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10 Simple Strategies to Help You Prioritize Self-Care

By Sara Lindberg
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
July 05, 2024
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When life feels overwhelming, adding another item to your to-do list can feel like a burden. But taking just a few minutes each day to do something for yourself can not only help make other tasks feel less daunting (and possibly even more pleasurable) but also help you ease stress levels.

Self-Care: More Than Just a Trend

“Self-care” has become one of the buzzwords of the decade, often used by self-help gurus, internet entrepreneurs, and beauty product brands alike. Many of us now think of self-care as indulgences, like bubble baths and expensive spa treatments.

Although these can be great ways to relax, the idea of prioritizing self-care is much broader and deeper than the luxury goods and services markets would have us believe—and doesn’t need to cost any money. It can be helpful to think about self-care as a holistic, multifaceted approach that doesn’t need to involve elaborate or commercial activities.

“Self-care is an intentional and consistent action in which you engage in enjoyable, healthy activities that maximize wellness along the mind-body-spirit pathway—leading toward a well-balanced life,” says Matt Glowiak, Ph.D., a licensed clinical professional counselor and a member of the clinical faculty at Southern New Hampshire University. In other words: Self-care simply means taking part in (healthy!) activities that make you feel good.

How Self-Care Helps You and Those Around You

Self-care is crucial to your physical, mental, and emotional health. It’s also an important aspect of coping with daily worries, as well as stress caused by life crises and uncertainties, says Mayra Mendez, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California.

The key to self-care is making time to do things you enjoy that also help you live well, Mendez says. That can be a powerful tool for feeling a sense of control over stress. Plus, spending time doing something for yourself can help revive your creativity and energy and is good for brain health, she adds. Self-care also reinforces feeling purposeful and productive, and supports hopefulness.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, self-care can boost energy levels, decrease the risk of illness, and help you manage stress. It’s particularly important for people who are caring for others, such as parents and caregivers. “Remember that self-care is selfless rather than selfish,” Glowiak says. The healthier we are, the more we have to give.

10 Steps Toward Making Self-Care a Priority

Ready to embrace—or at least try—doing something for yourself? Start prioritizing self-care in your life with these strategies.

1. Make a Commitment to Yourself

You should be ready and willing to fit self-care into your regular routine. “The most important thing you can do toward making self-care a greater priority in your daily life is by being intentional and consistent with it,” Glowiak says.

So, make a promise to start taking care of yourself—and commit to following through. This could mean scheduling time for self-care and working to make it a habit.

“The better you are at automatically implementing self-care into your daily routine, the more likely it is to be there when you need it the most,” Golwaik adds.

Otherwise, when we become overwhelmed, Glowiak says, self-care is often the first thing to go by the wayside—drawing us toward avoidant or maladaptive coping strategies that may provide temporary relief but ultimately amplify the issue further.

2. Decide What Self-Care Means to You

This will help you understand how self-care can fit into your life.

You may need to start by reframing the concept of self-care. Even if you’d like for it to encompass luxurious massages, quiet nights spent reading a good book, or long walks on the beach, self-care needs to be realistic in order to work. It can’t be something you’ll do only once a year.

Remember that self-care only needs to make you feel good, or better. It’s more about what it does for you than what it looks like. Some people may require a greater amount of self-care, and others may feel immediate benefits simply with the help of deep breathing. Start by figuring out what kind of self-care will help you most and how it may realistically look in your day-to-day life.

3. Make a List of Healthy Activities That Bring You Pleasure

Carve out 15 minutes and write down any self-care activities that come to mind. That may include:

  • Exercise
  • Yoga
  • Spending time with friends
  • Listening to music
  • Reading
  • Meditation
  • Practicing healthy sleep habits
  • Preparing and eating nutritious food

Remember to include little things that can bring you joy or comfort, like watching birds at the feeder, taking a warm shower, wearing cozy slippers, or sipping a latte.

