Effective self-care activities that actually work
In today’s busy, busy lifestyle where it is applauded to be ‘rushed off our feet’, it can be difficult to take some meaningful, recuperative time out for ourselves.
Those who maybe do very little with their time are often looked down on or judged negatively but when it comes to mental health, they are the ones who are much more likely to have a calmer and more content mindset.
Though with a new wave of ‘self-care activities’ becoming a great way to make it through our ever increasing work timetables, family responsibilities and personal calendars, it’s important to filter which of these are self-care and which should just be a necessity of being human.
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What people think self-care is about
Picture the scene, you’re up early to get some quick jobs round the house done before the kids need dropping off at school.
You make sure they’re fed, dressed and presentable. That they have all their homework, their packed lunch that you made fresh that morning and their coats, PE kits, gym shoes etc.
Usher them all out the door and get in the car only to realise that you skipped breakfast this morning.
And you skip breakfast most mornings, or if you’re lucky you managed to throw a slice of toast down your throat before moving on to the next task.
For me, self-care isn’t about making sure you’ve eaten that morning. Yes, it is an activity that means that you’re taking care of yourself BUT eating in a morning should not be something that we may need to remind ourselves to do.
We should already have got that one down.
The same goes for the hours of sleep we get in a night, the medications we may need to take and whether our bodies are clean and hygienic.
What self-care is really about
The way I see it, self-care activities are there to help balance out a potentially decreasing state of mental health caused by this rush of day to day activities that are just labelled as ‘life’.
If your mental health is in decline to the point where the necessary activities have become difficult to do, it is important to try and make time for some of these self-care ideas as well.
The main purpose of these self-care ideas is to raise your mood, ultimately improving mental health and well-being.
Because poor mental health can begin to have a knock on effect with our physical health too.
So here are some great self-care activities for you to get started on a balanced path to success, however large the goals.
1. Cook a meal from scratch and then take your time at the table
The French do this one well! When we have such a busy schedule, it can be difficult to remember not only to eat nutritious food but to enjoy it as well.
Preparing a meal from fresh ingredients is not only going to be great for your physical health, but being mentally present in the preparation of the meal can count towards your daily dose of mindfulness.
And if you’re cooking for others rather than just yourself, their reactions to the wonderful food can make you feel accomplished and appreciated at the same time!
2. Use the toiletries and bath products that you’ve stashed away for a special occasion
Sadly, most bath products have a use by date, so that gorgeous smelling shower gel and lotion set you’re keeping to one side for a special occasion will probably never be used.
When an occasion does come around you talk yourself out of it because it would be a shame to use it up.
Or maybe you forgot you had them because they’re gathering dust at the back of a bathroom cabinet somewhere, so you went and bought some new ones.
Is this just me that does this? If not, just use them!! Trust me, you’ll feel awesome when you smell amazing. Maybe it’s just me.
3. The above applied to ANYTHING
The notepad that’s too perfect to write in, expensive shoes that you just had to have but you’re scared to scuff, the candle that’s too lovely to use up, the bottle of whiskey that was expensive but oh so good, the ‘for best’ crockery and table linens, the gadgets and gizmo’s that you’ll put to use…one day. Use them.
4. Spend some money on yourself
For some reason, we’ve been trained to feel guilty if we spend money on ourselves for purely pleasurable purposes. Especially if our financial situation is poorer than we’d hoped.
I’m giving you permission to spend some money on yourself.
If it’s within your means, get it! A new nail polish, video game, fresh flowers or a book isn’t going to financially cripple you.
Though it may mean paying attention to your budget plan for the rest of the month, the positive effects from having a new thing to play with make up for it.
5. Put aside an afternoon to consume your favourite media
Heck, make it a weekend!
Pack the kids up and send them to Grandma’s for the weekend.
In this alone time, or crucial bonding time with you other half, you’re going to do NO chores other than cooking and maybe washing up if you wash and he dries and you actually don’t mind doing it then!
This time is going to be spent at the TV, or the theatre, or a gig. Consume the media that you love.
Be it video games, a film marathon with a certain actor in them, get round to listening to a new album.
Set aside hours to consume them. Please. They’re there to be enjoyed.
6. Get something done by a professional
Now the purpose of these self-care activities is to lift your mood, and if the results of cleaning and perfecting and polishing give you satisfaction but the actual work part drains you, let a professional take care of it for once.
Even if it’s as small as getting a window cleaner to come out!
Go to a hairdresser to get your hair dyed instead of using a box at home, order in or go to a restaurant to appreciate good food that you didn’t have to cook – you don’t even have to do the dishes after!
Sitting back and having a task taken care of by someone who knows what they’re doing is going to give you a break but it also may help those around you appreciate the work you do on the daily!
7. Make something
Whether you can knit a sweater, build a computer or bake some banana bread.
The process of creating something from smaller parts and using your own hands to do it can be very therapeutic.
Having a hobby like this that you keep up with regularly is fantastic for relaxation, productivity and can even increase brain function later on in life making it that bit more difficult for things like dementia to set in.
You gain a huge sense of accomplishment when you’ve finished making and get to show it off to others.
It’s so important to feel proud of yourself for your achievements no matter how small! Maybe all you made this week was your bed. It’s all about taking baby steps.
8. Exercise; but don’t EXERCISE
What I’m trying to say here is – move.
