We’ve all heard about the importance of self-care, but maybe you don’t know how to get started. Or you have, but you’ve given up because you never found anything that worked for you. Self-care is highly personal, and the best practices will be different for everyone. If you’re looking for how to get started with self-care (for the first or hundredth time), this is the post for you!
I’ll be covering the following:
- The benefits of self-care
- The seven areas of self-care
- How to get started with self-care using a 30-day challenge
- And some journal prompts for reflection
Welcome to Practical Self-Care! It’s a year-long, 12-post series on Plants and Pondering dedicated to exploring all aspects of self-care. Understanding and practicing self-care has changed my life.
If you’re brand new to self-care or you’re looking to deepen your practice and hone in on the best ways to care for yourself, this journey is perfect for you!
I started this series because I’m so passionate about self-care and the impact it has had on my life. I want to encourage you to find that magic for yourself.
When you’re taking care of yourself, it makes everything in life more manageable. You can be more productive, creative, emotionally balanced, and have the energy to work toward your goals with your best effort.
With that being said, let’s get started on Practical Self-Care together!
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Benefits of Self-Care
There are so many benefits of a regular self-care practice, and you should find the ones that speak to you the most. Here are a few of my favorite effects of self-care.
We’re better equipped to handle life’s stresses and challenges when we’re not physically, emotionally, or mentally exhausted. Like a child having a meltdown because they’re too tired, we have the same limits. Maybe we react to going over those limits in different ways, but they’re still there.
When something small goes wrong, it could lead to a chain of events and emotions that snowballs out of control. We’ve all had days like that. Or, if we’re practicing self-care and in a good state of mind, those minor annoyances are easier to deal with and carry on with our day. I know which path I’d rather take!
Regular self-care can improve emotional health, as well as your overall self-esteem and sense of wellbeing. By acting in a way that shows that you’re worth taking care of, you’re sending that message to your brain.
There are so many ways that we get shown that we don’t matter or we’re not good enough. Self-care can be a way to combat that narrative and rewrite it into a story that’s loving and supportive. That power can come from within, growing until it’s loud enough to drown out the negatives.
It just feels good
This is kind of the point. Maybe it doesn’t feel great all the time, like during a challenging workout or when you do something you’ve been dreading for months. But the whole point of practicing self-care is to do things that will improve your life or mood somehow. It’s about promoting good health and wellbeing, in addition to coping strategies to deal with work stressors.
When you’re tuned in to your own needs and actively working to meet those needs, you’re going to feel the effects.
The Seven Areas of Self-Care
These are the areas of your life that can be improved by caring for them with intention. There may be more or less depending on who you ask, but I’ve defined seven main areas of self-care for the Practical Self-Care series.
Physical care is probably the self-care area that we are most familiar with. The goal is straightforward: to do things that support our physical health and wellbeing. It will look different for everyone, but we all deserve to have habits that make us feel our best.
You may not need to ‘get started’ with physical self-care because you’re probably already doing it in some form or another. Making it an intentional practice can help you be more focused and work toward any related goals you may have. Common examples of physical self-care include going for a walk, eating more fruits and vegetables, and drinking enough water.
Emotional wellness centers around the fluctuating moods that we experience. It doesn’t mean that we’ll never be upset; that would be impossible! But we should be aware of what we’re feeling. Good emotional self-care involves doing things that make you happy.
To some extent, emotional regulation is a good thing. We don’t want to have outbursts of frustration or anger, but those feelings shouldn’t get buried and ignored, either. Give yourself space to process. Maybe you’ll notice connections that may emerge between specific events and your emotional state. Also, practice using healthy and non-destructive coping mechanisms for negative emotions.
Nurture your emotional well being by making a gratitude list, sharing your feelings with someone, or watching your favorite movie or tv show.
We all have to discover what practices are best for us mentally. In general, it’s good to do things that challenge our minds and help us keep learning even if we’re not in school. It can also mean working on self-improvement or personal development. Mental self-care also relates to mental health.
