Prioritizing your well-being is the key to a self-care journey

How to Start a Self-Care Routine

By: Brooke Diaz

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD

Does this sound like the way you deal with a super-stressful day?

You fill the tub to the brim with just-right-temperature water and pour in the perfect amount of foaming bath soak to create the best bubble-to-water ratio. You slather on your mud mask, light some lavender candles, plus your favorite show to stream and voilà—pure relaxation!

No? Not so much?

Same here.

Bubble baths, aromatherapy and even social media trends like "bed rotting" sure sound like decadent ways to manage stress, but let's be honest: how often do we take the time to go all out and do the whole shebang?

Good news: the truth is that self-care doesn't have to be elaborate or time-consuming. There are more sustainable ways to practice self-care. And, more importantly, the term "self-care" is not synonymous with "self-pampering."

Let's look at what self-care really means and how you can establish a self-care routine that's a part of daily habits.

What is a self-care routine?

A self-care routine is a series of habits that promote your physical and mental health. It can include everything from prioritizing sleep to batch cooking healthy meals to meditation to maintaining a grateful mindset and positive lifestyle. But wait, what about luxuriating in a bathtub or getting a pedicure? These rituals can have their place, but they are really only the tip of the iceberg.

We realize this may run contrary to the concept of a "self-care journey" depicted on social media, with "#selfcare" affixed to everything from solo travel to pricy skin care products. Here's the thing: what's popularly referred to as "self-care" online may not actually be good for you when done habitually.

Case in point: the TikTok-famous trend of bed rotting, which encourages extended hours lounging in bed doing anything that requires zero effort. The idea of downtime might sound appealing, but it may not be the best way to care for your mental health and overall well-being long-term.

In fact, sometimes, self-care means doing things that are difficult or uncomfortable, like eating nutritious foods every day or meditating when you'd rather be a little mindless.

What is the best self-care routine?

It's called "self-care" for a reason—it's all about you! Your best self-care routine will be highly personal and individualized. Sure, you can bounce ideas off your bestie or ask your spouse their opinion, but at the end of the day, caring for your well-being comes down to you!

Keep an open mind to all the possibilities of starting this journey, always go at your own pace and don't be afraid to pivot at any time. The goal is to build sustainable daily habits that refresh your energy and gradually improve so you can live better.

And because we're all unique in our biology, the meaning of self-care will vary depending on what stage of life we're in, external stressors, how much time we have, how consistent we are and what we can financially afford. Still, regardless of what your self-care routine looks like, it should rejuvenate you, not deplete you. Here are five ideas to get you started:

  1. Wake up well-rested:

    In terms of physical self-care, getting uninterrupted sleep is crucial. Research shows that adults need seven to nine hours a day to live their best lives.
  2. Exercise daily:

    Getting regular exercise is key, and you don't have to be a gym rat to get the benefits of exercise. You can start by taking a brisk 10-minute walk at lunch or after dinner. Once you're used to adding movement to your day, you can expand your routine to other activities like dancing, swimming or jogging. Pro tip: Add resistance training and weightlifting at least twice a week to tone and maintain muscle mass. Your goal should ultimately be full-body movement.
  3. Nourishing food should be on your menu daily:

    This one is a no-brainer. Planning nourishing meals is a proactive way to care for yourself. Make it fun! Create a menu so you know what to buy beforehand, search for fresh ingredients and cook to your favorite playlist! Inviting family and friends to share the meal and some laughs can all help hype up your happiness.
  4. Take time for downtime:

    Not every moment of every day should be productive. When you need a little mental break, carve out some time for daydreaming or low-intensity activities like journaling or simply enjoying a good book. If you want more mental stimulation, try listening to a new podcast, developing a gratitude practice or learning a new language. Introducing novelty into your life can give you a jolt of joy.
  5. Talk about it:

    To address your emotional well-being, make sure you're airing out your feelings. You can call your best friend if you need to vent, or schedule a therapy session to help you navigate through thoughts and emotions that may be hindering your progress. For example, a therapist can help you learn how to set boundaries at work or with loved ones.

