15 self-care ideas to boost your routine

Ready to start feeling like your best self? Learn about the total-body benefits of practicing self-care, and explore tips to inspire your daily routine.

15 self-care ideas to boost your routine

With work and family at the top of the priority list, it can be hard to find the time and energy to take care of yourself. But even small things that support your physical and mental health can improve your wellbeing. “The key to practicing self-care is making conscious choices throughout your day,” says Erin Wiley, a clinical psychotherapist and the executive director of The Willow Center, a counseling practice in Toledo, Ohio. Not sure where to start? Here you’ll find easy ways to support your mind and body, so you can feel your best.

What is self-care?

“Self-care is anything you do to take care of your physical, emotional, and mental health,” Wiley says. It includes your everyday habits—such as getting enough sleep and eating nutritious meals—as well as things you occasionally do, like talking to a therapist or indulging in a massage.

Self-care may seem like a new buzzword, but it evolved from the term “self-help,” which was popularized in the 60s and 70s. While self-help is based on overcoming a difficulty or achieving a specific goal, self-care is holistic. “People have become more aware of not only their physical health, but their emotional and mental health as well,” Wiley says. Self-care involves nurturing all the components that make you feel good.

“It’s about meeting your needs and filling up your own cup first so you can give to others,” says Candice Seti, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in San Diego, California. And despite what social media may suggest, self-care isn’t just about spa treatments and “me time.” (Although if you have the money and minutes, those things can help!) What you have for breakfast, taking a walk after dinner, and even a weekly happy hour with a friend can all be part of taking good care of yourself.

The importance of self-care

Sleep, exercise, food, and mindset are the building blocks of self-care. All of these factors are intertwined and add up to your overall well being. When you’re busy or stressed, it becomes harder to prioritize these things—but putting your needs first pays off.

Self-care can significantly lower levels of stress and improve your quality of life, according to one study. It can also make you more resilient and successful, say experts. “Think of self-care as acting as your own parent,” Wiley says. “You’re helping yourself become the healthiest, best version of you.”

15 self-care tips

Although the basic components of self-care are the same, everyone’s version should look different. “Self-care involves learning what makes you feel good,” Seti says. Here are 15 ways to make yourself a priority—try a few, or use them as inspiration to come up with your own.

1. Set a daily intention.

First thing in the morning, think about the kind of day you’d like to have and what you want to accomplish. Then, write down a list of tasks or create a schedule that supports those intentions. “Planning ahead prevents extra stress later on,” Wiley says.

2. Drink more water.

Staying hydrated is key for energy, and vital to every system in your body. But water is crucial for your mind too: Research shows that dehydration causes a drop in mood and concentration. To increase your daily water intake, treat yourself to a reusable bottle you love, then fill it in the morning and carry it with you all day.

3. Keep food fun.

It’s smart to have a rotation of go-to meals that make it easy to eat well. But shaking up your standbys makes cooking and eating more enjoyable. To do it, experiment with unfamiliar ingredients (check out your local farmer’s market for ideas) and regularly try new recipes.

4. Stick to a sleep schedule.

More than a third of North Americans aren’t getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep that they need for their health. To get enough shut-eye, consider what time you have to wake up and work backward to set your bedtime. Aim to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, even on weekends.

5. Ditch the negative self-talk.

It’s normal to be your own worst critic, but cultivating an inner cheerleader instead can improve your mental health. Self-compassion helps boost happiness and increase motivation, according to research. When you feel like you made a mistake or didn’t do your best work, imagine what a good friend would say to you and try saying it to yourself.

6. Do something just for fun.

All work and no play can make you feel burned out. Leisure activities lead to better mental health and lower blood pressure, according to a study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. Include time in your weekly schedule for activities you love, like reading and gardening (or even just napping!).

7. Stay connected.

Pals play a key role in health and happiness. Good friends increase your sense of belonging and make it easier to deal with stressful situations. Reach out to people you love regularly, suggests Seti. Having a scheduled call with a friend or sending a loved one a daily text counts.

