Before we dive into discussing how you can engage in self-care, it’s important to consider what self-care means to you. Self-care looks different for everyone, and it changes from day to day depending on what’s going on for you and what resources you have accessible. Don’t use anyone else as a measuring stick to decide if you’re doing self-care “right.” Only you can decide what kind of self-care is best for you.
Instead of just throwing a bunch of my ideas at you, I decided to round up self-care activities from my Instagram community. Again, only you can decide what’s best for you, and you can use this list as inspiration as you curate your own self-care toolbox.
Assess Your Current Self-Care Toolbox
When discussing self-care with my counseling clients, I like to use a metaphor of a toolbox. Envision a toolbox that you fill with all your self-care options (these can be physical items, activities, intangible things, etc.). It’s helpful to have a wide variety of self-care tools. Just as a toolbox full of hammers isn’t very helpful (some screwdrivers, wrenches and pliers would be handy, too!), having just one self-care tool may not be super effective.
Journaling prompt: What are your go-to self-care tools? Are your current tools accessible and sustainable? Do they cover all your needs or do you need to diversify your toolbox?
If your self-care toolbox is meeting your needs, that’s wonderful! It’s also OK if some of your self-care tools aren’t quite cutting it anymore. We learn, grow and change. And so do our needs! If you’re looking for more self-care tools, you can use the following lists for some inspiration.
When trying out new self-care tools, treat it like an experiment. Test it out for a couple days or a week and see how it goes. Is it helpful to you? Great, consider adding it to your toolbox. Not very helpful? That’s fine too; no need to crowd your toolbox with things that aren’t serving you.
Just because a self-care tool works for someone else doesn’t mean that it will work for you, and vice versa. And that’s OK!
Toolbox tip: If the concept of a physical box is helpful for you, consider creating a tangible self-care toolbox. You can add self-care accessories to it (i.e. fuzzy socks, your favorite essential oil, a candle, a journal, your favorite non-perishable snack, etc.) and you can also write down intangible self-care ideas on index cards and keep those cards in the box. For example, you could have cards that say “call a friend,” “play with the dog,” and “take a shower.”
40 Self-Care Ideas to Consider Adding to Your Self-Care Toolbox
Rather than giving you one super long list, I like to divide self-care tools and ideas into categories. This can be a super helpful exercise for you to do with your self-care toolbox, too. I like the basic categories of “calming” and “energizing.”
Calming self-care tools can be helpful when you’re feeling anxious or flooded with emotions. Energizing self-care tools can be helpful when you’re feeling lethargic or blue. You might find that one self-care tool can help you in either situation, which makes it a versatile and valuable tool!
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Many of the ideas below came from my Instagram community. Others are tools that my clients find helpful as well as things I like to do.
These ideas are for educational and informational purposes only and are not a replacement for individual medical or mental health care.
Calming Self-Care Ideas
- Deep breathing
- Taking a bath
- Using a face mask
- Moisturizing your body
- Doing self-massage
- Listening to podcast
- Watching TV or movie
- Sitting outside
- Calling a loved one
- Practicing yoga
- Taking a nap
- Painting or drawing
- Creating crafts
- Turning off your phone
Energizing Self-Care Ideas
- Organizing your space
- Cleaning your space
- Painting your space
- Decorating your space
- Walking, hiking or running outside
- Trying a home workout video
- Dancing to fun music
- Eating food
- Playing board games or card games
- Planting seeds
- Tending to a garden
- Videochatting with loved ones
- Playing with companion animals
- Writing a story, letter or blog
- Practicing instruments
- Making homemade lotion, bath bombs, deodorant, etc.
Setting a Self-Care Mood
Environment can have a significant impact on how you’re feeling. Think about using all of your senses. These things may be helpful as you’re preparing to do a self-care activity at home, especially a calming one:
- Soft lighting (lamps and candles can feel comforting)
- Pleasant scents (via candles or an essential oil diffuser)
- Cozy textures (jump into your softest clothes and get the blankies ready)
- Reduced distractions (silence phones and go into a separate room if needed)
- Warm drink (grab a mug of herbal tea)
Routines as Self-Care
One theme that came up when I asked my Instagram community what kind of self-care they find helpful is sticking to a routine. While a very rigid routine can exacerbate anxiety, a flexible routine may help ease anxiety. It can help prevent feeling out of control and also reduce the amount of decisions you have to make.
Sticking to a routine might look like:
- Waking up and going to sleep around the same time every day
- Opening the blinds and making the bed each morning
- Bathing each day
- Enjoying the routine of making a warm beverage such as coffee or tea
- Eating 3 meals plus snacks each day
- Keeping up with daily chores
Psychotherapy as Self-Care
I’m a huge fan of therapy and for good reason! Therapy is a space where you can openly share whatever is on your heart and mind. Whatever is causing you unease and whatever issues you’re dealing with. Therapy is (or should be) a judgment-free space. Simply just talking can be therapeutic in itself. And a therapist can help you learn how to self-regulate so that emotions don’t feel so overwhelming when you’re out living your life.
Psychology Today is a helpful free website to find a therapist. You can filter by zip code, specialties and treatment approach.
Self-Compassion as Self-Care
Whatever self-care ideas you choose, make sure you’re approaching them with self-compassion. It may be helpful to ask yourself “what is the goal of this activity?” or “what is the intention behind me doing this?”
It may also be helpful to ask “how is this impacting my mental health?” when you’re doing something you believe will improve your physical health.
Sometimes self-control and self-punishment can sneakily present themselves as self-care, such as when it comes to dieting and obsessively exercising. Things we think we’re doing in the name of “health” might not be so healthy after all.
If the line between self-care and self-control, or self-care and disordered behaviors, feels blurry, it’s really important to work with your health care providers, such as a psychotherapist and a registered dietitian.
Working With Me
Some of the things I help my clients with are connecting with their bodies, determining what health means to them, and prioritizing self-care. If these are things you’d like help with, you can learn more about working with me here.
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