Let me start by saying a couple of things self-care is not. A self-care routine isn’t:
- An excuse to continually be unhealthy. A cheat day once in a while is fine (encouraged even, because: balance), but you can’t use “self-care” to justify poor habits.
- Spending excess money on yourself that you don’t have. Debt has never done a body good. #TreatYoSelfResponsibly
Maybe we should repeat that last one, because I want it to sink in. Self-care isn’t selfish, nor is it a waste of time. The world spins deceivingly fast; if you don’t step aside and check in with yourself every now and again, you might wake up to find that you’re standing in a very different place than where you intended. (Cue those drives home when you look up and realize you don’t remember passing through the last three stoplights.)
Worthwhile self-care requires a two-pronged approach: assessing your mental, emotional and physical health (on a scale of one to 10, how am I doing?) and selecting an activity that will inch you closer to 10. Despite what some people argue, there are bad days, so don’t shoot yourself in the foot if some days you’re stuck at a 6.5. (Note: Shooting your own foot would likely slide you down to a negative three, so it is unadvised nonetheless.)
Self-care isn’t about perfection or tricking yourself. It’s an honest internal dialog, which is where the challenge lies, as most of us aren’t accustomed to giving a truthful answer to the “how are you?” questions at the water cooler. The other hurdle to self-care is that to be effective, it’s going to be a little different for everyone. While I like to go on sunset runs to clear my mind, for others the thought of running causes stress.
Self-care ideas to add to your routine
To help gather self-care activities real people do regularly, I turned to the interwebs with a simple question: “What is something you do for self-care that most people wouldn’t think of?” And the answers were fascinating! Here are some ideas ranging across different hobbies and interests to add to your self-care routines:
Ideas to boost your physical health
1. Meditation or yoga, even just 10 minutes each morning or night.
2. Sign up for boxing classes.
—Matt Lindner and Amanda ReCupido
3. Take a 10- to 15-minute walk during the workday.
4. Get more sleep—there are several studies that support this one!
5. Cook yourself a nice meal. “Eating = self-care.”
6. Wake up without using an alarm clock one day this week.
Self-care ideas to boost your mental health
7. Don’t check your email or social media channels within one hour of waking.
8. Set yourself a reminder on your phone (or Alexa device) saying, “You’re amazing!”
9. Take a long ride on your bike or motorcycle.
10. Clean and declutter your desk—a polished desk is a polished mind.
11. Take a bath.
12. Listen to an audiobook.
13. Watch a nature documentary.
14. Create a safe space at home that’s meant only for pure relaxation.
Ideas to boost your emotional health
15. Say no to events or gatherings that stretch you too thin.
16. Cuddle with your dog or cat—or play with your friends’ pets.
—Rachel De Jesus
17. Light a candle in your favorite scent. Extra points if you do this while at your desk to make your workspace more inviting.
18. Write yourself a “well-done” list at the end of the day to celebrate your achievements, however big or small they may be.
19. Schedule self-care time like you would block out dinner plans with friends.
The most important suggestion for your self-care routine
All of these suggestions made me smile because it reminded me there are an almost endless number of ways to extend compassion to ourselves. Oftentimes we put such an immense pressure on our own shoulders to be great that we forget to leave time to just be with ourselves. Your self-care routine doesn’t have to be lavish. Instead, look at self-care as a way to help you be present in the moment and not however many miles away your mind carries you. Recognizing the present has a sneaky way of recharging you so you’re fulfilled for whatever life sends you next.
Someone once said to me that they envied those who “go with the flow,” who don’t look for red flags and instead swerve without pause. It struck me because I used to feel that way, too, and it forced me to ask myself, “What changed?”
I used to love making plans. I was an architect. I’d write out pros and cons and close my eyes to envision how each step could unfold (I like to be prepared). Yet somewhere along the way, I think I got tired of writing in pencil, of being too nervous to make a mistake I couldn’t take back. I still love to plan, but now I use college-ruled paper and leave space for a change in course. I try to leave room for the really good things that land in your path unexpectedly, and also the acceptance to sit during life’s not-so-good moments to catch my breath. Flexibility is the cornerstone to my self-care. Which brings me to the final suggestion in the list of ideas for your self-care:
20. Leave room to have fun.
This article was published in February 2019 and has been updated. Photo by Atstock Productions/Shutterstock
Megan Nicole O’Neal is a writer with a passion for storytelling, traveling and whenever possible, mixing the two. The UCLA alum lives in Los Angeles; more specifically westside coffee shops with equally strong wifi and dark roasts. Connect with Megan on Twitter at @megan_n_onealor her website mnoneal.com.