Do Self-Care Articles Really Help? How To Prioritize Self-Care In Your Life

Medically reviewed by Dr. April Brewer, DBH, LPC
Updated April 24, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

In today’s fast-paced world, self-care has become a kind of buzzword. You’ve likely encountered the phrase while browsing your favorite website, shopping for personal hygiene products, or in casual conversations with friends. Self-care includes any kind of personal activity: so how do you define self-care in a way that aligns with your lifestyle, values, and temperament?

While self-care is a broad phrase, you can engage in whichever self-care activities make the most sense for you.

Regardless of how you define self-care, it’s never self-indulgent: rather, self-care is an opportunity to rest and rejuvenate, so that you can show up as the best version of yourself in all areas of life.

Today, we’re digging beyond the surface of self-care as a buzzword, which makes frequent appearances in self-help articles as well as your favorite skin care products. Beneath the surface, we’ll discuss the history of self-care and how you can redefine self-care to support your health and relationships.

Getty/Inside Creative House
Trying to fit self-care into your busy life?

What is self-care?

In general, self-care is any personal activity required for personal care that someone can manage without the assistance of other people, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). That said, your version of self-care might involve other people. For example, to care for your emotional health after a tough day, you might call a friend for advice or support.

In addition to basic acts of self-care, such as eating, dressing, and personal hygiene, some other common forms of self-care include: 

  • Reading a book
  • Practicing mindfulness meditation
  • Making a special meal for yourself and/or loved ones
  • Exercising or playing sports
  • Seeking therapy 
  • Spending time outside
  • Journaling and making art

In the vast world of self-care, these are just a handful of suggestions. Caring for yourself can take many forms, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Every act of self-care counts: whether you’re simply heading to bed 15 minutes earlier or staying hydrated throughout the day.

Self-care articles: Do they help?

If you’re reading this, perhaps you’ve already read self-care articles. And as everyone’s favorite teacher once said: knowledge is power.

Before creating a personalized action plan for self-care, many people find it helpful to deepen their knowledge of the varied definitions and history of this topic. After all, self-care is a popular subject, but it’s not new, and there are years of research, writing, and debate behind it. 

By diving into articles and learning about the science and industry of self-care, you can develop your own opinions about what this topic means to you, and how we can work toward a world that makes self-care possible to all people.

Understanding the history of self-care

Historically, people have always engaged in self-care, especially before the rise of Western medicine. People took responsibility for their own healthcare and that of their families since doctors and other specialists weren’t always readily available.

In healthcare, doctors originally used the term “self-care” to describe patients who wanted to actively participate in their own care by eating well, exercising, and maintaining other healthy habits. Over time, health professionals themselves have received encouragement to practice self-care; and in the wake of COVID-19, this became especially relevant to reduce burnout among health workers.

In response to inequities in the U.S. healthcare system, the leaders of major social movements, such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1960s and 1970s, worked to reclaim and redefine self-care. They emphasized the importance of self-care as both a political act and a personal defense against ongoing discrimination, shaped by race, gender, and other factors. 

In recent years, self-care has remained a highly relevant and debated topic. Due to racism, financial disparity, sexism, and other social issues, not everyone can get the same forms and quality of self-care. Self-care products, like skincare and special foods, are part of a lucrative industry. Even today, not everyone has the means to participate – but activists, therapists, and other mental health advocates are working hard to ensure that self-care becomes more possible for a diverse range of people.

Why does self-care matter?

As noted above, self-care is a buzzword: in some cases, the phrase is used so freely that it’s difficult to express what it actually means, and why it matters. 

Ultimately, the meaning of self-care varies individually but generally encompasses any act of self-compassion. Above all, research indicates that these acts matter for both your mental and physical health, as well as your relationships. By “refilling” your metaphorical cup, you’re better able to care for other people and the world we all live in.

