Self-Care Strategies For Difficult Times

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 24, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

For people experiencing mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), engaging in self-care to support physical and mental health can seem like a daunting task. However, research indicates that practicing self-care can help with these issues and may lead to positive lifestyle changes. 

There are ways to care for yourself, even when you may not feel like getting out of bed. With small steps forward, you may find yourself feeling better. If you struggle to incorporate a self-care routine into your life, a professional may also be able to support you as you find a routine personalized to your needs. You’re not alone, and hundreds of self-care strategies are available for mental health purposes.

Making time for self-care isn’t selfish

Self-care techniques for mental wellness

Many self-care strategies focused on mental health may benefit you if you’re experiencing distressing mental health symptoms like stress or anxiety. 

Starting “small” 

When you start developing a self-care routine, take minor steps to avoid overwhelming your mind and body. For example, you might reward yourself for getting out of bed or showering. Many people take tasks like these for granted, but they can seem insurmountable for someone experiencing the symptoms of a mental health condition.  

Many people living with mental illness may feel shame when others in their community judge these difficulties as “lazy” or “unmotivated,” creating a repetitive cycle of behavior. If you can move beyond shame to accomplish these tasks, you have completed a significant goal, which can be worth celebrating for you, even if others don’t see how much you work toward these tasks. 

Self-compassion practices

Part of emotional self-care means treating yourself with the same compassion that you would treat a close friend. It can be common for people experiencing mental health challenges to feel like it’s their fault or that they’re not trying enough to improve their symptoms. Note that you didn’t choose to feel this way and deserve kindness and understanding. Try to keep a mindset that all that is required of you is to do your best in each moment of each day. 

It may help to monitor your self-talk for negativity, as well. You may find that you speak to yourself in your inner dialogue in ways you’d never speak to others. This type of inner dialogue can be challenging to recognize, and it’s one of the topics that methods like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focus on. Try writing in a journal daily to become more mindful of how you think and speak to yourself. 

Part of practicing self-compassion may be letting go of what you’re stuck on, including people that don’t contribute to your recovery. Overwhelming emotions sometimes require you to focus on what makes you happy, not what others think you “should” do.

Watch a lighthearted movie or listen to music

Some people find that watching a movie or a TV show that makes them laugh is a positive distraction from feelings related to depression or anxiety. Try to find media that makes you feel better and avoid content that’s troubling or difficult to process emotionally, like news or distressing documentaries. 

If you’re not a “TV person,” upbeat music may have the same effect. However, try to screen the subject matter and avoid songs that may cause worsened symptoms of depression or anxiety. This method of self-care may significantly impact your mood, and over time, you might decide to go to a theater and watch a movie or attend a concert in person. 

Get creative

Creative expression is another way to practice self-care through distraction, but it’s also an effective way to express your emotions without verbal communication. Many mental health professionals use art therapy to treat symptoms of depression, anxiety, and trauma by encouraging clients to explore their emotions constructively. Whether painting, writing, dancing, or making jewelry, a creative project is one way to care for yourself.



It may be challenging to find the energy to exercise at first. However, you may be able to take small or minor steps to build up to complete exercises. If you notice resistance to exercise, accept that it may be challenging and make a pact with yourself to complete at least one exercise within the scope of movements you can do. 

Setting achievable goals is one way to begin. For example, getting outside to walk around your neighborhood or in the park may be as beneficial as running or exercising heavily. If you’re able to go outside, you may consider trying to walk a set number of times per week. If you have setbacks, allow them to occur without self-judgment and with the understanding that you may try again another day.

Some people prefer to exercise at home, and there may be a significant selection of videos to choose from online that you can exercise with. Whether you discover that yoga best suits you or want to try something else, you may find free resources online. There are many exercise apps as well that you can download to a smartphone or tablet.

Talking to a therapist 

When you choose to care for yourself with kindness and compassion, you’ve taken a significant step forward to care for your mental and physical health. Giving yourself credit for your steps and moving forward one step at a time can be essential. A minor amount of progress can create the foundation for more, and you may find yourself achieving self-care goals that you couldn’t imagine accomplishing in the past. 

Meeting with a therapist is one way to care for yourself and ensure your well-being. You don’t have to have a mental illness or a diagnosis to seek support, and over 41.7 million American adults already see a therapist for support. Although many people face barriers to in-person treatment, many have chosen online therapy, which can be done from home if you struggle to get out of bed. In addition, online therapy allows you to choose a therapy method that works for you. If you don’t want to see your therapist, you can opt out of video therapy and choose between phone or chat sessions. 

Regardless of the strategies you choose, staying committed to the treatment plan designed by your therapist can be vital. Your therapist can meet you where you are emotionally and help you move past difficult days to productive ones. Online therapy is a popular choice for people experiencing depression, anxiety, and trauma because it’s as effective as in-person therapy and can be done from home whenever it’s convenient for the patient. If you would like to try online therapy, platforms like BetterHelp can match you with licensed mental health professionals online with experience working with people living with depression and other mental health challenges. 

Getty/Luis Alvarez
Making time for self-care isn’t selfish


Self-care involves any activity that brings you mental and physical wellness and is legal, safe, and healthy for your body and mind. If you’re unsure how to start a self-care practice or would like structured professional support in developing one, consider contacting a therapist for further guidance.
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