthy subscriptions online - why not invest in one of these to save yourself some time?
Do Things That Make You Happy
Actively doing things that make you feel good and feed your soul is a huge part of self-care.
Remember, the whole point of self-care is to try and alleviate some of the stressors you experience in your daily life, and a great way to do this is to do things that make you happy.
Whether it’s a hobby you enjoy like reading, baking, or hiking, you should make sure you are doing things that make you happy. If you can’t find the motivation to do things you already love, why not try to enjoy the excitement of something new? You might even love it!
Take Some Time Off
It’s not always easy to take time for yourself, especially if you’re working full time and when you have other responsibilities outside of work that you can’t exactly take a holiday from.
Parenting your children and paying the mortgage are two things you can’t really take time off from, for example, but without taking a break you won’t be able to fulfil these responsibilities anyway. It’s therefore important to take some time off work if you need to for your health.
This includes mental health - as much as we struggle with the concept of taking a day or two off work so you can deal with an overworked mental state, it can be hugely beneficial, so you should never hesitate to take a mental health day, according to sources such as Healthline.
You can give up everything for your employers and end up driving yourself into the ground for your work, but can you really say that they’d do the same for you? Be smart and put yourself first. It will be beneficial for your job, as you’ll be more productive after a break.
We all know that water is good for us and our bodies. It’s shouted at us in health campaigns, throughout the whole of the summer, and even on the designs of some water bottles.
So, it makes sense that a form of self-care is to drink more water. This isn’t always easy for everyone, but some ways to increase your water intake include:
- Add fruits to your water to flavor it.
- Drink a glass of water every time you use the bathroom.
- Drink a glass of water before every meal.
- Use an app or a habit tracker to keep an eye on your water intake for the day.
- Get a water bottle that tells you how much you should drink.
- Invest in a water filter.
- Drink herbal teas.
- Eat foods that have a high water content, such as watermelon.
Another great tip is to drink a glass of water first thing in the morning when you wake up. This is because you’re obviously not taking in any more water while you sleep - although you may lose some if you wake up during the night for a toilet break - so you'll be dehydrated.
You’re more likely to feel rubbish when you wake up if you’re dehydrated, so remember to reach for your water bottle and replenish your body’s H2O to start your day off well.
Care For Your Body
Taking care of your mindstate and your mental health is super important, but you should also be taking care of your body as well if you want to truly practice self-care. It’s a form of strengthening your mind, soul, and body, remember, not just your mind and soul.
This could include yoga or another form of exercise, or it could be the opposite and resting your body by spending a quiet weekend at home instead of rushing around everywhere.
A largely overlooked but surprisingly effective way to take care of your body is to sit up straight and work on keeping a better posture. A slouched posture can become a habit that you reflexively revert back to when you sit down or walk, so make the effort to straighten up.
There are plenty of ways you can work to improve your posture, such as adjusting yourself in your chair so that you’re sitting upright with a straight back. Place your hands on your thighs and rest them there while you squeeze your shoulder blades together. Hold for five seconds.
Repeat this three or four times during the day and eventually you’ll notice improved posture.
Other ways to care for your body include:
- Deep breathing
- Dancing like you did when you were a kid
- Stretching your body
- Wearing comfortable clothes
And basically anything else that makes your body feel good.
Get Plenty of Sleep
It seems like one of the most obvious things you can do for yourself, but it’s simultaneously one of the hardest aspects of self-care to implement in your life, especially if one of the reasons you are feeling so stressed is because of the sheer volume of work on your plate.
According to several studies, like the Gallup poll from 2013, a surprising 40 percent of American adults achieve less than seven hours of sleep in a night. When you consider that the average recommendation is seven to nine hours of sleep, this is not getting enough.
Trading in an hour of your time that could be potentially used for work or household chores for an extra hour in bed may not necessarily feel like it’s time well spent, but it can have a huge and positive impact on both your mental and your physical health.
Try Practising Mindfulness
Mindfulness has been around for centuries and has been practiced in various different forms in various cultures all over the world. You can practice mindfulness in a few ways, including:
- Practice breathing techniques.
- Pause to take a moment of mindfulness every day.
- Write down what you’re feeling grateful for.
