When people hear the term “self-care,” they may envision someone taking a spa day or a long vacation to the Caribbean. Ahhh, sounds dreamy … but that’s not exactly self-care.
While those activities may be relaxing, they are not an accurate depiction of practicing self-care, and they are too costly to help anyone on a regular basis.
True self-care is a routine of repeated activities that help someone care for their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. While the specific habits will look slightly different for everyone, the overall goals are always balance and a healthy lifestyle.
This article will provide a beginner’s guide to self-care. Anyone starting their self-care journey can begin with confidence and find helpful tips in this self-care guide.
Self-Care for Beginners
Before anyone can begin practicing self-care, they must first understand what it is — and what it is not.
The general goals and practice of self-care are similar for everyone: Find balance in life by making time for activities that refresh them physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Self-care is not typically lavish events or expensive vacations. It's not something to do just once or twice a year. And self-care is not something that only happens when the rest of life is put on hold.
More commonly, self-care looks like small daily activities or routines taking 20 minutes or less. Some may cost money — like buying a face mask or enjoying a specialty coffee. But others are free: petting a dog, reading a book from the library, or talking to a friend.
Self-care activities are important for general health and well-being. Not only are they enjoyable, but they also serve a scientific purpose for the body. Engaging in self-care activities releases “happiness chemicals” in the brain: serotonin, endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin. Keeping these chemicals flowing helps prevent depression and improves overall mood and health.
Anyone beginning to practice self-care can take small steps toward improving their mental health and well-being.
Essential Tips for Starting Self-Care
Self-care for beginners may take some practice before someone feels any results. People who are already overwhelmed and near burnout find it difficult to add one more thing to their schedule. But truly, everyone deserves self-care. It is available to anyone who makes an effort to take care of themselves for a few minutes a day or throughout the week.
Beginners to self-care should follow these essential tips for starting self-care routines.
1. Assess Needs
The first step in self-care for beginners is to pause and assess their needs. Where are they feeling the least balanced and healthy right now? For example, if they have been feeling tired and overworked lately, the most obvious need is a physical one: sleep.
But it's important to take the time to look a little deeper to assess all needs. Sleep is a physical need, but it is closely related to mental health. If the thing keeping someone awake at night is a stressful relationship, they may have unmet emotional needs. If they’re restless because their brain keeps worrying over to-do lists, their true need may be relaxation and a mental break.
All these situations can make someone feel tired, but the answer to solving them looks different in each scenario. Self-care is a unique process for everyone. It’s most effective when someone takes the time to assess their needs first and then find self-care habits to meet those needs.
A self-care beginner can assess self-care needs in the following categories:
- Physical: Are they getting balanced meals, exercise, feeling strong and healthy, getting sleep?
- Mental: Are they able to function at work, make decisions, think clearly, and complete long-term projects?
- Emotional: Do they feel valued, respected, fulfilled? Do they have people to talk to about challenges?
Depending on their answers to these questions, someone can focus on the self-care routines that will fill in the gaps for their current mental and physical well-being.
2. Set Obtainable Goals
Self-care can bring balance to many issues, but it doesn’t work overnight. It’s also not a replacement for prescriptions from a doctor. When someone is starting a new self-care routine, they need to be realistic about what they want to achieve with self-care and how much time they can realistically commit to self-care.
For example, a relaxing bedtime routine may be an ideal solution for someone struggling to get enough sleep. But it may be unrealistic for them to spend an hour every single night taking a bath, writing in a journal, practicing meditation, and listening to relaxing music. Instead, they may need to break up these activities into smaller chunks of time throughout the week.
It’s important to set reasonable goals and a realistic timeline for a self-care journey. It usually takes about a month of repeated effort before something becomes a habit. A self-care beginner should try their new self-care routine for several weeks before reevaluating and making adjustments. It helps to review the assessment questions above to see if there have been any changes or improvements.
