How did we get here? At what point did we start believing that self-care had to be worthy of Instagram? That taking care of ourselves had to mean face masks and a glass of wine in the perfect bubble bath made from organic, non-GMO ingredients? Everyone, no matter their schedule, no matter their budget, needs to be able to reap the rewards of this practice. We’ve also forgotten that some of the most vital and most effective self-care tips are completely boring. They don’t make for good photos or Instagram stories, but they get the results.
Don’t get me wrong: I love a CBD massage as much, maybe even more, than the next person. My bathroom cabinet is stuffed with more masks than I can justify and I’ve absolutely dropped the money on organic, phthalate-free bath salts. But I also suffer from anxiety and, occasionally, depression. That means I’ve learned the value of those self-care tips that get forgotten. The ones that you’d never brag about over coffee with friends let alone post it on social media.
But when my life has devolved into a raging garbage fire of stress, those are the things that save me. When shit really hits the fan, the first things to go are the massages and the long, leisurely soaks in the tub. Tiny acts of self-care practiced day in and day out keep me feeling human and worthy and sometimes a little sliver of sane.
Here are small but not insignificant ways I practice self-care now, through a lot of trial and error. Try adding a couple this week. Commit to doing them every single day, no matter how busy you are. Because you deserve to care for yourself, whether or not expensive candles are your thing. And, more than anything, you deserve to spend your time things that work, things that will actually help you feel whole and calm and centered.
Boring but effective self-care tips…for the morning
NOTE: I’ve broken them down by part of the day. Maybe your morning is less stressful than your afternoon. Perhaps adding something into your evening seems most manageable. Do what works for you. Pick and choose as you will because even if you add one thing, you’re taking care of yourself a little more than before.
1. Take 5 minutes without technology when you wake up
Most of us use our phones as our morning alarm clocks. That’s fine, and probably necessary. But after you turn off the blaring noise, put the phone down for 5 minutes. The Alexa news brief can wait, your email can wait, and social media can definitely wait. Let yourself ease into the day without the blue light and without the stress. Cultivate a couple minutes of peace for yourself every single morning. It’s helped me dread the day a little less. If there’s a work fire, fine, I’ll deal with it. But not until I gently welcome the day, check in with myself, and know I’ll be fine before running to put out the fire.
2. Use one of those minutes to bring your attention to your body
Some of you might meditate each morning. I admire you. But meditation just isn’t right for some of us — for us, there’s walking meditation — but we should still steal a note from this practice. Before you get out of bed completely, take a second to check in with your body. Stretch a little from side to side, appreciate your muscles working. Do they feel good? That’s an amazing gift to start the day with. Are you sore anywhere? Find it, and take a couple deep breaths into those muscles. Taking just 30 seconds to appreciate the body you’ve been given, and all it gets you through on any given day, helps cultivate gratitude.
And to put it another way, you deserve to be the center of your own attention. You spend most of the day thinking about other people and their needs. Make time to think of yourself first thing in the morning to remind yourself and you — yes, you, dear friend — are your first and primary responsibility.
3. Take medicine you need every damn day and how the doctor instructed
I don’t care if the medicine is the best thing to ever happen to you or something you want to eventually get rid of. Talk to your doctor about how to transition off of it if it’s not for you. In the meantime, take your medicine. Take it how you’re supposed to take it. (Especially those of you suffering from thyroid issues. It was hard enough getting your hypothyroidism diagnosis.) Whether it’s for allergies or anxiety, you deserve to feel the very best it can make you feel. And that means following the directions and not selling yourself short on the results.
4. Drink a big cup of water with breakfast
Some of you are already done with this one because you have to take your medicine with water. Bonus points if you drink another big cup afterwards. Simply put, you need water to function. Dehydration wreaks havoc on our bodies. It makes you feel sleepy, dries out your skin, and kicks off some serious migraines. You deserve better than feeling that way throughout the day. Take the time, drink your water, and feel a little better as you head into your day.
5. Use a moisturizer with sunscreen
Even if you apply nothing else to your body or face — and you don’t need to, girl, you’re gorgeous how you are — please swipe on some double-duty moisturizer. If #3 applies to you, all the more reason to reach for some skincare. (If you have dry skin with hypothyroidism you’re going to need something with serious hydrating ability.) Your skin is the biggest organ of your body, and yet we don’t tend to think of it that way. You take care of your teeth every morning and evening and, let’s face it, they’re tiny. Plus, you know how terrible you feel when you’re dehydrated. Don’t make your skin go through the same thing, show it some love.
6. Pop some high quality ashwagandha
Sometimes when you’ve been living with anxiety for a long time, you forget what life can feel like without the constant stress. Remind yourself that life doesn’t have to be like this. Sure, some days are going to suck. It happens to everyone. But you deserve to enjoy at least a small part of every single day because it’s your damn life and it’s the only one you’re going to get. If you’re talking to your doctor about anti-anxiety medicine, you do whatever is right for you. But if you want to try something natural, invest in some high quality ashwagandha.
This adaptogen helps your body deal with stress, and it’s done even more for helping my anxiety management than CBD (which, to be clear, I love). Yes, just like cannabidiol, you’ll need to do your research when it comes to adaptogens. But unlike the trendy tincture, you’ll pay less for a high-quality product. I suggest going with a supplement that uses KSM-66 (more on why to come).
7. Get, and appreciate, sunlight before work
Read that again. Yes, getting morning sunlight is vital. It helps set your circadian rhythm which means it will perk you up in the morning and help you fall asleep at night. (And we all know how much a good night of sleep impacts our mood and work performance.) But please also take a minute to appreciate sunshine and being outdoors. If you commute in a big city, fine, rush through your commute. But make time to walk around one block slowly before you head into the office. Live in the suburbs and drive to work? Park at the end of the parking lot and stroll your way to the door. Feel the sun on your face and appreciate the fresh air. You’ll be in your cubicle soon enough.
Boring but effective self-care tips…for at work
If you struggle with self-care at work, chances are you’re an anxiety monster. You’re in good company. Channeled effectively, that anxiety probably drives you to exceed your goals, win top marks from your manager, and climb the corporate ladder. But it’s tough to always harness your anxiety instead of letting it get the best of you. Maybe these self-care tips will help so you can get back to cool and confident instead of anxious and on-edge.
8. Keep drinking water, consistently
Nothing will give you brain fog faster than a good bout of dehydration. And if you’re already anxious in the workplace, the last thing you want is to feel like you underperformed in a meeting because your head was foggy. Consistently sipping water will also help you feel the difference between true hunger and thirst. That could keep you from your snack drawer.
Don’t get me wrong. If you’re craving M&Ms and only those tiny gobs of chocolate goodness will do, have them! But if you reach for sugar in response to stress, you’re only making your anxiety worse. Keep a water bottle by your desk and it will be easier to tell when you want chocolate and when you just need an outlet for your worries.
9. Go to the bathroom — when you actually need to
Yeah, you. I’m talking to you. I know you put it off “just until after I finish this email.” But then the email becomes two and your boss swings by and asks you to take care of something quickly. Repeat it, please: Going to the bathroom when you need to is a basic human right. It’s one of the foundational items in the guide to how to take care of yourself as an adult human. You feel bad when you come home and it’s clear your dog has been waiting to go out and yet you make yourself wait. Just stop it already. Plan ahead for meetings, but if you’re sitting and working at your desk, just get up and go already.
10. Don’t work while you eat. No excuses.
I know it feels like you can’t. I know it feels like your boss will judge you for hitting the pause button. But there are some things it took me years to realize that I want to tell you now. First, people are paying far less attention to what you’re doing at work than you think. Second, your boss cares mostly that you just get your work done — and sometimes they don’t even have time to keep track of that. Third, you are less effective when you multitask. (Not you personally. You as in everyone.) Ending this bad but prevalent habit is easily one of the top tips for how to be more productive.
11. Eat healthfully, but choose foods you actually like
Kale and Brussels sprouts are great for you. So is asparagus. But what do they all have in common other than being green veggies? A good amount of people don’t like them, despite their healthy reputations. Do you need to eat any of these foods to be healthy and feel good? Absolutely not. But surely you need to force yourself to eat them if you want to lose weight and keep it off? Again, that’s a resounding no. The only way you can cultivate consistent healthy eating habits is if you enjoy the way you’re eating. And that means saying no to foods you just plain don’t like. Don’t make apologies and don’t add them to your plate.
