When you hear the term “self-care,” what comes to mind? For many people, the term is associated with skincare routines, the “treat yourself” mentality, and other more indulgent practices. In my psychotherapy practice, I had one client who told me that a friend recommended baths as a relaxing and restorative activity. “But, I hate baths!” she told me, “They are so boring.”
If you’re not someone who loves face masks and pedicures, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that self-care just isn’t for you.
But if spa days aren’t your thing, it doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on all of the physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual benefits that come with taking care of yourself. Self-care isn’t one-size-fits-all. Instead, there are many ways in which you can practice self-care—it’s more about determining what types of self-care practices benefit you the most than it is about embracing popular or trendy forms of self-care.
While some people perceive self-care to be a passive, relaxing experience, on the contrary, a great deal of thought and preparation goes into creating an effective self-care routine. Here are five questions you can ask yourself to help you determine what kind of practices are best for you so that you can personalize your self-care routine. (Notice that none of these have anything to do with “treat yourself” or bubble baths!)
01. In what area of my life am I doing a good job of practicing self-care?
Any time you are thinking of making a change in your life, it’s helpful to take a look at what has worked well for you in the past. This can often point you toward habits, activities, and practices that have the greatest chance of being beneficial.
Let’s say you are currently doing a great job of going to bed on time and getting quality sleep (which is really awesome, by the way!). Ask yourself what habits and strategies helped you to be successful at establishing a healthy sleep routine. Was it setting a timer to remind you to go to bed? Was it creating a restful and peaceful environment so that you looked forward to going to bed? Or perhaps you read up on the science behind restful sleep in order to better educate yourself. Whatever your strategy was, consider applying that approach to another area of self-care that you want to improve upon.
Have you been feeling disconnected lately and want to make sure you are spending more quality time with family and friends? If setting a timer to remind you to sleep was helpful, why not set a timer to remind you to schedule a check-in with a friend? If creating a peaceful environment helped you sleep better, why not try to create an environment that helps you spend quality time with family and friends (e.g., have your fridge and pantry stocked with easy snacks so you can invite friends over on the spur-of-the-moment).
02. In what areas am I struggling with self-care?
After you’ve identified what you are doing well and the general strategies that helped you be successful, it’s time to examine other areas of your life to see where you need more support. Some areas you might need to focus on include relationships, your spiritual life, your emotional and mental health (stress, worry, anxiety, depression, trauma, etc.), and your physical health (nutrition, exercise, positive body image, sleep, and so on). While you might find that there is more than one area that you could focus on, start by picking just one.
Next, identify one small and simple strategy that could help you take better care of yourself in this area. The idea is to pick a strategy that directly addresses what it is that you want to work on. A general self-care strategy won’t be as effective, and so you’ll want to pick a more personalized and targeted one. For example, let’s say you want to take better care of your body by cultivating a more positive body image. One way you could directly address this area is to cleanse your social media of any accounts that promote an unhealthy body image, and then follow accounts that cultivate and encourage body confidence and positivity. The key, though, is picking the area that you want to improve in and not an area that you feel like you should improve in because others have chosen to focus on it.
If you are having trouble coming up with strategies, don’t worry. Keep reading for additional questions to ask yourself.
03. What types of activities do you generally find restorative?
Different people find different activities restorative. If you are a more active person, you are likely to find activities where you are physically doing something more restorative than more passive activities. In contrast, if you are someone who finds more passive activities restorative, you may find that more active self-care strategies don’t carry the same restorative power. Use this knowledge about yourself to help you tailor the self-care activities you use so that you increase the likelihood of experiencing the benefits of self-care.
If you’re like the woman who hates bubble baths, instead try something more active such as going for a walk or run around the neighborhood. On the other hand, if the thought of going for a walk or run sounds draining instead of restorative, a more relaxing form of self-care such as journaling, reading, or painting (or any form of art) will likely be more beneficial.
04. Do you need to frequently connect with others throughout the day to feel restored?
Knowing whether you are an introvert or extrovert is also essential to implementing a successful self-care routine. If you are an extrovert (you gain energy from spending time with people and feel more drained when alone), you will want to make sure you choose self-care activities that involve spending time with others (e.g., taking a group exercise class, making plans with friends, joining a book club). If you are an introvert (you gain energy by spending time alone, and spending too much time in groups is draining), you will want to select self-care activities that honor your need to spend time by yourself (e.g., scheduling a certain amount of time each day for yourself to read, journal, listen to music, etc.).
By choosing self-care activities that match your introvert or extrovert needs, you are increasing the likelihood that those strategies will be successful. An extrovert is likely going to quickly feel frustrated going for a solitary walk, while an introvert will likely feel overwhelmed instead of restored going to a group exercise class.
05. What typically helps you hold yourself accountable when you are starting a new habit?
A new self-care strategy will only be beneficial if you are able to build it up as a habit over time. Knowing the best way to hold yourself accountable will help you ensure your self-care strategies will stick around for the long term. One easy way to help you determine your self-care style is to take Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies quiz. Rubin breaks down the different ways we hold ourselves accountable into four styles: The Rebel, The Questioner, The Obliger, and The Upholder. For each tendency, there are more and less effective ways to hold yourself accountable. Ideas for holding yourself accountable include using a journal or planner, having an accountability friend, or setting reminders on your phone.
Whatever your self-care routine looks like, remember it doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. To be the most effective, it should be tailored to you—which in turn helps you better interact with and cater to those around you.