3. Create a Self-Care Toolkit
Any self-care guide for beginners will include a list of self-care activities to try. These are considered self-care toolkits because they are things someone can pick and choose to support their overall well-being. The tools are generally the same, but people will use different options for various situations, depending on their self-care needs.
Self-care means valuing oneself enough to carve out time for the things they need most:
- Physical needs, like exercise and healthy meals
- Intellectual stimulation, like learning a new skill
- Emotional connection, like talking to friends
- Relaxation needs, like soaking in a hot bath
If none of those activities sound appealing, don’t worry! There are many paths for a beginner to start practicing self-care. Don’t get caught up in the details because self-care habits look a little different for everyone.
Keep reading to discover more detailed suggestions for a self-care toolkit.
4. Overcome Challenges and Setbacks
Any time someone begins a new habit, they are bound to encounter difficulties. They may forget to set aside time for the self-care activities they want to enjoy. Or someone may try a few self-care routines and feel awkward, like they aren’t a good fit.
These challenges are common, especially for self-care beginners. The most important thing is persistence. No one should give up on their own self-care! If one type of activity isn’t working, switch to a different option from the self-care toolkit. If fitting self-care into a daily routine is difficult, someone can try scheduling it into a calendar or setting reminders on the phone.
It’s worthwhile to make self-care a priority and keep those self-care “appointments” in the schedule.
5. Celebrate Progress and Self-Reflection
Since self-care routines impact physical and mental health in tiny ways throughout the day, someone may not see a dramatic change immediately after beginning to practice self-care. Remember, change is gradual. So it’s important to celebrate baby steps and small improvements along the way.
An essential tip for starting self-care is to take time to reflect on progress. Someone who reviews the assessment questions every few weeks will start to notice improved answers. When self-care becomes an automatic part of their routine, that’s a sign of success. If a self-care activity becomes the highlight of the day, that means it’s working!
To maximize self-care benefits, celebrate progress with small rewards or monthly treats. Celebration can be self-care too.
How to Create a Self-Care Toolkit
Ultimately, self-care comes down to the individual activities and routines someone chooses to prioritize for their own well-being. The activities may look different for each person, but the self-care message is always the same:
“I’m doing this because I value myself, and I’m worth it.”
For example, one person may enjoy taking walks in the woods, while someone else prefers reading a book, but both are making time for activities they enjoy.
Self-care for beginners means picking and choosing activities from the following lists to see which ones best fulfill their unmet needs. As needs change, it’s natural to try different self-care activities from the toolkit.
Self-care activities to nurture physical well-being:
- Go for a walk (preferably in nature)
- Drink water
- Do stretching exercises
- Take deep breaths
- Close your eyes, give them a break
- Eat a healthy meal
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Soak up sunlight
- Take a bath or shower
- Exercise for 10-20 minutes
- Buy new clothes or makeup
- Use a cleansing face mask
- Bake something yummy
- Get a massage
- Take a 20-minute power nap
- Get a manicure or pedicure
- Dance to music
Self-care activities to cultivate mental and emotional well-being:
- Listen to music
- Write in a gratitude journal
- Call or text someone
- Practice meditation
- Write down positive affirmations
- Spend time with a friend
- Light a candle
- Drink a cup of tea
- Pet a dog or cat
- Water plants or flowers
- Color or paint in a de-stressing coloring book
- Read a self-help book
- Snuggle with a weighted blanket
- Listen to inspiring podcasts
- De-clutter your space
- Put together a puzzle
- Try a creative hobby
- Read mental health blogs
- Smell flowers or essential oils
- Do an act of kindness for someone
- Plan a social event
- Hug someone
- Create and enforce boundaries
- Talk to a coach or therapist
Anyone beginning their self-care journey can choose several fun ideas from the self-care toolkit here. They should select the activities that best meet their personal needs based on the assessment questions. After trying at least one a day for a week, they can repeat the activities that were most helpful to them.
Self-care for beginners doesn’t have to be intimidating! With the tips from this self-care guide, anyone can take steps toward self-care and improving their physical and mental well-being.