When it comes to your health and happiness, a take-charge attitude can make a huge difference. There’s nothing selfish about self-care, which simply means actively taking care of you, whether it’s following a nutritious diet, practicing meditation, or indulging in a few hours of pampering. The trick is to find out what works for you and stick with it.
We’ve rounded up some self-care tips, including feedback from Health Stories Project community members on what soothes their spirits when they’re in pain, feeling emotional distress, or experiencing a flare-up. Please feel free to leave your own ideas in the comments section.
Begin with the basics
Self-care includes several essential elements, starting with regular medical checkups. Going to the doctor can be daunting, but it’s the best way to establish a baseline and catch any problems early. A healthy diet fuels your body and mind, and can help you stave off disease and manage symptoms of chronic illnesses. Regular exercise increases your serotonin levels, improving your physical health and your mood, and getting enough sleep – preferably between 7 to 8 hours every night – is a dream come true for keeping stress and sickness at bay.
A perfect fit
Everybody’s needs are different. Focus on creating a self-care routine tailored to what you need to maintain and improve your physical, mental, and emotional health. Committing to activities you already enjoy makes it easy to get going, but don’t be afraid to try new things. You never know what might boost your mood and help you find balance.
Make it a habit
Modern life is unbelievably busy. It can be challenging to add yet another to-do to the list, so don’t derail your plans by placing unrealistic expectations on yourself. Start with something small, like going vegetarian for one dinner a week or taking a 10-minute stroll every morning. Put it on your calendar so you don’t forget. Ask a family member or friend to give you encouragement and hold you accountable. Join an online community, like Health Stories Project, where you’ll find plenty of support and don’t let the occasional setback deter you. You’ve got this!
When you’re suffering from pain, stress, or anxiety, the mind has a way of getting stuck in a negative cycle. In psychological terms, rumination means repetitively focusing on a thought or problem. When you’re ruminating, you’re directing your attention to causes, consequences, and the distress itself rather than possible solutions. Practicing mindfulness is a powerful way to push back on such ineffective thinking. The idea is to be fully present in the moment with a clear awareness of where you are and what you’re doing. Meditation is an important way to be mindful. You don’t have to sit on a cushion and chant “om” for an hour, either. Even a few minutes a day offers benefits; there are countless tutorials and apps available to get you going.
Do what you love
A big part of self-care is doing things that you enjoy, whether that’s knitting or kickboxing. Be sure to schedule “me time” into your weekly routine. Sure, you have a million other things to do, but engaging in an activity you love is pleasurable in the moment and gives you something to look forward to, even when everything else seems overwhelming. And don’t forget about relaxing, either, even if it’s just 15 minutes at the end of your day with your feet propped up and a good book in your hands. Remember: Self-care isn’t selfish. The more you care for yourself, the better you can care for those around you.
Voices from Health Stories Project
We asked HSP community members for feedback on their own self-care and received many helpful answers. If you’d like to share your story, please leave a comment.
“I direct my energy to my interests: rescuing strays, caring for my two pets, and delving into the arts. I am also a mentor/a big sister/and a surrogate mother to a few of my former students that are now adults. When I’m not focusing on others or engaging in the arts I meditate, exercise, and treat myself to an eco-friendly foot or hand massage, and/or a ‘bacial’ (exfoliation of the back). I have one body, so I do my best in preserving it.” – Anonymous
“Whenever I’ve been in pain, unhappy, experiencing a flare, or am in a bad mood I go for a walk. Being outside, especially on overcast days, feels empowering. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far I walk; just being outside my comfort zone makes me feel outside my life and away from the emotions that are brought on by any worries or concerns I can’t help but feeling if I’m home. Besides, you notice more beautiful things when you slow down in life!” – A 44-year-old mother of four
“I engage in any creative or artistic activity: pottery, painting, macramé, origami, string-art, graphic design, photography, and even writing.” – Anonymous
“Art. That’s why I became an art therapist — because I understand how art can help us heal from the inside out.” – Tamara
“As a mother I have learned that living with someone who has a mental illness can be a very rocky road. I have learned already that listening is very important in order for my son to be happy. Showing him love, support, and being there for him when he’s unhappy or confused is always a given. He happens to love music and he believes in God, so I encourage him to focus on the things that relax him, that help not only his body but more importantly his mind and his soul. I need to learn more because my goal is to be the best mother, his best friend, and his support.” — Tina Renee
“When I am experiencing a flare, one of my favorite things to do is curl up with a heating pad and watch movies. Really bad flare days typically result in me having a Harry Potter movie marathon. When my mood is low and I am feeling unhappy, I like to get up and move. I love hiking and being outside. Hiking always gives me a sense of empowerment because it forces me to remember that although sometimes I swear my body is out to get me, it helps me to do some pretty cool things too and helps me to see amazing places.” – Anonymous
“Self-care is very important. I meditate with music and scents because they are soothing. Meditation distracts from unwanted thoughts.” – Anonymous
“Music, walking, stand-up comedy, sleep routine, and podcasts.” — Ashley
“Music that is soothing and uplifting; aromatherapy using lavender, peppermint, or orange oils; participating in social activities away from the house; mindful meditation; proper rest and sleeping; exercise and fitness walks or group classes. If you attend weekly spiritual or religious services, don’t abandon them. Take me time away from others. Balance is key.” – LT