Put your life jacket on FIRST.
All self-care practices are not created equally. Some self-care practices (deep breathing, reading, nutritionally dense meals) you can indulge to your heart’s content, whereas others have a bit of a shorter shelf life in terms of effectiveness (like watching TV for hours on end, eating brownies, or drinking wine).
You may have heard the expression, “How people treat you is how they feel about you.” So then, by extension, how you treat yourself is how you feel about yourself.
Neglect yourself and your self-esteem will infer that you aren’t worthy of being taken care of. Take care of yourself with stellar self-care practices and your heart will assume “Wow! I must be worth a lot if this is the level of pampering that I am gifting myself.”
I’ve struggled with prioritizing self-care practices in the past, but these are a dozen of the ones that I find to be the easiest to implement, and the highest leverage in terms of their positive impact on how I feel, day to day.
Here's how to practice self-care with 21 different practices.
1. Opt out of news and ads.
It’s self-loving to be intentional about the kinds of messages that we allow into our minds. And the sad (current) state of most media is that a lot of it is very fear-based and toxic to our hearts. Follow the news (which gets ratings by telling you about things that captivate you through fear) too closely and you’re bound to think that the world is a dangerous and cruel place.
If you watch the news, stop. If you’re tired of being marketed to constantly when you’re online with things that make you feel insecure instead of empowered, download an ad-blocker that replaces ads with inspiration.
Obviously, you won’t be able to get away from seeing 100 percent of ads because, even if you live in a small town, advertising is everywhere, but doing your part to clean out 90 percent of the news and advertising that you’re inundated with on a daily basis will do wonders for your mental and emotional health.
2. Invest in your hobbies.
Does your life feel overly serious? Do you track productivity more than fulfillment? Are you trying to monetize, optimize, and improve every second of your life? Then it’s fairly likely that your hobbies have fallen to the wayside.
Take inventory of the things that you do that bring you joy. Maybe you like coloring in coloring books. Or dancing. Or writing poetry. Whatever feeds your soul, make time for it on a regular basis.
3. Learn to cook a few simple, healthy meals that last all week.
I’m the first to admit that I didn’t enjoy cooking (at all) until a few months ago. Only recently have I begun to dig into the practice, and I find it surprisingly meditative and enjoyable.
There’s something so satisfying about spending an entire afternoon gathering ingredients, preparing them, and making a big, healthy meal that lasts you for days.
4. Practice coconut oil pulling in the morning.
I resisted this one for a long time because I only ever heard it from my most hippy-ish friends (and questionable websites). But the data seems to be rolling in on this trend (which has apparently been a cultural practice for thousands of years).
Oil pulling is the practice of swishing around oil in your mouth for anywhere from 10-20 minutes and then spitting it out into the trash afterwards (don’t swallow it!). Proven health benefits from doing this practice are strengthened gums, less harmful bacteria in the mouth and body, improved digestive health, it alleviates teeth sensitivity, helps allergy sufferers, and improves hormonal imbalances.
Buy some organic coconut oil, keep it on your bedside table with a spoon in it, and try out this practice for the next 5 to 7 mornings and see if you notice a difference. Some people swear by it (and I am fast becoming one of those people).
5. Regularly journal.
I’m heavily biased because I love writing so much, but I believe that everyone can benefit from regularly journalling out their thoughts on paper. Sometimes the swirling thoughts in our heads are just looking for a home and when we write them down, we often feel that much more free of them. They don’t have to take up real estate in our heads if we physically transpose them on to the page.
I essentially always have a mini-Moleskine notebook on me so that I can jot down thoughts throughout my daily life. Maybe I partake in a really cool philosophical conversation and I get an idea for an article that I want to write later on. Or maybe I wake up from an amazing dream and I want to make note of a certain element of it.
Whatever your reasons for writing, observing yourself through regular journaling is a practice that is a worthwhile one for everybody.
6. Go for a walk before any tech in the morning.
Most people wake up in the morning, immediately roll over and check their phones. What do they check most frequently? Their email and social media.
Let’s call a spade a spade. Your email inbox is OTHER people’s to-do lists for your time. And your social media feed is likely littered with advertisements and people showing the highlight reel of their lives. Both of these things have a high probability of putting you into an anxious, reactive state, and you start your day off on the wrong foot.
