*There may be affiliate links in this post. (Please see our legal pages, link in the footer, for more information.) We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
“You can’t help put out someone else’s fire if you’re on fire yourself.”
I love that saying because it’s so true. Those 13 words show that self-care is not some self-indulgent, millennial BS but something you literally cannot live your life without.
Of course, it wasn’t long ago that I was suffering from severe depression and the only self-care ideas I could find were things like have a bubble bath, paint your nails and treat yourself to a magazine.
It’s no wonder I thought self-care didn’t work…
I’m sorry, but if your mental health is so shot to pieces that you can barely get out of bed that morning I really don’t think having sparkly nails is going to help. No matter how darn pretty they look (and let’s be clear I *love* a sparkly nail!)
But here’s the thing that confused the heck out of me. On some days, the days where I could get out of bed, having sparkly nails and treating myself to a magazine did help. So what gives?
Well, that’s what I’m going to clear up today. It’s time to forget the one-size-fits-all approach to self-care and start understanding that even minute to minute our self-care needs can change drastically.
I want to help you (and me) understand the types of self-care, when to use them AND provide a handy dandy list of self-care ideas that take in account the different types of self-care we need there and then.
Sound good? Yassssss!
Now because I know some of you are super busy bees you can grab your FREE self-care ideas PDF printable right here, right now!
Yep, no need to read the post if you ain’t got time or just not in the mood (although I would totally recommend you bookmark it and read it later, there’s a lot of good stuff here.) Instead, just hit the button below and grab your printable checklist of all the self-care ideas.
No longer will you feel overwhelmed and panicked knowing you need to do something for you but completely confused as to what that should be. This checklist will take all that worry away, giving you a roadmap to the right kind of self-care for you when you need it.
Just click the button below to download your free self-care checklist! 🙂
What is self-care?
Because it’s important we’re all on the same page, right?
Let’s start with a self-care definition from Oxford Dictionaries:
“The practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.”
“The practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.”
So basically, self-care is you and I taking responsibility for our own health, both mental and physical.
Seems pretty legit and certainly not self-indulgent.
In fact, for anyone to suggest that taking responsibly for your mental and physical health is anything but common sense, well they’re the one’s sounding ridiculous. So please don’t let anyone shame you for self-care or listen to anyone that says anything negative about your self-care practices.
You are taking responsibility for your physical and mental health, that is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about at all.
Can you tell I have a bit of an issue with people poopooing self-care!
Stop judging people and let them live their lives. Geez!
Anyway, back to self-care!
Before we move onto to why self-care is so darn important, I just want to give you a few examples of self-care activities so you can see how freaking diverse self-care can be…
- Having a few extra hours in bed
- Going dancing with your friends
- Painting your nails
- Having a shower
- Eating healthy food
- Eating unhealthy food (too right that cookie is self-care)
- Going for a run
- Curling up under a blanket for an entire day
- Binge watching Netflix
- Doing a no-Netflix week
- Working on your hobby
- Seeing friends for dinner
- Not seeing friends or anyone for a few days
This is just a tiny number of self-care activities, but see how diverse they are and that some directly conflict with the one above or below. Because sometimes we need to chill out and just binge watch a ton of Netflix, but other times we need to take drastic measures to reduce our Netflix-watching time.
One size does not fit all, and what you need one week will probably be different from the next. But don’t worry, I’m going to make it super easy for you to figure out what kind of self-care you need and when!
Let’s keep going!
So why is self-care important?
I kind of touched on this earlier but self-care is pretty non-negotiable.
If you don’t look after yourself then it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll be on the fast train to burnout. A very unpleasant experience.
Basically, if you don’t take breaks and look after your body and mind, your body and mind will make you have a break. You can end up entirely unable to do day-to-day life, let alone that big audit for work, making a birthday card for your Mum or helping your friend organize their wedding.
If it’s anything like I went through then it will be a good day if you can even get out of bed in the morning. And that is a scary feeling, I would not wish that on anyone.
Of course, some of us get sick (mentally, physically or both) regardless of how much we take care of ourselves. Self-care isn’t a magical cure to prevent all illnesses.
But if you are unwell then self-care becomes even more important for your own happiness and wellbeing.
It can prevent your illness from getting worse, it can help speed up your recovery (if recovery is possible for your condition) and it can make the whole being unwell experience a happier one.
I know that last one sounds a bit odd but just consider Janet below. (This is a very generic example, so I do understand it would not be as simple as this, but I think it explains my point well enough.)
Janet is very unwell, but she listens to her body, eats foods that satisfy her and help her health. If she has the energy she takes a walk out in the sun and on good days her friends come to visit and they watch movies together. But of course, on some days she curls up under the blankets and does not get out of bed. She takes it day by day and does what she feels she needs each day as much as possible.
Janet might be suffering but she has quality of life and happiness thanks to her own self-care.
Self-care is also just as important for those of us who are very well because it will help keep us there!