Go on a bike ride, take the kids swimming, attend a dance class; but don’t do it for the exercise. Do it because it’s fun!
It’s very easy to stop enjoying movement in the same way that we stop enjoying food if the only end goal is to be physically healthy.
I could follow all the right diet tips, do the right exercises, be fit and lean and energetic but still be miserable.
Because my life has all been geared towards the goal of reaching a certain weight.
When exercise is being used as a self-care activity in my house, we choose sports and games which are fun. The exercise we do because of that sport is an extra, not the aim.
9. Look in the mirror – naked
Bear with me on this one.
A huge reason why many people’s mental health declines is down to negative feelings about their worth.
Especially when that’s tied into our appearance, which it is so often in today’s media.
I can’t seem to watch anything on TV lately without being confronted by ‘perfect bodies’.
We need a reality check – a recent Body Shop campaign hammered it home for me.
‘There are 3 billion women who don’t look like supermodels and only 8 who do.’
So we’re striving for something we can’t achieve. And it’s not just women, men are trying their hardest too.
Guys, this is massively sapping away at our happiness and mental health!
Stand in front of that mirror nude. Whether you can only manage a bare face or can go the full Monty (literally!) – do it, drink it in and know, you are so much more than this body. Let it become familiar, a friend – not an obstacle.
10. Fix small breakages and disruptions in your environment
Make a list of all those small things around you that are niggling you. I’ll give you some examples.
Off the top of my head I can think of so many small tasks that need doing in my home.
- The outdoor light bulb needs changing
- Bathroom door needs painting
- I have some clothes to mend
- I need to hang some pictures above my mantle.
- And much more
So many of these small jobs get forgotten or pushed aside and when you encounter the baggage that they bring with them (a broken light, a messy door, unwearable clothes, pictures cluttering the living room) they dampen your mood.
It may be something bigger, like you need to phone the bank or an energy provider.
There’s an email from a friend that you should’ve replied to by now.
These things might not initially strike you as self-care activities as it might mean work that is draining to get it done, but hard work being focused into the right areas can in fact make us feel better in the long run!
The ways it helps us get in touch with communities and companies that provide so much goodness in our lives can often be dampened by the not so nice things.
Family members arguing on Facebook, nasty comments on YouTube or an account you follow on Instagram for the gorgeous pictures but it just makes you jealous and dissatisfied with what you have.
When it comes to improving mental health we need to be really strict and cultivate an environment that encourages and supports us, not the opposite!
For example, following weight loss accounts when you’re on your own weight loss journey can actually hinder your progress because you’ll constantly be comparing yourself to another!
It can lead to bad mental habits in regards to how you see your body and can seriously damage your self confidence.
Your weight loss journey should be building those things up stronger! So be really scrutinising with who you follow, even if it means staying friends with but hitting ‘unfollow’ on a brother or sister’s facebook.
12. Read something
This links in with the above tactic.
To consume media such as films and TV shows is one thing but there’s still that chance that you’ll be comparing, wishing or accumulating a sense of jealousy.
So avoid those types of activities if you’re feeling particularly vulnerable and read something, preferably fiction or even better an inspiring non-fiction. (My current favourite is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert)
To make the most of this time sit in a comfortable chair, inside or out, wherever is quiet, with a refreshing drink and snack; because if the book is good enough you’re going to forget to eat.
There are just so many benefits to regular reading that I think it should be compulsory but sometimes finding the time to sit down and read can be difficult.
I used to get my reading time in during my commutes to work, I traveled by public transport and as soon as I was sat down I’d start reading and then again coming home. I got through a book a week doing this and felt so switched on and present from doing it that I’ve tried to keep it part of my daily routine.
What do we do?
‘I’d start my day with a bath using a bath bomb from Lush to get relaxed and then moisturise from head to toe.
I’d play new video games and collect trophies on the PlayStation.
I enjoy reading books and blogs about company culture and expanding my mind and expertise.
Intimate activities such as sex or talking about future goals with my partner makes me feel secure and at ease which lowers my stress levels massively when working.
If the weather is warm I also like to play football with friends and family members. That would be my idea of nourishing self-care activities.’
‘Waking up to the natural sunlight early in the morning and then staying there a little longer.
A warm and indulgent breakfast such as croissants and freshly squeezed orange juice followed by a bout of reading.
Buying a new lipstick online and not even thinking about my bank account or the opposite, saving money and feeling in control of finances.
Taking extra care when cleaning my home in the rooms where I sleep and rest so they’re comfortable. A shameless Harry Potter film marathon with take-out pizza and cuddles from my boyfriend. Perfect!’
The above list of 12 self-care ideas is just the start of what could be a tailored plan to upping your mental health and happiness.
And take note, that whilst self-care activities such as sufficient sleep, a nutritious diet and plenty fluids are considered as mandatory here, there are ways to amp up their self-care values.
If you’ve had a full nights sleep down to the minute but you still feel drained the next afternoon, you are allowed to nap. In fact, I urge that you do!
If you’ve eaten healthily and mindfully for the entire week, you can let go and have a take out or restaurant meal to increase the self-care value of this activity.
If you’ve drank ALL THE WATER this week and you’re feeling refreshed and energetic but you need a change, turn that water into wine tonight.
After all, you’ve deserved it. Take care of yourself.