Mental health care can often be reactive (as in, my mental health is already bad, what can I do to fix it?), but being proactive (as in, what can I do now to support my mental health in the future?) is so beneficial. We should evaluate our lives to find and eliminate sources of unnecessary or harmful stress. Having boundaries for work-life balance and hobbies outside of work is essential.
Mental self-care can look like reading a book, saying no to an obligation you don’t want to do, or practicing self-compassion.
There is no right or wrong way to practice spiritual self-care. It can be religious or spiritual, or you may want to incorporate both. It is meant to nurture and strengthen our spirits and connect to something larger than ourselves. Values and beliefs are vital components. We want to understand our values and align our actions with them as much as possible.
Connecting to something with a more profound sense of meaning can significantly benefit our overall wellbeing. It may take some exploration and research to discover your beliefs if you’ve never considered them before.
Some ideas for practicing spiritual self-care include attending a religious service, reading a sacred or spiritual text, or meditating.
Social self-care is all about finding the right balance of socializing with others. We should strive to be in a good position with our relationships and work on fixing any that are not healthy. Of course, social self-care includes the quality of our romantic relationships as well. It may be counterintuitive, but another component of social wellbeing is our alone time.
The type and frequency of social interactions that you enjoy most will likely depend on where you are on the introvert/extrovert scale. Don’t forget about social media, either! Being mindful of who you follow can also make an impact. You might practice social self-care by calling or meeting up with a friend, going on a date, or doing a social media purge of accounts that aren’t right for you.
This will look different for everyone, depending on your vision of your ideal job. I’m speaking from the perspective of a 9 to 5 office job because that’s what I have experience with, but that may not be your reality. Professional self-care involves a job that you don’t actively hate or making an effort to get out of a job like that and find a new one.
It may not seem like a traditional self-care area, but we spend a lot of time at work, and it often has a significant impact on the rest of our lives. We want to make sure that we’re learning and taking steps toward advancing our careers, whatever they may be. It’s worth evaluating our feelings toward our jobs and improving our situations where we can.
Professional self-care can look like sticking to your defined work hours, taking development opportunities, and having a healthy relationship with your coworkers.
As you probably guessed, this covers everything related to money. Our finances may not seem linked to self-care, but they can significantly impact our overall wellbeing positively or negatively. It may take some research to develop the ability to make smart decisions with money since we often aren’t taught about personal finance in school. Instead, we must seek out the knowledge ourselves. Luckily, there are plenty of useful resources available.
Financial situations are very personal and sometimes entirely out of our control. Regardless of where you start, there are ways to improve your financial standing, educate yourself, and develop a healthier relationship with money.
Getting started with financial self-care doesn’t have to be hard. You may start with something like tracking your expenses, creating a budget, or just learning about a particular aspect of personal finance that interests you.
How To Get Started With Self-Care
Now that you’re familiar with the why and what, let’s get into the how. How do you turn these ideas and intentions into actual practice and routine?
It’s popular all over Pinterest: the 30-day self-care challenge. Why? Because it’s the perfect opportunity to experiment with new things and build habits.
You can combine some self-reflection with a challenge like this to understand what kind of self-care is best for you right now. The ‘right now’ is important because our favorite self-care activities can change over time! I shared how my routine has evolved in my self-care journey.
I’ve broken this process of how to get started with self-care into five steps. It’ll take some work upfront, and then you’ll get into the challenge. Some journaling is required, so get out a pen and paper, and let’s get started!
Step 1: Evaluate where you are now.
Consider each area of self-care (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, social, professional, and financial). Rate the areas on how well you feel you are currently doing. You may choose to rate them 1-10, rank them in order, or use any other scale that makes sense to you.
The evaluation will help you identify which aspects of self-care you’re doing well in and which ones may be lacking.
