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Make therapy or counseling a key part of your self-care routine. Simply click here to connect with a counselor via BetterHelp.com.
For most of us, life is busy. Extremely busy.
We run from errand to errand, juggling multiple responsibilities and expectations, with barely a second to ourselves.
The quietest time we get is when we’re in the bathroom, answering the call of nature. And if you have small children, you probably don’t even have that!
We don’t take care of ourselves because there are not enough hours in a day to do everything we have to do, let alone what we want to do.
Some of us have been running full speed ahead for so long that we are not even aware that we’ve been on empty for quite a while. If not for an embarrassing freak out or someone pointing out our increased irritability or decreased productivity, we probably wouldn’t have noticed anything was wrong.
Now that we’re aware that something is off, we want to take steps to take better care of the various aspects of our health. That’s where an effective self-care routine comes in.
What Self-Care Really Is
Self-care, as a concept, has been so commercialized that it elicits an eye roll and images of overly expensive spa treatments from most of us. Not only does it seem totally self-indulgent, it’s completely outside of our budget.
Luckily, for those of us who are feeling at our wits’ end, burnt out, or generally in a bad place emotionally and mentally, self-care is not limited to overpriced bubble baths in exotic locales.
For people with limited finances, time, or whose habits or interests don’t mesh with rose petal-filled hot tubs with a glass of champagne, self-care is so much more than that.
Simply put, self-care is about taking care of yourself. Anything that you do for yourself that makes you feel better or cared for falls under self-care.
While it could involve high-end massages or luxury facials, it could be something as simple as taking a fifteen-minute walk outside.
It is not a ‘once in a while’ activity or a special treat. For maximum benefits, self-care should be incorporated into your life as a regular routine, with a range of practices that nurture different areas of your health.
What Self-Care Needs To Be
For your self-care routine to be effective, it must do two things:
a) Be specific to you.
Remember, self-care is all about taking care of yourself. So anything you do must be specific to you. If something works for your best friend, it does not mean it will work for you. Your self-care routine must leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.
b) Cater to your specific needs.
Your self-care routine must take into consideration your habits, finances, and time considerations. If you don’t have the money, time, or are just not interested in an activity, you will not do it. That’s why a high-end massage may not be ideal for you.
Secondly, your routine must cater to the different aspects of your health, such as your physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, personal, and professional health.
Human beings are complex multi-dimensional creatures and have different needs in different areas. It is important that your routine is versatile enough to address the various areas of your total health.
18 Elements To Consider Adding To Your Self-Care Routine
Your self-care routine can be anything you want it to be, as long as it’s nourishing you. The only recommendation is that you make it as easy as possible to incorporate regularly into your life. That is the only way you’ll stick to it in the long run.
The following are some self-care suggestions for people who need ideas on what they can do for themselves. After all, you’ve been taking care of everyone and everything else for so long that thinking about yourself is a foreign activity.
Don’t worry, not only are there suggestions for the six critical areas of your life (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, personal, and professional), but also recommendations on what the activity should focus on and how often you should aim to do it.
Physical self-care refers to activities you do that improve the well-being of your physical health. Looking after your physical health is a fast and effective way of caring for yourself. It does not just refer to exercise alone but also includes focusing on your nutrition and sleep.
1. Aerobic exercise.
Choose an activity that you love to do, that will get your heart pumping and your body moving.
If you don’t like running, then don’t run. Go for a walk instead. If paying for a gym membership does not fit into your financial budget right now, don’t join a gym. With the internet and YouTube, you can find many non-conventional ways to get some aerobic exercise into your life and schedule.
Frequency: Daily exercise produces stress-relieving hormones (endorphins), in addition to improving your general health. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as walking briskly (2.5 to 4 mph), playing tennis, or raking the yard. That’s basically 30 minutes to 1 hour of exercise, five days a week.
If your schedule is so tight that finding a solid chunk of 30 minutes is out of the question, try breaking it down further into three 10 minute sessions of aerobic exercise done throughout the day.
Ensuring your body has sufficient nutrients to function properly is part of self-care. Proper nutrition can greatly affect whether you are in a good or bad mood. Have you ever been in a good mood while hungry? Most likely not. Drinking too much coffee has been known to increase moodiness and anxiety.
If you enjoy cooking, then making nutritious meals might sound like a great idea for self-care. If cooking isn’t really your thing, then look for options that help ensure you get proper nutrients but don’t turn into a chore. You could plan your schedule to make sure you eat at regular intervals, so you are never starving when you finally eat. This means finding meal options that meet your caloric, health, and budget needs.
