The benefits of focusing on self-awareness—of tuning into your body and taking the time to nourish it properly—are profound: Research suggests that the more we practice self-care, the more confident, creative, and productive we are.
We also make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. Sounds like a pretty good path to improvement, doesn’t it?
Here, experts share their best self-care tips—from meditating and journaling to good old fashioned pampering, and some ideas you may have never heard—so you can start making you a priority.
The benefits of focusing on self-awareness—of tuning into your body and taking the time to nourish it properly—are profound: Research suggests that the more we practice self-care, the more confident, creative, and productive we are. We also make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. Sounds like a pretty good path to improvement, doesn’t it? Here, experts share their best self-care tips—from meditating and journaling to good old fashioned pampering, and some ideas you may have never heard—so you can start making you a priority.
1. Stop hitting the snooze button.
Many people believe snoozing several times is a gentler way to wake up, but this actually causes sleep to be more disrupted, leaving the person feeling more sleepy, says Dr. Cindy T. Graham, a licensed psychologist. “Instead, sleep experts recommend being honest with oneself and setting the alarm for the time you actually get up,” she says. “Your body will then learn to prepare for waking at that time and you will feel less tired over the course of the day.”
2. Open the blinds as soon as you rise.
Make it a habit to open the blinds as soon as you wake up each day. Even just five minutes of sunlight first thing in the morning not only boosts your vitamin D levels, but also helps balance your cortisol (aka stress) levels, says Kristin Oja, founder of STAT Wellness in Atlanta.
3. Start a side hustle.
Doing activities that bring you joy has very real health benefits, says Dr. Kien Vuu, a clinical professor of medicine at UCLA-David Geffen School of Medicine. Engaging in a hobby has been shown to reduce stress and can even activate genes that increase immunity and decrease inflammation, he says. Check out some ideas here.
4. Put on a face mask.
“A face mask is just as beneficial for your well-being as it is for your skin, because it serves as a time to take a break and treat yourself,” says Dr. Jacqueline Schaffer. Make it a habit to do a weekly mask, she says. It will soothe and soften your skin, plus relax and revitalize your mind.
5. Get a massage.
There are many studies that show a massage doesn’t just feel good in the moment, says Vuu. Massage has been shown to relieve pain and stiffness, boost immunity, reduce anxiety and depression, lower stress and blood pressure, and increase circulation, he says.
6. Banish your phone from the bedroom.
Screen time has even been linked to depression in adult women, says love and life coach Francesca Hogi. “Ideally, your bedroom is a sanctuary for sleep, relaxation, and intimacy. Phones, TVs and laptops disrupt all of those things,” she says. “Take care of your physical and mental health by giving your brain a break and encouraging better sleep in your screen-free sanctuary.”
7. Eat a healthy snack.
Your body requires fuel—a mixture of proteins, healthy fats, and carbohydrates—to stay healthy, balanced, and functioning, says life coach Aida Bielkus, PhD. Swap sugary snacks, which cause blood sugar to spike and crash, opt for quick and healthy alternatives like bananas with peanut butter, veggies with hummus, a handful of almonds, granola, or Greek yogurt with blueberries.
8. Plant a seed.
Besides keeping air cleaner, exposure to plants can also boost your mood. How? According to a 2015 study, active interaction with indoor plants suppresses nervous system activity and reduces blood pressure, leading to an overall sense of calm. Don’t exactly have a green thumb? Try a succulent. You (basically) can’t kill them. Or, if you’re more advanced, try Peace Lilies or Areca Palms which help to remove toxins from your environment.
9. Read a joyful story each morning.
According to a recent survey, more than 50 percent of Americans say the news causes them stress—some say it even leads to sleep loss. So, trade your morning perusal through your Facebook feed with something positive like an uplifting book, or your most cheerful podcast.
10. Say “no.”
“Most often, stress is caused by having too much to do and too little time to do it,” says Dr. Jacqueline Schaffer, a board-certified doctor in Los Angeles. “Reduce your workload, prioritize your to-do list, and manage your time more effectively. This requires you to say ‘no’ more often, and that’s perfectly ok!”
11. Trade your coffee for a soothing cup of tea.
“Not only does herbal tea help hydrate and detoxify the body, but the process of making and drinking a cup of tea creates a mini respite,” says Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist in Santa Rosa, California. Plus, whether you’re trying Oprah’s favorite chai or enjoying a chamomile, the simple act of tasting a soothing beverage can make the mind feel calmer and clearer, says Manly
12. Meditate for five minutes.
Research shows that meditation undoes the damaging effects of stress on our cells—and calms the part of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response, says Aida Bielkus, Life Coach, PhD, ERYT and co-founder of Health Yoga Life in Boston. “Set your phone timer for five minutes. Close your eyes. If you’re at office then try free online timer. Take a few deep breaths, and release any tension that your body is holding onto. If you begin to wander off into other thoughts, don’t judge yourself. Simply bring yourself back to the awareness of your breath,” she advises.