Instead of turning to tech upon waking, might I suggest something more conducive to starting your day off on a more productive footing? Instead of screen time upon waking, experiment for a few days with getting up, putting on some clothes and shoes, and going for a walk (ideally in or near nature).
I’ve been going on 30- to 60-minute walks in the mornings before I look at any screens and the results have been phenomenal. I feel less stressed, I feel more grounded throughout the rest of the day, and I often have my most creative thoughts and experience mini-breakthroughs as I’m walking.
Try it out, if only for a few days. You might love it so much that you’ll never go back to compulsively staring into your smartphone upon waking up.
7. Invest in your sexual self-love practice.
Our sexual energy is the most powerful force that we have available to us. It is the energy that is driving the vast majority of everything that we do. And yet, we give so little credence to this powerful force that lives inside of us. Well, time to change that.
Indulging in some lengthy, luxurious sexual self-care can be an amazing idea for a self-care date.
How exactly do you invest in your sexual self-love? First of all, make time for it. Regularly set aside time in your calendar to reconnect with your body. Second, buy some new lubes, oils, and sex toys that you find compelling.
8. Drink a green smoothie.
My breakfast for the past several years has been a massive green smoothie. Main benefits: rapidly consuming a ton of dark, leafy green vegetables without having to chew and/or taste them, dense nutrients in a time-efficient meal, better health/sleep/digestion/mood.
The best investment that I’ve ever made into my physical health was buying a Vitamix blender. I bought one of these bad boys and I use it at least once every day. I easily consume at least 2 to 3 times the vegetables that I did before buying it, and I don’t even have to taste them.
My go-to ingredients for a full range of nutritional goodness are spinach, black kale, green kale, rainbow chard, avocado, carrot, acai, cinnamon, cacao nibs, pumpkin seeds, almonds/pecans, nori (seaweed paper), Himalayan pink salt, coconut oil, a greens powder, a vegan protein powder, and almond milk/coconut milk/water. And if that combination is too green/healthy tasting for you, you can add in a few raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries to taste. But generally, aim for more vegetables than fruit by physical volume. More than 80 percent vegetables and less than 20 percent fruit is a good ratio to aim for.
Bonus: when you start off your day with a beverage that has more nutrients in it than most people include in their entire day’s worth of food intake, it’s that much easier to not feel guilty about "indulging" in less healthy foods later on in the day. In this way, your green smoothie is like an insurance policy for your good health.
9. Cut out the noise from your life.
There’s a lot of noise happening around you in the world. The radio commercial subtly telling you that you aren’t good enough. The person in your extended family telling you to be more realistic in your approach to life. The person who tries to goad you into gossiping and talking against someone you both know. The overly negative conversation that you overhear on the bus/at a restaurant/before the movie starts.
Be intentional about which thoughts you allow to enter your mind. You’re allowed to opt out of conversations that feel bad (“I don’t feel like talking about that person in this manner. Is there something else that we can talk about instead?”). You’re allowed to leave environments that don’t serve you. There’s a lot of noise out there. Be careful as to which parts you let in.
How exactly can you cut out some of this noise from a place of self-care? First off, if the situation allows for it, set proactive boundaries with people when they try to pull you into conversations that don’t feel good for you. Next, switch off or mute your TV/radio as often as possible, especially during commercials.
Finally, invest in some custom fitted ear plugs (for all of the situations in which you don’t have access to turning off the noise). I always have a pair of -60-decibel earplugs on me so that I can pop them in whenever I’m near a conversation that I don’t want to overhear, or if I’m in a public setting and an annoyingly negative TV show/radio show/advertisement is ringing out auditorily.
They’re your ears. It’s your mind. You’re allowed to be just as intentional about what goes into it as you are with the food that goes into your mouth. They both have the power to nourish you or harm you.
10. Wear blue-light blocking glasses at night.
It’s a good practice to avoid putting your face in front of any light-emitting tech (TV, computer, phones) within a few hours of the time that you want to go to sleep. But, inevitably, there will be some times where you feel like you really need to.
Pick up a pair of blue-light blocking glasses so that your hardware doesn’t interfere with your sleep patterns. I recommend grabbing a pair from a company called Gunnar. I wear mine every single night after 8 PM when I’m playing guitar, reading my Kindle, or just watching Netflix.
11. Use personal care products that don’t contain toxins.
You know what’s pretty crazy? For the amount of effort that we put into not consuming toxic things orally, there are a lot of toxic things that get dumped into our bodies via our personal care products.
My friend Ben turned me on to this idea a few years ago, and I switched up my hygienic self-care routines pronto. Instead of using soaps, deodorants, sunscreens, and creams that are loaded with carcinogens, parabens, and heavy metals, I now use natural products that don’t interfere with my bodies hormones and health.
For soap, I exclusively use Dr. Bronners Organic Liquid Soap (for washing my hands, in the shower). For deodorant, I either use Primal Pit Paste, Routine cream, or (if I’ve been eating especially healthy and don’t really have any gross stuff to sweat out) sometimes I’ll just use a light dusting of coconut oil. For toothpaste, I use Nature’s Gate. And for sunscreen, I use Badger Balm.
I might sound like a hippy, but I swear all of these work really well and I sleep easier at night knowing that I’m not pumping parabens, aluminum, and other potential carcinogens into my blood stream.
12. Regularly talk to a coach/therapist/close friend.
Similar to the journaling habit, verbalizing your thoughts to someone out loud helps you to clear those thoughts out of your mind. Find a trusted, non-shaming, supportive person in your life who can hold space and listen to you — your fears, frustrations, and dreams. And if you want them to give you occasional feedback or advice, they can give you that as well.
I find that it can feel extra self-loving to hire a coach or therapist to listen to you because it’s that much easier to fully allow yourself the selfishness of letting yourself say whatever is on your mind, without being expected to reciprocate afterward.
13. Move around.
In my experience, the two most effective and efficient ways for removing stress hormones from your body is either through sweating or crying (speaking of which, crying could totally have its own section in this list because it’s awesome and deeply relaxing).
Regularly engage in whatever your favorite way to sweat is. Dance around your living room to your favorite song. Go to a yoga class or spin class. Go to the gym and pound out a few minutes on the treadmill. Have an extended sex session.
Whatever gets your heart pounding, do it from a place of self-love. Massive health benefits aside, your heart will be glowing afterward from all of the endorphins coursing through your veins.
14. Say "no" more often.
One of the best self-care practices available to us is boundary setting, aka saying no to things we want to say no to. You don’t want to meet up with that friend that you said you’d meet up with and it’s still a few hours/days away? Tell them you’ve changed your mind. You’re allowed to.
You don’t want to go home for Christmas/Thanksgiving/the holidays even though your family is expecting you to? You can say no. You don’t have to go. You’ve realized that a relationship that you’re in is draining/toxic/going nowhere? You’re allowed to say no to that, too.
Whatever the thing, person or situation is that has your heart feeling heavy, you’re allowed to say no to it. You fully, 100 percent have permission to honor yourself.
15. Use a gratitude journal.
Practicing regular gratitude has been scientifically validated as one of the single best things that we can do to maintain our levels of personal happiness. Whether it’s as simple as saying “Thank you” (out loud or in our minds) and then letting ourselves fill in the rest of the sentence a few times per day, or picking up a Five-Minute Journal and making it a simple and effective daily habit, proactively being aware of what we’re grateful for has a huge spill-over effect into our happiness and emotional well-being.
I’m grateful for the privilege to speak to you, wherever you are in the world, by writing my thoughts out with this keyboard. I’m grateful for the strong, reliable wifi that I have that will allow me to upload these words for you to read, and I’m grateful that you’ve made it this far down the page. Go you!
Now, it’s your turn! What are you grateful for? Think of three to five things, in your mind, and then keep going through the rest of the article.
16. Keep a folder of compliments that you receive and regularly re-visit them.
So there’s this thing called the negativity bias. It’s a cognitive bias (aka "thinking error") that all humans engage in. The negativity bias essentially states that things of a negative nature are more likely to affect us, to a greater degree, than a similar situation of a neutral or positive process. Put simply, sh*tty things affect us a lot more than any other things.
What this all means is that if twenty people say nice things to you this week, and one person insults or criticizes you, that one negative comment is going to take up a lot of space in your thought processes, and will negatively impact your mood for a disproportionate amount of time.
To help undo/counteract the negativity bias, keep a running list (or gather a physical or digital folder) of all of the nice things that people have said about you, and make a point to revisit it regularly. You can treat it like it’s your rainy day folder and only look at it when you need a pick-me-up, or you can look at it more regularly regardless of how you’re feeling.
