You have probably heard it’s essential to self-care yet it isn’t always clear how to actually take care of yourself. If you feel confused about how to commit to a self-care practice please know you are not alone! As a therapist, my clients often work on finding self-care strategies which are effective yet simple enough to stick to.
In this article, I have compiled a list of tips, and strategies, to create your best self-care plan. This is the ultimate beginner’s guide to self-care!
Why is it important to take care of yourself
Before I dive in, I want to highlight why self-care is so important. Of course, if you practice self-care you will immediately feel more emotionally balanced, and refreshed. Furthermore, your body will have more energy so you can be more present and productive than before. Finally, self-care is also incredibly important for relationships. In fact, it’s one of the least selfish things you can do. This is because a self-care practice reduces resentment and thereby conflict in your relationships.
A self-care practice has even greater gifts too especially if you can relate to any of these feelings:
- Do you ever struggle with knowing who you are or feeling like you lost yourself?
- At times, do you feel like you don’t like, or even hate, yourself?
- Do you ever get annoyed when people talk about self-love, or needing to love yourself first before you can love someone else, because you have no idea how to do this?
- Are you scared to speak up, or let others know your needs or wants, because you feel you are just lucky that they put up with you in the first place?
- Do you ever engage in unhealthy activities (binge drinking, unprotected sex, restricting how much you eat, over-exercising, gambling, etc.) that make you feel embarrassed, humiliated or disappointed in yourself?
Self-care can change your life and your relationships
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, this is a sign you may be struggling with codependency. Firstly, please know codependency is very common and it’s not a sign that there’s anything wrong with you. Instead, it simply means that deep down, you may feel like you’re not “enough” sometimes so you may deprioritize yourself.
When a person doesn’t feel “good enough,” they often focus all their attention, energy, time, and resources on other people to gain approval. Unfortunately, this self-neglect creates a negative cycle that reinforces shame and codependency. A person never finds self-worth by neglecting themselves. You can only heal, and cultivate self-love, when you care for yourself actively.
Related: The meaning of codependency and how to find healing
Committing to the practice
Prior to deciding to heal the parts of yourself that don’t feel “good enough,” you may go through periods of starting a self-care practice but you’re not able to commit to it. Learning how to take care of yourself truly is a process of learning how to act as if you fully love yourself day in and day out.
The practice of self-care enables you to learn how to truly love yourself since love is a verb. When you cultivate self-love through self-care, and the boundary setting necessitated to prioritize yourself, you recover from codependency. Learning how to commit to your self-care breaks the cycle of working so hard for others approval and then later feeling exhausted and resentful.
Related: Tips for codependency recovery
Self-Care Tip #1: Start simply
In order to kickstart your best self-care plan, you should start small and simple. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when it comes to starting self-care is being overly ambitious. For example, they may commit to eliminating dairy from their diet, exercising every day, and meditating every evening. This is a wonderful advanced plan for self-care. Once a person has created a lot of spaciousness in their schedule for their self-care while also being self-compassionate, this is a realistic plan. None of us can start here though and that’s ok.
When beginning this practice, start small and build from there. Remember, every little bit counts. Your self-care practice can start with a habit that takes as little as a minute (face washing or breathing deeply). The best plan is to pick one small thing you want to do for yourself daily and build a habit around this for a few weeks. Once this feels more natural then add in another small but loving activity for yourself. You may follow this the same method to commit to other activities over time. These should still be simple activities; not time consuming or expensive ones so that your plan is sustainable.
Pick one small thing that you would like to do every day; maybe it’s something in the morning or night, and start to do this. For example, maybe you decide that every night, you will wash off your makeup before bed. Start here. Once you feel successful with your small self-care step, they you can add to it over time. For example, once you regularly wash your face then maybe you can journal before bed.
Self-Care Tip #2: Start with your basic needs
Your basic physical needs are the best place to begin for a self-care practice. Human basic physical needs are for nutrition, hydration, movement, sleep and rest. Your physical body and how energized it feels is the foundation for your emotional stability and entire life. Your mood is negatively impacted by hunger, tiredness, and even slight dehydration. Being tired also negatively impacts your relationships as you probably have noticed. Who isn’t snappier with others when they are tired? And research shows poor sleep leads us to be less appreciative of our partners.
For this tip, I highly encourage you to care for your basic physical needs. Primarily the one for sleep as many Americans are commonly sleep deprived. The average adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep. Each body is different so please give yourself time to identify, and accept, your needed amount of sleep. If you are already sleeping enough, please pick another basic need to care for such as hydration.