Four principles of self-care

In general, there are four key aspects to focus on when you start your self-care journey:

  1. Make time for your needs: Self-care means spending time taking care of your physical, mental and emotional health by investing your time in doing things that support your health, like exercising and eating nutrient-rich, balanced meals, in addition to the things you love to do.
  2. Show up daily:

    An effective self-care journey is consistent and manageable for the time and resources you have available. It's not about adding to your to-do list because it'll keep you from being consistent with your practice in the long run. Choose habits and activities that fit in with your day-to-day lifestyle.
  3. Keep it simple:

    A successful wellness-focused routine can be as simple as reciting positive affirmations first thing in the morning or keeping healthy snacks at your desk—easy things you can do between tasks. As you adjust to practicing the simple things, and depending on your time, you can go for setting a long-term goal that requires multiple steps to achieve, like learning a new language or training for a marathon. It's a great way to learn how to love the process of being the best version of yourself.
  4. Do things that feed your soul:

    Feel-good hobbies like cuddling with your dog, spending more time in nature and personal growth-expanding activities also count. It's all about doing what's best for you and discovering newfound energy along the way!

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How do I start a self-care routine?

Dante Alighieri, the famous Italian writer and philosopher once said, "The secret to getting things done is to act!" Truer words could not have been spoken (or written)—to start your self-care journey, you need to, well, act.

But taking the time to pause, reflect and recognize your needs is an essential first step before you get started. So, go ahead, put down your phone, grab a comfy seat and get ready to be intentional about beginning your journey—you can jot it down to keep yourself accountable.

  • Check in with yourself:

    One great self-care tip is to slow down and listen to your body. How are you feeling? Are you sleeping enough, getting enough nutrient-rich meals and staying hydrated? What sensations pop up (and where) in your body that indicate you need to relax?
  • Mind your thoughts:

    You can also address questions about your mental and emotional well-being. Do you engage in negative self-talk? Is there something you've always wanted to try that would bring you joy? Are there areas of your life that feel extra stressful? What are the parts of your day that bring you the most enjoyment?
  • Start small:

    Once you've settled on your intention, you're ready to take it step-by-step. For example, carve out five minutes to focus on your breathing when you're at the office, or swapping screens and scrolling for a gratitude journal before going to bed. You can always do a little (or a lot) more when you can, but the key to starting small is that it helps you to be consistent.

Why Is It Hard to Do a Self-Care Routine?

If the idea of taking time out of your day for exercise or mindfulness, let alone treating yourself to a spa day, just doesn't feel like "you," then you're certainly not alone. Here are three reasons that could be hindering your consistency.

  1. It doesn't fit in your day:

    We're creatures of habit, so if caring for yourself mentally and physically isn't something that's part of your everyday life (like brushing your teeth or grabbing your morning java), it will most likely not happen.
  2. You're running before walking:

    Remember about starting small? If your goal is to add meditation to manage your stress, then you're more likely to make it a habit if you start by doing a one- to five-minute meditation in the beginning and gradually work your way up to 60 minutes. We can overwhelm ourselves by trying to do too much too soon—remember that you're building a lifestyle; it takes time and practice.
  3. It's beyond your time and financial resources:

    Activities like bubble baths, shopping or eating out to treat yourself when you're feeling blue or frazzled may be comforting as an instant gratification, but in the long run, they aren't practical for your time (not to mention your bank account). There's no time for regular bubble baths when you need to do groceries or help your kids with homework.

What are the health benefits of having a self-care routine?

A growing body of research suggests that practicing self-care is great for physical, mental and emotional health. Whether you increase your reps, create a bedtime ritual to get uninterrupted sleep each night or add supplements for stress like ashwagandha to your regimen, doing these things daily will help improve your overall well-being.

Staying consistent in your self-care journey will help keep already-healthy stress levels, increase your energy, nourish your body and much more, especially in the long haul!

Pro tip: You can get personalized recommendations for nutrients that support your mood.

About the Author: Brooke L. Diaz has written for some of the world’s most notable brands—including Aveda, Macy’s, Gap and Chopra Global. She is certified in youth coaching and meditation and teaches strength, movement, and mindfulness to elementary-age children with her small business, Camp Vitamin C™. She’s also a dedicated mother of two.



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