Self-care tips: 11 self-care activities to build into your routine
This guide outlines the core elements of health and wellness to assist you in developing a holistic set of self-care activities for your routine.
There’s no shortage of advice available about what it takes to be healthy, but in the absence of a framework it’s hard to know where to start.
Health advice is often doled out by experts, researchers, and practitioners in piecemeal to provide recommendations or treatments for isolated issues and symptoms.
However, the mind and body (and their various elements) aren’t separate entities but an integrated unit, and should be approached as such.
An integrative approach to health and wellness is twofold:
understanding the full range of factors that influence your well-being
personalizing a strategy based on your unique situation
This may seem obvious at first read. That is, until you consider the fact that tens of millions of people worldwide struggle with lifestyle diseases that are largely preventable. And, a staggering number of people in the U.S. and globally suffer from depression and other psychological disorders.
The goal for this guide is to help you effortlessly manage your well-being — and hopefully avoid undue emotional, mental, and physical distress.
Table of Contents: Self-care tips
What is self-care?
Why you need self-care?
11 self-care tips
Self-care journal prompts
Exclusive self-care activities
What is self-care?
Self-care is a blanket term for all the things you can do to take ownership of your personal health and wellness. Though the terms health and wellness are often used interchangeably, they actually mean different things.
To distinguish them, let’s start by defining health as what you need to survive, and wellness as what you need to thrive. Going a step further:
Surviving is living or existing, while thriving is developing and progressing in life.
It helps to think of the structure of a house. There are critical elements such as the foundation and frame that provide support, shape, strength, and stability. If any of these are compromised the house would collapse.
Then there are the outer coverings and inner finishings that evolve the house from just a generic shell into a customized residence — this makes the house a home.
A good home is one that is well-built and structurally sound, but also designed in a way that meets the lifestyle and aesthetic needs of the owners.
Like in a good home, health is the foundation and includes your physiological and security needs, while wellness represents the finishing touches that make life fulfilling (such as your social and emotional needs).
Why you need self-care?
Incorporating self-care activities into your routine is a systematic approach to improving or maintaining your health and wellness.
It’s using an integrated and holistic process to managing your wellness and incorporating the steps into your day-to-day on a consistent basis.
After much research, we’ve designed a simple set of self-care tips that are based on the most important pillars of health and wellness.
By following the simple guidelines presented in each of the pillars listed below, you will learn how to make relatively small lifestyle changes that bring about significant improvements to your overall health.
Self-care tip 1: Eat healthy
When it comes to the foundational elements of health, what you eat is the utmost of importance.
The body is a self-regulating and self-healing machine. Most of what it takes to survive is subconsciously managed internally. You only need to supply the right fuel.
What fuel and how much is nicely summarized by the catchy mantra of author Michael Pollan “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."More and more studies are showing that the simplest approach to eating healthy is adopting a plant-based diet.
Consume a diverse range of whole and fresh plants, fruits, legumes, seeds, and grains with very little or no animal products. So pass on the processed faux foods. Forget about the fads. And, learn to listen to your body so you can eat less but better.
Self-care tip 2: Hydrate enough
You may not need 8 glasses of water a day (yet another non-scientific diet guideline) but you do need to hydrate enough. Your body is composed of water and uses water to perform a variety of critical functions such as digestion, circulation, lubrication, and transportation of nutrients.
A significant amount of water is lost through breathing, sweating, and excretion, so hydration helps replenish the supply so your organs can function properly.
Your daily water intake can come from liquids (e.g. plain water or herbal tea) but also water-rich foods (i.e. fresh plants and vegetables). Few in the Western world are dying from lack of water (especially with the rise of trendy water bottles), unless there’s an underlying condition that causes dehydration.
Still it’s important to understand water’s role in overall health. The human body is intelligent enough to alert you when you need water (i.e. you’ll feel thirsty).
However, if you are experiencing signs of dehydration (e.g. dark yellow urine, dizziness, achy joints, lack of energy) it’s worth speaking with a physician.
Self-care tip 3: Sleep better
Over 50 million people in the U.S. alone are sleep deprived (more than 15% of the population). This epidemic is driven by the ‘work hard’ mindset which favors productivity over physiological needs.
Nevertheless, sleep should be at the crux of your health and wellness regimen, even if you have to change your mindset and routine to prioritize it. Sleep works hand-in-hand with all of the other elements of health to keep your mind and body operating at peak performance.
When it is compromised, there are immediate and long-term symptoms like agitation, anxiety, exhaustion, memory problems, suppressed mental capacity, pains in the body, risk of disease, and more.