Keep this as a running list. And don’t be afraid to remove items that aren’t working, or add new ones when you think of them. Finding what works for you is an ongoing process.

4. Make Time for Yourself

Set aside time each day for self-care activities. To make sure they’re part of the plan, you may want to set calendar reminders or alarms. Blocking out the time and getting reminders may give you the push you need.

5. Learn to Set Boundaries and Advocate for Yourself

To effectively prioritize self-care, you may need to set some boundaries. For example, to make sure you have enough time for self-care, you could promise yourself that you’ll turn off your work computer at night, tell family members you’ll be unavailable at certain times during the day, or ask for help with tasks or chores.

You may also choose to say no to commitments or obligations that cause stress or feel overwhelming.

It may feel uncomfortable at first to set those types of boundaries, but you’ll be conveying the idea to others that your sense of well‑being is a priority to you. And you’ll be communicating how they can help ensure that you’re able to care for yourself.

6. Set a Sleep Schedule

In addition to carving out time for yourself during the day, try to prioritize your well‑being at night, too. Good sleep is critical to self-care. Insufficient sleep can lead to increased stress, irritability, and trouble focusing, according to a 2017 research review.

Aim to get seven or more hours of shut-eye each night. Adopt habits that can encourage better sleep, such as:

  • Being consistent about what time you wake and go to bed every day
  • Not consuming caffeine in the six hours before you hit the sack
  • Disconnecting from electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime
  • Making sure your room is quiet, dark, and cool

7. Check In with Yourself

Checking in with yourself each day helps you pay attention to how you’re feeling. This can help set the tone for your day and also help you care for your mental well‑being.

You can check in with yourself when you get up in the morning or before bedtime. Write your observations in a journal and then compare the results from the previous day. “The mindful processing of thoughts and experiences through journaling allows you to process the positives as well as the negatives of the day,” Mendez says.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • How am I feeling mentally?
  • How am I feeling emotionally?
  • How am I feeling physically?
  • What’s been a nagging or troubling thought today?
  • What am I looking forward to today?
  • How can I take care of myself today?

8. Take a Mindful Moment

Mendez recommends taking time to breathe, meditate, or practice relaxation exercises. Practicing meditation can help you clear your mind and reflect on situations more positively.

The STOP technique is a quick and simple way to incorporate breathing and mindfulness into a busy lifestyle. It only takes a few minutes—plus you can do it any time during the day, no matter where you are. “STOP” is an acronym, with each letter standing for a step in the technique:

  • Stop.
  • Take a breath or two, really focusing on what it feels like to breathe. How does your breath sound and feel?
  • Observe what you’re feeling, thinking, and sensing, without any judgment or analysis.
  • Proceed with your day.

9. Find a Support System

Having a support system can improve your health, according to the American Psychological Association. And taking steps to make sure you have support when you need it is another way to care for yourself.

Building the right support system takes time but is so worth it. To create yours, you’ll want to make connections with people you can lean on—friends, family, support groups, a mental health professional, service providers, or a combination of all of the above.

Everyone’s support system will look different, so think about the types of support you need most and who might be able to give that to you. For example, you may want to set up regular coffee dates with a friend who’s easy to talk to, hire a babysitter who can watch your kids while you spend time on self-care, or find a local support group of people with similar experiences as you.

10. Don’t Stress!

Try not to second-guess how you choose to prioritize self-care, and don’t worry if you miss a day or two. The whole point of self-care is to make life easier and happier, not harder or more stressful.

These steps are here to guide you, but feel free to skip a few or reconfigure them to suit you and your lifestyle. If it’s starting to feel like too much, scrap it—and consider maybe talking to a therapist, who may be able to provide additional guidance or advice.

Self-care is what you make of it. The activities you choose should bring you joy, promote relaxation, help improve your overall well‑being, and allow you to take breaks for yourself.

It doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive. Remember, a little self-care can really go a long way toward improving your mental and emotional well‑being.

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