Self-care and mindfulness can go hand in hand sometimes, such as when you’re taking these small moments out of your day to appreciate the beauty of the world around you.
Meditation is another great way to go about practicing mindfulness and this can have beneficial effects in itself, as this usually requires you taking a break in your day to find somewhere quiet and peaceful so you can get in touch with your inner feelings.
Focus on the Positive Things in Life
It’s easy to become bogged down by the bad stuff in our lives, especially since the start of the global pandemic which has led to more people making work their sole focus, whether because you were working from home or due to the anxieties around losing your job.
You can take five minutes to write down the things you’re grateful for every morning using a journal or habit tracker which is a great way to make sure you’re focusing on the most positive parts of your life, or affirmation cards are another cool method to boost your mood.
Alexandra Elle, the author of ‘Growing in Gratitude’, states that “putting things on paper helps to acknowledge the negative, whilst not letting it overtake the positives in your life.”
Speak to a Therapist if Needed
It’s important for us to acknowledge that this isn’t a solution or a form of self-care that is accessible to everyone, for whatever reason, but for those for whom it is an option, speaking to a therapist can be a method of self-care that allows you to address your inner emotions.
By speaking to a therapist, you can work through whatever it is that you’re feeling or struggling with in a safe environment. Your therapist might even be able to suggest which areas of your life could benefit from some self-care and where you’re overextending yourself.
This can also be a good way to work on the relationships in your life.
Go Shopping with Friends or Treat Yourself
Treating yourself is an important part of self-care. It’s easy to get too wrapped up in things we need to or should be doing, but it’s nice to take a moment for yourself every so often.
Whilst it might sound like an excuse you used to justify your spending, I’m pleased to report that actual science has shown that shopping can lift one’s spirits, as proven by a study from 2011 which looked at the effects that shopping had on the mood levels of 407 adults.
You don’t have to spend millions - even little treats, like buying some new candles or indulging in a monthly subscription box you’ve had your eye on, can have a big positive impact on your mental health. So, go on and get shopping. You can even say that I twisted your arm when the credit card bill for the month turns up in the post.
Take Up a New Hobby
Trying something new can be a great way to practice self-care as it’s a way of trying something for yourself, without any expectations or demands of you. It can be something you do that is purely for your enjoyment and your enjoyment alone.
If there’s something that you have always wanted to do, but you’ve never quite got around to trying it, why not make it your self-care task for the week to sign up for an introductory class?
Need some inspiration? Why not start a small vegetable patch in your garden or a plot of flowers at your local allotment? There are many therapeutic benefits associated with nurturing plants, so this is a great hobby to turn your (about-to-be-green-thumbed) hands to.
Here are some other fun new hobbies that you could try for your next self-care day.
Take Some Time Off of Social Media
One of the hills that I’m willing to die on is that there’s nothing more beneficial for ourselves and our mental health than to take a complete break from technology and social media.
Our brains were simply not designed to cope with the amount of information and social interaction that we are faced with on a daily basis, so it’s no wonder that we’re overwhelmed.
Detoxing from social media creates boundaries that you can stick to so you can fully enjoy the other areas of your life without distraction. Plus, when you’re constantly scrolling through your social media feeds, how are you supposed to find the time to practice self-care?
Whilst the thought of taking a break from social media might strike fear into your heart and your purposeless fingers (if that’s the case, then you could definitely benefit from a social media detox) then the latest developments in smartphone technology may come in handy.
You can now adjust your screen time settings for your phone which can limit how much time you’re allowed to spend on your social media apps, forcing you to take a break. If you have a bit more self-control, why not try to spend the last half an hour before bed reading instead?
Clean Up Your Personal Space
A tidy room equals a tidy mind, or so my mother loved telling me when I was a child. In all fairness to her, there is definitely truth in this statement, so setting aside some time to clean up your personal space and the areas you spend the most time in is definitely self-care.
Tidying your bedroom, for example, can have a big impact on your daily life. You’ll know exactly what you have and where it’s kept, which will make life much easier, and it can generally have health benefits and can help you feel less stressed and less distracted.
This can extend to your digital spaces as well! You could set aside some time to organize the files on your computer or laptop, for example, which will free up some space and can help you keep track of your important documents. If you’re organizing old photos, it might be nice to take a trip down memory lane while you’re organizing and going through everything.
