The term “self-care” has become quite a health buzzword over the last few years, and for good reason. Self-care is the practice of taking intentional steps toward improving your personal health and quality of life. These don’t have to be big steps to make a difference, they just have to be consistent.
But while we live in a societal moment where talking about self-care is a constant, that doesn’t mean we’re all actually putting it into action. Understanding how simple self-care can be will help you implement self-care ideas that significantly affect how happy and healthy you are.
Self-care is the practice of taking action to improve your own health.
Acts of self-care don’t have to be big, they just have to be consistent.
Self-care can include things like carving out quiet time for yourself, finding enjoyable ways to move your body, feeding yourself well, getting some sunlight, and implementing healthy boundaries.
1. Make Time for Quiet
In a busy culture, it’s easy to get caught up in the string of loud moments and have your own needs drowned out by responsibilities and expectations. When we do that, we miss opportunities to check in with ourselves.
Implementing intentional quiet times throughout your day is a great way to break that cycle. And while it may sound like an easy enough thing to do, practicing non distracted quiet time consistently can take as much effort as forming any new habit.
There are a few things to consider to make quiet time successful for you. First, look at your schedule and identify a time slot every day, or at least several times a week, when you can make it happen.
Then, decide where you can go. This might not always be the same place, but wherever you end up should allow you to be alone without noise, technology, or human distractions. For example, perhaps it’s a beanbag chair in your office with a locking door, a corner of your closet, or a picnic bench outside.
What should you use your quiet time to do? That’s up to you, but the point is to be present in the silence around you. Maybe you just sit, close your eyes, and try to clear your mind. Maybe you try 5 minutes of meditation or prayer. Maybe you journal. Whatever you decide to do, do it in silence with the intention of being fully present with yourself — and nobody else.
Exercise is a tricky thing. If you’re not already an active person, it can feel like a far cry from what you might want to do for the sake of your self-care routine. If you already exercise, you may not feel like it counts as self-care as much as it does for your physical wellness.
Being physically active is an important self-care practice because evidence shows that it benefits your physical, mental, and emotional health. There really aren’t any other self-care habits that tackle all three at once. Exercise supports mood-lifting chemicals in your brain, while also helping you build muscle and increase cardio endurance.
Physical activity is a broad category. While some types of exercise may require hitting the gym or the track, others can be done in the comfort of your own home. Both team sports and yoga count. The most important thing about choosing the right activities for you is that they give you life and energy, rather than making you dread doing them.
Health professionals recommend at least 30-60 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. Ideally, this will include a variety of activities. For example, dancing, swimming, bicycling, group fitness classes, weightlifting, pilates, stretching, playing soccer or doing taekwondo.
Nutrition is central to our well-being, but gagging down a daily green smoothie isn’t the end-all-be-all of nourishment. Optimal nutrition should do two things: nourish your body and nourish your soul.
First, this means designing a diet pattern that provides a healthy balance of nutrients, including protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. This can be achieved by incorporating various foods, emphasizing minimally processed and whole plant foods, and reducing ultra-processed convenience items.
It also means including some foods that simply provide you joy. Perhaps this means making your favorite cookie recipe just because you feel like it, grabbing a fancy coffee, or having a cupcake with your dinner. Guilt and shame have no place here.
The sun gives off ultraviolet light, exposure to which is associated with a healthy mood and the production of Vitamin D, which is an important nutrient for brain and immune health.
If you live in an area that provides sunlight most days of the year, make it a point to get outside every day. Can’t get outside? At least open the curtains and sit near the window. Either way, be sure to practice sun safety, as more isn’t always better. Proper use of sun-protective clothing, sunglasses, and mineral-based sunscreen is important to prevent sun damage.
Finally, it is estimated that 95% of Americans don’t receive enough Vitamin D from their diet alone, and nearly one third are Vitamin D deficient.[8,9][[ Taking a daily Vitamin D supplement is an easy way to counteract that.† Have your blood levels of Vitamin D checked at your next wellness exam and consult with a healthcare professional before starting a Vitamin D regimen to see whether a maintenance dose is sufficient or if there’s a deficiency to correct.
This may sound like an odd self-care tip, but it’s important. Boundaries refer to how you hold others to the standards of how you want to be treated and protect your mental health.
They are emotional and physical limits that you aren’t okay with other people crossing and help define your personal feelings, desires, needs, and thoughts.
Identifying where you need boundaries and following through with implementing them takes practice. It also requires you to have a clear sense of your personal needs. Getting comfortable with your own boundaries and communicating them to others when necessary takes time, but it is an important act of self-care.
Huiberts LM, Smolders KCHJ. Effects of vitamin D on mood and sleep in the healthy population: Interpretations from the serotonergic pathway. Sleep Med Rev. 2021;55:101379. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2020.101379
Navale SS, Mulugeta A, Zhou A, Llewellyn DJ, Hyppönen E. Vitamin D and brain health: an observational and Mendelian randomization study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2022;116(2):531-540. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqac107
Reider CA, Chung RY, Devarshi PP, Grant RW, Hazels Mitmesser S. Inadequacy of Immune Health Nutrients: Intakes in US Adults, the 2005-2016 NHANES. Nutrients. 2020;12(6):1735. Published 2020 Jun 10. doi:10.3390/nu120617354.
Liu X, Baylin A, Levy PD. Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency among US adults: prevalence, predictors and clinical implications. Br J Nutr. 2018;119(8):928-936.
Lauren specializes in plant-based living and vegan and vegetarian diets for all ages. She also enjoys writing about parenting and a wide variety of health, environmental, and nutrition topics. Find her at www.laurenpanoff.com.