What Is Self-Care? (And How To Practice It)

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated March 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Self-care can refer to a gamut of habits and practices that help you meet your needs and promote your overall well-being. You can implement multiple types of self-care into your life, such as physical, mental, spiritual, social, and emotional self-care. A few ways you can incorporate self-care into your life today may be catching up on sleep, exercising, trying something new, relaxing, and taking care of your body. A weekly or monthly therapy session can also be an excellent example of self-care, whether you choose to meet with a therapist in person or through an online therapy platform.

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What is self-care?

Self-care often involves putting yourself first, even for just a few minutes of the day. Although you may feel guilty about the idea of prioritizing yourself as it can seem selfish or self-indulgent, it can be important to consider this question: How can you help others when your own needs haven’t been met?

Life can seem as if it is zooming past you at a million miles per hour. Self-care can help you take a step back and realize that it’s possible to slow down, even if only for a few minutes each day.

For example, maybe you frequently find that physical clutter in your life creates small problems for you. Perhaps you can’t find the report you were supposed to submit today, or you constantly misplace your car keys, causing you to be late for important appointments. Could you take some time to reorganize and reset things in your life? Even small actions, like reorganizing your work desk and cleaning out your car, can help you experience a higher quality of life. 

Is self-care proven to be useful?

Studies have revealed that self-care can promote positive effects on mental and physical well-being. These can include increased resiliency and stress management capabilities, enhanced focus and energy levels, and the alleviation of symptoms that can arise from mental health disorders. Regular self-care can also contribute to improved physical health by lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart disease.

How to practice self-care

Self-care should generally be personalized to meet your unique needs. You may benefit from a regular self-care schedule, or you may prefer something more sporadic. If you haven’t already, you can experiment with the self-care methods below to see which practices and cadence you enjoy most.

Exploring types of self-care

There can be many different types of self-care, which suggests that there can be near-endless opportunities for growth and resiliency. One of the most important elements of a healthy self-care routine is usually consistency. Regardless of which practices you find most helpful, you may benefit from them the most when you do them on a regular basis.

Physical self-care

Physical self-care is generally categorized as a method of nourishing and caring for your physical body, helping it work properly. This could encompass finding the right balance of physical activity and rest. It may also look like taking the time to feed your body a rich and nutritious diet. 

What you do to care for your body can usually be considered physical self-care, so long as it feels restful, enjoyable, and promotes your well-being. 

As you create your self-care routine, you may feel encouraged by the thought that you have control over how you care for yourself physically. 

Mental self-care

Mental self-care often involves looking at and adjusting the way you think, as your thoughts can impact your emotions and overall mental health. This can look like reading, meditating, painting, or anything else that gives your mind a break. You may also choose to care for yourself and work through difficult thought patterns and moments in your personal history through therapy, which can offer you the space to process your feelings, emotions, and daily experiences effectively. 

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Spiritual self-care

Spirituality and religion can benefit your physical and emotional well-being. This does not necessarily mean you need to be aligned with any organized religion, but you may find it helpful to find a form of spirituality that resonates with you.

Engaging in spiritual self-care can provide you with a connection to a higher power, and it may also provide you with a reliant support system. Finding your ground spiritually can also help you realize your purpose in life.

Religious or spiritual self-care is frequently tied to emotional resiliency and reduced stress. It may even reduce instances of alcohol and substance use disorders.

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

Social self-care

Socializing can be a form of self-care for many, especially for those who thrive on connection and togetherness. 

Relationships with cherished friends and family can get pushed to the side as life becomes busier and busier. Connecting with people can help you feel more invested in other people’s lives and engaged with your own, potentially offering significant benefits. It may help you to find people experiencing similar triumphs and challenges who can offer helpful insight and support.

In general, there is no exact requirement or level of social interaction that is right for everyone. Some people may be more introverted, while others may have highly extroverted personalities. This form of self-care can work in reverse as well, such as when an introverted person may need time alone to recharge.

Emotional self-care

Expressing your feelings in whichever way you prefer can be considered self-care, as can honoring your feelings and letting them flow without judgment. 

