Self-care is a buzzword boasted by many wellness channels as the cure for just about anything. Self-care is, in fact, of high importance. But for it to be effective, you have to find the self-care activities that work for you.

What is self-care?

Self-care is the act of intentionally engaging in behaviors that promote health, joy, and overall wellness. Self-care activities can target a person’s physical health, including eating healthy foods, getting high-quality sleep, and moving the body through exercise. Self-care can also come in the form of taking care of oneself emotionally. This can look like setting aside time to check in with one’s feelings, expressing difficult emotions, and practicing self-compassion.

Some people might think that the only way to practice self-care is to take a bubble bath while eating a box of chocolate. However, self-care can look like anything – anything that brings you relaxation, joy, or a deeper sense of connection with yourself. If bubble baths aren’t your thing, they likely won’t be a helpful way of promoting resilience. Self-care only protects you from illness, distress, or discomfort when what you’re doing is authentic to you and feels good on a deeper internal level.

Types of self-care

It might take some trial and error to find what self-care activities actually work for you. Remember, the goal is to feel recharged after you practice self-care – so if you end your self-care activity and you feel more stressed than before you started, that isn’t self-care!

Here are some ideas for self-care activities:

  • Mindful meditation breaks in-between meetings at work
  • Holding a stuffed (or real!) animal on your lap
  • Listening to your favorite music
  • Gardening or taking care of your indoor plants
  • Laundry, doing the dishes, or other cleaning activities (that you enjoy!)
  • Taking your dog on a walk
  • Playing an instrument
  • Talking to an old friend on the phone
  • Looking at picture albums from your last big trip
  • Preparing and drinking a cup of your favorite tea
  • Ordering your favorite take-out
  • Journaling or creative writing
  • Painting, drawing, or working with clay
  • Getting your heartrate up
  • Dancing, whether by yourself or with a group of friends
  • Getting a new piercing or tattoo

Symptoms of self-care issues

When someone doesn’t engage in self-care activities, they’re not actively protecting themselves against sickness, illness, injury, or burnout. Without intentionally supporting the body and the mind, they might find themselves feeling exhausted – or even upset.

On a physical level, not taking care of the body may result in fatigue, changes in weight, lower immunity against illness, aches, restlessness, and more. This is on top of the effects of not eating healthy or getting enough sleep, which can have greater health impacts. Being intentional about your physical health doesn’t mean running a marathon or going vegan – it means being mindful about your body’s needs.

Emotionally, not practicing effective self-care can lead to a decreased mood, decreased energy levels, and less enjoyment from activities that you generally like. Not prioritizing your own health can lead to the development of mental health conditions. When you practice self-care, you’re growing your resilience, which can help you overcome challenges as they arise.

Therapy for self-care

The majority of therapists check in regularly with their clients about their self-care practices. They’ll likely ask, “What are you doing to take care of yourself?” Therapists aren’t as interested in how you’re taking care of yourself – again, there are hundreds of ways to practice self-care – they’re more interested in whether or not you set aside time each week solely for the purpose of taking care of yourself.

When a client has issues completing self-care or still feels run-down despite their efforts, a therapist can help them determine whether their self-care practices are effective. They may need to find other ways to take care of themselves, and a therapist can help them find these ways. Therapists’ goal is to empower clients to make time for their own health and mental health, and to routinely do the things that leave them feeling recharged and ready for what’s to come.