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When you hear the term “self-care,” what comes to mind? My guess is spa days, beach vacations, and the “treat yourself” mantra. Why? Because that’s the message many articles about self-care preach. These articles recommend practices such as revamping your skincare routine or making an appointment for a massage or manicure. Just the other day, I was flipping through a women’s magazine and the article on self-care was all about skincare. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with a good skincare routine, I’m here to tell you that self-care goes so much deeper than your skincare routine. In fact, it’s far from the often selfish, “treat yourself” message out there. Authentic self-care is more often something that requires discipline rather than self-indulgence, which means that you may have been looking in all the wrong places for the version of self-care that will actually make a lasting difference. Keep reading for some surprising sources of self-care.


Yes, you read that right. Although it might seem pretty basic, sleep is actually a form of self-care and definitely falls in the self-care-is-a-discipline-category. Did you know that you should be getting about seven to eight hours of sleep a night so that your body can maintain its health and promote healthy brain functioning? Plus, being tired during the day because of a lack of sleep can have negative effects ranging from trouble concentrating to irritability. But it’s a challenge to resist the temptation to watch just one more episode of your current Netflix obsession or read just one more chapter of your new book. After a busy day, you simply want to unwind and relax, but that can easily turn into staying up too late and getting less than seven hours of sleep. While it can be tempting to ignore your body’s need for sleep, giving your body a chance to rest and recharge is an important part of self-care as a discipline. Try to create healthy sleep habits and address any sleep issues like insomnia to make it easier for you to easily get a good night’s rest.

Fostering meaningful relationships

While fostering healthy relationships isn’t as flashy as a skincare routine that promises to give you the most flawless skin of your life, it definitely makes a bigger difference. For example, healthy friendships have been shown to provide a buffer against stress and other benefits, such as experiencing fewer health problems and living longer. You’ve probably experienced a strong sense of well-being after calling a friend to talk through a stressful day; that’s the power of intentionally fostering healthy relationships in your life. What makes a relationship a healthy one? Common qualities of healthy relationships include:

  • Listening to one another
  • Open and judgment-free communication
  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Making time for one another
  • Engaging in healthy activities with one another

Surprisingly, sometimes when you feel drained, choosing to give to someone you love, by listening to them, making a meal with them, or some other act of service can be the most replenishing thing you can do. This is because you’re pulled out of yourself and often the thing that is stressing or draining you.

Making time for leisure

Our society tends to put a strong emphasis on being productive and efficient, sending the message the work is more important than leisure. However, making time to engage in those activities that you love is just as important (if not more) as being your best at work. Engaging in leisure activities, especially active ones, has been shown to reduce the effects of stress that go beyond the time spent engaging in that leisure activity. Leisure activities such as running, reading, painting, spending time in nature, chatting with friends, and journaling (plus, many more!) provide you the space to cultivate creativity in your life. The beauty of leisure is that it isn’t one-size-fits-all. It’s more about identifying the activities that bring you a sense of creativity, peace, and rejuvenation, and that differs from person to person. For example, training for a marathon is not my idea of leisure, but I know several people who consider it a stress-reliever and form of leisure. So make time in your day for your favorite leisure activity, even if it’s just for fifteen minutes.

Saying, “no”

Real self-care is all about creating healthy boundaries so that you can make sure you are taking care of yourself instead of getting to that dangerous stage of burnout. And a big part of setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is learning to say, “No”. Often, you become overwhelmed and stressed when you feel like you are being stretched too thin and overbooked with commitments. For example, if you don’t realistically have the time to be your child’s classroom mom, don’t be afraid to say “no.” Practice politely declining the invitations, requests, and activities that don’t align with your priorities in life. It may be difficult in the beginning, but soon you’ll find that when you say “no” to one thing, it allows you to say “yes” to something more important in your life. And that’s real self-care.

Making time to reflect

How do you know how you are doing with your self-care practices if you don’t make time to reflect on where you are in life? Making time to process the week before and plan for the week ahead is an important part of self-care. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to buy a complicated planner or that you need to schedule every minute of every day. Instead, it might look like taking a few minutes to gauge how you’ve been doing with regards to self-care in various areas of your life—physical, emotional, spiritual, relationships—and identifying ways you can be better about self-care.

These self-care practices will help you to make a real, authentic, and lasting difference in your life without having to invest in a whole line of brand-new skincare products. They will help you minimize the effects of stress and will foster personal growth, so that you feel like you are thriving rather than just surviving.