Sleep is so important that we wrote a book on it. The Sleep Challenge explores 14 simple sleep solutions to getting more and better sleep in only 14 nights.
Self-care tip 4: Move Regularly
As it pertains to physical activity the recommendations are clear: just move more. A growing body of research is stressing the importance of overcoming a sedentary lifestyle as a primary preventive measure against disease.
Americans spend 90% of their time sitting indoors and that way of living is responsible for over 3 million deaths annually. Historically, movement was ingrained in our ancestors’ lifestyle as they had no alternative in order to nourish and protect themselves — it was a necessity.
Nowadays moving is not directly linked to short-term survival for most, however lack of movement has dire risks over the long-term.
Scientifically, studies have shown that physical activity has a broad-reaching impact on your overall health including helping the brain work at optimal capacity, reducing risk of diseases, and normalizing hormones and chemicals in the body.
As Harvard Health discusses, even though you know you should move more, you may struggle with doing it consistently. But doing something is better than doing nothing at all, so start by keeping it simple.
First, break up long bouts of sitting with movement breaks (even a short walk outside will do). Then, follow standard physical activity guidelines by working your way up to moving a minimum of 30 minutes a day via a moderate-intensity activity — ideally incorporating a mix of aerobic, stretch, and strength exercises.
Self-care tip 5: Manage Stress
According to the American Psychological Association, approximately 34% of adults experience a yearly increase in stress, while 24% experience extreme stress.
Stress is a natural reaction to life experiences. It's an evolutionary mechanism designed to induce you to react quickly to threats and emergencies (also known as the "fight or flight" response).
Stress is meant to be a temporary state but the demands of modern living often cause abnormally prolonged levels. This causes your body to draw on internal resources to bring your physiological state back in balance.
Many health practitioners warn that when you are under too much stress for a long period of time you run the risk of exhausting your internal resources. Once exhausted, neither your mind or body can operate efficiently.
If chronic stress remains it causes increases in heart rate, high blood pressure, high hormone levels, and other issues that will inevitably lead to physical and psychological problems.
So though it's necessary to survival (and thus can't be completely eliminated) you can learn to avoid some types of stress and reduce or better manage others.
Adopting principles of minimalist living is one way to start being mindful of your lifestyle and making the necessary adjustments. The Stress Management Report by Harvard Medical School also offers these 10 simple self-care tips to help de-stress:
Manage your time
Consider your priorities and delegate or discard unnecessary tasks.
Don't magnify problems
Apply logical reason over emotional reactions so you don't jump to conclusions or distort issues.
Ask for help
Unsure of your ability to do something? Ask someone supportive who is also knowledgeable
Don't overextend yourself
Consider what is truly essential and important to you versus what can take a backseat right now.
Not enough time for stress relief? Slow down just enough to pay attention to one task or pleasure.
Loosen up the tension
Try massage, a hot bath, mini-relaxations, a body scan, or a mindful walk. Practically any exercise will help too.
Remind yourself of the value of optimism and add creative, productive, and leisure pursuits to your life.
Own your feelings and be more assertive by stating your needs or distress directly.
Care for your mind and body by practicing good health and wellness techniques.
Connect with others
The world is a kinder, more wondrous place when you share its pleasures and wonders.
Self-care tip 6: Avoid Vices
Vices are activities that are blatantly bad for your mind or body and tend to incite addictive behavior that exasperates their negative effects (whether immediately or over time).
When you are dealing with a vice it can wreak havoc on your life because of the physical and psychological burden it introduces. Common examples of vices are:
Alcohol (in excess)
However, anything can become a vice if overindulgence leads to obsession or addiction that can’t be controlled or stopped, despite having an adverse impact on yourself or others. Preventing a problem is easier than trying to cure a problem, so there are certain activities (like smoking) that should just be avoided.
However, if you are already struggling with a bad habit and believe you have the power to stop, then put a plan in place to address it. If you’re having a particularly difficult time breaking free from your vice don’t hesitate to seek external help.
Self-care tip 7: Get Checkups
Though modern medicine isn’t perfect, you can’t deny the benefits of being able to detect a problem before it intensifies. Even if you believe you’re in tip top shape, what’s the harm in a routine physical for added reassurance?
It’s not a substitute for taking personal ownership of your health, but it is a mechanism for thwarting conditions and diseases (particularly those you may have a genetic predisposition for).
Self-care tip 8: Stay safe
Staying safe comes down to doing what’s in your control to prevent known risks, such as:
Always wearing a seatbelt when in the car
Being cautious if you are out alone at night
Wearing a helmet when you ride your bike
Having a family/household plan for emergencies
Keeping a first aid kit and fire extinguisher at home
Having the appropriate insurances (e.g. rental)
Letting a loved one know where/when you travel
The reason why this is an important component of your overall health and wellness program is because simple actions can reduce, if not completely eliminate, the possibility of certain dangers and threats.
Because of their perceived rarity, it’s easy to assume that these situations won’t happen to you. But bad things can and do happen, and it’s not worth neglecting the minor steps it takes to protect you from major hurt or loss.
Self-care tip 9: Be mindful
Mindfulness is the process of bringing your attention to what is happening in the present moment in a non-judgmental way. Because the past can’t be changed and the future can’t be predicted, your life is really only what you are experiencing in the here and now.
However, if your thoughts are stuck time traveling between what was and what could be, then you are missing out on what is — and are not living life to the fullest.
Moreover, if you judge, worry, and stress about what your life looks like in the present moment, you become susceptible to negative self-talk which is detrimental to your physical and emotional well-being.
What’s most fascinating about this particular element of health and wellness? It’s, as Harvard Business Review reported, that mindfulness can literally change your brain:
Mindfulness should no longer be considered a “nice-to-have”. It’s a “must-have”: a way to keep our brains healthy, to support self-regulation and effective decision-making capabilities, and to protect ourselves from toxic stress.
It can be integrated into one’s religious or spiritual life, or practiced as a form of secular mental training.
When we take a seat, take a breath, and commit to being mindful, particularly when we gather with others who are doing the same, we have the potential to be changed.
This is not new-age woo but a scientific discovery that is shaping a medical field called Neuroplasticity. And it is only one of an exhaustive number of studies that are starting to prove you are what you think.
In fact, developing a growth mindset is the gateway to positive thoughts, decisions, and actions that empower you to design a life of consequence.
Now, long before mindfulness became a pop culture phenomenon, there was a Harvard professor by the name of Dr. Ellen Langer who started researching the concept in the ‘80s and ultimately disrupted the field of positive psychology with the findings in her best-selling book.
She proposed that mindfulness is making a conscious effort to actually think and that can only be done when you are fully present and aware of the experience you are currently partaking in.
On the other hand Dr. Langer holds that mindlessness, is the extent to which you are not really thinking at all and offers four strategies for thinking more and better:
Don’t judge without context
When you take context into greater consideration you recognize that your biases, blanket statements or plain vanilla generalizations may not be an appropriate way to view a particular situation.
Fully putting a situation into context helps you consider a variety of different circumstances under which a problem or opportunity can be interpreted. This approach helps you get out of a fixed mindset and explore a wider range of possibilities. It expands your perspective.
Overcome self-imposed limitations
Humans are prone to creating categories in order to make sense of all things. Unfortunately, though categorization helps simplify the world, it also makes you short-sighted and encourages automatic (mindless) behavior.
Langer proposes that if you allow yourself to take in enough information to see a richer picture, this will give you more data points, inspire you to question the status quo, and eventually expand your perception
It’s not just about what you are trying to accomplish but the manner in which you achieve it that also matters. However, many people are fixated only on outcomes which can lead to unrealistic expectations, limited thinking and a disregard for opportunity costs.
By focusing on the journey instead of just the destination you’ll be happier and healthier along the way.
A common mistake when it comes to mindfulness seems to be that you need to be 100% “on” at all times. There are so many misguided recommendations declaring that you must be mindful when you eat, when you sleep, and even when you go to the restroom!
A refreshing point that Langer makes towards the end of her book is that you should be selective when it comes to mindfulness. She states that it’s ok to choose what you are mindful about — as it can't be everything:
Mindful awareness of different options gives us greater control. This feeling of greater control, in turn, encourages us to be more mindful. Rather than being a chore, mindfulness engages us in a continuing momentum.
Self-care tip 10: Pursue Purpose
As mentioned earlier, a house is nothing but a collection of bricks and mortar if it isn’t thoughtfully designed in a way that makes the inhabitants feel at home.
Likewise, in the absence of a purpose life may feel generic and mundane. Determining a purpose gives you a sense of clarity, and helps you focus on what matters most.
When you know what you want to do, how you’re going to do it, and why you’re doing it, you’ll feel a greater sense of control over your life.
Self-care tip 11: Create Balance
Even when it comes to your health and wellness, moderation is key, so striving for balance in your life is essential.
