What Is Self-Care And Why Do You Need It?

Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams, LPC, CCTP
Updated May 14, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Self-care is a term used to describe many activities. The definition of self-care is often subjective because self-care can include the various ways you safeguard your mental and physical health and well-being. Understanding the benefits of these activities and developing a self-care routine that benefits you can be valuable in improving your mental and physical health. 

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Do you struggle with maintaining self-care?

What is self-care?

According to the World Health Organization, self-care is the actions—by individuals, families, and communities—to promote and maintain health, prevent disease, and cope with illness or disability. Self-care can involve any action made to take care of yourself, from relaxing in a bubble bath or exercising regularly to reliably attending treatment with a licensed therapist. 

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines self-care as “taking the time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical and mental health.” They state that self-care can help you manage stress, lower your risk of illness, and increase your energy. 

The benefits of self-care

When you put adequate effort and care into your physical, mental, and emotional well-being, you may function better in various areas of your life. For example, coping skills to manage stress might not be as beneficial when you lose sleep. Taking proper care of yourself can be vital to maintaining healthy function, ensuring emotional balance, and enhancing overall well-being. 

The Southern New Hampshire University states, “Engaging in a self-care routine has been clinically proven to reduce or eliminate anxiety and depression, reduce stress, improve concentration, minimize frustration and anger, increase happiness, improve energy, and more.” 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), many people struggle to maintain adequate self-care. They might feel that their needs are not as essential as those of their family members. For example, parents often focus so much on caring for their children that they neglect their own care. However, many mental health organizations showcase that practicing self-care may prepare you better to care for others and be present in your relationships. 


Exploring the seven pillars of self-care

Researchers at the International Self-Care Foundation published details about the seven pillars of self-care, which can be used as a framework to help you develop ways to take better care of yourself. 

Knowledge and health literacy

Knowledge and health literacy involve how you understand caring for yourself and how you retain essential health information. This type of self-care might include actions like reading a book, learning more about your mental health, or learning a new skill. 

Mental well-being, self-awareness, and agency

Awareness of your mental well-being, personal health information, and ability to advocate for yourself can be crucial pillars of a self-care routine. 

Physical activity

Your habits related to physical activity may be incorporated into your self-care routine. Studies show that physical exercise and activity can improve long-term mental health and well-being. It can also help you better promote health, prevent disease, and cope with illness when you do get sick.

Healthy eating

Your knowledge of nutrition and your habits with a healthy, balanced diet may also improve your mental and physical health. 

Risk avoidance or mitigation

The actions you take to remove unhealthy habits from your life, such as giving up substance use, practicing safe sex, or using sunscreen to avoid health risks, may all be part of risk avoidance activities. Risk avoidance can be critical in helping you promote health and prevent disease, such as lung or liver cancer.

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.


Practicing personal hygiene, such as washing your hands, rinsing raw food, brushing your teeth, and bathing regularly, can help you safeguard your health. Prevent disease from having a negative impact on your health by taking care of yourself with regular hygiene. For most people, the ability to maintain health is beneficial for not only their physical well-being but also their mental well-being.

Rational and responsible use of products and services

Your awareness of the products and services available to help support you and how responsibly you utilize them can also be a part of staying healthy when practicing self-care. 

Types of self-care

Experts often report eight types of self-care that can be practiced, including the following: 

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

Incorporating self-care into your routine

The self-care methods that work for you may be as individual as you are. Self-care is often more than learning how to relax. It encompasses all the strategies you use to care for yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually. Below are a few ways you can incorporate these practices into your life.

Set long and short-term self-care goals

Self-care is a comprehensive process involving short and long-term goals, which can benefit your well-being in various ways. Many people who struggle to prioritize self-care can benefit from setting short-term goals to help them establish patterns of caring for themselves. 

Once self-care habits are in place, setting and sticking to long-term goals might feel more manageable. Short-term goals might include sleeping a whole night, eating a healthy meal, or crossing something causing anxiety off your to-do list. Long-term goals may include establishing healthy sleep or eating patterns, regularly attending therapy, or finding practical solutions to sleep issues. 