Spend Time with Your Loved Ones
The people we love tend to know us the best, so spending time with them can be a great way to meet your social needs without the added stress and pressure of meeting new people. These are the people you enjoy hanging out with the most, so arrange a hangout!
You are pretty much guaranteed to come away feeling happier and more fulfilled, and scheduling some time for socializing with the people you love the most can be a great way to break up the business of your day-to-day life. Plus, you’ll probably have a lot of fun!
Even if you’re not in the right headspace for laughing with loved ones, you can lean on them for support and they can help you through any difficulties that you’re struggling with in life.
Get Some Fresh Air
Spending time outside and reconnecting with nature is something that everyone should be trying to do in today’s modern world. It is far too easy to get wrapped up in our indoor technology and the devices that we use inside without taking time to have a break from it.
There are a number of different health benefits associated with spending time outside, and spending time in nature has been proven to have positive effects on your mental health.
Spending time outside and making sure you get some fresh air on your daily walk has become increasingly important throughout the global pandemic when socializing indoors was fully banned and the only chance we had to get out of the house was to go outside.
You can increase the amount of time you spend outside by arranging social meetups to happen at your local park, or alternatively, you could consider trading in your membership to the local gym and making the effort to exercise outside rather than using gym equipment.
Do Some New Activities and Meet New People
As I touched on briefly earlier, going out of your way to try new activities can be fun and enjoyable, two of the main characteristics that can be used to categorize an act of self-care.
Just the act of getting out of your comfort zone and shaking things up can be beneficial, but doing this with new people can help you build friendships and strengthen your sense of social connection. You can combine this with further self-care, like spending time outside.
For example, why not plan a picnic in the park with a group of likeminded people? Sports are a great way to find common ground with new people, so you could also set up a friendly game or a rounders match that a group of people can get together for and get involved with.
Treat Yourself to a Spa Day
So, I know I said in the introduction that you don’t need to plan a whole spa day just to carry out some much-needed self care, but it certainly won’t hurt you if you do…
Treating yourself to a spa day is another way to pamper your body whilst relaxing your mind, and you can use this time to escape the pressures and the stresses of your everyday life.
Whether you go for the full works and get an all-over body massage or you simply go to the spa for the amenities and a spot of afternoon tea, a spa day might be just what you need.
If you can’t afford to book a day in an actual spa, you can always create your own relaxing spa experience at home! All you need is some scented candles, a few hot massage stones, some cucumber slices, a face mask, and maybe a second pair of hands to massage you!
Go Out for a Meal
I’ve already mentioned how some nights, you might just not have the energy to cook yourself a tasty meal which can lead to you reaching for easier convenience food.
If you haven’t been able to prepare meals or if you’ve not got the energy to cook one evening, it can be nice to go out to eat for a nice meal somewhere.
Whether you schedule a date night or a meal with a group of old friends, call the babysitter if you need to and get all dressed up for a night out on the town. Having a family dinner can also be a nice occasion to go out for a meal where you can enjoy each other’s company.
Go Somewhere You’ve Never Been Before
Don’t you miss that sense of adventure that you felt in your youth? I know I do…
The good news is, going somewhere new or traveling to a place you’ve never been to before is an easy way to experience that excitement again as an adult, to break up the stresses of your daily life and responsibilities. Travel can keep you present and broaden your mind.
Not only that, but it can also be a great way to spark inspiration and to boost your creativity levels which will be ideal when you go back to work or back to the demands of your daily life.
I hope that through reading this article, you will have realized the importance of self-care and the many benefits it can have on both your mental and physical state.
Any of the self-care tips I’ve included should help you to kickstart a new routine that at least includes your own needs in the equation, even if it doesn’t quite center them just yet.
Just because self-care can have a hugely positive impact on your life, that doesn’t make it easy. This is something that you will need to work on and actively incorporate into your life.
If you’re reached the end of this article and you are feeling a sense of sadness or like you would struggle to implement these acts of self-care, I’d recommend speaking to a healthcare or medical professional. There may be obstacles blocking your ability to care for yourself involving a mental health condition or past trauma, so it is worth seeking the right support!