What Taking Care of Yourself Looks Like: 7 Forms of Self-Care

What Taking Care of Yourself Looks Like (7 Forms of Self-Care)
Table of Contents

Self-care may be easy to define but putting it into action requires more effort. While taking care of yourself can look like planning a spa day, it isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. To achieve well-being in all domains, including your home life, career, and relationships, you will need to engage in different forms of self-care.

Self-care is defining your values

Effective self-care is individualized. Unfortunately, the wellness industry often markets self-care in rigid, pre-packaged formats that require time and money [1]. Acts of self-care that do not align with your lifestyle or needs can actually cause more stress. For example, for people with anxiety disorders, strict self-care routines can exacerbate symptoms like excessive worry [2]. 

The only way to determine which actions would be restorative for you is to have insight into your values.

Values are deeply held-belief systems that determine how you evaluate a circumstance or event [3]. When your actions align with your values, you experience cognitive consonance, a state linked with happiness and high self-esteem.

On the other hand, if you constantly engage in behaviors that ignore or even contradict your beliefs, cognitive dissonance can emerge. Staying in this state can cause emotional discomfort and lead to a poor sense of self [4]. If an act of self-care triggers cognitive dissonance, it will worsen your well-being in the long run.

If you are unable to articulate your values, you can complete a few introspective exercises or journal prompts. First, look at a list of the most common values and circle your top ten. Keep refining the list until you’ve narrowed it down to your top three. From there, you can seek out activities that uphold these values.

For example, you may learn that you highly value ambition, competition, and mastery. For best results, your self-care behaviors should meet these needs in some form. In this case, you may find more joy in a Toastmasters club than in a yoga class.

Self-care is radical acceptance

Radical acceptance is a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) concept that focuses on mindfulness and emotional regulation [5]. It mirrors the message in Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths that attachment is the main cause of suffering [6]. Attachment in this sense refers to holding high expectations or having a strong need for control.

Radical acceptance asks that you take your reality for what it is instead of trying to bend it to your preferences. Since many people view fighting back or clinging to expectations as caring, letting go can be emotionally painful. However, radical acceptance can decrease negative emotions like anger, shame, or fear [7].

In DBT, intense emotions are essential. They let you know when a boundary is crossed and protect you from harm. However, emotions cannot fix unchangeable problems. To achieve radical acceptance, you must uncouple how you feel about a situation from the situation itself.

Forgiveness is a key element of radical acceptance. You may be holding onto anger against others or yourself due to past actions. Releasing this anger won’t take away the lessons you’ve learned or the growth you’ve made. Instead, you will gain more cognitive bandwidth by focusing on circumstances in your control [8].

Self-care is reducing your workload

Work is one of the leading causes of stress [9]. Overexposure to common workplace-related stressors like long hours, unsupportive colleagues, and high workloads can lead to debilitating burnout.  

Since the World Health Organization recognized burnout in 2019, awareness of the condition has been on the rise [10]. Burnout is a cluster of mental health and physical symptoms that arise after working in a stressful environment for a prolonged period of time. Symptoms can impair mental, emotional, and physical health [11].

Professional self-care includes actions and habits that minimize chronic stress and reduce the likelihood of burnout. A few examples of professional self-care include:

  • Setting reminders to stretch
  • Taking on fewer projects
  • Requesting vacation time
  • Eating nutritious food
  • Creating a professional development plan
  • Finding a mentor

Your work environment may prevent you from implementing your self-care plan. In this case, look for areas where you can exert control. For instance, if you cannot access professional development training at work, look for free programs online.

If the problems at your workplace are systemic or toxic, looking for another job may be the most impactful form of self-care. Transitions can be a source of stress, so turn to your loved ones and trusted coworkers for support.

You can also look for ways to lighten your workload in other areas of your life. For example, you can plan meals in advance to free up more time in your day. You can also set a reminder system with apps to reduce cognitive load and improve time management.

Self-care is spending time with others

Self-care isn’t limited to actions you perform alone. In fact, social self-care is an essential aspect of holistic wellness. Connecting with other people can boost your resiliency to stress and improve your immune system [12].