12. Look up from your computer screen
For the love of all things good and analog, please look up from your computer screen at least once an hour. The easiest way to do this is to double down on self care tip #6 so you take regular bathroom breaks. I know it’s easy to forget about your eyes, but write yourself a Post It and get it done. Look up from your computer and refocus your eyes on something a couple feet further away for at least 20 seconds. Then you can go back to what you were doing.
13. Make sure you’re contributing to your 401(k)
Financial wellness might not come to mind when you think of self-care tips, but it’s vital for your all-around health. When it comes to your 401(k), you’re setting yourself up for future comfort (remember what I said about how you are your own primary responsibility). But you’re also easing today’s anxiety. You deserve the peace of mind of knowing you’re working toward a secure future. That you’ll have everything you need when you retire. So make sure you’re contributing and you’re maximizing employer matching if it’s offered where you work.
14. Pause, check in with your body, and release the tension
The mind-muscle connection is very strong, and it’s hard to tease apart what’s cause and what’s effect. Are your shoulders tight because you’re stressed or are you stressed because you’re holding your muscles with so much tension? It’s not so clear, but you can use that to your advantage. Pause a couple times a day and mentally scan your body for tension. Where are you holding your muscles tightly? Does anything hurt or ache? Check in on it, take a couple big breaths, and let go of the tension in those muscles. Go ahead and check how your posture is doing at the same time. Then return to your work a little more grounded and in touch with your mind and body than before.
Boring but effective self-care tips…for the evening
I get it. After a long day all you want to do is collapse on the couch, eat something, and watch a show that’s entertaining enough without demanding your full attention. In fact, you probably want that more the less achievable it is. Sometimes it’s exactly what you need and what you should give yourself. Sometimes, though, self care means doing things you don’t actually want to do because they’ll make you feel better overall.
15. Move for 30 minutes
It could be yoga in the home office slash guest room or a walk around the block. Just make sure you get in 30 minutes of movement, and make sure they’re not stressful. If you live in a city, I don’t mean part of your commute home. I mean, put down the heavy bag that’s putting muscle knots in your back. Change into comfy shoes. Annoy the other people on the sidewalk rushing through their day because you’re moving at a speed that feels good, and no faster.
If you really don’t have time for 30 straight minutes of movement at night, break it up throughout the day. Take three short 10-minute walks scattered between meetings and your evening responsibilities. Sneak them in whenever you can and make sure, above all, that they’re leisurely and not stressing you out. If you can, try to be around trees, try to appreciate the fresh air, and try to notice how your muscles actually like to move this way.
16. Take out your damn contacts
I am the guiltiest of them all when it comes to this self care tip. I even got the ultra breathable lenses — which, at the time I said was for my eye health but honestly only enables my sleeping in my contacts habit. Physical health isn’t just about your muscles. Investing time and effort in your overall health is investing in yourself. Prove to yourself that you’re accountable and you’ll always do what’s best for yourself, whether the task is big or small.
17. Carve out 10 minutes of alone time
Even if your significant other is your best friend, you need alone time. It might not feel like it right now, but that’s the point. (As my past therapist once told me, it’s also nice to remind yourself that you’re a whole human being when you’re alone. When you spend your time taking care of others, it’s easy to lose sight of that.) It’s self care to take alone time before you need it — because when you actually need it, you’ll be at your wit’s end.
Think of it like a bank account. Every time you take 10 minutes of alone time, you’re making a deposit. That means later, if something important happens and you really can’t get away, you’ll be more refreshed with less time to yourself. Essentially, depositing time now enables you to make a bigger withdrawal later. I don’t care if you have to sit in the bathroom and read trashy news on your phone for 10 minutes to get it. Just find a way to be alone, and make it even better by enjoying something your partner simply doesn’t understand.
