So 2020 didn’t quite go as planned. For me, it was going to be the year I travelled and fulfilled my ambition of being a digital nomad. Then Covid showed up like an unwanted dinner party guest and ruined all the fun.
It forced us all to slow down and to spend more time alone or with a small number of loved ones. It challenged our mental health and made us reassess our lives. More than ever, it highlighted the importance of health, wellbeing, and self care.
What exactly is self care?
The problem with the term ‘self care’ is that it’s sometimes misinterpreted as a ‘treat yo’self’ mentality. It can be seen as an excuse to take a step back and be a bit lazy. To justify another takeaway or bottle of wine in the spirit of treating yourself to look after yourself. But that’s not what it means.
Self care is not all about slowing down and taking a step back from progress. Quite the opposite. It’s about taking care of yourself in a way that allows you to thrive. When you feel good in yourself, it seeps into other aspects of your life – from work and hobbies to relationships and physical health.
It will make you feel like you have more time, not less. It leaves you feeling energised, not exhausted. Taking time to look after yourself doesn’t make you weak – it gives you more strength. It doesn’t make you selfish, it makes you kinder.
I’ve been making a really conscious effort to include more self care habits in my daily routine for a few weeks now. Already it has made an incredible difference to my stress levels and mental health. There’s no need to take on every single one of the self care tips in this guide all at once. Gradually build them into your day-to-day and you’ll soon see the benefits.
Best self care tips
1. Don’t look at your phone in the morning
Our phones are easily one of the biggest distractions and drains on our mental health. I often find that starting my morning off well sets the mood for the rest of the day. Waking up and immediately scrolling through social media is not necessary or useful in any way. Starting the day with a distraction will make your brain struggle to prioritise tasks for the rest of the day.
Add the Whatsapp messages, emails, and other notifications you’re likely to get bombarded with, and it’s a surefire way to disrupt a calm mind. It may not seem like it’s doing much harm when you quickly flick through Instagram in the morning. But it’s doing more damage to your productivity and overall mental health than you think.
The only notifications I have turned on are messages. So in the morning, I quickly glance over to make sure that no one is trying to contact me urgently. I don’t unlock my phone unless I have to. Then I leave my phone in my bedroom and go about my day. Usually I go 2-3 hours without checking it – and the amount of uninterrupted work I get done in that time is astounding.
If you don’t want to leave your phone in another room, at least keep it out of your peripheral. All the while you can see your phone, you are more likely to pick it up and look at it. It’s like a little tease, just sitting there waiting to be picked up. Remove the temptation and pop it behind you, or across the other side of the room.
2. Essential oils and candles
Essential oils and scented candles have an immensely calming effect. Aside from smelling wonderful, essential oils affect the limbic system when inhaled. This system regulates our nervous system and is also linked to our emotional and behavioural responses.
So these gorgeous scents actually have a very real mental and physical benefit. Now you have an excuse to buy a selection of candles and diffusers – all in the name of health!
3. Daily meditation
Meditation is something I have always struggled with. Like many people, my brain is a chaotic place. It is, frankly, a bit of a mess sometimes. There are so many different thoughts bumping around in there that I really struggle to think straight. I call it ‘foggy brain’ and it has a really negative effect on my overall productivity and mental health.
I have finally managed to get into the habit of doing 10 minutes of meditation every morning. I find it extremely valuable in helping me start the day with a clear, calm mind. Here are my tips for anyone struggling to master meditation:
- Make sure you’re comfy. You don’t need to sit in a fancy yoga position. I just pop a cushion on the floor, cross my legs, and sit with my back against the sofa.
- Remove any distractions and put on some quiet calming music or nature sounds. Personally, I love the sounds of forest rain, waves lapping at the shore, or birds tweeting. There are lots of helpful playlists on Shopify.
- Light a scented candle to help you relax.
- The purpose of meditation is to clear your mind. I find it helps to treat my brain as a third party. Rather than allowing my brain to control me, I control it. So when I feel my mind wandering, as it always does, I just catch it in the process. I literally say to it ‘nope, I see what you’re doing – park that thought and get back to meditating’.
- It doesn’t matter if you struggle. I can sometimes get into a real deep thought about something for several minutes before I realise what I’m doing and bring my mind back to focus. And that’s okay. I’m sure I’ll get better at it over time, it just takes practice.
- Another way of looking at meditation is to see it as ‘observing’ your thoughts. If you can’t clear your mind completely then that’s fine. But try to detach yourself from becoming embroiled in your thoughts. Simply watch them amble past.
- There are a number of apps which can help you meditate, such as Headspace. Personally, I don’t find them particularly helpful but I know loads of people do. Everyone is different, so it’s just about finding whatever works for you.
Keeping a journal can be an extremely cathartic process. The process of writing down your thoughts helps clear your mind of the jumble and enables the brain to regulate emotions. It’s an excellent stress management tool and has also been shown to improve memory.
The process of writing itself is a way of remaining present without distraction. I’d recommend journalling as an excellent pre-bedtime ritual. It’ll allow you to unload your brain onto paper so you can get to sleep quicker without your brain going down a deep rabbit hole.
5. Get outside
There have been countless studies showing the positive effects that nature has on the mind. Getting outside – no matter how cold or rainy it is – does wonders for your brain. It’s always harder in the winter months, but it’s a key self care habit. A gentle stroll in the fresh air will reduce stress and improve your physical and mental wellbeing.
6. Take regular breaks
I’m really guilty of just ploughing through my work and not allowing any time for breaks. When I am crazy busy, I feel like taking a break just uses up valuable time. This is, of course, ridiculous. Continuing to work without any breaks is extremely detrimental to productivity.
Taking a break – even just a five minute one – can help refresh and reset your mind. Preferably breaks should be away from the screen. Sit down for a cuppa tea, go for a walk, or just have a boogie around your home!
7. Breathe before reacting
Our daily lives present us with many stressors. Whether it’s dropping your lunch on the floor or receiving a bad email, it’s all too easy to react with anger and frustration. Next time a stressful event occurs, or something irritates you, just pause and take a deep breath. Avoid the impulsive anger reaction, take a step back, and approach the situation with a calm and rational mind.
Most of the time, these triggers can be easily resolved – often they are nothing more than a brief annoyance. Regulating how you react to stressors will leave you feeling more relaxed.
8. Wind down before bed
It goes without saying that getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best ways that you can look after your mind and body. To ensure the best possibility of a smooth transition to the land of nod, start winding down for bed throughout the evening.
Minimise screens where possible and avoid using your phone an hour before you go to sleep. I appreciate that relaxing in front of the TV is a nice way to spend the evening. So if you are going to be looking at a screen, wear some blue light glasses to reduce the impact.
Find what works for you. It could be having a bath with some relaxing scented candles. It could be reading a book, or journalling. Just make sure you’re winding down your brain, not hyping it up.
9. Take care of your body
Fuel it, move it, hydrate it. Your mind and body can’t function at their optimum unless you are fuelling them with goodness. Eat nutritious, healthy meals and try to avoid processed foods where possible. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a takeaway every now and then. It’s all about balance here.
Find the type of workout that you enjoy most and aim to exercise regularly. It could be a HIIT workout in your living room, a refreshing outdoor run, or doing weights in the gym. If you really can’t bring yourself to workout then go for a walk outside. Just as long as you get your body moving in some way each day, you’ll feel better for it.
Drink some water. And then drink some more. We all know the benefits of drinking water and staying hydrated but it can be hard to remember throughout the day. Mix it up with herbal teas or infused water if it helps.
Finally, it can help to support your food and drink intake with supplements. Again, this will be personal to you, depending on your body and lifestyle. Personally, I take B12 (I was diagnosed with a B12 deficiency a couple of years ago) and Vitamin C (an immune boost in a global pandemic can’t hurt!).
10. Create a welcoming, homely space
We’ve all been spending a lot more time at home than normal lately. It therefore pays to spend a little time making your home a welcoming, calming place. Somewhere you can switch off when you need to.
Declutter your space, bring in some plants, and add some de-stressing scents. Even if you aren’t working from home, there’s nothing better than returning to a homely space after a long day at work.
11. Unfollow anyone who doesn’t make you feel good on social media
A useful self care tip is to do a bit of a social media cull and remove anyone who is persistently making you feel bad about yourself. Personally for me, I’ve removed anyone whose feed is near constant stream of perfect bikini bod pictures. I don’t have anything against a perfect bikini bod – it’s just not what I need to see when I’m slumped on my sofa eating cookies in a third lockdown.
If you can’t get away with unfollowing someone then you can always mute them. Take back control of your social media and consume content that makes you feel good, or inspires you in some way.
12. Do something nice for someone else
It may not feel like ‘self’ care but we all know that doing good for others makes you feel good. And when you feel good, you’re more likely to do more good for others. It’s a beautiful circle! It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. Something small can make someone’s day.
13. Find a good skincare routine
A lot of people view skincare routines as a bit of a ballache. But try shifting your perspective on skincare routines as a chore to a self care habit. Firstly, take the time to find products that work with your skin. Whether you have sensitive skin or not, it’s best to choose products with natural ingredients that are gentle on your skin.
In terms of the process itself, don’t just slap on your face products. Take the time to massage them into your face in upward circular motions. You could also use a gua sha or jade roller – next thing you know, you’ve got yourself a DIY facial!
14. Have a monthly ‘treat’ budget
On the topic of facials, put aside a monthly ‘treat’ budget. Massages, facials and other beauty treatments are the age-old self care habits. If you have a ‘treat’ budget in place then you won’t feel as guilty spending your money on these treatments. Of course you should never feel guilty for taking care of your own wellbeing – but this approach can help alleviate any potential guilt.
15. Speak to a therapist
There is a common misconception that there has to be something really wrong for someone to speak to a therapist – that they must have experienced a trauma or be dealing with grief. And that is a common reason for people to seek counselling. But literally anyone can benefit from regular sessions with a therapist.
Talking has got to be one of the best ways of relieving emotional stress, be it small or big. Often it’s difficult to open up to friends and family. Perhaps you feel like you’re burdening them (you’re not), or that you may feel uncomfortable. It’s completely understandable. That’s where therapists can be extraordinarily helpful. Opening up and talking things over with an unbiased, non-judgmental person – who can offer a rational third party perspective – is undeniably valuable.
I’d love to know if you have any self care tips that work for you? Leave a comment or get in touch on social media. Ultimately, it’s a personal journey – not every self care habit will work for everyone, but it’s about finding the ones which work for you.