Self-Care: Definition, Ideas, Tips, & Activities to Take Care of Yourself
What is self-care and what are some ideas to create a better self-care routine? Check out these science-based self-care ideas, tips, and activities.
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What Is Self-Care? (A Definition)
Self-care is defined as the activities that individuals undertake to improve or restore their own health (Levin & Idler, 1983). Self-care is generally thought to be something we can do on our own without the support of a health professional but life coaches may also help us with self-care. We tend to use self-care as a preventative tool more so than a treatment for illness, but there may be exceptions.
Self-care is thought to have originated from self-reliant individualism and also from a belief that ill-health could be prevented. Indeed, self-care can have a positive impact on nearly every form of ill-health making it an extremely valuable practice (Levin & Idler, 1983)
What Is The Self-Care Wheel?
Luckily, there are lots of ways we can practice self-care. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Self-care idea 1: Get outdoors
Recent research tells us that daily contact with nature can help us reduce anxiety and depression while also helping us improve our health (Soga, Gaston, & Yamaura, 2017). Indeed, so many things about the outdoors can improve our health—the sun, the fresh air, the soil, the scent of trees. Exposing ourselves to these things regularly is one way to take better care of ourselves.
Self-care idea 2: Listen to soothing music
Did you know that listening to relaxing music can reduce cortisol (an important stress hormone)? Well, research shows it can (Khalfa et al., 2003). More specifically, binaural beats (music with two tones played at slightly different frequencies to each ear) may be helpful for increasing focus (Garcia-Argibay, Santed, & Reales, 2019).
Self-care idea 3: Practice deep breathing
By practicing deep breathing, we activate our parasympathetic nervous system—our calming 'rest and digest' system. One simple breathing practice is box breathing. Box breathing involves breathing in for a count of four, holding for a count of four, breathing our for a count of four, and then holding for a count of four. Try this for a few rounds to see how it makes you feel.
Self-care idea 4: Build the skills that generate happiness
Much of what makes us happy comes from our thoughts, emotions, and actions. That means we can learn to be happier. We can do things like practice gratitude or learn how to regulate our emotions. And if we build happiness skills, we can take better care of ourselves.
Self-care idea 5: Try mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness involves paying attention to our thoughts, feelings, and surroundings without judgement. Mindful meditation can be a helpful way to take care of and soothe our minds. Check out the video below for a self-care meditation.
When it comes to self-care, it's important to keep in mind that everyone is different. One person might benefit from meditation while another person benefits more from changes to thier diet. Keep these self-care tips in mind when creating your self-care plan or routine.
Self-care tip 1: Try out different self-care activities
Sometimes people get frustrated when they try a self-care activity—maybe an activity that tons of people have been raving about—and it doesn't really help them or feel like the right fit. If that sounds like you, then it can be helpful to try out some other strategies. For example, things like mindfulness and eating vegan don't actually work for everyone. Try out some different self-care activities (we list some more below) to find what works for you.
Self-care tip 2: Build self-awareness around your self-care
Learning to pay attention to what is helpful and not helpful can take practice. For example, maybe we've been exercising every day but are starting to feel worn down. In that case, exercise might not be the type of self-care we need right now. In general, paying attention to how our thoughts and behaviors make us feel—in the short-term and the longer term—can help us make the most of self-care.
Self-care tip 3: Be kind to yourself in the process
Be careful not to be too strict or harsh with yourself when it comes to your self-care routine. The goal is to be nice to ourselves so let's not accidentally get caught up in forcing ourselves to do things that we're too tired or busy to do. And let's not judge ourselves for taking a day (or even a week) off when we need it. Remember, self-kindness is an important part of self-care.
Still need more self-care activities you can do. Here are some good ones to try out:
Self-care activity 1: Visualize a better future
Lay down comfortably, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in a future that has everything you want. Imagine the people who are there and the location you are in. Try to feel how good it makes you feel. If you want even more visualization exercises and other tips for creating a brighter future, check out our Manifestation Masterclass.
Self-care activity 2: Cultivate positive emotions
To generate positive emotions, we can try thinking positive, being more optimistic, savoring the good moments, or even doing loving-kindness meditation. Boosting positive emotions can fuel an upward spiral of positivity, helping us feel better, improve social interactions, and so on (Fredrickson, Mancuso, Branigan, & Tugade, 2000).
Self-care activity 3: Do a digital detox
You probably already know that spending too much time on your phone isn't so good for our well-being. In fact, research shows that Internet use is associated with more depression and loneliness (Kraut et al., 1998). To learn some tips for having a better relationship with technology, check out my book, Outsmart Your Smartphone.
Self-care activity 4: Do any activity you enjoy
In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), it is suggested that engaging in pleasant activities is a good way to soothe ourselves (Linehan, 1993). This could be gardening, spending time with friends, cooking, or painting—whatever makes us feel good.
Self-care activity 4: Reduce your stress
Our bodies are designed to handle short bursts of stress but in the modern world, we are stressed more often than our body can really handle. As a result, our stress system can get out of whack. So take time to practice stress reduction techniques and if you've been stressed for a while, consider doing a stress detox.
Video: Self-Care Activities
Alright, so now you've got some ideas about the things you can do to care for yourself. But what kinds of goodies or products might help you with your self-care? Or, what can you get a friend or family member that is struggling with self-care? Here are some of my absolute favorite self-care gifts.
One way to make sure you're prioritizing self-care is to plan for self-care Sunday. Self-care Sundays are just a day that you devote to self-care. It's sort of rest time that helps us feel rejuvenated and capable of braving the next week ahead. That means no working or dealing with stressful stuff—just kicking back and relaxing.
What might you do on a self-care Sunday? Here are some ideas:
If self-care Sunday doesn't work for you, it might be helpful to explore other plans for self-care. Try to set aside some time for activities that improve your health and well-being. Pick up a self-care planner or self-care journal to stay on track. Or, block out time for your self-care in your calendar just like you would block out time for any other to-do. These tips can help you stay on track.
Sometimes it's helpful to just have a list to help you keep track of your self-care each day. Here are few self-care checklists that I like.
Need some more help with self-care? Here are some books that can help you learn more.
Video: More Self-Care Ideas
Self-Care Activities You Can Do Online
If you're looking for some online self-care activities, we have some good ones to try. Check these out: