Self care is more than a luxury product trending social media, or the latest extravagant outing or purchase that you made. The label of #selfcare gets used to include someone’s overindulgent drinking escapade, to putting a face mask on, to dumping a significant other. And the reason for it’s broad meaning is because self care is really just anything that makes you feel better in a particular moment – so it could mean something different to each person, or could even mean something different to you on a different day. However, there is a strategy to ensure that your acts of self care are productive and will actually lead to your happiness and well-being.
How To Engage In The Most Impactful Acts of Self Care
Here is the criteria for determining whether an act of self care will behave in your favor – ask yourselves these 5 questions:
- In doing this, am I spending an amount of money that I have not adequately budgeted for that may impact my ability to support essential living expenses (i.e. gas, rent, food) without stress or worry?
- Have I done something like this before that has brought me happiness or a sense of calm, or am I doing this out of social pressure and/or targeted social media advertising?
- How long will this help me for? (i.e. Will doing this make me feel better in the moment but make me feel worse later?)
- Is this good for my physical health?
- Is this good for my mental health?
There is not necessarily a right or wrong answer to these questions when choosing to engage in an act of self care; but going through these questions prior to investing your time, money, and energy in whatever you’re considering will help you make a more practical choice that will lead to a predictable, and hopefully positive, outcome.
I have put together a list of the top 10 best self care items and activities to consider that are cost effective, and good for your physical and mental health.
Self Care Ideas
Meditation is a self care practice that everyone should adopt. This meditation app is suitable for novice meditators (like me!) as well as seasoned meditators. Meditation can be used to help specific mental and physical anguish, like anxiety, depression, difficulty sleeping, and pain – or it can help to create an overall sense of calmness and awareness in your body and mind.
It’s a small act (as short as 3 minutes) that can significantly impact your well-being.
You can download Headspace for free to get acquainted with the meditation practice slowly. And if you’re wanting more, there is also the option to upgrade to Headspace Plus for an annual price of $69.99 ($5.83/month) and get the first 2 weeks free, or opt for the monthly subscription for $12.99/month and get the first week free. With the upgraded version, you’ll have access to the full library of meditation, sleep, movement, and focus courses, and get new content daily.
Lavender has been shown to have a natural calming effect on the body. It is commonly used in spas and other therapeutic environments. Similarly, heat is used to relax muscles by drawing blood flow to the area. Heat therapies are used to mitigate symptoms stemming from tight, overactive muscles either post-injury or stress-related. When putting lavender and heat together, you can create an ultra soothing effect on the body. This pack of three microwavable lavender scented heating pads will allow you to sooth your body wherever you feel tension. Try placing these heating pads on your body for 20 minutes before you go to bed for a soothing wind down ritual.
3. 10k steps a day
Engaging in at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise per day has been shown to produce a plethora of mental and physical health benefits. If plausible, make a point to walk outside everyday to achieve 10,000 steps. To track your steps, you can use an activity tracker app, an activity tracker watch, or a built-in activity tracker on your mobile device. If walking outdoors (or working outdoors) is not plausible, then investing in a treadmill for your home is a great option.
You can either set timers to get up and walk shorter distances throughout your day or you can plan to have one or two longer walks to get in your steps. Either way, increasing your aerobic capacity by engaging in walking will lead to greater mental clarity, improved circulation, more energy, better sleep quality, and less risk for developing aches and pain from prolonged sitting.
4. Drinking a gallon of water a day
A lot of people suffer from avoidable, unpleasant symptoms simply because they are dehydrated. Dehydration can cause fatigue, digestive issues, acne, and sugar cravings, amongst other symptoms. Purchasing a gallon water bottle with motivational time markers will help you to stay on track with staying hydrated and avoiding unwanted symptoms. By keeping this bottle in plain sight, you will be more inclined to listen to your body’s thirst cues.
5. To do list/ Planner
Taking the time to write out your daily and weekly goals, and determining tasks that need to get done in order to accomplish those goals helps to free up mental space and ease anxiety. You can use a pen and paper, notes or reminders on your phone, or a planner to do this.
Sit down before the start of each week to write out your goals and make daily to do lists for the following day. You will begin to notice that when you take the time to break your schedule down into smaller, manageable tasks, that you are capable of achieving anything you set out to do. Your productivity will increase, leaving you with more time to engage in other self care activities.
6. Daily stretching
When we’re stressed or caught up in a busy schedule, our bodies tend to hold on to tension, which can lead to pain and injury if unaddressed. Engaging in a daily stretch routine can help to lengthen and soften the muscles that are subject to tightness and restriction on a daily basis.
One of the muscles that are subject to tightness and tension from sitting at a desk and/or looking at a screen all day are the suboccipital muscles, which are located at the base of your skull. To loosen these muscles, try laying with a trigger point release ball pressed up against those muscles for 1 minute at the start of each day. Watch this video that demonstrates how to perform this stretch:
Another common muscle that tends to become tight and painful is the upper trapezius muscle. This muscle is located at the top of your shoulders, where you may find yourself wanting to rub and massage throughout the day. Try this simple upper trapezius stretch to help release some of the tension. Perform this stretch for 30 seconds on each side every hour while you work!
Lastly, our hip flexors, which are the muscles at the front of our hips, tend to get tight and shortened from prolonged sitting. Tightness in these muscles can lead to muscle imbalances that prevent your core from activating properly to support your low back while sitting. In order to stretch your hip flexors, try performing this kneeling hip flexor stretch for 1 minute on each side before and after your work day.
A very effective tool that can be used to relieve tension in all of these areas (or anywhere you’re experiencing tension or discomfort), is a massage gun. It uses percussion to signal your muscles to turn off and relax. It is perfect to use at the onset of any pain you experience throughout your workday or even to mitigate muscle soreness after a workout!
7. Talking to someone that you can be completely yourself with
Social connection and acceptance has a far-reaching impact on our health. Whether you are introverted or extroverted in nature, we all innately thrive from engaging in some form of social connection. Make time to connect with people that build you up, make you feel confident, and bring out your light-hearted, genuine side. It doesn’t matter if it’s a mere acquaintance – it’s worth finding and sustaining those relationships that make you feel whole. Make a list of people in your life that make you feel this way and make time to speak with them at least once a week.
8. At least 10 minutes of sunlight everyday to help with Vitamin D production
Having a short amount of sun exposure everyday has been shown to have both physical and mental health benefits. When the ultraviolet rays produced by the sun hit your skin, they trigger your body to make Vitamin D – an essential vitamin that impacts immune function, bone strength, and your mood/energy levels. To supplement increased vitamin D production in the body, you can also include foods that have Vitamin D, such as fatty fish (i.e. tuna and salmon), egg yolks, mushrooms, and milk into your diet; or you can take a nutritional supplement that is abundant in Vitamin D like cod liver oil.
Some symptoms that can occur as a result of vitamin D deficiency are: getting sick frequently, depression, hair loss, and muscle and bone pain. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is best to seek out care from your healthcare provider so you can determine the root cause of your symptoms.
9. Limit your caffeine intake to no more than 1 cup of coffee per day
Excessive amounts of caffeine can cause your body to live in a state of constant stress by releasing hormones that inhibit digestion, mental calmness, and physical relaxation. Over time, this can take a toll on your body and you may experience weight gain, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and midday crashes as a result.
If you’re needing a midday pick-me-up, try opting for a lower caffeine, energy boosting drink like green tea. The chemical makeup of green tea leads to a more steady boost of energy rather than a sudden spike followed by a crash. It is also rich in antioxidants and contains properties known to improve brain function. You can also opt for a mushroom or adaptogen coffee. These are also lower in caffeine and are made with all natural ingredients that suppress the stress response in the body.
10. Adopt a morning routine
A morning routine is time that you set aside to do something that brings you calmness, gratitude, motivation, and/or energy before you start your day each morning. It could be as short as 5 minutes but it is something that is done ritually, without fail, every morning. By having a morning routine in place, you begin each day with more intention and positivity, which sets the tone for the rest of the day.
You can use any of the self care activities or items that are listed in this article as part of your morning routine or you can choose your own. It could be reading a book, journaling, sitting outside with a cup of coffee – anything you can think of that you can look forward to doing on a daily basis.
I hope that this comprehensive list of self care ideas will encourage you to engage in activities that are guaranteed to better your physical and mental well-being.