When you want to practice self care, it’s helpful to know some guidelines.
In this article, you will learn 4 self-care guidelines to simplify how to stick to a self-care practice.
Self Care Guidelines
If you find that a self-care practice can sometimes seem confusing, overwhelming or hard to stick to – you are not alone.
In fact, self-care is often overcomplicated – and this is coming from a therapist!
In its most basic sense, self-care is simply any activity (or thought) that makes your energy feel restored – rather than depleted. Anything that fills your cup is self-care may this be a walk, going to lunch with friends, reading, yoga….anything!
Self-Care Guideline #1: Be Honest About Works for You
If you’re on social media long enough, you’re bound to encounter people’s ambitious self-care routines. You know, where they wake up at 5am to journal, meditate, sit in nature, go on a run, etc. all before you’ve hit your snooze button. The natural human impulse when you see these routines is to think, “What’s wrong with me?” or make excuses for why a routine like that isn’t possible for you.
But in reality, the best approach is to step back. It’s great if these people truly can commit to a practice like this if it works for them but you want to consider what works for you.
Considering Your Needs
This is self-care guideline number one: Ask yourself what truly works for you? What are your goals for self-care?
For example, if you don’t have a meditation practice or like to run, pushing yourself to complete these tasks for your self-care may not be the most kind approach. Or if you have to be at work at 7am – you probably don’t want to wake up at 3 for a “perfect” morning routine.
The only self-care you can commit to is those activities that are aligned with both your lifestyle and your goals.
Self-Care Guideline #2: Simplify How You Think of Self-Care
When you’re looking at others’ self-care practices, it can seem like you have to invest a lot of time and/or money to “properly” self-care yet this isn’t true.
Again, self-care is any activity which makes you feel restored rather than depleted. This can be as simple as closing your eyes for 5 minutes after a long work meeting.
The most important self-care you can do is the self-care you can stick with. Therefore, it’s really helpful to consider baby steps towards self-care that take very little time.
To help you consider a simple self-care step, here’s an activity from my book, Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach):
Make Progress in Five Minutes a Day
When people want to start a self-care practice, they often overcommit themselves. Someone who doesn’t currently exercise may suddenly decide they need to commit to going to the gym five days a week. Or a personal may decide they need to practice multiple new habits at once, such as meditating daily while eliminating dairy from their diet. While this ambition is admirable, it is often a recipe for disappointment. To benefit from self-care, it’s important to create a manageable and sustainable self-care plan. This means starting in a way that takes very little time and effort. The best plan is to pick one small thing you want to do for yourself daily and then build a habit around this for a few weeks. Once this feels natural, you can add in another small but loving activity for yourself. Or extend the amount of time you invest in the first activity by a little bit. But for now, start small and simple. This activity will show you how.
Printed monthly calendar or digital checklist with 30 days listed
Think back to a previous a self-care plan or new year’s resolution that you weren’t able to follow through on. Validate why it makes sense you couldn’t maintain this plan. What were the barriers? For example, maybe your gym is too far away to commit to going daily. Have compassion for yourself.
Decide on one small thing you would like to start doing for yourself daily. Please choose an action that only takes five minutes – or less – a day. Also, this small change should be not cost you anything. Here are some examples:
- Go to bed five minutes earlier a night
- Commit to washing your face before bed
- Practice deep breathing at red lights
- Stretch for five minutes before bed
- Spend five minutes being mindful outside in the morning while you drink your coffee
You may need to set limits on yourself if you hear yourself saying this isn’t “enough” self-care to start with. Remember: The simple self-care you can commit to long-term is infinitely more valuable than an elaborate plan that is so time- or labor-intensive that you give up.
Commit to this self-care practice daily. Schedule this time in your phone or planner now to remind yourself of this small activity.
When you complete the activity, check it off on your paper calendar or digital checklist. Cheerlead yourself! You are making tremendous progress in just a few minutes a day!
Self-Care Guideline #3: Update Your Plan as Needed
To begin to self-care, it’s important to find one small activity that takes very little time. It’s wise if this activity is aligned with your lifestyle and values.
And yet, even when you start small, it’s natural to sometimes struggle to commit to this self-care step. When this happens, many people automatically start beating themselves up and feeling defeated. But this is unhelpful and unrealistic.
It’s completely natural to need to update our plans once we have more information!
There is No Failure
When you notice that you haven’t been able to stick to your simple self-care plan, you may feel like you “failed.” Yet you cannot fail here!
In reality, your uncommitted self-care steps are simply information. When you neglect to self-care – even when you start simply – it’s just information that you need to modify your plan! That’s it!
How to Update Your Plan
When you aren’t able to commit to your simple self-care activity, review why not. What are the barriers? How can you plan around this?
For example, lets say you make the commitment to drink more water at work. You even purchase a cute new water bottle. Yet, you typically forget to drink water – even with this bottle sitting on your desk.
Take a moment to consider – Why does it make sense you are forgetting to self-care i.e., use your water bottle at work? For instance, maybe your work is very demanding and self-care’s the last thing on your mind at work. No problem. This is information.
Now with this information, update your plan.
Since you’re so busy at work, it makes more sense to leave a glass of water by your bed at night. Then you can drink this water immediately upon waking up. You may even gamify this by not letting yourself check your phone until you do this.
Now you have committed to for sure having a glass of water every day in a way that fits better into your schedule!
Self-Care Guideline #4: Focus on Progress, Not Perfection
Over time, your self-care will be easier to stick to since you are starting small in a way that completely fits your lifestyle and needs. As you commit to small self-care steps, you may build to this over time to create a “self-care lifestyle.” Yet you can’t self-care perfectly!
Even when you are doing well with self-care, it’s completely natural to sometimes regress. Maybe it’s because your schedule changed i.e., you go back to school or you enter a relationship. Other times, this happens because of an unexpected stress in your life like a breakup. And still other times, this happens because you got sick.
When this happens, the most important thing is to simply get back on track.
Getting Back on Track
When we mess up on our self-care plan, it can be easy to feel defeated. Yet you can simply just get back into the habit without beating yourself up or over-analyzing it.
For example, I’m in the habit of regularly drinking enough water for my body. Yet recently, I was sick. As I was recovering, I noticed I still couldn’t focus and was really irritable. I realized I wasn’t drinking enough water when I was sick.
So for the past week, I’ve started tracking in my planner how many glasses of water I have a day to get back in the habit (my goal is at least 8 glasses a day). Once I have re-established this habit for a couple weeks, I’ll stop tracking because I’ll trust it’s second nature again.
You Can Commit to Self-Care
Hopefully, with these self-care guidelines, you have more clarity on how to stick to a self-care plan that works for you authentically!
Remember, you cannot “fail” at self-care. You simply make a commitment that starts simply (very little time and no cost). Then if you find you aren’t sticking to your self-care, just review and update your plan. Also, please remember, we cannot “perfectly” self-care. We want to be consistent yet flexible. You got this!
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About The Author
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist and author 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 find their voice, deepen their ability to self-love, and improve their relationships.
Her newest book, Setting Boundaries: 100 Ways to Protect Yourself, Strengthen Your Relationships and Build the Life You Want…Starting Now! (Therapy Within Reach), gives you the tools necessary to identify, set, and stay firm with your boundaries.
Her other 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 overcome people pleasing, self-neglect, and resentment to have a healthier relationship with themselves and others.
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 email@example.com or DM her on Instagram. Your name and any other identifying information will always be kept confidential.