Self-care is different things to different people. But here’s one way to think of it: Self-care is “a conscious effort to maintain or improve one’s mental, emotional, physical, financial and spiritual wellbeing,” psychotherapist Ilona Salmons, Ed.D, LMFT, told me.
Salmons’s definition is a helpful way to look at self-care because we really do have a variety of needs that need care. And there are both big and small activities and actions we can practice and take to meet those needs. Here are some examples:
- reading books or listening to audiobooks (children’s books included!)
- engaging in activities that challenge you
- taking a writing, photography, painting, sewing, cooking class
- going to an art museum—or any kind of museum
- visiting a bookstore or library
- playing more—everything from swinging on the swings to playing Scramble to doodling fall leaves to finger-painting
- sitting with your emotions, allowing yourself to feel all your emotions, including sadness, anger and anxiety; and focusing on being curious instead of judgmental (e.g., what physical sensations am I feeling? where do I feel the emotion? why am I feeling this feeling? what triggered this?)
- drawing your emotions or creating a collage about them or snapping a photo of something that mimics how you’re feeling
- seeing a therapist
- setting boundaries with people, especially people who drain you emotionally
- checking in with yourself to simply ask, How are you?
- writing compassionate, supportive, encouraging letters to your future self, who might be stressed out, struggling with anxiety, berating your body, feeling disappointed with a decision or feeling deeply lonely
- telling yourself the truth about how you’re feeling and what you sincerely need
- responding to prompts that resonate with you
- engaging in movement that brings you joy, whether that’s hula-hooping, lifting weights, taking boxing classes or walking around your neighborhood
- reflecting on what your body needs at different times. Some days, your body craves comfort and calm, which you provide with stretching or a yoga practice. Some days, your body needs to be energized through dancing or running. Some days, it yearns to move more slowly in general.
- getting regular medical check-ups
- getting massages or acupuncture
- sitting down and genuinely resting and relaxing, not because you “earned” it but because you inherently deserve it (I know this is very, very hard to do)
- setting a budget, and sticking to it
- working with a financial advisor
- investing in your well-being, which might be anything from buying a great quality mattress to hiring a housecleaner to attending a meditation or writing retreat (of course this will depend on your budget and priorities, but this simply speaks to being intentional with how you spend your money and care for yourself)
- starting a savings account and adding to it every month
- attending church or synagogue or another place you find to be sacred and spiritually nourishing
- taking walks in nature, or any place you see as awe-inspiring
- watching the sunrise or sunset
- engaging in prayer and/or meditation
- reading Scripture or anything else that helps you reconnect to your spirituality (like poetry perhaps)
- reflecting on what speaks to your soul and doing more of that
Again, these are just examples, options and possibilities. They’re not shoulds or required practices or additional tasks to pile on to your to-do list. Because the whole point of self-care is that it sustains, inspires and nurtures you. The whole point is that it’s personal.
But if there is a requirement or really a guiding principle, it’s to take the time to think about what self-care means to you, to ponder your specific needs, and to identify how you’d like to meet them.