Reviewed by Beth Pausic, Psy.D
Written by Our Editorial Team
Like most things in life, self-care is a practice. A discipline, even. Amidst our ever-growing responsibilities, jam-packed calendars and everyday stressors, many of us struggle to make time for ourselves. But giving yourself a little self-care every once in a while is extremely important for your health — both physical and mental.
And doing things just for you isn’t just good for you, but for the people around you, too.
Whether that’s going for a stroll in the morning, meditating, journaling, preparing a healthy meal, popping on your favorite face mask or embracing JOMO (a.k.a the “joy of missing out”) — when we take care of ourselves, we experience benefits in our work life, personal life and relationships.
The good news is: self-care really is one “should” that’s actually a pleasure to tick off the ‘ol to-do list
Whether you’re a seasoned self-care expert, shudder at the thought of treating yourself to a bubble bath or are interested in learning what self-care looks like but aren’t sure where to begin, read on. Below, you’ll find 21 self-care tips for women to help you decrease stress, avoid burnout, reduce anxiety and depression and improve your everyday life.
The definition of self-care is intentionally ambiguous. In a nutshell, self-care is anything — literally anything — you do to take care of yourself, whether physically or mentally.
It can be a favorite workout, meditation session or even a new habit that helps you stay in control of your everyday life. Self-care can also be as simple as eating a healthy meal for breakfast or taking your time as you enjoy a cup of tea.
It can be an annual winter vacation somewhere warm, giving yourself an hour to read before bed every night, taking yourself out to a nice dinner, having a designated nap time and everything in between. If you like it and you set time aside to do it for you — for your well-being — it’s self-care.
Effective self-care is vital for a happy, healthy and balanced life. While it’s beneficial to be selfless and give back, taking care of yourself means you’re mentally and physically fit to excel in everything you do.
Hopefully, by now, we’ve convinced you that it’s important to cultivate a self-care routine in your everyday life. Taking a proactive approach to self-care can feel a little strange at first, especially if you’ve never been one to prioritize your emotional health and well-being.
One thing to remember is that self-care is personal — at the end of the day, you should do the things that stir pleasure, groundedness, and overall positive vibes.
With all our time spent scrolling social media, it’s no wonder our sleep hygiene is Struggle City. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 35 percent of American adults report sleeping for less than seven hours per night on average.
That’s not just bad news for your brain power and energy levels. Lack of sleep is very much related to anxiety. In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers found that poor-quality sleep amplifies reactions in parts of the brain associated with anxiety, such as the amygdala and anterior insula.
Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is a powerful self-care practice. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends — snooze be damned. Keep screen time to a minimum in the hour or so before bedtime to wean yourself off the brain-stimulating blue light our computers and smartphones emit.
We hear so much about using proper sun protection that it can be easy to forget that getting a reasonable amount of sunlight daily can benefit your mental health.
Research shows that sunlight is associated with serotonin — an important neurotransmitter that’s believed to help regulate your moods.
Being outdoors, even on a cloudy day, has incredible health benefits. Be it a local park, trail or tree-lined neighborhood, so-called “forest bathing” has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve cognitive function and combat feelings of anxiety and stress.
And if it’s the dead of winter and you only have access to sunlight for like, 30 minutes before it’s dark again (ugh, winter…) or you work nights or wake before sunrise, a sunlight lamp is a great option for getting your daily dose of rays.
Starting your day doing something you enjoy is definitely one of those easier-said-than-done types of things.
Still, it’s a powerful way to give yourself something just for you before your day and all of your responsibilities come roaring into focus.
Whether it’s a fresh cup of coffee, blasting your favorite song or taking a hot shower, making a habit out of starting your day with something you love is always a good place to start.
Daily exercise is one of the most powerful tools you have in your arsenal for cultivating better physical and mental health.
Research suggests that exercise can act as a natural treatment for depression by facilitating the release of endorphins — chemicals that improve your mood. Physical activity can also result in nerve cell growth, which can help improve brain function.
Especially if you spend the majority of your day seated at a desk, 30 minutes of movement — from walking and doing chores, to biking and playing sports — can lower the risk of death by up to 35 percent. Yes, really.
According to the CDC, as little as 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week (for example, brisk walking), as well as two muscle-strengthening workouts, is enough to produce noticeable benefits.
Listen, if we could, we’d tell you to set aside 10 hours a day and dedicate it specifically to relaxing. But we also know that for many of us, that’s just not possible.
Instead, let’s start small. Try setting aside five to 10 minutes to help you chill out, relax and decompress whenever you can.
Doing some deep breathing exercises, flipping through a magazine or listening to a song or two from a peaceful playlist can calm your mind and help you appreciate the present moment.
When life gets stressful, it’s easy to spend time focusing on the negatives — how we didn’t do something as well as we could have, what we did wrong, where we didn’t improve, etc.
This kind of thinking can take a serious toll on your mental health. In fact, research shows that frequently thinking about your problems can fuel depression and other mental health issues.
To balance negative thinking, focus on gratitude by identifying and celebrating your accomplishments. It can be as simple as listing those accomplishments — big and small! — every so often.
Tell yourself you actually do deserve that raise, that you’re a good friend/mother/partner, that you look amazing in that new dress (all of these things are true, by the way!). Talk to yourself like you’d talk to your best friend.
Anxiety is often caused by feeling a lack of control over one’s circumstances, so it’s no wonder writing about life’s stressors or triggers can help alleviate anxiety. When we take pen to paper, we give ourselves the time and space to process what’s going on in our lives and how we feel.
