Self-care has become something of a trend, which can’t be anything but a good thing. Taking care of oneself is an oft-overlooked aspect of thriving in this one life we have.
Fortunately, it’s something more and more people are preaching.
It’s not, however, simply face masks and bubble baths. For International Self-Care Day, here are seven small but practical and powerful tips you can start practicing immediately.
Do what you love — without guilt
Okay, okay, I know I said face masks and bubble baths aren’t the only aspects of self-care. And it’s true. But they are some aspects.
Taking care of yourself sometimes means doing things that bring you calm, catharsis, and a sense of peace to the otherwise turbulent world, both inside and out. This can be anything from reading, crafting, playing video games, or whatever else fits the bill.
The most important part of this tip is that you must do these things without guilt. You’re allowed to leave a to-do list in-progress for the sake of your mental health, and carve out some time for reading if it helps. Guilt impedes tasks that are meant to bring you joy and peace — it’ll distract and keep you from fully investing in whatever you choose to do.
Oh, and also: get rid of that pesky phrase ‘guilty pleasure’ once and for all. If it’s not harming anyone, anything that brings you pleasure shouldn’t make you feel guilty.
Do those chores
All of that being said… self-care also includes tackling your to-do list head-on. I promise: doing those dirty dishes, organizing and starting your laundry will make you feel infinitely better and less stressed. It will also allow you to more fully enjoy those joyous activities mentioned in the previous tip and help you swat away the guilt.
Chores don’t just mean household tasks, either.
It also means doing basic things to take care of yourself, like showering and brushing your teeth. For those with mental health struggles, there are days where simply getting out of bed can seem daunting and exhausting. Accomplishing what seems like a small task — showering, brushing your teeth — does wonders for your health and motivates you to do more.
One of the biggest aspects of self-care is not stretching yourself too thin — lest you fall into the dark hole of burnout.
Saying no is the one tip with which I struggle the most. But it can be exactly what you need, and a good first step towards improving the quality of your life on the whole. If you have a daunting to-do list that’s beginning to paralyze you, skipping out on that movie after work in order to chip away at the list will have better long-term effects.
I struggle with this tip because I’m afraid of disappointing or upsetting people.
What I’ve learned is that while people can be disappointed I won’t be participating, if they hold it against me, they’re not the kind of people I want in my life anyway.
Say you have to attend something for whatever reason — give yourself a time limit. If it’s draining you or making you unhappy after so long, leave. And who knows? Maybe it unexpectedly gives you a boost of energy and improves your mood.
No matter what, you always have a choice, even if it seems scary to make it.
Boundaries can also apply to people in your life.
Cutting toxic people out of your life is easier said than done, especially if they’re family or co-workers, the likes of whom you may not always have a choice whether you see them or not. In this case, you are allowed to avoid them or refuse to talk to them, whatever is best for you. You can also bring a trusted friend to act as a buffer — others may view it as rude but protecting yourself is always worth it.
Get out in the fresh air
Studies have shown that enjoying the fresh air can help improve one’s mental health.
‘Some people may go to the park and just enjoy nature. It’s not that they have to be rigorous in terms of exercise. You relax and reduce stress, and then you feel more happy,’ says Hon Yuen, a co-author of a 2019 study showing the time it takes for nature to improve oneself.
Even 20 minutes can do the trick.
Nature is shown to help reduce stress, blood pressure, and heart rate, as well as improving people’s moods.
Other studies have shown that people who spent more time at parks or in greenery as children were less likely to develop mental health problems later in life. While we can’t go back in time, it’s never too late to stop and smell the roses.
One of the biggest stressors in the world today is the plight of other people, whether it’s marginalized communities, family members, or others.
If you have the emotional bandwidth, volunteering or helping a friend out can significantly improve your own mood. It allows you to both know you’re contributing to those who need help and give you something productive to do with your time. Things like volunteering also give people who may not be in a good financial position a sense of purpose and way to help outside of donating money.
Put yourself first
Of course, what people will always tell you is that you can’t help others before you help yourself. While this piece of advice generally requires more context and nuance than simply taken at face-value, the sentiment behind it — putting yourself first — is true.
One of the things people struggle with most when it comes to self-care is that it appears to be an inherently selfish practice.
What we have to understand is that selfishness is okay, and sometimes even necessary. Burning yourself out, or lacking a foundation to perform emotional labor, works against you meaningfully contributing to the world.
That’s why all of these tips manifest best when you assess your own situation and determine what would be best for you first and foremost, whether that’s saying no and staying home to take a bath, or getting out of the house, or doing your laundry.
The world — and you — deserves your best self.
This self-care resource helps LGBTI people through tough times
Queer artist wants LGBTI youth struggling with anxiety to know they can ‘be messy’