The Essentials of Self Care
Do you feel like you never have a moment to yourself? No time to catch your breath before the next task demands your attention?
In a world where being constantly busy is seen as a status symbol, we almost feel guilty about relaxing. The never-ending demands on our time and energy leave us frazzled, full of anxiety, and even struggling with burnout.
There’s constant pressure to perform, make money, have a successful career and relationships, raise a family, and the list goes on and on.
But what if self care activities were less complicated than you thought? The number of searches for self care has more than doubled since 2015 , and when most think of self care ideas, we might imagine wasteful indulgence, time, and money.
However, self care doesn’t have to be a spa day or week-long yoga retreat, and self-care is not the same as self-indulgence!
The essence of self-care is simple: to look after yourself holistically to promote physical health, happiness, and productivity and help you care for others. It doesn’t need to be luxurious or cost money.
Self-care should bring you joy, promote growth, help bring order to your life, and deepen your connection with yourself. Self-care is one of the most important tools to cope better with daily life stressors, reduce illness, and bring a newfound flow to your life.
The three fundamental types of self care
Emotional: Emotional self-care is “Caring for your emotional needs by identifying and nurturing your feelings, your conscious inner state, and your intellect.” 
Physical: Physical self care focuses on attending to your physical needs: what you eat and drink, getting adequate sleep, and physical activity.
Spiritual: Spiritual self care involves undertaking a practice or an activity that connects you with your higher self. Activities like meditation, yoga, or spending time in nature or a place of worship.
Getting Back To Basics
It can be tempting to add all sorts of new wellness routines and rituals or buy fancy products you read about online, but it may be best to start with the basics. While it might seem a little boring, the fundamentals of a healthy diet, restorative sleep, and physical movement are essential for self care.
Diet & Hydration: The Fuel For Life
Food is life! What you eat provides the energy and building blocks for every one of your cells.
To thrive, your body needs a balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) daily. Food is not simply fuel. It can also be a great source of joy and a tremendous gift that brings us together.
Creating a daily routine to prepare and eat meals together is a self-care practice that benefits everyone involved.
Here are some top tips to optimize your self care through diet:
- Eat the rainbow! Try to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every week. A varied, fresh diet provides a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support all bodily processes.
- Aim for 6-8 portions of vegetables a day (1 portion = 1 large handful)
- Aim for 2 pieces of fruit per day.
- Try to balance each meal with high-quality animal or plant protein (1 portion = the palm of your hand)
- Include beneficial fats such as nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, and avocado daily.
- Aim to drink around 6-8 cups of water daily (unsweetened herbal tea counts, too!). Staying hydrated is particularly important to expel toxins and waste products.
It’s not just what you eat but how you eat. Focusing on your eating environment and chewing is essential. You see, when you’re in a state of stress, digestive processes aren’t prioritized. Therefore, it’s important to try and create a relaxed and pleasant environment while eating, whenever possible.
Being conscious of chewing thoroughly (at least 20-25 times per bite) can also assist your body in breaking down the food you eat to absorb and utilize more nutrients.
Do you struggle to find the time to cook or focus on balanced meals? It can feel overwhelming, especially when life is busy. If you want to prioritize healthy eating, a helpful self-care practice might be clearing some time for meal prep or cooking in bulk to freeze for later use. You can even download a weekly meal plan template. Meal plans are an efficient way to simplify shopping for meals and help you keep track of how many different veggies you’re getting each week!
Don’t Forget About Sleep!
Scientists are finally starting to discover just how important sleep is. Sleep does so much more than restore energy levels. It supports overall wellness in many ways:
- Balancing blood sugar levels & metabolism
- Promoting longevity
- Reducing the risk of chronic diseases like cancer
- Enhancing mental health and focus
Good sleep hygiene has to be one of our top self care priorities. Research shows that adults thrive on around 7-9 hours of sleep (interestingly, more isn’t actually better!). How many of us are guilty of scrolling on our phones in bed?
While this habit might seem harmless, the artificial blue light from screens like TVs, phones, and tablets can negatively impact the release of melatonin, the hormone that makes us tired at night and promotes deep and restful sleep .
Keeping the lighting low in the bedroom and reading a book instead of electronics before bed can promote a better and more restorative sleep, so you wake up refreshed and ready for the day.
Movement Is Medicine
Exercise is considered the ultimate form of self care because it can help improve your physical, emotional, and even spiritual health. How does it do this, you may ask? Regular physical exercise may help to
- Improve your mood and reduce stress by enhancing feel-good chemicals in the brain
- Prevent diseases like cancer and type 2 diabetes
- Promote metabolic health and a healthy weight
- Improve the quality of your sleep  :
Here are some tips to ensure physical activity is a consistent part of your self care routine:
- Make it social: Working out with friends is an excellent way to stay motivated and enhance your spiritual well-being by connecting with others. Even science shows that exercising in groups provides better health outcomes than exercising alone! 
- Be realistic and keep it consistent: Remember, any movement is better than nothing. If you know you only have time for a 15-minute walk around your neighborhood, add it into your schedule consistently, and you’ll see positive results. Don’t give up just because you don't have an hour to hit the gym!
- Keep it fun: Imagine how many feel-good endorphins you could release if you had fun while exercising? What do you enjoy doing? Do you love dancing? Maybe you love walking in the mountains? Or perhaps you’ve wanted to try that rooftop yoga class! If you enjoy the exercise you’re doing, it will make it much easier to keep it up. So find something you love!
- Don’t overdo it: Take any new exercise routine slowly, as you don’t want to burn yourself out or strain your muscles. Ensure you stay hydrated and eat well to be adequately fueled and ready to go.