13. Look at pics of cute animals.
Turns out all that mindless Instagram scrolling might pay some dividends. Studies show that looking at photos or videos of cute animals increases mood and decreases stress, says Dr. Kelifern Pomeranz, a clinical psychologist in Menlo Park, California. Even more effective? “If you live near a dog park, make sure to stop by there as often as you can.”
14. Do something nice for someone else.
Hold the door open for someone, pick up a piece of litter, buy lemonade from a neighborhood kid’s lemonade stand, smile at a stranger…wait, isn’t this supposed to be about you? According to research, acts of kindness boost the wellbeing of not only the giver, but also the receiver and overall community, says Pomeranz.
15. Doodle or color.
“Whether you use colored pencils to create your own drawings, or doodle in an adult coloring book, your mind and body relax when you’re engaging in a focused, soothing activity,” says Manly. “When the mind becomes focused on a creative task, worrisome thoughts tend to fade away. As the creative mind ‘plays,’ feel-good neurochemicals such as serotonin activate positive feelings of wellness and serenity.”
16. Take a break.
“All work all the time causes stress on the mind and body,” says Dr. Lisa Folden, a physical therapist in Charlotte, North Carolina. “If you’re fortunate enough to have employment with available vacation hours, take all of them. If you don’t have that option, do a weekend staycation. If that’s out of your budget, simply spend Saturday doing absolutely nothing.” That means, put your phone on airplane mode, binge watch Insecure, or catch up on your reading list. Whatever it is that brings you pleasure, enjoy it, and make no apologies for it.
17. Learn to anticipate problems before they arise.
“Moments that are intensely negative have a huge effect on how you experience your day, more so than positive moments,” says Talya Miron-Shatz, PhD., visiting researcher at Cambridge University, and CEO of Buddy&Soul, a platform for personal development. “Start your day by scanning it ahead of time for potential bumps—are you allowing too little time for your commute, making it stressful? Are you leaving home without enough to eat, which guarantees the 6 p.m. headache? Avoid the hiccups, or at least some of them, and you’ll be much better off.”
18. Get outside.
No matter how busy you are, make it a habit to step outside for a breath of fresh air each day. “Doing this, even for a short increments at a time, provides you with many health benefits—both physical and mental,” says Emily Cosgrove, a licensed therapist and life coach in Ontario, Canada. Research suggests spending time outside helps you sleep better at night, lowers heart rate, reduces stress levels, boosts mental health, and stimulates the immune system.
19. Exercise regularly.
“Getting your heart rate up increases your happy hormones (serotonin, dopamine, etc.), thus improving your mood, pleasure, and reducing pain,” says Folden. And this doesn’t require long hours in the gym, six days a week. “Something as simple as three to four days each week, walking briskly or doing a quick 30-minute circuit routine can meet your needs. It all counts.”
20. Write in a gratitude journal.
“Studies have indicated that practicing gratitude has numerous benefits, including optimizing our cardiac health, reducing anxiety and depression, as well as sharpening our brain function and giving us peace of mind,” says Dr. Jeff Nalin, a clinical psychologist in Malibu, California. Jot down a few things you’re grateful for in a journal, or on little slips of paper, then put them in a jar and set aside time to revisit each month. If that sounds daunting, simply begin your day by thinking about someone or something you truly appreciate.
21. Unplug after dinner each night.
There’s a lot of scientific research around the benefits of disconnecting from time to time. Taking a break from social media, even for brief periods, can help lessen your anxieties, and stave off the loneliness that many feel when surfing their channels,” says Dr. Samant Virk, CEO and founder of MediSprout.
22. Get ample sleep.
Of course that’s easier said than done, but “sleep deprivation can actually cause mental lapses and increase stress and frustration, as well as contribute to physical health problems,” says Nalin. “So, despite our hectic schedules, we should maintain our regular sleep habits in order to feel refreshed and genuinely enjoy life.” Or, at least attempt to.
23. Have a…release.
“Whether you’re with a partner or by yourself, research shows that an orgasm can help alleviate pain (including menstrual cramps), improve your sleep, and reduce stress,” says Dr. Linda Baggett, Ph.D.,a licensed psychologist in California. “If you’re with a partner, it can also help you feel more connected.”
24. Light a candle.
Scientists have found that the olfactory sense is the only one with a direct link to the limbic system, the area of the brain that plays a major role in emotional regulation, memory, and behavior, says Abi Hendra, a counselor and therapist in the United Kingdom. “Use traditional calming smells such as lavender and frankincense (which research suggests lowers anxiety and depression). Also, try smells that have associations with happy recollections. This could be anything from a type of candy you loved as a kid to your grandma’s perfume.” Need help finding your aroma? Homesick makes memory-themed candles like “Summer Camp,” and “Friday Night Football,” and you can shop our favorite fall-scented ones here.
25. Spend 10 minutes a day decluttering.
“Research shows that clutter increases our cortisol levels (the stress hormone that is a risk factor for many illnesses), reduces creativity and focus, and can even make us more sensitive to pain,” says Baggett. “It’s not your imagination that you are more relaxed in a clutter-free environment. Set a timer for just five minutes, and get busy.” Or, you can simply watch Marie Kondo’s Netflix show. Just don’t feel like you need to throw out your beloved books after.