18. Be inaccessible to work, unless it’s truly an emergency
Listen up: Your wellbeing is just as important as their bottom line. I know it might not feel like a big deal to have to check your email at night, especially if you work somewhere that only does it every so often. But they’ve looked into this. Simply knowing you might get an email from work makes you feel stressed, even when no messages come in. It’s why they’re banning employers contacting their workers after hours in some countries in the EU. Ideally you draw this line from the beginning. In fact, I work it into my job offer negotiation.
19. Read something before bed
We all know by now that the blue light emitted from our devices, like our TVs and cell phones, disrupts our sleep cycles. So why do we keep checking it right before bed? Habit, pure and simple. Put the phone away and turn off the TV, and try winding down before lights out with a book. If someone really needs to reach you right before bed (and it better not be work), they’ll call you. Flip through a magazine you haven’t seen in years or finally try tackling that classic you’ve been wanting to read. Even if you only get through 30 pages each night, it’s something. Start this habit 30 minutes before bed and slowly work up to switching off the tech a full hour before you plan on going to sleep. (And maybe think about investing in some blue blockers for that evening TV if you can afford them.)
20. Write down at least 1 thing that didn’t suck today
Why am I not suggesting 5 things? Honestly, because some days suck. Some days are genuinely horrible, and I don’t think it’s helpful to pretend it’s not going to happen to you at some point. But there’s always one thing you can write down, no matter how terrible, horrible, no good, very bad your day is: you made it through it. Yes, that is a huge accomplishment. Don’t ever let anyone make you think that surviving the day isn’t a success. Some days you might list 5 things, and that’s spectacular. But it’s worth reminding yourself on the bad days that you made it, and you should be proud of yourself.
21. Go to bed at a reasonable time
Make time for 8 hours of sleep. If you want a somewhat terrifying eye-opener about just how important sleep is, grab yourself a copy of Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker, PhD. And it’s not just total hours that we need in a night. We have two different phases of sleep that are both vital to function and feel well. That means putting yourself to sleep at a reasonable time before midnight as well as ensuring you can get enough hours. Sleep has a profound impact on our cognitive, emotional , and physical functioning. In a very real and tangible way, tomorrow will in fact look better after a good night of sleep. You deserve that. You deserve to feel rested and restored and like you’re functioning well.
Boring but effective self-care tips…for the weekend
Here’s where it gets a little tricky. You might think your weekends are all self-care all the time, but some of the habits we associate with self care actually aren’t. There’s a thin line between relaxing and avoiding. Skirt the line perfectly with these self-care tips that will have you feeling energized and empowered come Monday morning.
22. Stick to your budget
You’ll see a lot of people suggest that buying yourself something is a good part of self care. Well, yes and no. Does the occasional coffee shop latte have the power to turn around your mood some days? Absolutely. But you know what does a number on your stress levels? That credit card bill you know you’re not going to be able to pay in full. Financial stress is real, and it wreaks havoc on our mental health and our relationships. So save yourself the acid stomach and the shock of that sky-high statement by actually sticking to your budget, especially on weekends when you’re tempted to go swipe-crazy. (If you haven’t made yourself a budget yet, take this as a giant hint.) For those of-the-moment urges to buy, try our easy alternative to the 30 day rule.
Sometimes strategic spending can end up saving you money, so it’s not all denying yourself. Do the math and you just might find that some items you’ve been eyeing make sense as investments. I had been wanting to try Vital Proteins Matcha Collagen, for example. After I did the math, I discovered that if I gave up my coffee shop matcha latte habit in favor of this power, I could save $1200 a year.
23. Say no to plans if you’re not feeling up for it
Saying yes when you’re not feeling plans sucks. It wears you out, emotionally and physically. But you know what also sucks? Saying yes to plans and flaking at the last minute. Scary as it sounds, the healthiest way to take care of yourself and nourish open and honest friendships is to just…tell the truth. If you’re wiped out from the week, just say so. Maybe they’ll be willing to make a house call. And if you need alone time, just say so and take it. Supportive friends will just be happy to know exactly what you need from, and that it’s not about them.
24. No matter what, get outside
Yes, it sounds tempting to stay inside all weekend and rewatch old seasons of your favorite TV shows. In reality, it probably just leaves you in a funk if it’s longer than a couple hours. Admit it, you know it because you’ve done it. And it’s not nearly as satisfying as you had imagined. No matter what, barring serious illness, get up off the couch (or out of bed) and get outside. Even if you only walk around the block, the fresh air and sunshine will do you go. So will getting the blood moving.