The moral of the story: don’t neglect self-care. You need it and you’re worthy of it.
In fact, you’re probably already doing it even if you don’t realize it (a shower each morning is a form of self-care after all…)
What are the different types of self-care, and why do we need different types of self-care strategies?
And here we come to the missing piece of the puzzle. Without this information, you could be forgiven for thinking all self-care involves is taking a bubble bath and painting your toenails.
But there are actually several different types of self-care and realistically you will need different types of self-care during different seasons in your life and even at different parts of the day. Some of these self-care activities also build on each other, a bit like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Researcher Catherine Cook-Cottone has broken down those different types of self-care into what she calls the “Mindful Self-Care Scale” (and you can read more about her research here.)
Using her research I’ve created my own version, a kind of roadmap to self-care checklist (which you can download in PDF form too!) Containing examples of self-care strategies at whatever stage you need them, let’s begin!
One, Your Self-Care Foundation – Basic Self-Care
This is the very foundation of your self-care and if you know you need some self-care this is the place to start. You could almost say its a daily self-care list because ideally, you would do these each day.
But don’t forget, none are mandatory, this is just a great place to start. After all, maybe you didn’t exercise today because you’re super tired or you’re in recovery from an eating disorder, that’s totally okay. You know your body and mind best of all!
- Drink water
- Eat some nutritious food to help fuel your body
- Eat some delicious food to really satisfy you and fuel your soul
- Go outside and get some fresh air and sunshine
- Move your body, maybe a workout, some stretching or a gentle walk
- Get enough sleep (8 hours per night is ideal, but you might need more or less and don’t be afraid of having a nap in you want one)
- Wash yourself (shower, bath, whatever you prefer)
- Socialize with an actual person (humans are social animals, so even if it’s just a couple of minutes greeting the cashier at your local grocery store, that’s important self-care)
Two – Relaxation Self-Care
This is probably the most common form of self-care we think about, the one that covers painting your toenails and having a bubble bath.
If you feel like you have your basic self-care covered then it’s time to check out this list and get your relaxation time covered.
- Use smells to help you relax (light a scented candle, use your favorite body lotion or even sit outside and inhale that freshly mowed grass smell)
- Relax through listening (think your favorite song, podcasts or even things like whale music)
- Relax through looking (it’s Netflix time! But this can also include looking at art, reading a book, people watching or looking at nature)
- Relax by being creative (if you’re a hobby person this is most likely where it comes in, but maybe you could do some adult coloring, paint your toenails, play a musical instrument, crafting or even decluttering and organizing)
- Relax by learning (we don’t often think that learning something can be relaxing, but when we learn for fun, without the traditional learning deadlines we’re used – to like exams and coursework – learning can actually be an incredibly relaxing pastime.)
Now, of course, you don’t need to super consciously do all those things in order to relax, but if you consider your day right now you probably already do some of them.
You might listen to music on your way to work and use that delightfully scented hand lotion while sat at your desk. At lunchtime, you read a few articles and learn more about your new crafting hobby. When you get home you actually do some of your crafting hobby and then watch an hour of your favorite show before bed!
Three – Productivity Self Care
So we have our basic self-care covered and now we’re fully relaxed, the next step is our productive self-care.
A.k.a. the sorts of things that help us maintain our lifestyle and keep us organized.
I think we often forget that this is a type of self-care because it seems more like “work” or “chores” but keeping our environment and general life clean, organized and manageable is incredibly important for both our mental and physical health.
Many people take part in “self-care Sunday” where they have a mini life reset on Sunday ready for the following week. They tend to get all their productive self-care sorted and then once that’s done they move onto relaxation self-care. A great idea that you might like to try!
- Make sure you have a manageable schedule (a balance between having enough planned so life feels exciting, but not cramming so much in that you can’t breath)
- Keep your environment (like your home) organized and clean (I talk more about the impact of clutter and an unpleasant environment on your mental health in this post about how I overcame depression, and this post about how clutter is ruining your life!)
- Feel like you can say “no” to things when you want or need to (because while it’s lovely to help and serve others you can’t help put out someone else’s fire if you’re on fire yourself…)
Four – Self-Care Through Your Community
Basically, this section is all about your relationships. We humans are really social animals, in fact, it’s been proven that we live longer and happier lives when we have a supportive community of friends and family around us.
In terms of importance, this section should probably come straight after basic self-care, but because it’s not solely in our control (you know, other people needed) I decided to put it here.
And just remember, even if you struggle to make new friends and connections (hello social anxiety) it is possible. You might have to join a group, or even join a few groups before you find some people you can connect with if you don’t already have those people in your life. And that is totally okay.