Pick one small change you would like to make in regards to your sleep, nutrition, or hydration. Begin to implement this over time. If you want to sleep more, try going to bed 15 minutes earlier to adjust to a new schedule. Or if you want to drink more water, try drinking a glass of water when you wake up.
Self-Care Tip #3: Schedule time for yourself
You may in the practice of putting yourself on the bottom of your to-do list. To break this, plan your self-care and put it in your schedule. Treat this time as if it’s an appointment with another person you can’t break. This is an essential step as a self-care practice is actually a self-care routine. You want to schedule the self-care activities which fill your cup daily. But remember, these don’t have to be time consuming. You can start as small and simply as taking a break to walk to the mailbox every day.
Schedule your self-care in your planner, or the calendar on your phone. It may feel odd at first but this is a step that people often want to overlook, because it seems so simple, but then, they notice it’s not happening as regularly as they’d like. You want to actually write it down until it becomes a habit.
Self-Care Tip #4: Do what works
When you are developing a self-care practice, some of the activities you do will really work for you and your schedule while others will not. That’s ok. You are in the process of experimenting to find your personal, and authentic, best self-care plan. To identify what works for your self-care and what’s truly restorative for you, track your activities and note if you are finding them easy to complete. If not, identify the barriers to this so you may plan around these or adjust your plan.
Begin to track what’s working, and what’s not working about your new self-care plan. Notice any barriers to completing your self-care plan such as mornings being too busy to do yoga as you have to get your kids ready. Adjust your plan from there. You may notice doing yoga every day is too ambitious for now but you can commit to stretching at night before bed. Or you may notice yoga is still important to you so you go to a yoga class while your kids are in school.
Self-Care Tip #5: Be consistent yet flexible
Some days you won’t sleep well, or unexpected events will interrupt your self-care routine. That’s going to happen with even the best self-care schedule in place. It’s important to give yourself grace and be understanding when this arises. At the same time, your self-care practice is a routine which must be consistent. Try your best to show yourself love and attention daily. Yet be flexible. On days you have too much going on or are too tired, try to still do something kind for yourself even if it’s just going to bed early!
Related: What is self-compassion?
Some days you may be overwhelmed, or even upset with yourself, and want to avoid self-care. This is the time that you have to fight your urge to do nothing, and still do something small for yourself. For example, perhaps you have the commitment to meditate every day but you don’t have time for this. Instead, you can still be mindful and take four deep breaths before bed.
Self-Care Tip #6: Allow yourself to have authentic fun
Sometimes, when it comes to self-care, it’s common to feel pressure to do things “right.” You may feel like taking a walk, which you love doing, isn’t glamorous enough so you push yourself to do cross fit. Yet, the only self-care plan you can truly commit to is the plan that you authentically enjoy. If you are doing something “nice” for yourself just to post a pretty picture to Instagram in the hopes of likes, then it’s not true self-care. When you do something “for yourself” that’s actually for approval, validation or to impress someone else that’s not true self-care. Self-care is something that you find relaxing, and/or fun, regardless of what other people may think.
You may not be as new to self-care as it seems. There are probably already things you do for yourself that are caring, and enjoyable, just maybe it hasn’t been very consistent lately. Think about a passion of yours that you either infrequently do, or stopped doing, or an activity you want to try that seems relaxing or fun and schedule in a time in the next month to do this. For example, maybe you love painting but have stopped since you started dating your current boyfriend. Make a plan to either take out, or buy, some paint supplies and block a couple hours for this.
Consider an activity you authentically love doing even if it’s been awhile. It could be dancing or crafting, for example. Once a week (or month), block off some time to nurture your authentic joys as this is what fills your cup up the most!
Just try your best
Congratulations – by reading this article you have already started to self-care! From here, you should be ready to implement these beginner’s tip to create your best self-care plan and routine. Some days, it will be easy for you to self-care while others it will more work showing up for yourself. This is where the real change lies though to truly learn how to recover from codependency and/or shame. When you commit to yourself, even in small ways, daily you lay the foundation for true self-love.
About The Author
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
Her third book, Therapy Within Reach: Setting Boundaries, will be released September, 2023.
If you have any personal dating or relationship questions, Krystal is happy to provide advice using her expertise and compassion. If you feel comfortable, feel free to leave any questions in the comments of this post. Otherwise, you may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or DM her on Instagram. Your name and any other identifying information will always be kept confidential.
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