25. Figure out your net worth
Some acts of self-care sound stressful, but it’s actually more stressful to put them off. Facing the true state of your finances is something so many of us put off. But how can you get a handle on your debt, credit card or student loans, and plan for your future if you don’t know where you stand? End the acid stomach but facing it head on. Personal Capital is what I use for mine. It only takes a couple of minutes to set up a profile and link your accounts. You’ll get a snapshot of where you are now, and you can watch your savings grow as you (cough, hint, cough) put money aside each month.
26. Don’t check social media. In fact, unfollow a couple people
Study after study shows that time spent on social media makes us feel worse about ourselves, so what if you just didn’t look this weekend? In fact, what if you cleared your feed of one or two people who always make you feel inadequate? (And then logged off for the rest of the weekend, of course.) Let go of what does not serve you. If personal friends make you feel bad about yourself, you can silence them to avoid causing any drama. But don’t feel badly for making your feeds a place that’s as positive as it can be. Or for leaving any platform that cultivates negative emotions.
27. Take a shower and wash your hair
Taking care of yourself can feel easier during the week. But all too often that’s because we’re doing it for someone else. We wash our hair because we need to look presentable at work, but sit around feeling gross on the weekend when no one expects anything of us. Start taking care of yourself for yourself. If you’re comfortable twisting your third-day hair into a bun, that’s wonderful. But if you let your hair go unwashed even though you know you’d feel better if you scrubbed, get up and go treat yourself to a nice steamy shower.
You don’t need to take an Instagram-worthy bubble bath to treat yourself to a semi-spa treatment. If showers are more your thing (or you can’t sit still long enough for a bath), try a shower bomb. They fizz at the bottom of your shower and the steam lifts the essential oils. It’s aromatherapy that only requires unwrapping the product and turning on the water.
28. Have a conversation with someone
I know exactly what you’re thinking. Sometimes it’s the very last thing I want to do, too. But it doesn’t have to be an intense conversation with a close friend over coffee. Save those for when you have the emotional and physical energy. I mean anything. It could be an intimate chat over cappuccinos, but it could also be a three minute conversation with someone you only sort-of know at the gym. Even just some banter with your barista counts.
Let’s put it this way: interact with a human with whom you do not live. Sometimes chatting about the weather with someone you don’t know well is just the push you need to get out of your own head. Even better, try complimenting the person. Make their day a little better. See if making someone else smile doesn’t make you feel just a little bit better, even if you’re having a rough day.
Boring but effective self-care tips…for every single day
You should probably call your mom and tell her she was right, and not just because it will make her insanely happy. Our parents really did have the whole how to take care of yourself thing down long before we were able to appreciate it. You’ll probably see quite a few in this section that you used to ignore, but I beg you to give them a second chance.
29. Stop insulting yourself
Should be a no-brainer, but it isn’t. The way you talk about yourself to others is one matter, the way you talk about yourself in your own head is quite another. Transforming the first, though, can be a good stepping stone to fixing the second. Want to work on this one? I have a guide for how to tackle this particularly tricky self care idea.
30. Pick some clothes up off the floor
There’s a snowball effect when it comes to leaving things on the floor. It’s fine for a day or two because it’s manageable, and you tell yourself it’s short on time. But before you know it there are piles everywhere and the mess is leaching into your mood. It can make you feel slightly depressed, out of order, and even aggravated. Prevent the irritation by picking up just a couple things every time you walk through a room. It takes barely any time or effort, but the payoff is big. Plus, clearing just one or two large surfaces (like your bed and the floor), give the biggest visual impact when it comes to cleaning.
31. If you’re in pain, take medicine
It sounds like a no-brainer, but many of us are guilty of pushing through pain that really does need attention. Yes, sometimes there’s value in toughing it out. Generally, though, this comes down to understanding the difference between something that’s sore and something that hurts. If your workout left you a little tender, sure, you can skip the pain meds and take a bath. (Or soothe those achy muscles with one of these CBD topicals.) But please don’t force yourself to work through a migraine or keep pushing through a stomach ache without some help. You’re already a tough person. There’s no need to prove it by suffering through some pain.