What’s more, research has found that positive affect journaling — a form of expressive writing — may help improve well-being and reduce mental distress.
To help pick up the habit, keep your journal in an accessible location, such as on your desk or beside your bed. And, if possible, let go of any expectations regarding “good” writing when it comes to your journaling practice, lest it start feeling dangerously like homework.
The benefits of meditation have long been celebrated, but it bears repeating: brief, daily meditation enhances attention, memory, mood and emotional regulation — even in non-experienced meditators.
Mindfulness meditation — a form of meditation that involves focusing on the present moment — may improve symptoms of anxiety, depression and other common mental health issues.
When you’re feeling overloaded, depressed, or stressed, it’s easy to turn inward. While this is a natural thing to do, it’s often not what you really need.
We’ve all heard of FOMO (short for “fear of missing out”) — that feeling that you have to do something because you don’t want to miss out. What if, instead, you leaned into the Joy of Missing Out — JOMO?
Sometimes, a night off of watching your favorite TV show with a cozy bowl of takeout is just what the doctor ordered.
If you have a history of being a people pleaser, saying “no” — whether it be to loved ones, colleagues or even relative strangers — can be extremely difficult. But the truth is, prioritizing everyone else’s needs over your own is a slippery slope to burnout, resentment and exhaustion.
Don’t be afraid to politely decline an invitation if that’s what’s right for you. In a world of overbooked social calendars, honoring your need for a little R&R can feel like the ultimate luxury. Treat yourself!
And speaking of takeout, while it’s good to enjoy a night of Pad Thai and Netflix every now and then, it’s also good to make healthy cooking part of your everyday life.
Learning how to cook saves you money and means you can control your nutrient intake and avoid frozen meals and fast food.
The internet is awash with recipe ideas, and most likely, someone in your life would love to share some of their go-to recipes with you. It’s a win-win.
Oof. The doom scroll. We’ve all been there. As a human living in the modern era, spending time with tech is just a fact of life.
Our phones and computers can be powerful tools of communication, connection and discovery, but they can also be a source of stress, sleep disturbance, distraction and even depression. And don’t even get us started on how technology can erode our work and life boundaries.
Try establishing — and sticking to — screen-free hours or logging out of social media for weekends. If messages, calls and other notifications constantly take you out of the moment or leave you feeling unsettled or unable to focus, try silencing your phone for set periods.
This is one of those self-care practices that is pretty much the best thing ever. Turns out, spending time with a pet or emotional support animal can reduce your heart rate and blood pressure — two common cardiovascular factors affected by stress and anxiety.
Take a few minutes to play with them, whether this means taking your dog to spend time at the park or relaxing with your cat in the living room. Pets are great companions for decreasing stress, keeping you healthy and showing you unconditional love — all good reasons to treat pet time like self-care.
This one might require a little planning and saving, but trust us when we say a change of scenery can work wonders for your overall zest for life.
If your budget allows it, why not plan a vacation? Or a staycation, even — a day or two at a hotel in your very own hometown — can feel like a special occasion.
Research suggests that spending even a short amount of time away on vacation can have a positive impact on perceived stress, recovery and mental well-being.
Research shows that partaking in creative expressions can help reduce stress.
Sketching, doodling, playing with clay or spending time learning a musical instrument isn’t simply a way to distract you from your sources of stress — it’s also a way to get in touch with your inner child and invite a bit of playfulness into your life. You can read more in our blog on art therapy.
In a study published in 2018, researchers compared the effects of bathing and found that taking a bath produced larger improvements in fatigue, stress and pain than showering.
They also found that people who bathed reported lower levels of tension-anxiety, anger-hostility and depression than those who showered.
The next time you’re feeling a little stressed, overwhelmed or simply in need of a little extra relaxation, run a warm bath and let yourself soak for a while.
Essential oil-infused Epsom salts optional, but always encouraged. How’s that for homework?
Even if you’re not much of a green thumb, caring for plants can be its own form of self-care.
In a 2015 study, researchers found that engaging with indoor plants appeared to reduce physiological and psychological stress, including blood pressure levels.
If you live in an apartment, getting yourself a couple of inside plants is a low-maintenance way to add some natural life to your home. If you have your own house, try planting a garden.
It may not always be bathtime and yoga — sometimes, a few light chores can actually function as self-care. Finding the motivation to clean can be challenging when we’re doing too much, and clutter is a common consequence of being busy. But a messy living space can actually make us feel even more stressed.
If your living space is getting a little out of control, throw on some tunes, throw open your windows, and spend a morning decluttering and organizing.
Not only can decluttering make it easier to keep track of your things — it can also increase your sense of confidence and self-efficacy, lower feelings of anxiety and boost productive energy.
But here’s the truth: As much as we love a sun salutation, your feelings might warrant professional help.
If you’re feeling depressed, have lost interest in things you once loved or are simply wondering if you might have a mental health illness, it’s a good idea to speak to your medical provider and find a mental health professional.
Self-care is an important part of keeping supporting your mental and physical health and well-being. It can provide support against certain symptoms of depression and anxiety, and even lower your risk for heart disease and other health issues.
A few things to remember:
For many of us, self-care can feel like being selfish, when in reality, it’s extremely important for our physical and mental well-being.
Self-care is a set of practical tools you can reach for depending on your needs or how much time you have. What feels like the best form of self-care to you may be different than what feels like the best form of self-care for someone else.
Sometimes, self-care means seeking out professional help.
If you make it a habit to make time for one thing that makes you happy every single day, you’re well on your way. With the right combination of professional help and self-care, it’s possible to overcome common mental health issues and feel like your best self.
Start your mental wellness journey today.