8. Get moving.

Exercise doesn’t just improve your physical health—it also stimulates the production of feel-good brain chemicals, which can help decrease symptoms of depression. The key to being more active: Find an activity you enjoy, such as a Zoom dance class or a daily walk with a neighbor. And if time is an issue, focus on moving for just 10 minutes a couple times a day.

9. Create your own happy place.

“Elevating your environment is one way to pamper yourself,” Seti says. And it doesn’t need to happen in a personal man cave or she shed either! Buy bedding you love so you feel spoiled at bedtime, or set up a cozy reading nook in an unused corner of a room. Love to grill? Treat yourself to a set-up that has everything you need within reach.

10. Practice gratitude.

Simply giving thanks can improve your wellbeing. People with higher levels of gratitude are more likely to exercise, eat healthy, and go to the doctor, according to a study in Personality and Individual Differences. Other research suggests that gratitude is tied to better sleep and lower blood pressure. To incorporate gratitude into your day, try writing down something you’re grateful for each evening.

11. Follow a bedtime routine.

A set ritual helps you unwind, and signals to your brain that it’s time for sleep. Try meditating, taking a bath, reading, writing in a journal, or listening to calming music before bedtime. One thing that should not be part of your nightly routine: a screen, since devices can negatively affect your sleep.

12. Laugh more.

Laughter triggers the release of mood-lifting hormones called endorphins, which can help relieve stress, and it may also lower blood pressure. Seek out things that make you chuckle regularly: Follow a funny comedian on social media, watch a comedy flick, and joke around with your friends and family.

13. Make mealtimes special.

Before you sit down to eat, turn off your phone. Minimizing distractions is key to mindful eating, which involves focusing on your food and your body’s hunger cues. Take it one step further by setting the table with placemats and special plates, and lighting a candle.

14. Take back your time.

It’s okay to let your phone go to voicemail when you’re not in the mood to talk, or opt out of a book club that you dread attending. “Saying no to things you don’t enjoy is an important way to honor yourself,” Wiley says. Setting time boundaries and delegating tasks can also help: Try logging off your work email at a set hour every day, and divide household responsibilities so neither you nor your housemates are overloaded.

15. Be mindful in the moment.

When you hear wonderful news or are having a great time, stop and focus on the positive feeling. It’s also beneficial to take a minute to reflect when you’re in a stressful situation. “Try to recognize how you’re feeling in the moment,” Wiley says. This mindfulness can help stop you from instantly reacting. As you pause, take a few deep breaths, which will lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body.

Bonus tip: Take a self-care day.

It may seem indulgent, but setting aside an entire day for self-care can help you recharge and reset. Choose a weekend or other day that’s light on work and family obligations, and let your loved ones know your plan so they can give you the space and the support you need to follow through. Then create a flexible schedule of activities you enjoy.

On some self-care days, you may want to get out—try taking a hike, meeting up with friends, or attending a retreat. On others, you might simply stay home and use your time to read, unwind in a long bath, and watch a favorite movie. The most important thing is to use the time to do activities that make you feel happier, healthier, and relaxed.

Your self-care plan: What to avoid

Self-care is about what refuels you. Try not to compare yourself to others, and avoid aiming for an ideal version of what you think self-care looks like. In other words, don’t force yourself to practice yoga just because your best friend swears by it, or commit to a week of new recipes if you hate cooking. “If something is taking away from your life instead of adding to it, it’s not self-care,” Wiley says. It’s smart to try something out of your comfort zone, but also important to ditch it if it doesn’t bring you joy.

Taking care of yourself

Paying attention to your needs isn’t selfish—it’s crucial for your wellbeing. Making changes to your routine that support the way you want to feel can boost your mental and physical health. And while it’s called “self-care,” you may need to enlist help from others (such as a therapist) to make it happen. Prioritize your self-care, and you can create a happier, healthier life.

--

Sharon Liao is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, nutrition, and fitness. She lives in Redondo Beach, California.