How does self-care affect your health? Over time, regularly caring for yourself yields long-term rewards for the mind and body. Some of the greatest benefits of self-care include:

  • Increased productivity 
  • Higher energy levels
  • Greater self-confidence
  • Reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer
  • Lower stress
  • Improved symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Increased adaptability to changes and setbacks
  • Better relationships and a sense of connectedness to other people

By taking small amounts of time to reset, recharge, and connect with both loved ones and new friends, you’re better equipped to face the obstacles of daily life. 

Getty/Halfpoint Images

How to make self-care work for you

To incorporate more self-care into your life, the first step is acknowledging that self-care comes in many forms, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. You should never feel pressured to craft a rigid or “perfect” self-care plan, as it doesn’t exist! 

Instead, health experts suggest viewing self-care from a broader perspective. Below, we offer some tips to define self-care in a way that suits your schedule, values, and personality.

1. Find your personal definition of wellness 

To establish a self-care routine, consider the eight dimensions of wellness, as identified by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. These dimensions are: 

  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Intellectual
  • Physical
  • Environmental
  • Financial
  • Occupational
  • Social

When thinking of self-care activities, consider ones that fulfill one or more of these dimensions. For some people, spiritual activities, like attending a religious service or engaging in prayer, might feel more enriching than a physical activity, like playing sports or taking a walk – and that’s okay! Depending on your values as well as the day, you might find that you need more care and attention in a particular dimension of wellness.  

2. Prioritize quality over quantity

When it comes to self-care, every moment matters. Even if it’s just 10 minutes of meditation before going to work, or five minutes reading a beloved book before bed, any activity that feeds your mind, body, and soul counts toward your journey.

Many people find it helpful to schedule self-care into their calendars, just like they would for a work meeting or gym session. Some forms of self-care, like guided meditation, journaling, or sipping a cup of coffee, may take only 10 minutes; other activities, like an afternoon walk or long shower, might span 30 minutes to an hour.

Take a close look at your calendar and challenge yourself to prioritize quality self-care time. For an extra boost of accountability, consider doing a restorative group activity, like a yoga class or coffee date with a friend.

3. Involve other people in your self-care journey

Other people can serve as accountability partners in your self-care routine; but in many cases, social interaction alone is a powerful form of self-care.

Numerous research studies emphasize the role of healthy relationships in a long, satisfying life. Over time, a lack of social connections and prolonged loneliness can even be deadly. According to the APA, strong relationships increase the likelihood of survival by 50 percent regardless of a person’s age, sex, or health status, based on a meta-analysis of 148 studies on mortality risk

Once again, the small moments matter. Even if you live far away from loved ones, schedule a 15-minute phone call with a friend into your calendar; or, go the old-fashioned route and exchange handwritten letters. When you feel closely connected to other people, your mood, motivation, and coping skills tend to improve and sustain over time. 

An online therapist can offer professional support

In addition to friends, family, and other loved ones, many people seek out the expertise of a licensed therapist to develop a personalized self-care plan.

Today, online therapy makes it easier for clients from a variety of backgrounds to find time and space for mental health care. From the comfort of your home, you can match with a licensed therapist and begin developing coping strategies for self-care. Online platforms like BetterHelp feature thousands of thoroughly vetted therapists, and they carefully match patients based on their mental health history and goals.

Current research indicates that online therapy is often just as effective as traditional, face-to-face therapy sessions. One foundational study found significant support for the use of Internet-based psychotherapy interventions, especially for the treatment of anxiety and stress-related conditions, based on an analysis of 92 studies. Other researchers have found that online sessions do not differ from in-person sessions in effectiveness and that patients and therapists are still able to develop strong therapeutic alliances through digital platforms. 

Trying to fit self-care into your busy life?


Self-care is never selfish: it’s human, healthy, and can be adapted to your needs and preferences.

As you figure out which self-care activities work best for you, don’t hesitate to reach out to people in your community. Your loved ones and acquaintances – as well as your healthcare provider and therapist – are all potential part of a compassionate and supportive self-care team.

Discover mindfulness in therapy
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started