Creating balance can be done in two ways:
Being careful to avoid excess and extremes
Designing and managing your wheel of life
Avoiding extremes is relatively straightforward and was alluded to in the section on vices. It’s about exercising self-discipline.
Designing a wheel of life may be a new-to-you approach to balance. It works by outlining all of the major areas of life (career, relationships, money, etc.) and periodically ranking how well you are performing in each area.
If an area is particularly poor in its ranking that’s a cue that you need to improve it so it doesn’t end up having an adverse impact on your life.
Even as it pertains to health and wellness, you won’t be able to focus on all of the pillars at the same time.
Create balance by determining what’s most important, then exercise discipline by prioritizing that particular pillar until you can achieve the results you desire.
Bonus Self-care tip 12: Nurture relationships
Society has become increasingly insular, isolated and independent. People are more self-focused than family-centric and community-oriented, but an important finding makes the case for
A Harvard University study, that spanned eight decades and over 1,500 participants, found relationships to be key to happiness and one of the most powerful contributors to good health.
Close personal connections, more than anything, including fame or fortune, seem to be key to your overall well-being. Your ability to build and maintain quality relationships (quantity shouldn’t be the focus) will ultimately impact your emotional, mental and physical state over time.
That relationships are a better predictor of health and wellness may sound surprising, but its strong correlation to your ability to thrive, even through old age, shouldn’t be disregarded.
Bonus Self-care tip 13: Laugh more
Laughter has a wealth of unexpected wellness benefits and should be incorporated into your self-care routine. An ancient greek by the name of Democritus is best known for his contributions to atomic theory.
But he was also called the “laughing philosopher” because of his emphasis on cheerfulness and not taking life too seriously. Not to feed stereotypes, but how many non-serious super-jolly scientists (or philosophers for that matter) do you know of?
We point this out because the juxtaposition of Democritus’ work and outlook is worth exploring. He made significant contributions to two different fields (science and philosophy) while apparently keeping a lighthearted disposition and mocking human nature along the way.
Much of Democritus’ works may be lost but here’s why his viewpoint on laughter should carry on.
The benefits of laughter
Dr. William Fry, was a psychology professor at Stanford University and the first to propose laughter as a legitimate field of scientific study.
Unfortunately the Vietnam War limited his work due to budgetary restrictions, but he still pursued his ideas informally and published groundbreaking work on the impact of laughter on physiology. Dr. Fry’s work has been expanded on by other Gelotologists (“scientists of laughter”) who are making even more headway.
Time reported on the research of Dr. Lee Bark a preventive care physician and immunologist who has spent over 30 years studying the effects of laughter. According to the insights and findings of Dr. Fry, Dr. Bark, and other thinkers in the field, “mirthful” laughter has the following health benefits:
Releases endorphins that make you feel happy
Lowers blood pressure and improves blood flow
Lessens stress by winding down your stress response
Boosts the immune system and helps fight infections
Reduces risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease
Produces cancer killer cells in cancer patients
Uplifts mood and gives you a sense of confidence
Relieves pain by producing natural painkillers
How to laugh more
Modern-day researchers have proven that Democritus was clearly on to something, but how do you incorporate laughing into your self-care routine so you can reap these benefits?
Here are 17 super simple (and a few silly) ways to laugh more:
Find a laughter therapist
Take a laughter yoga session (yes, this exists)
Watch a comedy flick
Read a funny book
Bookmark a humor blog
Hang around funny people
Spend more time playing
Plan a harmless prank
Find a funny podcast
Enroll in an improv class
Listen to other people laugh
Spend time with children
Create some original jokes
Go to a live comedy show
Write a silly short story
Choreograph a dance routine
Throw a random costume party
Laughter has a ways to go before it becomes formally accepted by the medical community as a legitimate form of treatment and therapy. But do you really need a gold stamp of approval before embracing it more?
Laughter feels good and is an immediate mood booster. That alone justifies adopting Democritus’ approach and incorporating it into your self-care routine.
33 self-care journal prompts
At this point you can see that a self-care routine is a daily journey of intentional living and being mindful about your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. But, sometimes you may get stuck in patterns and automatic behaviors that lead you to act mindlessly.
When it comes to your health, forgetting this, ignoring that, or overlooking seemingly small things can lead to a buildup of health challenges that may be difficult to overcome.
However, you can actively avoid or eliminate many health issues by incorporating self-inquiry into your self-care routine. Self-inquiry is simply the regular act of questioning your thoughts and actions particularly in situations where you rarely question the norm.