32. Find something that makes you laugh
Let’s make one thing very clear right away: It’s amazing if you have a partner who makes you laugh, especially if they do it daily. But they should never be expected to do it. Our partners are not responsible for our mental wellbeing and expectations like this are the death of stable, fulfilling relationships. (Can you imagine the emotional ramifications if you expect your partner to make you laugh every day and one day they don’t?) If they already made you laugh today, that’s wonderful. Appreciate the laughter as well as your luck in the romance department.
Whether or not you have such a partner, seek out something that makes you laugh apart from another person. The ability to bring joy into your own life is an invaluable tool in your emotional toolkit. You know what you like better than anyone, or you should. Watch an episode of your favorite sitcom, find a YouTube video, or browse some funny subreddits. Schedule time in your day to seek out laughter. After all, it can weaken the effects of stress and boost your levels of feel-good hormones like serotonin.
33. Spend time with your pets
Reframe how you view your pets and change how you spend time with them. It’s easy, especially after a long day, to see them as responsibilities first and foremost. (You walk them, you feed them, and then you collapse on the couch.) And, sure, they are. But spending time actually bonding with your animals has profound health benefits. Spending quality time with them boosts your levels of the stress-busting hormone oxytocin and also drives down your cortisol production.
If you’re already cuddling up to your pets, it’s also good to pay attention to how you’re acting. Notice how gentle, understanding, and patient you are with them. Now think of how you treat yourself. Are you as understanding and flexible with yourself as you are with your dog or cat? Do you love yourself as much as your pet loves you? Our furry friends can hold a mirror up to how we’re caring for ourselves. Just make sure you take notice.
34. Take a couple big breaths
Stop right now. Stop that shallow breathing. We spend most of the day activating our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) — the branch of our autonomic nervous system responsible for seeing and reacting to threats — by breathing into our chests, or shallow breathing. But we can also deactivate this fight or flight response by taking deep breaths. You might have heard it called diaphragmatic breathing in yoga class, but don’t worry about the fancy language.
All you need to do is stop, and put your hand on your stomach. Make sure that when you breathe in your stomach expands, pushing your stomach and hand out away from your body. Take slow, deep breaths for a minute. Check in with yourself and feel how much your mental state can change with just a couple of breaths.
35. Get something green for your home, then care for it
Don’t live with that musty atmosphere. Get a couple plants — the green makes any room cheerier, anyway — and they’ll clean the air for you. Certain plants not only reduce carbon dioxide and up the oxygen in the room but also filter out pollutants. They can cushion stressful street noises and lower your stress levels. Basically they’ll help turn your home into the oasis from the chaotic outside world. We could all use a little of that.
36. Ask for help whenever you need it
It isn’t weakness to ask for help when you need it. That could be help carrying your groceries to your fifth floor walk up (just please return the favor) or a trusted therapist to listen to what’s stressing you out. Even if you don’t feel overloaded, a therapist can be a great outlet, especially if you feel like a burden by constantly going to your friends and loved ones. You deserve someone to listen, but you also need to not feel guilty about it. Discussing your daily stressors with a professional, getting the emotional outlet you need, may help you feel like you’re better able to be a resource to your friends for a change. You can’t pour from an empty cup, after all. One very easy way to get this outlet for yourself is through text-based therapy services like TalkSpace, which don’t require appointment times or commuting.
37. Make your bed
Doing something small in the morning to set my life in order helps me feel more organized overall. Maybe it will for you, too. I’m more able to enter my day, no matter how chaotic, feeling prepared and in control than if I leave the apartment a mess. And I don’t skip weekends, either. I make sure I get a good night’s sleep, yes, but then I close the book on sleep once I get out of bed.
It’s also a matter of getting my space in order. A messy apartment can make you feel like a mess personally, but it’s also a distraction. If you’re trying to master how to be more productive, you have to get rid of all distractions. I’ll clean my entire apartment to put off work and cannot focus well before it’s done. Making my bed gives me the biggest bang for my buck in the morning. I live in a small space, so simply tidying the sheets makes the entire space feel neater and more organized.