None of us typically feel bad about trying to eat our five-a-day or taking regular exercise. But when it comes to taking time to do nice things just for ourselves – also known as self-care - there’s often a tendency to say we don’t have the time or that we feel selfish or guilty.
That’s despite the fact that it's been proved that self-care is vital for both our physical and mental health, often being linked to improved self-esteem, lower rates of depression and anxiety as well as overall less stress and better wellbeing.
Suzy Reading, a chartered psychologist specialising in self-care and author of The Self-Care Revolution says: “A lot of people see self-care as self-indulgent pampering we don’t have time for but really it’s taking care of yourself and it’s a responsibility we all have.”
“A lot of people see self-care as self-indulgent pampering we don’t have time for but really it’s taking care of yourself and it’s a responsibility we all have.”
Suzy says it’s good to think about self-care like the announcement about the oxygen mask made at the start of a flight – you have to put your own mask on before you help anyone else just in the same way that only by looking after yourself can you look out for others around you.
“Self-care is about acknowledging that there are inevitable stresses in life and that if we don’t take care of ourselves we can end up flat on our backs. Self-care is about being smart and making wise, healthy choices that offer us a defence against the effects of stress,” Suzy says.
What is wellbeing?
Wellbeing is a very broad term that in a nutshell is all about having a good quality of life and feeling good in ourselves. We can maintain our wellbeing by ensuring we live a healthy life, with things like a healthy diet, regular exercise and doing the things we love on a regular basis.
Every individuals approach to wellbeing is different and what makes one person feel good could be entirely different to what makes another person feel good, which is why we've compiled a huge list of ideas to support your wellbeing to help you get started.
How to make a self-care routine
Because it can be so easy to forget about looking after ourselves, making a self-care routine can help us remember.
Start by having a think about good times in each day when you could check in with yourself to see how you’re really feeling. This could be as soon as you wake up, at lunchtime or just after dinner, for example.
It just needs to be a regular time each day and you could even set a phone alarm to remind you. When this time comes around, find a moment of quiet and ask yourself how you’re feeling, if you’re tired or full of energy, lonely or worried, hungry or thirsty etc… This might feel odd at first but you’ll get used to it.
Once you’ve got used to this awareness of how you feel, you’ll be better able to notice when your body is screaming out for some self-care. And that’s where our handy little list of self-care ideas below could come in useful.
Print this list off or write out some of your favourites and stick this to your fridge or somewhere you look every day. Then whenever you do your daily check-in and notice you need a little lift, you can consult the list on your fridge and do at least one of them.
Little and often really is where self-care wins the day and can make the biggest difference to you so see how many of these you can start to bring into your life, little by little.
40 steps to wellbeing you can try today
Get in the garden
Whatever the weather, spending some time outdoors could do you the world of good. Studies show just ten minutes outdoors can improve your mood, focus your mind and usher in relaxation. And that’s not to mention the fact that gardening is also a great workout, capable of burning around 400 calories per hour stint as well as giving us a hit of endorphins - known as the feel-good hormone.
Not sure where to start on getting green-fingered? Try our 15 ways to spruce up your garden on a budget
Embrace your local area
US professor of psychology Sonja Lyubomirsky recently conducted an experiment asking people to imagine this is their last month living in their hometown and was amazed to find people really changed their behaviours. Think about any areas of your local neighbourhood you haven’t explored before or any local businesses you could visit.
Read more: The best long distance walks in the UK
Look up at the sky
Allow yourself to get lost in cloud-watching or star-gazing if it's evening. Somehow looking at the sky always helps puts them into perspective.
Write in a diary
Even just 5 minutes writing how you feel or what you did today can be very therapeutic and help you make sense of your emotions or work out the solution to a problem that’s bothering you. If you're struggling for the motivation to write, why not invest in some lovely new stationery that will entice you in?
Have a shower
Sounds easy but showering can have a really calming effect on the body, especially if you apply a touch of mindfulness while you’re at it. Psychologist Suzy Reading says: “You can spend your shower ruminating over what someone said to you or get lost in your to-do list or you can have a mindful shower where you think about all your senses. Think how the water feels on your skin, the smell of the products you’re using and enjoy the warmth. It’ll make showering a totally different experience.” Once mastered, you can practice this technique of savouring with things like your morning cup of coffee or your walk to the shops.
Smell the roses
Studies show 75 per cent of our emotions are triggered by smell which means bringing different smells into your life could greatly change your mood. Build up a library of smells that make you happy and infuse them in your home, through diffusers, sprays, essential oils or just the natural products. Pine particularly helps soothe on anxious days while citrus and peppermint make great energy lifts.
Meditations can be short and simple and can be practiced any time. Studies have shown that when practiced regularly, meditating can help rewire your brain to reset its happiness set point and thicken the area helping you cope with uncomfortable situations.
Give this one a go: Find a comfy chair and for a few counts, inhale deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Close your eyes as you return your breath to normal, breathing just through your nose. Take a moment to check in with your body and do a head-to-toe scan. How do you feel? Light or heavy? Still or agitated? As you go back to thinking about your breathing visualise a speck of sunlight which starts in your chest. This speck holds a feeling of happiness and fulfilment and it’s expanding in every direction. As it moves through your body it makes you feel spacious and light. When you can’t imagine it getting any bigger, open your eyes and become aware of the sights and smells surrounding you. Are you feeling more content? Hold on to that feeling.
For lots more guided meditations, download the Headspace app (available on Google Play and the Apple Store).
Read more: The best meditation books
Spend time alone
No matter how much we love those around us, sometimes we do all need a bit of alone time just to recharge and gather our thoughts. See if you can carve out just a little time alone every so often. You could go on a solo walk, take a drive or just find a quiet nook of your house where you can have a moment undisturbed.
Imagine you are your best friend
Generally we're much kinder to others than we are to ourselves. Look in a mirror and pretend you're talking to your best pal. What would you say to them right now? Say it to yourself instead.
Whenever you’re having a bit of wobble or feeling stressed, give the N.O.W exercise a go.
N- Notice. Look around and choose an object
O- Observe. Really look at that object, study it, pick out the details, the colour and the shape
W- Wonder. Look at the object with a feeling of wonder as if you’ve never looked at it before and simply feel the sense of that wonder.
Doing this shuts off stressful or worrying thoughts and instantly makes you calmer. Practising this even when you’re feeling good will also help make you more observant and in tune with the world around you making you more aware of all the little joys in every day.
Apply the 5-1 rule to relationships
Psychologist John Gottman recommends trying the 5-1 rule with relationships where you aim for five positive interactions with your partner for every negative one. This can be showing affection, saying thank you or telling our partners what we value most in them.
Start a commonplace book
This is a collection of ideas and quotes that inspire you or make you think, neatly compiled into sections such as ‘relationships’, ‘inspiration’, ‘ambitions’ or whatever categories you like. Scour books and the internet for these quotes that really spark your imagination. This is then your handbook for whenever you need a lift later in the year.
Need somewhere to rest your book? Check out our shortlist of the best book holders that will keep your page open while leaving your hands free.
Indulge your childish side
Think back to being a child and the carefree things you used to love to do. Bring some of that innocent playfulness of children back into your life by jumping into puddles with your wellies, putting on your favourite music and dancing, writing a story without worrying what anyone will think of it or going back a hobby you used to do as a child. Looking at old pictures or revisiting childhood haunts can help give inspiration.
Do a mini declutter
Pick three items from a space you want to clear such as your wardrobe, bookshelf or kitchen cabinet and give them away. It'll instantly clear your mind and lighten any stresses you feel.
Read more: 6 storage tips to help declutter your home!
Have a good laugh
Give yourself a giggle by popping on an episode of your favourite sitcom or reading a funny book.
For some instant laughter, try our round-up of the 5 best Pam Ayres poems
Light a candle
It takes a second a do but lighting a candle can be the ultimate treat to perk up your day, helping soothe your mind, reduce anxiety and make you feel more peaceful.
Read more: Candles for cosy night's in
Wear an outfit just because it makes you feel good
You don’t have to be going anywhere fancy – just enjoy how it makes you feel
Try a power pose
If you find you're feeling a bit insecure, lacking in confidence or just generally a bit wobbly, try power posing. It’s a technique used by many top athletes to boost their confidence. Amy Cuddy, who came up with the concept, describes it as a “body-mind nudge” where you trick your body into feeling a certain way, bypassing the barriers we put up in our minds.
Good poses to try for two minutes every day or before you do something that scares you are the ‘Wonder Woman’ pose with your feet wide, chest out and hands on hips or ‘The Performer’ where you stand wide and stretch your arms overhead in a V shape.
Watch Amy's brilliant TED Talk Your body language may shape who you are
Listen to a podcast
Download a podcast app on your smartphone and pick one that interests you. There's lots of mood-boosting podcasts out there including How to Fail with Elizabeth Day about the power of getting things wrong, Happy Place hosted by presenter Fearne Cotton and Desert Island Discs to hear the life stories of inspiring people.
For more ideas, check out our full list of top podcast recommendations.
Do a social media detox
Un-follow anyone who makes you feel annoyed or upset and mute any posts that irritate you. Life is too short for those kind of things.
Make your bed
Another simple one but something as little as making sure you’ve made the bed or cleared away dishes can make you feel more in control.
Feed your mood
Walnuts, kiwi, bananas, sour cherries, pineapples, tomatoes and plums are all naturally high in serotonin, a mood-boosting hormone, so be sure to arm yourself plenty of these foods to stave away the blues.
Look too for foods that are high in tryptophan, an essential amino acid that your body converts naturally into serotonin. You’ll find this in turkey, fish, cottage cheese, nuts, cheese, eggs and beans.
Have a home spa day
Dressing gown on, it's time to have a day or if you can't spare that time even just an evening just for you. Get hold of a really lovely-smelling bubble bath or shower gel, take a long bath or shower and then sit around in your dressing gown reading or just relaxing.
There are lots of letterbox gifts that can help you create an at-home spa experience - why not treat yourself?
Make a phone call
Sometimes all it takes is a quick call to someone we love to perk us right up. Take time to really connect with them, listening to what’s going on in their lives and being open about how you are.
Read a magazine
If you fancy escaping into another world for a while but don’t fancy the heaviness of a book, try a magazine. Yours offers everything from inspiring real life stories to practical advice and travel ideas (you can subscribe to Yours here) while Yours Retro whisks you away to the heady days of the past, full of Hollywood glamour, scandal and intrigue (subscribe to Retro here).
Give yourself a manicure or pedicure
It only takes a few minutes and you don’t need any fancy equipment, just give your nails a quick file and polish.
Buy a bouquet
Next time you’re in the supermarket or pass the florists, buy yourself a pretty bunch of flowers. Studies show brightening up a room with flowers can reduce feelings of anxiety, while looking at blooms first thing in a morning leads to increased happiness and energy for the day ahead.
Take time to talk
Having meaningful conversations with people we love can help give us a sense of purpose as well as helping us feel more connected so make time to really talk. Call a loved one to talk through things that are bothering you or sit down for a proper chat with your partner. Practicing being a good listener, letting the other person speak and acknowledging what they say has also been found to lead to stronger relationships and even a greater sense of wellbeing.
Take a quick nap
10-20 minutes is perfect to leave you refreshed and ready for action.
Start a hobby
Taking and sharing photos can do wonders for our mood as well as giving us something to look back on happy memories on gloomy days later down the line. You don’t need a snazzy camera – the one on your phone will do. You could consider joining the Instagram #365challenge where you pledge to take a photo of something to share every day
Looking at who is fluttering around your garden has been shown to lower the risk of anxiety, stress and depression so take time in your day to factor in some birdwatching.
Once you've got into the swing of it, test your knowledge with our British birds quiz
Be a dancing queen
Go on, put your favourite music on and just have a boogie. Chances are you're feel a million times better after it.
Read a chapter
Pick up that book that’s been sitting on your bedside table. Research shows reading just 20 pages a day has the power make us more empathetic, creative and rational. It can even boost your brain power and could help stave off dementia. Visit reading-well.org.uk to find out more about helpful reading to boost your mood.
Doing something with our hands can help distract us from the thoughts whirring round our mind and all craft are great for our mental health. Whether you fancy some sewing or knitting, or want to get more ambitious with something like quilting or block printing, it could all help.
Watch the sun set
Don’t film it or photograph. Just sit and enjoy it somewhere peaceful.
Do something new
Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is a sure-fire way to make you feel better and introduce you to all kinds of new passions and skills. Get started by joining the Yours 50 over 50 challenge encouraging you to try 50 new things.
From taking up a new hobby to visiting a place you’ve never been to before, or taking on a physical challenge, the choice is yours and there’s no time limit.
Quick self-care techniques
Appreciation is one of the happiest emotions we can feel, making us more optimistic, strengthen relationships and even sleep better but it’s easy to forget to do it. Jo Howarth, a hypnotherapist who runs The Happiness Club suggests taking five minutes every day to list everything you can think of that you appreciate in your life. “This can include good things that have happened to you today as well as 20 years ago,” she says. She encourages you to then share this with a loved one or invite them to do it, too.
Stand up tall
Push your shoulders down and back, gently lengthen your neck and take a few big deep breaths. Feel better already?
Unplug for an hour
Turn of all emails, all social media notifications and anything that might demand your attention for an hour and just enjoy the peace and quiet.
Don’t feel bad about taking time to just be. Whether that means just sitting with a bit of classical playing, watching something mindless on TV or just sitting sipping a cuppa in the garden, setting aside some time to do nothing in particular can be so good for clearing your head and taking away stress.