A healthy balanced diet also includes drinking a lot of water. Mild dehydration, ranging from just 1%-3% water loss, can cause issues with mood, concentration, headaches, memory, fatigue, anxiety, and overall brain performance for people of all ages. A good rule of thumb to use to determine if you are drinking enough is:
a) You rarely feel thirsty.
b) Your urine is colorless or light yellow.
Frequency: While you need to eat every day, you can meal prep over the weekend (or a free day) so it doesn’t become another chore on your long to-do list.
3. Adequate sleep.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could stock up on sleep like you do with groceries? Over the weekend, you’d sleep in and store the extra sleep for use during the week when you wake up early and go to bed late. That would be awesome.
Obviously, that is not possible. But that is how many of us treat our sleep schedules. We get less than six hours sleep most days of the week, thinking we’ll catch up on it later. But if we’re going to be honest, “later” rarely comes. So we just continue on a cycle of insufficient sleep, which ends up affecting not only our mood but also our concentration and health in the long run.
The average adult needs between 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Not just a couple of times a week, but every single night.
One way to determine exactly how many hours of sleep you need is to start off with 7.5 hours of sleep. Count back 7.5 hours from when you need to wake up to determine your bedtime. Try this for a week, and if at the end of the week, you wake up a few minutes before your alarm goes off, then you’ve found your ideal sleep duration.
If not, go to bed 30 minutes earlier. Keep adjusting the time you go to sleep, either earlier or later, to find the right number of hours of sleep you need to be at your best.
Frequency: Getting adequate sleep is something you need to focus on every day to get optimum benefits. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night.
Activities that help you connect, process, and reflect on the full range of emotions fall under emotional self-care.
Far too often we push down emotions because we’re afraid of our feelings or ashamed of them. We do it so often and have done it for so long that we can’t even recognize our feelings anymore. Our emotions have become alien to us.
Everyone has a right to their own emotions. Ignoring or repressing them is not going to make them disappear. Expressing your emotions does not mean that you’re sensitive or unmanly.
Paying attention to your emotional health can improve your resilience to stress, increase your self-esteem, and help you build deeper relationships.
Some activities you can try to address your emotional health include:
4. Write in a journal.
Journaling allows you to write down all your thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment. It gives you the opportunity to relieve stress by allowing you to do a brain dump of all your anxieties, frustration, and pain. It can also be an avenue for self-reflection.
For your emotional self-care routine, you can journal using one of the following, or a combination of both, options:
Free form journal.
With this method, you write for a specific amount of time or for a particular number of pages. Make sure you don’t stop until the time is up or the pages are full.
What you write about is not important — only that you write and that you do it without stopping, without thinking, without evaluating or judging what you write.
A popular form of this method is called the morning pages. The morning pages, taken from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, are done first thing in the morning. You write for three pages, jotting down the first thoughts that come into your mind, no matter how senseless or grammatically correct they are. Just get it out of your head and down on paper (or laptop).
In a gratitude journal you are writing the things you are grateful for on a daily basis. No matter how crappy the day was, there’s always something to be grateful for. It could be something huge like escaping a ghastly car accident. It could be something minor like a really good sandwich that you ate for lunch.
When done at night it can help you mentally shut down and feel calmer as you prepare for bed.
Frequency: Do some form of journal writing every day. This will help you to stop repressing your emotions and become more familiar with expressing them.
5. See a therapist.
Due to the stigma surrounding mental health, people often wait until things have reached a critical point before considering or engaging the services of a therapist. Even then, some people are still reluctant to reach out for help, afraid of what other people will think or how they will be viewed.
The truth of the matter is, never in history have people lived in more stressful times. Look at all the things you’re juggling. Some challenges in your life didn’t exist a mere fifty years ago. We are bombarded with new crises at an alarming rate that it’s not surprising so many people are struggling to cope.
Needing guidance from a licensed professional is a testament, not to your weakness, but to the magnitude of what you’re facing. Sometimes, life is just too much. A therapist can be a non-judgmental third party who provides you with a fresh perspective, teaches you new coping skills, or empowers you to develop fresh insights about your life.
If you’d like to get started, you should consider the online counseling and therapy from BetterHelp.com. You’ll be able to connect with a qualified and experienced professional from the comfort of your own home.
Frequency: This is dependent on several factors, such as how critical the situation is, your finances, or your medical insurance. Many therapists offer online sessions now, so don’t be quick to cross this off the list due to cost.