To get you started, we’ve crafted a set of thoughtful journal prompts (get the printable and more resources) that correspond to each of the health and wellness pillars as a bonus.
Some of these may seem obvious but that’s exactly why you should ask them. You may assume these questions are being addressed when they really aren't.
In a mindless state you automatically relinquish control to internal and external stimuli. In a mindful state you are more aware of and actively in control of your thoughts.
Use these journal prompts, in addition to your own, to create a habit around self-care that will improve your sense of well-being over time
By questioning what, why, and when you eat you can dramatically improve your relationship with food.
Am I actually hungry
Is this worth consuming
Will this help or harm me?
You shouldn’t stress about drinking enough water but do need to recognize when you’re depleting more than your intake.
Am I thirsty?
Am I exerting myself more than usual?
Do I have dehydration warning signs?
Since sleep is an epidemic and cause of a wide variety of disorders you should be particularly sensitive to this self-care pillar.
Am I well-rested or tired?
Do I feel sharp and energized during the day?
Do I neglect sleep for other activities?
A sedentary lifestyle is a major cause of death in the Western world so actively incorporating movement into your day-to-day is imperative.
Have I been sitting too long
Does my body feel stiff or sore?
How often am I getting fresh air?
Being aware of the situations that cause stress in your life will empower you to better manage or even completely avoid them.
Am I anxious about something
Do I feel overwhelmed?
Is there too much pressure on me?
Vices are activities that incite addictive behavior that exasperate their negative effects over time so it’s important to heavily moderate or stay away from them.
Do I overindulge or go overboard?
Is it hard to stop doing certain things?
Am I feeling socially pressured to engage in that?
Though modern medicine isn’t perfect, you can’t deny the benefits of being able to detect a problem before it intensifies.
Do I have a clear sense of the overall state of my health?
Am I fully aware of the conditions I’m at risk of (due to lifestyle or genetics)?
Do I drive the discussions with my health care providers to get what I need out of them?
Staying safe comes down to doing what’s in your control to prevent known risks to yourself and loved ones.
Am I putting myself or loved one at risk?
Do I trust this person or feel secure in this situation?
Do I have an emergency or backup plan?
Mindfulness is the process of bringing your attention to what is happening in the present moment in a non-judgmental way.
Did I truly think that through?
Do I dwell on the past or worry a lot about the future?
Do I make sound judgements or decisions?
Determining a purpose gives you a sense of clarity, and helps you focus on what matters most.
Do I have a plan for my life?
Am I thriving (or progressing)?
Do I have enduring happiness?
You should always strive for balance in your life. Even when it comes to self-care, moderation is key.
Are there parts of my life that seem out of control?
Do I have a method of managing my different life themes?
Do I have reliable resources for making changes when needed?
Remember that quality of relationships are a significant contributor to health, happiness and longevity.
What is the current status of my close personal relationships?
What can I do strengthen these relationships?
Laughter is incredibly therapeutic, even directly linked to a whole host of physical and mental health benefits.
When was the last time I had a good laugh?
How can I integrate more laughter into my lifestyle?
There are three ways you can build a routine around self-inquiry and regularly ask yourself these important self-care questions. First, try to stay in tune with the small physical or emotional sensations that cue you in to something being off before it escalates.
Don’t ignore fleeting feelings but instead call them out by asking yourself: wait, what is going on? Just the small act of questioning different feelings and sensations can help you identity culprits and determine where to hone in with additional questions.
A second approach is to schedule a self-care day once a month. Consider this a mini wellness retreat where you detach from the daily grind.
You don’t need to travel to Bali and go on a 10-day silence meditation in order to find space for self-inquiry and self-care. Steal a day and be thoughtful about what you can do in 24 hours to refresh and refocus.
Third, you can narrow down your focus a bit more by identifying specific areas that need working on and then developing a plan of action, as we tackle in the Self-Care Challenge discussed below.
Exclusive self-care activities
Modern times have brought modern conveniences that have improved life in many ways — but not without trade-offs. As a result, self-care is a dilemma for millions of people — and the available body of knowledge only causes confusion that often leads to harmful actions with good intentions — or worse, inaction.
Using a simple and integrative framework for managing your health and wellness will empower you to take control of the factors that impact your well-being and happiness.
If you are one of the 97% of people who are doing everything they can to be healthy but feel unsuccessful (or you are completely confused about what to do) then the Self-Care Routine course is a small (but significant) investment.
It goes deeper into each of the pillars discussed in this guide by providing practical tips, additional activities and resources so you can build your own self-care routine.