Self care has been a big topic recently. We all want to know: What is it? How do I do it right? What’s the point? I’m here to help you through what self care is and, more importantly, what it is not. Then, I’ll walk you through the things that I do on a regular basis to take care of myself and stay functioning at my best every day.
Self care means exactly that: taking care of yourself. Your self care habits should leave you in a better mood, better able to tackle your day, and feeling better about yourself. Self care should not negatively impact your life, your bank account, or your relationships. There are many self care options out there that have a real impact on how you’re feeling and your ability to get back out there and go after life, without having any unintended negative consequences. Self care done properly leaves you genuinely feeling better about yourself, instead of temporarily shoving the issues under the bed and pretending they aren’t there anymore.
Self care is not escapism. Good self care habits allow you to step back from the bustle of life for a bit to collect and care for yourself before stepping back into the real world. Self care leaves you better prepared to go after your best life. Self care is not ignoring the realities of life to the point where it’s detrimental to your ability to face the world again.
Self care is not recklessly spending money. People commonly use “self care” as an excuse to go out and buy treatments, skincare products, and clothes that they cannot afford. Not only will these things only provide a superficial boost in mood, rather than truly addressing your personal care, but hurting your bank account to make yourself feel better for a moment isn’t going to leave you feeling good in the long term. My personal self care habits can all be done for free.
Self care does not negatively impact your life! Using self care as an excuse to not do your work or to spend too much money defeats the point of self care. If your self care is making it harder to step back into the world afterwards, think it through. You are not caring for yourself. You are making your life harder.
Self care does not necessarily need to be easy right in that moment. Self care is often framed as a quick fix for your bad mood through spending money on a pick me up. True self care is sometimes unpleasant in the moment, but it will always leave you feeling better afterward. True self care offers real, long term value to you and your mental health. Self care means getting up and doing those things that you know you need to do to make yourself genuinely feel a bit better. Self care isn’t going out for five glasses of wine after a bad day at work. Self care is going home to put real time into your side hustle so that one day you can leave your terrible job and do something you really love.
Self care looks different for different people. Sometimes self care is just getting out of bed for the first time in days and changing your clothes. Sometimes self care is saying no to more responsibilities and obligations so that you can take a much needed day off. Sometimes self care is going to see a therapist. Sometimes self care is choosing roasted vegetables with your dinner instead of fries. Sometimes, it's getting the fries. Self care looks different for each of us.
To serve as inspiration, here are my personal self care habits that leave me feeling better about myself and more ready to go after the life that I want.
1. Waking Up Early
I get up between 5 and 6 a.m. most days. Being up before the sun and the rest of the world gives me the quiet time that I need to take care of myself and get the most important things done before the world starts asking for my time. Getting up early gives me time for many of the other self care habits that I’ll discuss in the rest of this post.
The world is so peaceful before everyone else is awake. Whether it’s a silent, snowy Saturday morning, or I’m watching the sun rise and listening to the birds with a cup of tea on my balcony, greeting the world before the rest of its human inhabitants rise serves to ground me. This serene time every morning, even if it’s only two or three minutes, connects me to myself and the beauty of our Earth, and guarantees me a tranquil moment to enjoy by myself before the bustle of the day begins. If I need a moment to breathe during the day, I can reflect back on the peacefulness of the morning to calm myself and still my mind before heading back into my day.
2. Working out
This is one of those self care habits I mentioned that isn’t always pleasant as it’s happening, but is almost guaranteed to make you feel great afterward. There’s a reason exercise is recommended as part of treatment for depression. The endorphins released by exercise are great for stress relief and making you feel capable of accomplishing pretty much anything. Exercise also boosts both confidence and energy.
Working out is self care in its most literal form. I am literally caring for my body. By exercising regularly, I’m helping to keep my body in the best shape it can be in so that it can serve me better in everything else that I need to do. Going about the rest of your life is much easier when you take care of yourself. Working out is one of the first things I do each day, which not only gets it out of the way, but sets me up with a big win first thing in the morning. Between getting that momentum going, accomplishing something big, and all those endorphins, it’s pretty hard not to get shit done after a morning workout.
Meditation is all about you. It puts the “self” in “self care”. Meditation is about you and your thoughts. Nothing else. Meditation is great because it teaches you to notice what’s going on in your mind and why. This metacognition allows you to be much more deliberate in your thoughts and actions, instead of just doing whatever you feel like doing in that moment. Meditation helps in dealing with negative thoughts and emotions in a measured way, rather than letting those thoughts and emotions take you wherever they want to.
Meditating daily makes the entire rest of the day easier. It has gotten me into the habit of noticing when my mind wanders off, gets distracted, or starts worrying. I often deal with anxiety, and mindfulness is the best thing that I’ve found to help deal with the anxious and irrational thoughts. By maintaining a daily meditation practice, I am able to stay in touch with my thoughts without letting them run my life. This leaves me better able to handle pretty much everything I have to do every day.
