Because taking more time for yourself is always a good idea.
There’s a lot of chatter around self-care these days, and the term has come to mean so much more than spa days and yoga classes. For some people, it may mean shopping, getting to the gym, having morning meditations, eating chocolate, or reading a book. The point is to do something for you—anything that leaves you feeling fresh and rejuvenated.
“Women are often busy with their lives at work and at home, especially those with a family,” says Marcia Villavicencio, a certified life coach who focuses on mindset and body-positive fitness. “They have so much on their plate that they can quickly feel burned out. A self-care routine that’s easy and doesn’t take much of their time is beneficial, not only for their physical health, but also for their mental health.”
More and more women are realizing they have set time apart for themselves to recuperate. According to a survey from Shine, a free self-care app that gives you daily personalized challenges to boost your mood and confidence, self-care has been the top New Year’s resolution for millennial women for the past two years, with 72 percent indicating that they want to put self-care and their mental health first in 2019.
The health benefits of a self-care routine
Although self-care can seem like an indulgence, it’s a deeply important practice for health reasons. “Self-care is often underrated in its impact,” says Katie Krimer, LCSW, a therapist at Union Square Practice in New York. “Even the smallest of gestures can help reduce overall stress, make you feel more present amidst anxiety, and remind you that you’re worth taking care of. Over time, self-care practice can improve self-worth, reduce stress, increase motivation, and, most importantly, teach us that not everything in our lives has to revolve around the more difficult aspects of our internal and external world.”
Life coach and author Karen L. Garvey, MBA, explains that much like cars, our bodies run on fuel—but we don’t come with a low-fuel warning light to remind us to recharge. “Instead, our body messages us through irritability, illness, lack of mental clarity, exhaustion, a decrease in productivity, and so on. These symptoms of depleted fuel can be largely prevented through self-care,” she says. She points out that women often have a tendency to take care of everyone else before themselves, but showing yourself a little love will give you more energy to return that love to others.
That said, creating a sustainable self-care routine that feels like a treat rather than a chore can be challenging. That’s why we turned to experts for their top tips on creating a self-care routine you’ll actually stick with.
1.Think about why
Before starting a new self-care routine, spend some time really thinking about why you need more self-care (dig a little bit here—is it because you work too hard, always put others before yourself, etc.?), as well as what you hope to achieve. “Maybe you want to be calmer, more focused, or to feel better. Once you’re clear on this, you can use it to help you choose what will be a good activity or routine to incorporate,” says Jane Scudder, a certified coach and motivational speaker.
2.Get back to the basics
Check in with yourself to make sure your most basic needs are being met. “Secure your oxygen mask before assisting others. We hear it on every flight, and it’s essential for life as well,” says Rebecca Newman, LCSW, a Philadelphia-based psychotherapist. “This means making sure you’re sleeping, showering, eating nutritiously, taking your medications, and drinking water at a minimum before you can assist others.”
3.Brainstorm ideas and write them down
Carrie Krawiec, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy, MI, recommends breaking down potential activities by size. “Small may be taking a shower by yourself, whereas medium may be going to lunch with a friend. Large could be a weekend away,” she explains.
Once you’re clear on why you want to engage in more self-care and have ideas, get it all down on paper, says Krimer. She suggests writing down your motivations, self-care options, and anything that might get in your way. “Is it that you’re telling yourself you don’t have the time? Is it the belief that you need to focus on others and not yourself? Is it that you don’t think self-care will have a positive impact on you?” This can be a one-time exercise, or you can turn it into a journalingpractice, which may help you reach your goals as well.
Don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to do it all at once. It’s important to be realistic about your self-care routine, which means starting small and building up. “If you are just starting off, then a 20-minute daily meditation, three to five trips to the gym weekly, half of every Sunday spent exfoliating and meal prepping, and 10 minutes each morning and night on gratitude practice is likely going to last for a day—max,” says Scudder. “Pick one or two things to start, and be realistic, patient, and gentle with yourself.”
