Updated: May 5
Check out these science-based self-care ideas to create a better self-care routine.
What is self-care? Self-care is generally thought to be the activities that individuals undertake to improve or restore their own health (Levin & Idler, 1983). Self-care is thought to have originated from self-reliant individualism and also from a belief that ill-health could be prevented. Indeed, self-care can have a positive impact on nearly every form of ill-health making it an extremely valuable practice (Levin & Idler, 1983). Luckily, there are lots of ways we can practice self-care. Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Get Outdoors
Recent research tells us that daily contact with nature can help us reduce anxiety and depression while also helping us improve our health (Soga, Gaston, & Yamaura, 2017). Indeed, so many things about the outdoors can improve our health—the sun, the fresh air, the soil, the scent of trees. Exposing ourselves to these things regularly is one way to take better care of ourselves.
2. Listen to Soothing Music
Did you know that listening to relaxing music can reduce cortisol (an important stress hormone)? Well, research shows it can (Khalfa et al., 2003). More specifically, binaural beats (music with two tones played at slightly different frequencies to each ear) may be helpful for increasing focus (Garcia-Argibay, Santed, & Reales, 2019).
3. Practice Deep Breathing
By practicing deep breathing, we activate our parasympathetic nervous system—our calming 'rest and digest' system. One simple breathing practice is box breathing. Box breathing involves breathing in for a count of four, holding for a count of four, breathing out for a count of four, and then holding for a count of four. Try this for a few rounds to see how it makes you feel.
4. Cultivate Positive Emotions
To generate positive emotions, we can try thinking positive, being more optimistic, savoring the good moments, or even doing loving-kindness meditation. Boosting positive emotions can fuel an upward spiral of positivity, helping us feel better, improve social interactions, and so on (Fredrickson, Mancuso, Branigan, & Tugade, 2000).
5. Try Different Self-Care Activities
Sometimes people get frustrated when they try a self-care activity—maybe an activity that tons of people have been raving about—and it doesn't really help them or feel like the right fit. If that sounds like you, then it can be helpful to try out some other strategies. For example, things like mindfulness and eating vegan don't actually work for everyone. Try out some different self-care activities (we list some more below) to find what works for you.
6. Build Self-Awareness
Learning to pay attention to what is helpful and not helpful can take practice. For example, maybe you've been exercising every day but are starting to feel worn down. In that case, exercise might not be the type of self-care you need right now. In general, paying attention to how your thoughts and behaviors make you feel—in the short-term and the longer-term—can help you make the most of self-care.
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Fredrickson, B. L., Mancuso, R. A., Branigan, C., & Tugade, M. M. (2000). The undoing effect of positive emotions. Motivation and emotion, 24(4), 237-258.
Garcia-Argibay, M., Santed, M. A., & Reales, J. M. (2019). Efficacy of binaural auditory beats in cognition, anxiety, and pain perception: a meta-analysis. Psychological Research, 83(2), 357-372.
Khalfa, S., BELLA, S. D., Roy, M., Peretz, I., & Lupien, S. J. (2003). Effects of relaxing music on salivary cortisol level after psychological stress. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 999(1), 374-376.
Levin, L. S., & Idler, E. L. (1983). Self-care in health. Annual review of public health, 4(1), 181-201.
Soga, M., Gaston, K. J., & Yamaura, Y. (2017). Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis. Preventive medicine reports, 5, 92-99.