It’s easy to let your days become never-ending to-do lists. Self-care practices offer a great opportunity to slow your frantic pace and tune into your needs, which is especially important these days. Taking care of yourself during stressful times can help you feel refreshed and better equipped to handle whatever life throws at you. Eventually, self-care becomes a normal part of your routine.
“Though nature gives us many cues to rest and take care, our modern society does not,” says Sarah Kucera, DC, a registered yoga teacher at the Sage Center for Yoga & Healing Arts in Kansas City, Missouri. In an effort to keep up with everyone else, many of us try to cram too much into our days, ignoring the body’s basic need to slow down and regenerate. “This becomes a cycle of poor stress management, lack of self-awareness, and the inability to know what we need to feel our best,” Kucera says.
Luckily, self-care doesn’t have to be complicated — or expensive. As a matter of fact, some of the best ways to take care of yourself are completely free.
CONNECT TO YOUR SENSES
If you’re feeling disconnected or stressed out, hit pause and spend a minute or two (if time allows) focusing on each of your five basic senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste.
“By returning to your senses, you’re reconnecting to your thoughts, your physical sensations, and the present moment to move forward more grounded,” says Sara Weinreb, an herbalist and intentional business strategist who focuses on wellness and sustainability. Simply take a mental note of what you see, hear, feel, taste and smell in the moment.
REACH OUT TO A FRIEND
It may be tricky to connect with people the way we used to, but staying in touch with friends is worth the effort. “Human connection is so essential for our health and well-being,” Weinreb says. If you can’t connect face-to-face, send friends a quick text, email or even voice note to check in and let them know you’re thinking of them.
Sleep is one of the most basic and important forms of self-care on the market. It’s tough enough to handle simple tasks like showering and brewing coffee when your sleep is off, let alone the stresses of work, life and family. So, if you’re not getting the 7–9 hours you need every night for optimal health, prioritize good sleep habits: Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day, avoid caffeine in the evening, turn off electronics up to an hour before bed, and limit the amount of time you spend in bed without sleeping.
TAKE A NAP
Practicing gratitude can seem like a big ask, especially if you’re facing hard times. However, research shows expressing gratitude for the good things in your life can actually make you feel better.
KEEP A JOURNAL
If you can’t get into bullet journaling, no worries; a gratitude journal can just be jotting something down in a notebook. Get in the habit of writing down all the good things that happen each day, no matter how big or small those ‘wins’ may seem.
For a quick mood boost, go for a walk or a hike in nature, or sit in the grass in your yard or local park. Research shows people who regularly visit green spaces typically have lower levels of depression. Plus, spending time in nature may improve your immune health and reduce anxiety, Weinreb says.
TRY FOREST BATHING
Spending time in nature, or a practice known as forest bathing, helps you connect to your senses and be present (see number 1). And, no, it doesn’t involve water or a bathtub — and, yes, you should keep your clothes on.
Just heading to your yard and picking weeds could be considered self-care. Gardening has been shown to be a mood boost, help fight cognitive decline and improve sleep (see number 3).
Research suggests viewing your home as ‘cluttered’ may contribute to higher cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and make you feel more depressed over the course of the day. If walking into a cluttered home office or living room dampens your mood, set aside time to sort and organize your space.
UNPLUG AFTER WORK
Even though many of us are now working from home, this doesn’t mean you have to be available 24/7. Research shows setting clear work-home boundaries is essential for helping you recover from your day and stay healthy, and detaching from phone and email is the key to making that happen. Once you’re done with work for the day, do yourself a favor: Stay out of your email and don’t use your phone for any work-related tasks.
That’s right, nothing. It may feel weird at first, but pressing ‘pause’ on your crazed to-do list and packed day could be exactly what your mind and body need right now. You could try taking a few days off from at-home workouts or carving out time to do nothing during the day.
TAKE A BATH
GET MORNING SUN
Try to get outside for some sunlight within 15 minutes of waking up. “Walking outside and getting natural light helps to regulate your circadian rhythm and, in turn, can help you sleep better at night,” Weinreb says. And, as you may already know, when your sleep is on-point, everything else is better. Weinreb recommends getting at least 10 minutes of natural light for optimal benefits.
LIMIT SOCIAL MEDIA
One study found social media heightens our awareness of stressful events in other people’s lives, and this awareness can add to our own stress. If your stress level jumps and/or your mood plummets after scrolling Facebook or Twitter, cut back on your social media time.
READ A BOOK
Reading is a form of meditation, so if you have trouble meditating, try opening a book.
While acupuncture requires deep knowledge and training, you can practice acupressure on yourself with just a few easy (and relaxing) moves.
Originally published August 2020, updated July 2023
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