Prioritize your time

People have around 12 to 15 hours daily for responsibilities and leisure. Accepting that you may not be able to complete all self-care activities in one day can be essential. If you struggle with time management, plan your tasks ahead of time to keep your schedule as efficient as possible, and forgive yourself if you miss a task or struggle to get started. Make it a policy to celebrate your milestones, even if you consider them “minor.”  

Develop positive coping strategies

Establishing effective and practical coping skills that help you manage stress and emotional reactions can be vital to self-care. Find what helps you feel better, from walking and enjoying the sunset to spending time alone or taking up a relaxing hobby. Your coping skills may help you get through the ups and downs of life. 

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Do you struggle with maintaining self-care?

Establish a self-care plan

Try to start with a plan for a self-care routine. Take time to examine your life, identifying everything that causes stress and conflict. Rate each item by the length of time you’ve felt that way, how intensely you feel it, and how much it interferes with your well-being. 

Note any methods that provided relief in the past and how effectively they worked so you can have an idea of the types of coping skills that benefit you. If you’re having trouble setting short and long-term goals for yourself, consider speaking to a qualified therapist to develop an in-depth self-care plan. 

Below are a few self-care activities you might add to your routine: 

  • Connect with people in your social network. 
  • Use sensory input (taste, touch, sight, smell, sound) to manage stress and ground yourself. 
  • Eat a balanced diet and maintain regular physical activity. 
  • Take initiative to follow healthy habits and promote health, prevent disease, and support your well-being.
  • Practice healthy sleep hygiene. 
  • Take time to do activities you enjoy. 
  • Develop your emotional intelligence and literacy to identify and express your feelings. 
  • Complete an item on your to-do list. 
  • Meditate, use relaxation techniques, practice yoga, and live a mindful lifestyle to help improve focus, balance, and calm. 
  • Practice gratitude and remember what you’re grateful for each day. 
  • Utilize the power of positive thinking to challenge unwanted thoughts and build up your self-esteem.
  • Give yourself time and space to feel and process your emotions.
  • Identify your spiritual values and incorporate them into your daily life. These might include prayer, meditation, attending a place of worship, or spending time in nature. 

When to reach out for help

Working with a therapist may also benefit your mental health. According to NIMH, you might benefit from reaching out for professional help if you experience the following symptoms for two weeks or longer: 

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in appetite or eating habits
  • Low or depressed mood in the mornings, making it difficult to get out of bed
  • Challenges with concentration and focus
  • Anhedonia, or loss of interest in or pleasure from activities you once enjoyed
  • A functional impairment that interferes with your daily activities and responsibilities

Counseling options 

There are many ways to receive support from a therapist. Many people may avoid in-person counseling due to the cost, distance, or availability of the providers they’re interested in. If you’re facing barriers to therapy, know that online therapy is available. 

Working with a licensed mental health care provider online through a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp can be an effective way to learn how to work self-care into your life. Online therapy is often more cost-effective and may involve shorter wait times to receive care, potentially making contact with a therapist within 24 hours of signing up. Flexible appointment formats may make fitting treatment into your busy schedule more straightforward, and you can attend sessions from home or anywhere else that is most convenient.  

According to mental health experts at the American Psychological Association, online therapy can be as effective as face-to-face treatments. Many mental health providers use cognitive-behavioral therapy to help clients identify harmful behaviors and thought patterns, shifting them to healthier habits with professional support and guidance. A qualified therapist can also help you learn communication and coping skills to manage stress and emotional reactions. 


Self-care can be a vital part of your overall well-being. When you incorporate self-care into your routine, you may learn to present the best version of yourself to the world and become better able to support those you love. If you struggle to create a self-care routine, consider contacting a therapist for further guidance. They may be able to help you support your mental health, prevent stress from having a negative impact, and work toward a life that brings you joy.
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