Finding ways to prioritize your health was crucial during less stressful times, and it’s even more important now. Self-care is a conscious action that you take to promote your own physical, emotional, and mental health. It’s also vital to building your resiliency to the everyday stressors you encounter. When you’ve taken steps to care for your mind and body, you’ll be better equipped to deal with stress and not let it overwhelm you.
Self-care isn’t a one-size-fits-all idea. When looking to introduce self-care into your routine, you’ll need to develop a plan that’s customized to your wants, needs, emotional availability, and current financial situation. Before beginning a self-care regimen, assess which areas of your life need more attention and reassess these needs often. As your life changes, your self-care needs will change, too.
When you feel tired, irritable, burned out, or just plain done – you're likely in need of a self-care day. The saying is old but still rings true: You can't pour from an empty cup. Self-care days are a way to refill that metaphorical cup. We lead increasingly busy lives and it can be easy to forget to put yourself first, but looking after yourself will make you feel better. And the better you feel, the better you will be in all areas of your life.
Benefits of self-care include:
- Improved physical health
- Reduced feelings of stress and anxiety
- Higher self-confidence
- Better mental health
- More stable relationships
1. Get outside
There are serious benefits to getting out of the house or the office – one study found that spending time in nature lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lowers blood pressure levels, and lowers heart rate compared with spending time in urban settings.
2. Move your body
Exercise is good for the mind and the body. Improved mood is one of the more immediate benefits from exercise. Exercise is known to increase “happy hormones” like endorphins, as well as serotonin, which regulates mood and appetite.
3. Try a weighted blanket
Weighted blankets are the latest fad that people are willing to try for a good night’s sleep – but there’s science behind them. Weighted blankets are heavier than your average comforter (coming in at around 15 pounds) and offer what’s called deep pressure stimulation (DPS). DPS uses firm, controlled pressure to induce a feeling of calm in people with insomnia, anxiety, and autism. Cuddling up with these heavy hitters can promote serious relaxation.
4. Focus on your breathing
Breathing exercises are a quick, simple, and effective way to not only reduce stress but also improve overall physical and emotional health. These exercises can soothe a racing mind and settle a nervous body throughout the day, and using them as an immediate response to stress will quell the intensity of the moment.
5. Hang with friends
Humans are social creatures. If you’re able and feeling the need to socialize, grab a couple of your closest friends for a movie night. Social distancing or otherwise unable to connect in person? Hop on a Zoom call and catch up on one another’s lives. If you surround yourself with people who make you feel like the best version of yourself, you’ll immediately feel the self-care benefits of spending time with them.
6. Journal your thoughts
Journaling allows you to get all your thoughts down on paper, whether they’re coherent or not. Journaling helps you to prioritize your problems, fears, and concerns as well as diminishes some of the stress you may have about these things because when they’re written out, they don’t feel or look as bad. You can also track any emotional or physical symptoms so it's easier to recognize potential triggers and problematic behaviors related to stress.
7. Stay hydrated
Staying hydrated is one of the easiest ways to be kind to and care for your body. Dehydration can cause headaches, anxiety, mood swings, fatigue, and dry skin, so staying hydrated is like a daily self-care treatment. If you find plain water a little boring, dress it up with fruit, add some fizz, invest in a fun and functional water bottle, or get your hydration from water-rich fruits and vegetables.
8. Have a spa day
Spa days don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Facial masks are available at your local supermarket, beauty supply store, pharmacy, and big box retailer. You can even make DIY facial masks, with ingredients you probably have in your kitchen right now. Put on some soothing music, dim the lights, and soak in a warm bubble bath.
9. Take a nap
Napping isn’t just for people under the age of 6 – naps benefit everyone! A short midafternoon nap can boost memory, improve mood, make you more alert, and lower stress levels. Sleep is good for the mind and the body, and the world is chronically sleep deprived. Give yourself the afternoon, cozy up in bed (maybe under a weighted blanket), and take a good nap.
10. Cook a nourishing meal
Even on self-care days, it’s important to fuel your body with healthy whole foods. It’s much easier to order takeout, especially when you feel like “treating yourself,” but nourishing your body with food that you took the time to prepare can be really special. Pull out treasured recipes or try something completely new, but get yourself some dedicated time in the kitchen.
11. Get a massage
Most professional massages run anywhere from $65 to $180 per session. If you’re unwilling or unable to spare it, enlist your significant other (or check out these self-massage exercises from Healthline). Massage can reduce stress and muscle soreness, invoke relaxation, improve circulation, and even lower your blood pressure.
12. Diffuse your favorite scent
Not only are essential oil diffusers a great way to get your space smelling great, but many oils promote feelings of calm and relaxation as well as provide stress relief. Lavender is great for sleep, peppermint can help you focus, and frankincense relieves tension.
13. Change your sheets
It’s amazing what a freshly made bed can do for your mental health. According to dermatologists, we should be changing our sheets at least once per week and our pillowcases two or three times per week. Anyone struggling with their mental health knows that hygiene is often the first thing to fall behind during a period of heightened anxiety or depression, so try to take one small step in this area to help yourself feel better.
14. Unplug yourself
This is easier said than done, but disconnecting will get you back in tune with yourself to determine what you really need. It also gives you an opportunity to be truly present for your community, friends, family, and coworkers. Try putting your phone into airplane mode when you’re eating a meal or setting a curfew for your electronics an hour before bedtime to wind down before sleep.
The bottom line
Self-care is about taking care of your needs. If you have a favorite self-care activity that’s not on this list, do that instead! Self-care days can act as a reset button for when life becomes overwhelming, as a celebration after accomplishing a goal, or as a way to prepare for an upcoming event. If you find yourself needing more self-care days than usual, mental health professionals or wellness professionals like Health Coaches can help you put together a long-term plan for dealing with stress.