What is Self-Care?
Self-care is important to maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself. It means doing things to take care of our minds, bodies, and souls by engaging in activities that promote well-being and reduce stress. Doing so enhances our ability to live fully, vibrantly, and effectively. The practice of self-care also reminds both you and others that your needs are valid and a priority.
Self-care is not selfish. You must fill your own cup before you can pour into others.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-care as: “The ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.” The WHO asserts that self-care involves personal factors like empowerment, self-reliance, autonomy, self-efficacy, and personal responsibility. But self-care can also include factors from a communal standpoint, like community involvement, neighborhood participation, and cultural empowerment.
Self-Care and Mental Health
Ideally, we all engage in regular self-care in which we do the things that make us feel taken care of mentally, physically, and emotionally. But this doesn’t always happen, and we may need to stop and take the time to remind ourselves we are important, too.
Self-care looks different for everyone, and it is important to find what you need and enjoy. It may take trial and error to discover what works best for you. In addition, although self-care is not a cure for mental illnesses, understanding what causes or triggers your mild symptoms and what coping techniques work for you can help manage your mental health.
Types of Self-Care
Self-care means taking the time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical health and mental health. When it comes to your mental health, self-care can help you manage stress, lower your risk of illness, and increase your energy. Even small acts of self-care in your daily life can have a big impact.
Self-care activities can range from physical activities, such as exercising and eating healthy, to mental activities such as reading a book or practicing mindfulness, to spiritual or social activities, such as praying or catching lunch with a friend. The important thing to remember about self-care is that it is about listening to what your mind and body need.
Here are some tips to help you get started thinking about self-care:
Get regular exercise. Just 30 minutes of walking every day can help boost your mood and improve your health. Small amounts of exercise add up, so don’t be discouraged if you can’t do 30 minutes at one time.
Eat healthy, regular meals and stay hydrated. A balanced diet and plenty of water can improve your energy and focus throughout the day. Also, limit caffeinated beverages such as soft drinks or coffee.
Make sleep a priority. Stick to a schedule, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Blue light from devices and screens can make it harder to fall asleep, so reduce blue light exposure from your phone or computer before bedtime.
Try a relaxing activity. Explore relaxation or wellness programs or apps, which may incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Schedule regular times for these and other healthy activities you enjoy such as journaling.
Set goals and priorities. Decide what must get done now and what can wait. Learn to say “no” to new tasks if you start to feel like you’re taking on too much. Try to be mindful of what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.
Practice gratitude. Remind yourself daily of things you are grateful for. Be specific. Write them down at night, or replay them in your mind.
Focus on positivity. Identify and challenge your negative and unhelpful thoughts.
Stay connected. Reach out to your friends or family members who can provide emotional support and practical help.
Research shows that self-care enhances your health, decisions, and day-to-day actions.
Normalizing Daily Self-Care
Find a daily self-care routine that works for you on good days and supports you on bad ones. To start a routine, consider a brief meditation in the morning or evening. You can use the following breathing guide as a starting point and make modifications as you go to fit your needs. Other simple self-care acts include journaling, spending time outside, connecting with loved ones, or just spending time unplugged and resting.
For other ideas for healthy practices for your mind, body, surroundings, and relationships, see the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Wellness Toolkits.
When to Seek Professional Help
Seek professional help if you are experiencing severe or distressing symptoms that have lasted two weeks or more, such as:
Appetite changes that result in unwanted weight changes
Struggling to get out of bed in the morning because of mood
Loss of interest in things you usually find enjoyable
Inability to perform usual daily functions and responsibilities
Don’t wait until your symptoms are overwhelming. Talk about your concerns with your primary care provider, who can refer you to a mental health specialist if needed. If you don’t know where to start, read the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Tips for Talking With Your Health Care Provider fact sheet.
What to Do in a Crisis
If you are thinking about harming yourself or attempting suicide, tell someone who can help right away or dial 911 in an emergency. You also can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) at 1‑800‑273‑TALK (8255), or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741). Both services are free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All calls are confidential.
Contact social media outlets directly if you are concerned about a friend’s social media updates, or dial 911 in an emergency. Learn more on the Lifeline website or the Crisis Text Line website. For additional information about suicide prevention, please see NIMH’s Suicide Prevention webpage.
Resources & Downloads
Creating a self-care plan - Download a copy of this factsheet and our TLC for beginners action template and fill it out to get your TLC started!
Time to Share!
What are some of your favorite ways to practice self-care? Let us know what helps you feel your best and your tips for others to try for themselves!