What Are The Basics Of Self-Care?

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox
Updated February 20, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Self-care can be a routine for anyone, and there are hundreds or thousands of ways to partake in it. Still, it can be challenging to know where to begin. Understanding self-care routines and strategies can help you develop a self-care routine that fits your lifestyle and improves your mental and physical health.
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Self-care isn’t always enough

Understanding self-care and prioritization 

Self-care encompasses activities you partake in to form a healthy relationship with yourself and a sense of self. Although some may believe physical and mental health can only be cared for one at a time, self-care can simultaneously improve both forms of health. However, if you don’t consciously make an effort to work on these aspects of your well-being, it may be challenging to get used to it. 

Because many people in the US work long hours and are expected to become increasingly more productive, neglecting what promotes health and wellness can seem easy. Some people feel pressured to sacrifice certain aspects of life in favor of others. For example, they may reduce the amount of sleep they get in favor of trying to have a social life or to make room for hobbies and entertainment.

Self-care can be a combination of different activities. Going to the gym and sleeping well are not the only aspects, although they are vital. As you continue to understand the various ways to take better care of yourself through self-care, you can start to see how self-care impacts your life and that this practice can be personalized regardless of your lifestyle. 

Self-care techniques 

Although there are hundreds of self-care activities individuals can try, below are some of the most popular and widely studied options for improving mental and physical health. 

Adopting a healthier diet 

Healthy eating and drinking habits can be more challenging to focus on when stressed or anxious. For example, buying processed or quick foods can be tempting if you feel pressed for time or don’t have the energy to cook a meal for yourself. Processed foods can provide a quick boost and reduce hunger but aren’t healthy in the long run. 

Unhealthy foods are often involved in comfort or emotional eating because they can temporarily uplift a person’s mood. This mood boost leads to people using food to cope with unwanted emotions. People who depend on emotional eating may feel worse afterward, experiencing shame and guilt.

To practice self-care in this area, replace comfort foods with healthy, nutritious foods that provide a sustained energy source. Making wholesome choices when it comes to eating and staying hydrated can significantly impact how you feel each day, both physically and mentally. 

A few foods you can try include the following: 

  • Leafy greens like broccoli and kale 
  • Blueberries
  • Protein bars 
  • Sweet potatoes and other root vegetables
  • Fish high in omega-3, like salmon 

If you struggle to make meals, you can also buy precut or precooked meals to start. If you struggle to eat due to a concern like depression, you can also try a meal replacement shake with the vitamins and nutrients required to keep you healthy. 

Finding an exercise routine 

Healthy eating and exercise can pair well when practicing self-care and caring for your body. Scheduling a few times per week to engage in physical activity can benefit physical and mental health, and you don’t have to partake in heavy exercise to do so. Walking can be a starting point for those who struggle to jog or run. 

Going to the gym may also be available for those new to exercise and those who have exercised before. There are different machines for cardiovascular and weight training, for example. Some facilities also include swimming pools, basketball courts, yoga rooms, or a spin class, among other equipment. 

Participating in outdoor sports might be a fun exercise method if you have kids who have shown interest in playing sports. You can spend time with your family while also taking care of yourself. In addition, you can receive the benefits of caring for your mental and physical well-being, as exercise releases endorphins

Endorphins are natural chemicals in the body that can positively affect your mood. They are endogenous hormones produced naturally in the body, often known as “feel-good” hormones. Endorphins bind to the opioid receptors in your brain and body, creating a sense of euphoria and reducing pain.

You can experience the benefits of an endorphin release from many forms of exercise. However, intense exercise is often associated with a higher release of endorphins. Setting goals for yourself and achieving them through exercise can boost your self-esteem. 

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Adopting sleep hygiene practices 

Sleep is essential for your physical and mental health. Although it can seem like a mundane required daily activity, sleep is also a form of self-care that may be sacrificed to focus on other areas of life. While staying awake longer can help people catch up on various tasks, cutting out on sleep consistently can cause challenges. 

Some people struggle to sleep through the night without interruption due to stress, anxiety, or sleep disorders like insomnia. However, people can practice self-care and improve their sleep in a few ways. Diet and exercise may help an individual feel more prepared to sleep at the end of the night, and they can also control the body’s systems to provide a more comprehensive rest. 

Other ways to improve sleep hygiene can include reducing caffeine consumption, not partaking in strenuous exercise an hour before bed, and making modifications to your schedule or incorporating time-management skills in the day to make time for sleep and the activities you want to complete. 

Adhering to a strict but straightforward bedtime routine may be beneficial. For example, you might shut off all your electronics 30 minutes to an hour before bed. Using electronics can be overstimulating for your brain and make it more difficult to sleep when it’s time. 

Making time for leisure and socialization 

Dedicating time to yourself and others can also be part of a self-care routine. However, a busy schedule can sometimes make it challenging to set aside quality time for friends and family. Time management can help you make time for these priorities. 

A lot of self-care is about finding the right balance. Through time management and organizing, planning, and prioritizing tasks, you might notice a few more hours to dedicate to your hobbies and the people you love. 

People can partake in many activities to practice self-care and mentally recharge, such as cooking, art, music, and games. If you have time in your schedule for another commitment, consider joining a class, group, or club in your area to socialize and practice a hobby simultaneously. 

Breathing deeply 

Deep breathing techniques, which involve taking and releasing controlled breaths, can have a calming effect on a person. In addition, it is a form of self-care that can be performed at any time and anywhere, including on the go. 

When stressed, you may notice that you breathe in short and shallow breaths, which can worsen your mental state. Deep breathing is a direct counter to this impact, and it can have noticeable physiological benefits, including reduced blood pressure and heart rate.

Practicing mindfulness and meditation 

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), mindfulness teaches people to be more aware of the present instead of worrying about the past or future. During mindfulness practice, you may also learn how to be non-judgmental towards the thoughts and sensations that pass through your mind to accept them for what they are without labeling them with judgmental adjectives. 

Focusing on the present can offer people a clearer perspective and improved problem-solving skills. With consistent mindfulness practice, people may enjoy notable physical and mental health benefits, including but not limited to reduced stress levels, better sleep, increased focus and concentration, reduced pain, and more fulfilling relationships.

Meditation is one way to practice mindfulness. This technique is performed in a quiet and comfortable place while sitting or lying down and can be effective if practiced for ten minutes a day. However, people can practice self-care and mindfulness anywhere without the need to meditate. While going about your daily routine, you can make a conscientious effort to be more engaged with what’s happening in the present, improving all areas of your life.

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Self-care isn’t always enough

Attending therapy 

Learning to take care of yourself through self-therapy and self-care can be valuable. Still, these self-care strategies don’t replace the guidance and support of a licensed mental health professional. In addition, stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges can be roadblocks in helping people get started with self-care.

These roadblocks may also prevent people from reaching out for support. In-person therapy can be particularly challenging for people who are busy or stressed. Online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may provide a more feasible alternative, as it’s available from any location with an internet connection and can be scheduled outside of standard business hours.

Researchers have investigated the potential effectiveness of online therapy for decades, and the results are encouraging. One meta-analysis found that internet-based therapy was as effective as in-person therapy in treating various mental health conditions. 

Takeaway

Taking control of self-care can start with a few straightforward lifestyle changes, including sleep hygiene, healthy eating, and frequent exercise. If you’re struggling to implement these into your schedule, consider contacting a licensed therapist for further guidance and support.

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