17. Do all of your chores in a day.
When we’re surrounded by clutter and filth, it’s that much easier to feel down on ourselves. Spend a day cleaning your house, taking out the trash, vacuuming, doing your laundry, and making a healthy meal. Treat your environment as if it were a physical extension of you (because it is) and give it the loving tenderness that it deserves.
You’ll likely work up a sweat while doing it, and you’ll feel so much better once it’s all done. Heck, put on your favorite music while you’re cleaning and you’ll even feel that much better while you’re doing it.
18. Try the body-love mirror exercise.
Whether we inherited our low self-image from our parents, peers, or media and advertising, a lot of us struggle with self-acceptance and self-care when it comes to our physical bodies.
Try this exercise on for size:
- Stand in front of your mirror while naked.
- Now, verbalize ten things that you love about yourself (focusing on your physical traits for now).
- Then, notice five things that you usually criticize about your appearance and ask those things for forgiveness (i.e. “Hair/arms/legs/stomach, I know that I often criticize you for being too X or not Y enough and I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”).
- Then, one by one, shower those five things with love, acceptance, and compliments (i.e. “In truth, you are actually beautiful/capable/strong/gorgeous/perfect, and I completely love and accept you as you are. Thank you.”).
Do this exercise once per day for 5 to 7 days in a row, and you will notice your relationship to your body shifting in a more positive direction.
19. Take care of yourself by taking care of others.
If you carry out all of the above steps verbatim then you will inevitably have such a full emotional fuel tank that you’ll likely want to start giving back to others. Not only does helping others help others, it also helps you in the process, no matter how altruistically you go into the process.
Volunteer somewhere with a place that has a mission that you believe in. Buy a bag of gourmet dog treats and hand them out at a dog park (making sure to check with the dog’s owners in case of allergies). Walk around with coins in your pocket and help people plug their parking meters as they dig around in their pockets for change.
And remember, this isn’t just for other people. Volunteering has proven health benefits (such as, but not limited to, more self-confidence, greater self-esteem, and a boost in general well-being).
20. Honor your inner child.
What could you do, for hours on end, as a child? What activities would you engage in that would make the time fly by?
For me, I loved skateboarding, making video skits with friends, taking photos, dancing, and doing improv. After an almost ten year hiatus (from 18 to 28), I realized that I hadn’t really done any of those things. Upon realizing it, I broke out my calendar and I prioritized all of them again.
I started filming skits. I bought a skateboard and went skating with a friend. I signed up for some adult improv classes. And taking these actions immediately lifted my mood and made me feel better about myself.
What things did you used to LOVE to do, that you haven’t done in a long time? Maybe it’s time to re-prioritize your happiness again. As far as we know, we only get one chance at life. Might as well make the most of it.
21. Put your self-care practices in your calendar.
All of these self-care practices are great, and when you start to prioritize even one or two of your favorite ones on a regular basis, you’ll notice an immediate shift in your happiness, lowered stress levels, and day to day feelings of self-love and fulfillment.
One of the highest leverage ways to make sure that these new intentions turn into habits is to setup your environment for success and build reminders into your life to keep engaging in these self-care practices. Put simply, pick your one/two/three favorite self-care practices and put them in your calendar – right now.
If your self-care practices are staring you in the face on a regular/ongoing basis, it’ll be that much harder to ignore them from this point forwards.
I mean, really, which would you rather have: A twitching eye, erratic sleep patterns, and relationship stress? Or would you prefer a deep sense of calm, a healthy body and mind, and a childlike, playful, self-loving approach to life that permeates everything that you do?
That’s what I thought.
So put those reminders in your calendar, pronto.
This isn’t a one-and-done kind of situation. Self-care is not a situation where you can just set it and forget it.
Self-care practices are practices for a reason. Just like you can’t eat enough in one sitting to sustain you energetically for years, self-care is something that’s best done on a regular basis. That’s why putting it in your calendar and setting up your environmental reminders is so important when it comes to regularly incorporating self-care practices into your life.
Just like in a relationship with a significant other, small, regular gestures tend to beat out infrequent grand sweeping gestures. Consistency is key.
It’s the accumulated meaning behind all of the little things that you do for yourself that will translate into more self-love, less stress, greater creativity, and more emotional fulfillment on a daily basis.
This article was originally published at Jordan Gray Consulting. Reprinted with permission from the author.