5.Focus on consistency
While your goal may be to meditate for 20 minutes at a time, anything is better than nothing; consistency is key to making a habit stick. “It’s better to exercise every day, even if it’s only three sun salutations, or a five-minute YouTube core workout, than to focus on length of time,” says Tamsin Astor, PhD, author of Force of Habit: Unleash Your Power by Developing Great Habits
6.Set a schedule
It may seem silly to schedule something as simple as a 5-minute yoga break or 20 minutes to read, but setting aside that time—and fiercely protecting it—is key to creating a self-care routine that sticks. “Think about creating time for self-care within your regular routine instead of keeping it separate. You wouldn’t cancel on a meeting at work or a plan with a friend if it was in your schedule, so including time for yourself to manage stress or exercise in your schedule will help keep you on task in the same way,” says Samantha Markovitz, a certified health and wellness coach and founder of GraceMark Wellness & Lifestyle Coaching.
7.Use the sandwich principle
No, don’t actually eat a sandwich—unless that’s part of your self-care. Astor uses what she calls the 3 S’s of habit cultivation: same time, same place, sandwich. “When you add a new habit, sandwich it between two habits you consistently practice consecutively. It’s much more likely to stick,” she says. “For example, sit to meditate between brushing your teeth and showering.”
8.Practice saying no
“As women, we’re often expected to say ‘yes’ to many demands throughout the day. This happens both at home and at work,” says Josephine Hardman, PhD, an intuitive healer and spiritual coach. “One of the most crucial ways to practice self-care is to work on saying ‘no’ in order to protect your energy, space, resources, and sanity.”
At the very least, give yourself time to consider before saying yes right away. Hardman notes that though it may feel like you’re being selfish, “by putting yourself first and breaking the pattern of habitually saying yes to everything, you’ll have more energy and vitality to extend a helping hand to others.”
9.Find accountability buddies
Sometimes it can be difficult to hold yourself accountable, so try finding a friend or a group to help. “Participating in a public self-care challenge on social media, with friends, or at work offers a level of accountability that some people need to stick to their goals,” advises Nedra Glover Tawwab, LCSW, founding therapist at Kaleidoscope Counseling in Charlotte, NC.
If a group isn’t your thing, even just having one go-to person can make a huge difference. “Find someone with whom you can share goals and encourage one another. Never underestimate the power of having your own personal cheerleader,” says Garvey. At the same time, you may also want to distance yourself from people who are unsupportive of your goals, she says.
10.Stop comparing yourself to others
Accountability is one thing, but comparing yourself to others—especially on social media—can be detrimental. “The more that you compare yourself to others, the more you hold yourself back from true happiness and giving the world all that you have to offer,” says Lauren Zoller, a yoga instructor and certified life coach in Nashville.
One solution? Cut back on your social media time. “Decreasing your time on social media will give you free time to focus on the qualities YOU bring to the table, not someone else,” says Zoller. “Compare yourself to who YOU were yesterday, not who someone else is today.”
11.Don’t be a perfectionist
As the old saying goes, perfect is the enemy of good. “If perfectionism is holding you back, practice giving yourself the space to let things get messy,” advises Zoller. If you let busy thoughts swirl around in your head during meditation, or fall out of a yoga pose, it’s all ok. “Nobody in the history of time has ever created something that was perfect. In fact, most of the most brilliant success stories were created from bouts of extreme failure. When you allow yourself the freedom to let go of perfection, you open the door to create something new,” she says.
12.Tap into affirmations
There’s plenty of research out there to show the power of positive affirmations, so why not use them as a tool in creating a sustainable self-care routine? “For example: ‘I’m taking the time for yoga, because this hour nurtures my mind and my body and my spirit,'” suggests Garvey. “Although the process of tapping into the power of these statements is very simple, do not let the simplicity fool you. Affirmations that are diligently embraced can transform a non-productive habit into a new positive reality.”
13.Recognize your successes
Take time to recognize yourself practicing self-care in the moment, and appreciate your long-term success in sticking with your goals. “Celebrate your wins and strengths,” says Benjamin Ritter, MPH, founder of Live for Yourself Consulting. “Take the time each day to recognize the areas you have succeeded, and your personal strengths. List each of them out specifically and review them daily.”
14.Plan for when you break your routine
Rather than let a blip in your self-care routine get you down, plan for it. “This is not to be negative, but the reality is the best-laid plans get broken sometimes. Maybe your kid is sick, a flight is delayed, your website crashes, or a client pitch corrupts,” says Cudder. “The point isn’t to jump to how you’ll get back into the swing of it, but rather you should develop a way to be with yourself when something gets in your way of your self-care.”