50 Simple and Real Ideas to Add to Your Self-Care Routine

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Let’s start by saying a couple of things self-care is not. A self-care routine isn’t:

  1. An excuse to continually be unhealthy. A cheat day once in a while is fine (encouraged even, because: balance), but you can’t use “self-care” to justify poor habits.
  2. Spending excess money on yourself that you don’t have. Debt has never done a body good. #TreatYoSelfResponsibly
  3. Selfish.

Maybe we should repeat that last one, because we want it to sink in. Self-care isn’t selfish, nor is it a waste of time. The world spins deceivingly fast; if you don’t step aside and check in with yourself every now and again, you might wake up to find that you’re standing in a very different place than where you intended. (Cue those drives home when you look up and realize you don’t remember passing through the last three stoplights.)

Worthwhile self-care requires a two-pronged approach: assessing your mental, emotional and physical health (on a scale of one to 10, how am I doing?) and selecting an activity that will inch you closer to 10. Despite what some people argue, there are bad days, so don’t shoot yourself in the foot if some days you’re stuck at a 6.5. (Note: Shooting your own foot would likely slide you down to a negative three, so it is unadvised nonetheless.)

Self-care isn’t about perfection or tricking yourself. It’s an honest internal dialog, which is where the challenge lies, as most of us aren’t accustomed to giving a truthful answer to the “how are you?” questions at the water cooler. The other hurdle to self-care is that to be effective, it’s going to be a little different for everyone. While one person likes to go on sunset runs to clear my mind, for others the thought of running causes stress.

Self-care ideas to add to your routine

While saying some Hallmark-worthy phrases to yourself may not beget immediate benefits, that doesn’t mean it’s not working. Growth—in any form—is never easy. It takes patience, persistence and self-compassion—a reminder we may need more than once per day.

Being kind to yourself isn’t just about making yourself feel good. After all, doing what feels good isn’t always what’s best for us. But taking the time to compliment yourself, to nurture your self-compassion—no matter how annoying in the moment—sends a message to future you that you, in all your imperfect glory, matters. That’s a gift worth giving.

Here are some ideas ranging across different hobbies and interests to add to your self-care routines:

10 ideas to boost your physical health

1. Meditation or yoga, even just 10 minutes each morning or night.

2. Sign up for boxing classes. 

Matt Lindner and Amanda ReCupido

3. Take a 10- to 15-minute walk during the workday. 

Charlotte Moore

4. Get more sleep—there are several studies that support this one!

5. Get into nature/do something outside.

6. Exercise in any way for 20 minutes. Replace “I have to” with “I get to.”

7. Take a guilt-free nap.

8. Cook yourself a nice meal. “Eating = self-care.”

—Tamara Van Horne

9. Wake up without using an alarm clock one day this week.

10. Floss.

24 self-care ideas to boost your mental health

1. Don’t check your email or social media channels within one hour of waking.

2. Set yourself a reminder on your phone (or Alexa device) saying, “You’re amazing!” 

Pamela Sommers

3. Take a long ride on your bike or motorcycle. 

—Erik Huckleberry

4. Note every instance of negative self-talk. Replace with positive words.

5. Don’t go home right after work. Go to the library, the park or to a solo dinner.

6. Say, “I am enough.”

7. Journal about any dream or goal, no matter how unrealistic. Get descriptive.

8. Consider integrating therapy into your routine. It can really help when you feel stuck in a rut.

—Diego Orjuela, Cables & Sensors

9. Clean and declutter your desk—a polished desk is a polished mind. 

Kalina Halatcheva

10. Read one book chapter for pleasure.

11. Take a bath. 

—Adabela Seuss

12. Put your phone out of reach for one hour.

13. Do nothing for 10 minutes.

14. Organize one small part of your home/apartment.

15. Listen to an audiobook. 

—Courtney Rose

16. Watch one funny video and let yourself laugh and recharge.

17. Color.

18. Watch a nature documentary.

19. Create a safe space at home that’s meant only for pure relaxation. 

Shaina V. Destine

20. Take a selfie to keep, not share.

21. Make your bed.

22. List three things you appreciate about yourself.

23. Imagine what an uplifting friend would say to you and say that to yourself.

24. Write down a mistake and verbally forgive yourself.

15 ideas to boost your emotional health

1. Cuddle with your dog or cat—or play with your friends’ pets. 

—Rachel De Jesus

2. Reconnect with an old friend.

3. Light a candle in your favorite scent. Extra points if you do this while at your desk to make your workspace more inviting.

4. Write a love letter to yourself.

5. Listen to one new uplifting song. Focus on the words, and don’t multitask.

6. Change your screensaver to something uplifting.

7. Before you go to sleep, write down the three best things that happened that day. Then ask yourself how you could have improved the day to map out your goals for the next day. 

Krish Chopra, NPHub 

8. Write yourself a “well-done” list at the end of the day to celebrate your achievements, however big or small they may be. 

Natalie Costa

9. Do one thing to further your career. Replace “I have to” with “I get to.”

10. Schedule self-care time like you would block out dinner plans with friends. 

—Carly Boatwright

11. Learn one new thing.

12. Afford yourself a personal reward from time to time, especially after you’ve done a great job on a tough project or gotten your business through a rough patch. It’s not going to kill your budget, and a fresher, happier you will reap significant rewards.

Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance

13. Say no to something you don’t want to do.

14. Get up to watch the sun rise.

15. When you’re starting to feel burned out at work, take the time to do something creative. Whether it’s painting, creative writing or designing something for fun, it will allow you to relax a little and it has the ability to inspire fresh ideas.

—Chris Christoff, MonsterInsights

The most important idea for your self-care routine

All of these suggestions remind us that there are an almost endless number of ways to extend compassion to ourselves. Oftentimes we put such an immense pressure on our own shoulders to be great that we forget to leave time to just be with ourselves. Your self-care routine doesn’t have to be lavish. Instead, look at self-care as a way to help you be present in the moment and not however many miles away your mind carries you. Recognizing the present has a sneaky way of recharging you so you’re fulfilled for whatever life sends you next.

Try to leave room for the really good things that land in your path unexpectedly, and also the acceptance to sit during life’s not-so-good moments to catch your breath. Flexibility is the cornerstone to self-care. Which brings us to the final suggestion in the list of ideas for your self-care:

Leave room to have fun.

This article was published in June 2017 and has been updated. Photo by l i g h t p o e t/Shutterstock

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Megan Nicole O’Neal is a writer with a passion for storytelling, traveling and whenever possible, mixing the two. The UCLA alum lives in Los Angeles; more specifically westside coffee shops with equally strong wifi and dark roasts. Connect with Megan on Twitter at @megan_n_onealor her website mnoneal.com.

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