How to Practice Self-Care to Boost Your Mental Health

Published July 31, 2022
woman relaxing on bed with cucumber eye mask for self care

Do you self-care? If you ever take a nap when you are tired, put on your favorite music when you are having a bad day, or use a relaxing facemask when you were feeling low, the answer is yes. And maybe you didn't even know you were doing it.

Self-care is the practice of tending to your own needs. This includes aspects of your social, mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Not only is self-care something many people enjoy, but research shows that it even has health benefits. But what are the different self-care practices and how can people participate?

Benefits of Self-Care

Self-care has been linked to several health and wellness benefits. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), self-care can help a person maintain their mental health, as well as experience other health benefits, including:

  • Better stress management
  • Increased energy
  • Reduced risk of illness

Researchers have not yet arrived at a consensus about the exact definition and attributes of a self-care practice. For example, one concept analysis from the International Journal of Nursing Sciences supports the idea that awareness, self-control, and self-reliance all play a role in self-care. However, these aspects are not accepted by all. For these reasons, it is difficult for researchers to study self-care and its benefits.

3 Steps to Set Up a Self-Care Practice

Starting a self-care practice doesn't need to feel daunting. In fact, it should be something that you find enjoyable and rewarding for one reason or another. It may even give you a better understanding of how you manage emotions throughout the day or week, and allow you to discover what you need. You can begin a self-care practice with just three simple steps.

1. Check-in with Yourself

Whether you do it at the start of the day when you wake up, in the afternoon around lunch, or in the evening as you get ready for bed, it's important to check in with yourself. You don't have to wait until you're already feeling stressed or low to do a check-in. And, you don't have to do a check-in only once a day. You can check in by asking yourself a few basic questions:

  • What emotions am I feeling right now?
  • What physical sensations am I feeling right now?
  • What does my body, mind, and soul need right now to feel calm and peaceful?

You might even find it more helpful to check in with yourself periodically throughout the day. It may help you get a better sense of how your mood changes over time as well as what aspects of your day might be contributing to those changes.

2. Think About What You Need

After you check in with yourself, think about what you need. What do you need in order to help you feel the way you want to?

Come up with a few ideas about how to serve your needs. For example, maybe you feel stressed at the moment and would like to feel more relaxed. So, you might want to go for a short walk, take a break from work, or talk to a loved one to brighten your spirit. You may be able to brainstorm an endless list of ways to make yourself feel better.

3. Follow Through

Once you have thought about what you need at the moment, the next step is to follow through. Think about your list of ways to help yourself relax, and pick one that you can do at the moment. For example, if you feel like a walk is helpful and achievable at the moment, then go out for a stroll. Or, if you just want to take a break, turn off your computer and go get some coffee or a snack.

It's important to follow through with your self-care activities. It can give you a better sense of which self-care activities work for you. And, it might just be the most enjoyable part since it can leave you feeling relaxed.

6 Simple Ways to Practice Self-Care

There are many different ways to practice self-care. In fact, self-care can be involve any activity as long as it supports you mentally, emotionally, physically, or socially. Also, keep in mind that self-care is a highly personalized practice. So, find what feels good for you and what works with your lifestyle.

Listen to Your Body

Explore how you feel in the moment. Are you hungry, tired, or stressed? Knowing how you feel is the first step in tending to your needs. And, it can help you take care of your body and overall well-being. You can listen to your body every day, and check in several times throughout the day. Some ways you can practice self-care are your body are:

  • Eat when you are hungry.
  • Get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.
  • Give yourself breaks throughout the day when you feel stressed.
  • Take a nap when you are tired.
  • Take a few deep breaths whenever things become overwhelming.

Give Yourself Time to Unwind

women meditating for self care

A person can face many different challenges and stressors throughout the day. There might be errands to run, food to cook, and work to complete. All of which can add up. This is why it's important for you to give yourself time to relax. Some ways to help yourself unwind are:

  • Begin a nighttime routine and do your best to stick to it.
  • Explore meditation.
  • Play relaxing music when you get home from work.
  • Read a book before bed.
  • Start a personal or mindfulness journal.
  • Take a bubble bath.
  • Try a face mask.

Allow Yourself to Have Fun

Did you know that having fun is actually associated with health benefits? Research shows that people who engage in enjoyable leisure activities may have lower levels of cortisol, decreased rates of blood pressure, and increased positive emotions. So, not only should you feel guilt-free about having fun, but that it's also an important part of your health and wellness.

Try to schedule one fun activity a day. It doesn't have to be a big activity. Keep it simple to ensure that you practice it. Or, plan one bigger event to do on the weekends by yourself or with loved ones. Some ways to turn up the fun are:

  • Bake and decorate cookies.
  • Buy your favorite snack.
  • Cook your favorite meal.
  • Cuddle or play fetch with your pets.
  • Go rollerskating.
  • Hit the beach.
  • Paint your nails.
  • Take a hike through nature.
  • Turn on your favorite music and dance.

Connect with Loved Ones

Sometimes busy schedules can get in the way of spending quality time with friends and family. However, odds are that your loved ones bring a lot of joy into your life, and you might not feel complete or at your best when you haven't had a chance to connect with them in a while. Tending to your social well-being is a part of self-care, which means that getting together with friends and family is one way of showing up for yourself. It's okay if you don't have time to hang out in person very often, you can stay connected virtually. Find what works for your schedule. Some ways to connect with loved ones are:

  • Call your family on the phone when you want to catch up.
  • Choose one day a month to get together in person.
  • Host a virtual movie night and watch the same film with your family wherever they may be.
  • Invite loved ones over for dinner.
  • Schedule a time to hang out on the weekends.
  • Set up a video call with as many loved ones as possible.
  • Text your loved ones and tell them you miss them.
  • Write letters or send cards and become adult pen pals.

Explore New Hobbies

woman watering plant as a hobby for self care

Research shows that creative outlets can boost a person's happiness, and even help them find meaning in life. One way to explore creative outlets is to try out different hobbies. In fact, there are even specific hobbies that have been found to have additional health benefits, such as reducing stress. Don't worry if you're not the creative type. Find a hobby that works with your schedule, that you enjoy, and that you value. Some hobbies to try out are:

  • Explore adult coloring books to reduce feelings of anxiety.
  • Learn how to knit or crochet to reduce stress.
  • Make jewelry if you like beads.
  • Plant a garden to improve symptoms of stress.
  • Start sewing if you're into fabrics.
  • Take up rollerskating to get active and have fun.
  • Try painting to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Move Your Body

Another way to practice self-care is to take care of your physical health. This can include going in for a check-up with your healthcare provider or incorporating more vegetables and minerals into your diet. It can also involve getting some exercise. Research shows that exercise can increase energy, reduce stress, and even help control blood pressure. You don't have to hit the gym or start lifting weights. Find a way to move your body that feels good for you. Some ways to get moving are:

  • Dance to your favorite music.
  • Follow a yoga flow.
  • Hit the pool and start swimming.
  • Join a community softball league.
  • Pick up trash in your neighborhood.
  • Play catch with your children.
  • Practice simple stretches first thing in the morning.
  • Take a walk in the park.
  • Try a Zumba class.
  • Walk your pets after work.

There's no right or wrong way to practice self-care. If you're making a choice to take care of your health and wellness, you're doing a great job. Because self-care and self-care practices can be difficult to study, researchers do not have a recommended amount of self-care activities for a person to engage in each day. Check-in with your feelings and do your best to support yourself in whatever way possible. Self-care is just one more tool to help you feel your best.

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How to Practice Self-Care to Boost Your Mental Health