Generally, your coping skills may enable you to handle the good days and the bad days. However, this is typically made possible by your ability to stay in touch with your emotions and be honest with yourself about the way you’re feeling. 

This can be an important element of emotional self-care, as bottling up your feelings can make it seem as though you are trapped and misunderstood. After all, if everything you’re feeling stays within you and begins to pile up, how can you work through it? It can be important to find a healthy way to process your emotions, whether it is writing in a journal or talking through your feelings with trusted friends. 

If you are not writing them out, talking them out, or otherwise externalizing your feelings through various activities, the only place for the feelings to go may be deeper into your mind, where they can contribute to stress.

Starting today: Practical self-care methods 

Not sure where to start? There are plenty of ways you can cater to these broad classes of needs in your self-care experiences, such as those discussed below.

Catch up on sleep

The amount of sleep you get can impact the quality of your life. Sleep, or lack thereof, can have physical and emotional effects that can extend into long-term states if your sleeping patterns remain unstable. 

Going to bed earlier or budgeting 30 minutes into your day to take a refreshing nap can be a helpful way to support your physical and mental health. 

If you have trouble getting to sleep at night, you might try removing distractions from your room, such as taking your TV out of your room or silencing your cell phone. You may also try limiting your screen time as it gets closer to bedtime, as this can potentially help you sleep better. 

Exercise regularly

Exercise can also be an excellent form of self-care. Aerobic exercise tends to have beneficial effects on physical and mental health. Physical activity can also boost your confidence and help you feel proud of yourself for setting a fitness goal and intentionally completing it. Often, finding a form of exercise or physical activity that you truly enjoy can help you stick to it long-term.

To get the most out of this self-care experience, you might consider seeking professional medical advice before starting an exercise regimen. That way, you can stay as safe and healthy as possible. 

Try something new

If it seems like you’re stuck in a rut, the process of trying a new thing or learning something new can give you a sense of accomplishment. Taking time to learn and perfect a skill that’s unfamiliar to you and telling others about your new skill may act as a form of mindfulness and intentional self-betterment. There are generally no rules for this process. You can try anything, including learning to sew, investing in the stock market, woodworking, drawing, and so much more. 

Relax

Caring for yourself can include mindful and intentional relaxation sessions. You might practice self-care by planning an at-home spa day, doing a face mask, meditating, or getting a pedicure. On another note, not all people find the same things to be relaxing. You might prefer to take a long, leisurely walk, visit a new coffee shop, or read a book. As with other forms of self-care, there usually aren’t any formal rules. 

Take care of your body

In some cases, self-care may mean ensuring that you are providing yourself with the necessities, such as hydration, adequate nutrition, movement, and rest. It can be just as important to nourish your physical body as it may be to nourish your mind and soul. 

During times of stress, it can be easy for many of us to let our physical well-being fall by the wayside. However, it can be important to make sure that you are eating enough and drinking enough water to provide yourself with the nutrients that your body needs to function properly.

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Benefits of online therapy

Therapy can open the door to self-reflection and help you process your feelings in a safe place, especially if you’re experiencing underlying symptoms or mental health disorders that make it difficult to care for yourself properly. However, although you may be aware of your need for professional guidance, it may not always be easy to get started. You may feel overwhelmed or have trouble taking the first step in a physical therapeutic setting. Online therapy can be helpful in this case, empowering you to get the help you deserve from the comfort of your own home. 

Effectiveness of online therapy

Whether you’re looking to online therapy to help you alleviate symptoms of a mental health disorder or to offer insight into your thought processes and self-care routine, a growing body of evidence suggests that online therapy is typically just as effective as its face-to-face counterpart.

Takeaway

Self-care can involve a variety of practices that help you meet your needs in multiple areas of life. For instance, you can practice emotional, mental, spiritual, social, and physical self-care. If you’re not sure where to start, you might begin by taking time to relax intentionally, trying something new, catching up on sleep, nourishing your body, and exercising regularly. Online or in-person therapy can also be a form of self-care that can enable you to work with a professional to live the life you desire.
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