For even more emotional self-care ideas, check out dedicated article here: 8 Emotional Self-Care Strategies: Take Care Of Yourself Emotionally
6. Creating art.
Art can be very beneficial to your health and contribute to your overall happiness and mental well-being. The great thing about creating art is activities like sculpting, painting, or drawing not only take your mind off your everyday life but are also known to lower stress and promote mental calmness.
For people who struggle with expressing their emotions with words, art is a great means of non-verbal expression.
When it comes to creating art, all forms of art are included, from traditional to visual and performing arts, such as digital art, dance, gardening, and the culinary arts.
Frequency: It is recommended that you do some form of art, such as drawing every day or, at a minimum, every other day to maintain and improve.
7. Playing music.
Not only can music reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression, but it can improve your memory too. Whether just listening to music or creating it, incorporating it into your everyday life can help elevate your mood and motivation, aid relaxation, and get your creative juices flowing.
Certain types of music, such as classical music, can even help you when you want to focus. Music that has a tempo of 60 bpm (beats per minute) helps your brain better process information. So, if you have an important project you’re working on, put some classical music on to play softly in the background.
Frequency: Music can be played anytime you need a pick me up. Just put it on in the background or pop in your headphones and listen away.
Mental self-care involves any activity the stimulates your mind or your intellect. With all the running around we do on a day-to-day basis, we often forget to stimulate ourselves intellectually. We stop learning new things and as we grow older; we start to forget what we knew.
By engaging in mental self-care, we ensure that we keep our minds sharp well into our old age. Try any of the following activities to encourage you to grow intellectually.
8. Read a book.
When was the last time you sat down to read a book? Perhaps this is a hobby you never really enjoyed before. One of the good things about reading a book is there is a genre for everyone. If there’s a topic that interests you, no matter how kooky, there’s probably a book on that topic.
Perhaps it’s the physical act of reading that turns you off. Why not listen to an audio book? You’ll have all the benefits of reading with none of the stuff that you hate.
Frequency: Aim to read (or listen to) a book for at least 15 to 20 minutes every day.
9. Solving a puzzle.
Puzzles aren’t just for kids. They have many benefits for adults too, such as:
- Improved memory.
- Better problem solving skills.
- Increased IQ.
- Delay Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.
- Increased attention to detail.
…and many more.
Spending time alone with a puzzle at the end of the day is a great way to slow down, unwind, and reset. Or make it a social thing – when you work on a puzzle with someone else, you get not only the cognitive benefits of engaging your mind but also an increase in your personal connection with the other person.
Frequency: One researcher from the University of Michigan found that adults could boost their IQ by four points after spending 25 minutes a day playing puzzle games. A correlation has also been found between the number of years someone has been solving puzzles and the likelihood that they will develop Alzheimer’s disease. Essentially, the more you play, the bigger the gains.
10. Play chess.
Playing chess allows you to enter the flow state where you are working at a peak performance level on a challenging task. This flow state is often experienced by athletes, artists, and performers who describe it as being so focused on the task at hand that their awareness of anything beyond it seems to disappear.
Learning how to play chess and playing it regularly can stimulate your intellect in different ways such as improving your memory, increasing your planning, problem-solving skills, and creative abilities.
Frequency: People who want to be really good at the game or want to experience the mental gains that the game can stimulate will need to invest hours of study over the course of years.
Spiritual self-care does not necessarily mean becoming religious. It could, but the focus is more on activities that nurture your spirit and allow you to think bigger or outside of yourself. Such activities might include:
There are different kinds of meditation techniques and many that can be done at anytime or anywhere. For so long, meditation has been linked to eastern or new age religions, that at first glance you might skip over this suggestion. However, at a very basic level, meditation is simply focusing on one thing at a time.
For example, mindful eating is a technique where you eat and put everything else aside to focus solely on the texture of the food and how it tastes going into your mouth. You are taking the time to immerse yourself in eating as a beautiful experience.
You can even meditate while taking a shower by fully immersing yourself in the experience. Notice the smell of the soap, the feel of the warm water flowing down your body.
Meditation is about slowing down and not multitasking.
Frequency: Daily for at least 5 to 10 minutes.
The good thing about practicing Yoga is that it has spiritual, mental, and health benefits. So it could really fall into any of those categories. When you practice Yoga regularly, it engages your body, develops your strength and stamina, while increasing your flexibility.
A deeper study of Yoga will reveal its spiritual aspect, which emphasizes the attainment of peace and clarity of mind. Yoga can also be a mental practice that helps you work through psychological challenges and emotional stress.
Whichever area you decide to use yoga to address, it has a number of benefits that make it a good choice for your self-care routine.