4. Drinking water.
I use water to fix pretty much everything. If I have a headache, I drink water. If I'm tired, I drink water. If I'm bored, I drink water. Water is the key to life on this Earth. We would not be here without it. Drinking enough water is super important when it comes to staying healthy and having the energy you need to do other things. Water helps me to wake up in the morning, stay at the top of my game when I’m working out, and keep myself focused during a long day of work. Few things are as important as water when it comes to taking care of yourself.
I carry a water bottle everywhere I go. Literally everywhere. I have a water bottle with me for a ten minute car ride. I take my water bottle shopping with me. I take it to meetings. Everywhere I go, the water bottle comes with me (except the bathroom, ew). The 32 oz. Nalgene bottles are my favorite, because they hold a good amount of water, I can clip them to my backpack with a carabiner, and they’re pretty much indestructible. Having a water bottle with me serves as a visual reminder to drink water often and means that I have no excuse not to be drinking enough water.
5. Wearing clothes that make me feel like a badass.
Notice I did not say “go out shopping for clothes that make me feel like a badass”. I already have a few outfits, most involving black jeans and combat boots, that make me feel like an absolute badass who can do anything she puts her mind to and is intimidated by no one. If I know I have something difficult to do that day, or just want to absolutely kill it all day, those are the outfits that I wear. Basically, this is my version of “dress for success”.
I’m sure you have some of those outfits. There are definitely some pieces in your closet that fit just right and make you feel unstoppable. Maybe it’s a motorcycle jacket, or red lipstick, or those pointy black pumps. Whatever makes you feel like you can take on the world, wear it on the days that you know you’re gonna need that little extra boost.
Even when I’m working from home, I put on real clothes. Nothing fancy, but I’m not allowed to sit around in my robe all day. Admittedly, I’m wearing my robe right now because I’ve got dye in my hair and don’t want dye on my clothes, but that seems like a fair excuse. Aside from that, put real clothes on, even if it’s your day off and even if it’s just those pants that fit perfectly, and a plain black t-shirt. It’s harder to sit around, feel bad about yourself, and do nothing if you’re wearing real clothes.
6. Do a Sunday Reset
Every Sunday, I do the laundry from the week before, get my email inbox to zero, clean my apartment, wash my hair, remove all the hair below my eyebrows, prep my lunches for the week, paint my nails, and do any of those annoying tasks that pop up during the week that I just keep putting off (ugh, taxes). It may sound like a lot, but it really only takes two or three hours, and my Sunday reset leaves me feeling great about myself and my ability to tackle the upcoming week.
Resetting my life once a week prevents my mental to do list from becoming too overwhelming and keeps my shit together so I don’t have all of that to worry about while I’m off doing all the other things I’m going after in life. Basically, spending a couple hours each week being my own secretary and housekeeper leaves me available to be the CEO during the rest of the week. Getting everything ready and out of the way for the week ahead is great for my mental health and my future self, which makes me feel great in that moment and for the rest of the week.
7. Listening to interesting and uplifting podcasts.
I’m a podcast fiend. I was skeptical about podcasts for years. I didn’t understand how some stranger talking in my earbuds could possibly be valuable. Turns out, I was wrong. I listen to podcasts while working out, driving, showering, cooking, cleaning, basically anywhere you can listen to an audiobook, you can listen to a podcast. Podcasts are great sources of interesting information, motivation, inspiration, new ideas, and entertainment. Podcasts played a large role in pushing me to start this blog and go after what I want. Podcasts basically let you chat over coffee with some of the smartest and most interesting people on the planet.
Some of my favorite podcasts are 99% Invisible (about interesting and often invisible bits of design), Detail Therapy with Amy Landino (inspirational interviews by Amy Landino, an entrepreneur, author, and YouTuber), Kalyn’s Coffee Talk (some deep soul searching and the kind of heart to hearts you have with friends with YouTuber Kalyn Nicholson), and Stuff You Should Know (Josh and Chuck tell you interesting stuff about basically everything).
I do all of these things on a regular basis and they leave me feeling good and ready to get shit done in the real world. These habits help me to care for myself in a productive and healthy manner, without making irresponsible decisions or wasting money. The most expensive thing on this list is my gym membership, which is a whole $22 a month for my Planet Fitness Black Card. Even then, a gym membership isn’t necessary to get some exercise. Walking, running, and hiking are all free, as is doing a bodyweight routine in the comfort of your own home.
Don’t be fooled into thinking you need to spend money to care for yourself. It’s also important to know that sometimes, self care won’t be easy in the moment, but if it’s what you really need, then it has to happen. Getting out of bed to shower for the first time in days isn’t easy when you’re stuck in a bout of depression. Getting to the gym is a notoriously difficult thing to do regularly for many people. But often, self care is knowing that you need to just get it over with because you’ll feel miles better when you’re finished.
Self care doesn’t need to be glamorous and Instagram worthy. It doesn’t need to be something you show off to thousands of followers. Self care is about you and what makes you feel good and what helps you move forward in life in a better mood and with less stress and overwhelm. Don’t go overboard implementing every self care act that you can find. Start small, with one step that you think will help you most with whatever it is that you struggle with, even if that’s just finding time to eat a real meal each day.