Beyond The Basics
Now that we’ve covered the foundation of self care through diet, sleep, and movement, let’s dive into some additional self care practices that may resonate with you. Beyond the basics, the definitions of self care are as varied as we are. We all have different needs and expectations, and our ideas of self care can vary greatly.
Do you know that, on average, each of us takes around 20,000 breaths daily? The question is, how many of those breaths are we actually mindful of? Breathwork refers to specific breathing exercises or techniques that change your typical breathing pattern.
Techniques that allow you to focus attention on your exhales and inhales. Breathwork is designed to bring your body into a calm state and supply your tissues and organs with much-needed oxygen.
Adding breathwork into your life may help with stress management, enhance physical self-care, help manage mental illness, and promote spiritual well-being. Researchers have found deep breathing exercises to improve stress levels significantly 
Breathwork might also help you process emotions, connect with yourself, boost self-esteem, release negative thoughts, and improve your mood . Mindfulness apps often have breathwork exercises you can try, but here’s one you can dive into now:
The 4-7-8 breathing technique: This type of breathwork is based on a yogic breathing technique called pranayama. To try this breathing technique, sit or lie down somewhere comfortable. First, inhale silently through your nose as you count to 4 in your head. Now, hold your breath for 7 seconds. Then, release your breath slowly through your mouth for 8 seconds... and repeat! Start by doing this technique for four breath cycles; with time, you can increase the number of cycles. It’s time to feel the waves of relaxation wash over you.
Whether you’re a seasoned meditation guru or have never tried it in your life, you can benefit from adding this grounding practice into your daily self care routine. Here’s why:
- Meditation allows a break from racing and distressing thoughts. Researchers have found that meditation can help to enhance mental health by significantly reducing anxiety levels and symptoms of depression 
- Meditation can help you be more productive by improving focus, attention, and memory 
- Meditation might help to improve sleep, as research shows that meditation practices can reduce the severity of chronic insomnia 
If you’re new to this practice, a great place to begin is by downloading a meditation app that can introduce you to this self care skill in the form of guided meditation.
Spending Time In Nature
There’s something undeniably special about the smell of the forest, the crashing of waves, or the feeling of leaves crunching underfoot, isn’t there?
Spending time in nature doesn’t only help you feel better emotionally and mentally, but it’s essential for your physical well-being. Scientific research shows that spending time outdoors may promote health and wellness by :
- Decreasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol
- Reducing blood pressure and cholesterol
- Reducing the risk of death from all causes
- Improving overall self-reported health
While these benefits are impressive, there’s also something about being in nature that can’t be quantified in the scientific world. Many of us derive spiritual wholeness and fulfillment from connecting with the natural world. One that can’t be explained - only experienced.
The morning sets the tone for the rest of the day, and having a special routine can give you a sense of purpose and accomplishment from the get-go. Routines are the key to creating positive daily habits that enhance self care. Some rough guidelines to start building a morning routine include:
- Waking up at a specific time every day
- Drinking a big glass of water or tea to start your day hydrated
- Setting goals for yourself for the day
- Meditating, stretching, or exercising
Dry Body Brushing
Your skin is your body's largest organ, so it’s time to give it some love! Dry body brushing is an ayurvedic technique that has been used for thousands of years to promote detoxification, improve circulation, remove dead skin and stimulate the nervous system.
This ancient self-care practice might help promote glowing skin and leave you feeling energized and invigorated! If you’re wondering how to dry-brush your skin, simply follow the steps below:
- To get the benefits of dry-brushing, use a natural bristled bath or shower brush.
- Start at your ankles and always brush upwards towards your heart with swift sweeping motions.
- From your ankles, move up your legs, thighs, stomach, back, and arms. Be very careful with sensitive skin areas, like your abdomen, breasts, and neck.
- Hop in the shower right after to remove any dead skin cells.
Remember, if you have very sensitive skin or suffer from any skin conditions, discuss whether body brushing is suitable for you with a dermatologist first.
Herbal Tea Rituals
There’s something so meditative about brewing a cup of herbal tea, isn’t there? Making tea is a commonly ritualized practice in many Asian countries. This self care activity might not be everyone's “cup of tea,” but you may find it a grounding and satisfying way to have a few quiet moments alone while nourishing your body.
To create a tea ritual, start by collecting some loose-leaf herbal teas and keep them in a special place. Choose a cup or tea set that you love and that sparks joy. Then take a moment to check in with yourself and ask which herbs resonate with you today? What does your body need?
Once you’ve chosen, engage your senses by watching the tea leaves or petals unfold in the hot water. Choose a comfortable and calm place to sit while you mindfully sip your tea and let the world's worries dissipate for a few minutes.
Writing your thoughts and feelings down can be an excellent daily activity to promote mindfulness and gain a new sense of perspective on life.
One particular journaling exercise that many find helpful is to write down ten things you feel grateful for at the end of each day. You might also find an emotional release from writing down things you find anxiety-provoking, challenging, or overwhelming.
Amazingly, there’s even scientific evidence to back up the health benefits of journaling! Research shows that expressive writing (like journaling) may positively affect mental health, stress levels, and even immune function! 
Where To Begin On Your Self-Care Journey
The best way to work out your unique self-care routine might begin with journaling! Sit down somewhere quiet, and think about your life and how you can love yourself more.
Self care requires mindfully checking in with your body and spirit to focus on your needs. Introspection might be challenging initially, especially if you’ve been out of touch with yourself for a long time. Still, you’ll get better at listening to what you need and acting accordingly with practice.
Be honest with yourself about what areas in your life might lack self care, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual (or all three!), and work from there, starting with the basics. Remember, keep it simple, and don’t overcomplicate it. Start small and slowly add new practices into your routine to feel ready and balanced.
We all inch forward until all the inches equal meters, and those meters bring forth change. And remember, self-care isn’t selfish; it’s essential!
Note: This article is for informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any dietary supplement.