Frequency: It is recommended that you start off with two to five Yoga sessions per week. With many free classes on YouTube, you can start your practice from the comfort of your own home.
13. Be in nature.
This is another activity that has the potential to fall into more than one category. If the aerobic exercise of choice takes you outside, you get the self-care that addresses not only your physical health but your spiritual health as well.
As any nature lover will tell you, there is little that calms your mind or soothes your soul like being out in the quiet and stillness of nature. Maybe it’s the gentle breeze or the chirping of the birds or the beauty of the landscape that just improves your mood and makes you feel more relaxed.
Not to mention, being out in the sun exposes you to the vitamin D that many of us who sit inside all day lack.
Frequency: A new study published in Scientific Reports found that in order to reap the health benefits of nature, the optimal time to spend in green spaces (i.e., urban parks, the woods, or beaches) is two hours per week.
14. Connect/Re-connect with your place of worship.
While spiritual self-care does not necessarily require you to become religious, it also doesn’t mean you have to stop tapping into your religion if that is what helps you feel grounded.
Not only does a place of worship provide comfort and guidance for our behavior, but it also allows us to join a community of like-minded people.
Connect with a local place of worship where you can learn more about your religion, pray, and get support from others who share the same faith.
Frequency: This is highly dependent on the dictates of your religion and your place of worship.
Personal self-care focuses on the things you do that make you feel and look your best. It includes personal hygiene activities such as a warm shower first thing in the morning or a relaxing bubble bath after a long day at work.
Paying attention to the way you look, in a way that makes you feel positive, also falls under personal self-care.
15. Hygiene or grooming.
Getting a manicure might feel self-indulgent, but if seeing your perfectly manicured nails throughout the day gives you an extra boost of confidence, it is well worth the investment.
A haircut shouldn’t be something you take for granted if it makes you feel better about yourself.
Looking after your skin with various lotions and balms will also provide a welcome boost because soft, supple skin makes us feel young and full of vitality.
Frequency: Depending on the treatment, your personal self-care routine should be performed several times a week.
If your job makes you feel anxious or depressed, it’s time to address that area of your life with some of the self-care strategies below:
16. Improve your work-life balance.
While you may not have total control of your work-life balance, there is usually at least a little wiggle room.
Review all the work you have to do in a day. Must you complete it all today? Is it possible to delegate some of the work? Are you swamped because you procrastinated and the deadline is fast approaching?
When you’re reviewing a typical day, be objective and honest about your productivity and time management skills. If you need to be more organized so you can work more efficiently and manage your time better, find a way to do so.
Frequency: Start/end each day by writing down a list of things you want to work on during the day. Limit checking your email to specific time periods (e.g. 9 AM, 12 PM, 3 PM, and 5 PM) to avoid the distraction. Do the same with your coffee and/or water breaks.
17. Update your resume and professional profiles.
The problem with your job might not be you. It could very well be that you’re in the wrong organization or role, or working with the wrong supervisor or team. If that is the case, update your resume and/or professional profiles.
By doing so, you will quickly see what areas you need to improve on to position yourself for your next role. That might mean you need to take a new course or training program.
Updating your resume or professional profiles might even highlight the skills you’ve gained since joining your organization. This will give you the needed motivation to start looking for a new job that matches your new skill level.
Frequency: This should be done every few months, even if you’re perfectly satisfied with your job. You should update your resume and professional profiles every time you acquire a new skill or complete a big project.
18. De-clutter your workspace.
Can you remember what the top of your desk looks like? Is your workspace littered with paper, files, and important documents? When you get to the office in the morning, do you feel overwhelmed just looking at your environment?
If you said yes to any of the questions above, it is time to de-clutter your workspace. Clean out your drawers, get a filing cabinet, order some desk organizers, do something to turn that chaos into a clean environment that is conducive to productive work and focus.
If your organization won’t get those items for you, get them for yourself. After all, it is you and your work that is suffering the consequences of a cluttered space.
Frequency: After the initial process of de-cluttering your workspace, on a daily basis you can make sure everything is properly arranged before leaving for the day.
There are many options to choose from when creating a self-care routine. The main criteria for whatever activity you choose is that it must take care of you. So if doing the laundry helps you relieve stress (yes, there are some people like that), then by all means, do it. Just make sure you take time out of your schedule regularly to focus on your needs and wants without guilt.
You need TLC just as much as the next person.
Need a little help with your emotional, mental, or spiritual self-care? Speak to a counselor today who can walk you through the process. Simply click here to connect with one of the experienced counselors on BetterHelp.com.
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