Self-care is spending time with others

These benefits are not limited to interactions with close friends and family. A spontaneous conversation with a stranger can also result in tangible psychological benefits. A 2014 study [13] found that loose social connections, such as classmates or neighbors, have a positive impact on feelings of inclusion, belonging, and wellbeing. Recent studies have identified that interactions in online communities have similar benefits [14].

Social self-care doesn’t mean constantly filling up your calendar. In fact, setting boundaries and rejecting social pressures are integral to good mental health. The key is finding a balance between connecting with others and taking time for yourself.

Self-care is starting a new hobby

If you’re like most people, between work, sleep, and other responsibilities, you probably have around three and a half hours per day to structure as you wish [15]. Too much unstructured time can be as detrimental to wellbeing as too little [16].

If you devote some of these hours to a hobby, you will notice an improvement in your quality of life [17]. Hobbies add structure to your day without any added pressure. You can take your time to develop a new skill without worrying about your progress.

Hobbies also give you a chance to use your creative brain. A recent study discovered a cyclical relationship between creativity and well-being [18]. Engaging in a creative activity can lower stress and boost mood. Relatedly, people with positive well-being are more likely to be creative. This can increase intrinsic motivation, which is more predictive of well-being than external motivators like competition or awards [19].

Like other types of self-care, hobbies should reflect your interests and values. If you’re unsure where to start, think back to your childhood. Was there any subject or activity that fascinated you? Try reincorporating some of those activities back into your life and see if it reignites a feeling of joy.

You can also look around your environment for inspiration. For example, consider taking up a water sport like paddle boarding if you live near lakes and rivers. You may also find inspiration in your community. Sign up for a book club at the local library or join a running group.

In addition to the already-mentioned benefits, different hobbies can also improve other areas of your well-being. A book club can also serve as a form of social self-care, while a fitness class can contribute to your physical health.

Self-care is preventative healthcare

Multiple studies have investigated the connection between health habits, physical health, and well-being. A 2020 health psychology study identified sleep quality as the most influential determinant of well-being [20]. 

Despite widespread knowledge of the importance of sleep, sleep deprivation is a growing problem [21]. Common reasons for insufficient sleep include poor work-life balance, stress, and overexposure to devices. You can practice self-care by reviewing and improving your sleep routine.

The body regulates its sleep cycles through the circadian rhythm. This mechanism generates melatonin in the absence of light. This produces a sleepy feeling and transitions the body into its sleep cycle. However, blue light emitting devices and artificial lamps can disrupt the circadian rhythm and delay melatonin production [22].

You can design a sleep routine that limits your exposure to light as your bedtime approaches. For example, do not bring screens into your bedroom and use dimming bulbs at night. A recurring bedtime ritual such as drinking tea or taking a warm shower can also promote sleepiness.

A healthful diet can also increase well-being and reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and certain cancers [23]. Conversely, the elements of the standard western diet, such as refined sugars and ultra-processed foods, are linked with poorer mental health outcomes [24].

One rule of thumb for assessing the healthiness of your diet is to note the colors in your typical meal. If your plate is full of beige items, chances are your meal lacks essential vitamins and nutrients. As part of your self-care plan, try to incorporate more colorful foods, such as vegetables, fruits, or legumes into each meal.

Self-care is respecting rest

The overfocus on productivity is everywhere and can even arise in the concept of self-care. However, there are significant benefits to scheduling time for rest throughout your day.

Rest can appear in many different forms:

  • A midday nap
  • A walking meditation
  • Playtime with a pet
  • Listening to music
  • A social media break

As long as the activity produces a relaxation response, it can improve well-being.

Putting it all together

There is no right way to take care of yourself. Before you begin your self-care journey, review each area of your life and note how they align with your core values. From there, you can put together a plan that can improve your well-being in a meaningful and motivational way.

Sources

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Alisha Verly Jensen
Alisha Verly Jensen
I am a freelance wellness writer passionate about positive psychology and gentle productivity. I enjoy studying personal development and sharing what I’ve learned to help others create a balanced and fulfilling life. When I am not writing, I am tending to my garden.