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Building a Self-Care Routine that Works for You

And no, it doesn't have to be bubble baths (unless you want it to be!)

a cup of tea and a heart shaped pastry

Self care is a word that gets a lot of attention today. Most people hear the words “self care” and picture bubble baths and chocolate and face masks and fluffy slippers. And can all those things be self care? Sure. But self care as a concept is so much deeper than that.

Self care, at its core, is making sure your needs are met. It’s making sure you have enough of everything you need to survive, starting with the physical basics like food, water, rest, and growing into the equally real emotional needs of community, fulfillment, and joy. 

Eating a good meal is self care. Getting a full night of sleep is self care. Taking a shower is self care. Taking time to do things that make you happy is self care. Getting up to move your body when you’ve been sitting all day is self care. Talking to a friend about everything and nothing is self care. Indulging in a little treat to lift your mood is self care. And yes, taking a bath with a book and a glass of wine can be self care.

Self care is the daily maintenance that keeps your body, mind, and spirit happy and healthy. It's not a reward for doing work, or a band-aid you slap on when you’re burned out. Self care is what makes good work possible.

Self Care Basics

Let’s start with the nitty gritty, everyday needs kind of self care. I don’t know about you, but my personal cocktail of mental illnesses and neurodivergence makes it very easy to slack on my basic needs when things get chaotic. Stress makes me lose my appetite. When I’m overwhelmed, simple tasks like doing the dishes or taking a shower can become huge obstacles. 

a cup of coffee, a pastry, and a peach on a plate

When I’m in a moment of struggle and basic self care is escaping me, I find it helpful to imagine I’m taking care of a small child. (You can imagine a niece or nephew, or even a pet, if thinking about parenting freaks you out!) But if I was taking care of a small child, what would their basic needs be that I would need to help them with? I’d make sure they had yummy and healthy food to eat, that they were drinking water, that they were clean, and that they stuck to their nap or sleep schedule so they were happy and rested. 

Now, apply all those same things to yourself. Brushing your teeth or stopping to get sparkling water out of the fridge might not solve all your problems, but I guarantee it’ll be easier to do whatever needs doing when you’re hydrated and fed and rested and your teeth don’t taste like onions.

Take a moment and think about a handful of ways that you can accomplish self care in these basic categories: food and drink, hygiene, and rest. Coming up with ways to accomplish these basic tasks might feel easy now, but having to make decisions about them when you’re already overwhelmed just makes getting them done that much harder. Take a minute and do it now, and keep this list on hand so you can reference it when you're feeling drained and decision-fatigued.

Get creative, and make sure these are things that will work for YOU. The whole point of this guide is to help you live your life, not someone else’s. If you know taking a nap isn’t a feasible self care task to put in your rest category (you don’t fall asleep easily, your house is usually too noisy during the day, etc...), then don’t put it in your rest category! Can you find a place to sit and do some gentle stretching? Can you close your eyes and roll your neck and shoulders for a few minutes? Can you lay down and listen to some music? Get creative. Pick some activities for each category that sound fun, achievable, and comfortable for you.

Beyond the Basics

The basic self care practices are vitally important, but they’re also just the base layer. It’s hard to focus on your emotional or spiritual health when your body is out of whack, but once your basic physical needs are met, you have the space to look at more things that can soothe you, support you, and make you feel like yourself.

a traveler in an adult jungle gym

Self care beyond the basics we outlined earlier is anything that makes you feel valued and good about yourself. 

Really? Anything? Yeah, I said what I said.

Let's think about that small child again. If you were watching a small child (or a rambunctious pet!) what kinds of things would you do with them? You’d probably spend a lot of your day having fun and playing with games or toys. Maybe you’d sit in a comfy chair with a stack of picture books. Maybe you’d watch that kiddo’s favorite movie. 

Doing things that love, things that make you happy, is self care. Carving out this time is a way of telling yourself that the things you want really do matter! 

I can’t really give you a checklist or categories for this one, because what you love to do is so unique to you! For some people, self care might look like resting with a cup of tea and a book. For someone else, it might be playing a favorite video game. For another, it could be going for a run! Yet another person might see working on craft projects to be the ultimate act of self care. And yes, for someone, self care might involve taking a luxurious bubble bath.

When you’re thinking about what kinds of activities make up self care for you, be sure to think about the kinds of things that may not be “fun” to do, but still make you feel good about yourself. Things like cleaning the kitchen, which isn’t necessarily enjoyable, but you feel really proud of yourself afterward. Returning once more to that imaginary day with that small child, I bet there would be some moments of stopping the playtime to clean up the toys you’re no longer using. Picking up the toys might not be the most fun part of the day, but a clean living room floor means we now have room to play with whatever comes next!

a person sitting in an oversized rocking chair

Take a moment here and start building your personal self care inventory. Make lists of anything and everything you like to do. Anything that brings you joy. Think big and think broadly! What fun activities can you do on days when you have a lot of energy? How about on days when you’re tired or overwhelmed? Are there some things on this list that you can do even in public or when you’re not at home? Make a list of anything that make you feel happy, safe, comfortably, and valuable. Save this list to reference when you need ideas on how to care for yourself.

Making Self Care a Routine

So how do we turn this into a routine? We build it into our daily schedules.

When I was just starting out with a self care routine, I decided to look at three areas: my early morning, my lunch break, and my after-dinner hours. If thinking about your whole day sounds overwhelming, just pick one area for now.

How can you build your basic self care tasks into your daily habits? Small changes a little at a time.

Prioritize a nice breakfast before you start your work for the day. Build rest into your lunch break by making sure you eat somewhere other than your desk. Carve out time after dinner to do one of the items on your things-that-make-me-happy list. Make a warm shower with a nice body scrub part of your bedtime routine.

Don’t Forget to Add a Closing Statement

Whatever this looks like for you, wherever you can best fit these self care tasks into your day, you have permission to be a little feral about it. Guard your self care time. Treat it like a meeting with yourself and don’t reschedule. Self care as a daily practice will only revitalize you and make the rest of your day and week that much more comfortable, happy, and effective.

You do you babe!!

Want hear more about my absolute favorite act of self care? Subscribe to the blog today and you'll receive a free Boundaries Worksheet: a hands-on guide to setting and enforcing good boundaries to improve your mental health.

Love and Shenanigans,


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