Also, make a list of the activities and types of self-care you already enjoy. Maybe you’ve always been comforted by talking with your best friend, or cooking your favorite meal, or having a spa night by yourself. If you know it works, go with it!
Step 2: Identify your goals.
Why do you want to start or practice self-care? What are you hoping to get out of it?
I practice self-care because of the way it makes me feel. As an introvert and a highly sensitive person, I know that I’m easily affected by stress, and I need to balance that out with my actions. When I’m taking the time to properly care for myself, everything else in life becomes more manageable.
Whether your goals are similar to or completely different from mine, take the time to figure them out. Write down your goals and intentions for your self-care challenge. This can also include specifics on which areas you want to focus on.
Step 3: Plan your challenge.
Having a game plan will make completing your challenge that much easier. Basically, you want to know each day’s activity ahead of time.
The 30-day self-care challenge bundle comes with two versions of the calendar. One is pre-filled with activities that cover all areas of self-care equally. The other is a blank calendar so you can fill in all of the things you want to try. Feel free to use whichever you like!
Plan your self-care time into your daily schedule. Maybe you won’t always practice at the same time every day, but you’ll want to have an idea of when you’ll squeeze it in. For me, it’s easiest to work in my self-care time at night, but maybe you’d like to start your day with self-care.
Stay accountable. Find a way to keep it up every day. Showing up is the hardest part, especially when you’re just starting. Try completing the challenge with a friend, or check out these 7 ways to stay on track with your goals.
For building the habit, it can be helpful to have some sort of trigger to signal that it’s time for self-care. I often light a candle at night while I’m doing something relaxing. My favorite brand is Confetti Candle Co on Etsy. Their natural soy wax candles come in a wide variety of simple scents. The packaging is minimal and is a perfect decoration for any aesthetic.
Step 4: Enjoy!
This is the fun part! You get to experiment with all the activities and try new things. The goal is to complete the 30 days as well as you can.
Be adventurous. Notice what you like and how the different activities make you feel. For example, journaling generally makes me feel more mentally centered and calm. And I know that I’ll always feel better about a problem after talking it over with my mom.
You can use a journal or tracker to record some notes. Be as detailed as you want, or just rate how you felt each day. This data will help the end of the month when you’re assessing how it went.
Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or forget sometimes. This is definitely the most important piece of advice that I have. Not only is that the opposite of self-care, but slipping up is part of the habit-building process. You’re not going to be perfect at something right away. That’s why it’s a practice.
Just try your best and enjoy the time you’ve carved out for yourself.
Step 5: Reflect on your self-care experience.
At the end of the 30 days (or however long you decided), it’s time for some reflection.
Which activities did you like the most? Which seemed the most helpful for improving your mood or brightening your day?
Maybe you’ve even noticed some changes in your overall mindset. You could find yourself feeling positive more often or realize that you’re not so quick to anger at a minor inconvenience.
Hopefully, you’ll want to keep doing the things that you enjoyed the most. It’s great if self-care has become a habit, but you may still need some help remembering to keep it up. You can use the habit tracker included in the challenge bundle to keep track of the self-care activities you want to continue.
Finally, don’t forget to congratulate yourself! You dedicated a whole month to self-care! Honor that commitment and acknowledge how you feel because of it.
Journal Prompts for Reflection
It can be easy to do the activities, but the real value comes from the insights you discover when reflecting. Here are some journal prompts that may help you in the various parts of your self-care journey.
What is my current relationship with self-care?
How do I feel about making time for self-care? (Is it a waste of time, a luxury, a necessity?)
How do I feel when I am properly cared for?
What is the hardest part about self-care for me?
What did I learn from this self-care challenge?
Now you’ve learned all about how to get started with self-care! I’m so excited for you to discover (or rediscover) how magical self-care can be.
Are you going to take on a self-care challenge, or have you done one in the past? I’d love to hear about it! Let me know by leaving a comment.