- Be sure to spend some time with people who are a positive part of your life and who you can be honest with (people that love you, support you and encourage you)
- Schedule time in the future to spend more time with these people
- Be positive and supportive back to these people (this might be as simple as checking in with someone on how their day is going, sending a compliment over text, a funny meme, basically just consciously brighten someone’s day)
Five – Emotional Self-Care (Including Your Mindset and Thoughts)
Admittedly this one is the hardest one (at least it is for me). Because even if you have all the other types of self-care covered, if your mindset and thoughts are super negative then you’re never going to feel that great.
My favorite way to work on this is to think, would I say that to a best friend? If the answer is no, then stop thinking that way about yourself or, if you’re negatively judging people, stop thinking that about them too.
- Talk and think about yourself in a positive and supportive way (we all have flaws, that’s just a fact of life, but don’t spend your time ruminating on them and beating yourself up. Instead, focus on how bouncy your hair is today, your incredible progress at work, or how darn clean you made your bathroom on the weekend.)
- Accept that failure is part of life (this one is quite similar to the one above, but basically stop beating yourself up because you feel like you’ve failed at something, nope, you’ve just learned that’s not the best way to do it! Plus everybody “fails.” Fact.)
- Accept and acknowledge you have your own challenges so stop comparing yourself to others (yeah maybe Janet can run a whole lot further than you and she’s only been training for half the time you have, but you have different challenges that Janet doesn’t. If you want to compare to track progress, then compare against yourself only, otherwise, it’s not a true test…)
- Allow yourself to cry, get sad, be happy and generally feel all the feels (you’re allowed, period.)
- Feel like you have meaning and/or purpose in life (this one, I admit, is a tough one. But makes a huge difference to happiness. Also, don’t overthink it, your purposes don’t have to be something huge like rid the entire world of all poverty, although I think we all want that, it can be a combination of things including stuff like giving your fur-baby an amazing life.)
Okay, now we have the main types of self-care covered, and you can see there is a lot more to it than just painting your nails, I want to talk about self-care in some specific situations.
Self-care activities for depression and anxiety:
When you have a mental health problem self-care becomes even more important, but it also can get a little more complicated.
Something that I always found when I had depression is that it was like depression was trying to stop me from taking adequate care of myself. A shower became incredibly difficult and tiring, making food seemed like an insurmountable task. It was like all the basic self-care became a fulltime job with overtime and a crazy, tyrannical boss that never let me leave the office.
If you’re going through this my best advice to you is to accept that you probably won’t tick off all the different types of self-care listed above, and that that’s totally okay. Focus on your basic self-care activities first and then build on from there.
But here’s the thing, the more self-care you can do, the better you will feel (most of the time, sometimes those brain chemicals are just too darn stubborn.) So honestly, whatever you can manage is amazing and will benefit you.
If you want to learn more about how I overcame my depression you can read about that here!
Self-care ideas for women:
Women of the world (whether you own a uterus or not) self-care is incredibly important for us all.
Not only do some of us have biological things like menstrual cycles, menopause, pregnancies, etc, that require very specific self-care (like pregnancy vitamins, or tampons, that, let’s not forget, are considered a non-essential luxury in the UK, right up there with painting your nails and buying that cute top you’ve had your eye on… *eyeroll*)
That leads to us feeling like we have to be doing it all, that busy is to be glorified and we end up taking on the mental load of running a household, even when kids aren’t in the picture…
Basically, anyone who identifies as a woman does not have it easy so you both deserve and need self-care. It’s your basic right and you are so darn worthy of it!
Self-care and social media:
Before we finish up this post I want to just touch on social media. Because if there is anything that can take your mood from perfectly content to sub-zero in the time it takes to scroll down, it’s social media.
So what can you do about it?
First off, have a social media cull.
Stop following any account on Instagram that doesn’t make you feel good and unfriend or stop following people on Facebook that cause FOMO to rear it’s head. It’s nice having a feed where you can catch up on what people you actually care about are doing or learn something new, rather than one that makes you feel like rubbish.
Then, limit your time on the platforms.
Sure, a ten-minute scroll while you’re waiting for the potatoes to boil is fine, but two hours spent glued to your phone screen is never going to make you feel great.
There are programs you can download for free on both your laptop and phone to limit your time spent on certain websites and apps. Or make it a competition with a friend or your partner and, using an app that tracks the time spent on these apps, see who can get the lowest amount each day!
Finally, use the free self-care ideas PDF download to pick a different activity that will make you feel good instead of just scrolling mindlessly.
Get your FREE printable of all the self-care ideas from this post (and maybe a few more exclusive ones!)
If you’ve made it this far, well, I’m impressed and thank you so much for reading! I hope this post really helps you get your self-care sorted.
But now it’s time to grab your FREE self-care ideas checklist printable!
Full of all the self-care tips and activities we covered in this post, plus a few more for good luck, this checklist will give you an easy to use roadmap so you can figure out the kind of self-care you need when you need it.
No more self-care overwhelmed and panic, just an easy to follow self-care guide to help you feel better as quickly as possible and keep you feeling that way!
Just click the button below to download your free self-care checklist! 🙂