If there’s one thing I know pretty well, it’s the struggle to practice self-care. I mean, it’s taken some long, hard hours of reflection and brainstorming to even come up with self-care practices for myself, let alone actually regularly practice them. This has been something I’ve focused a lot on this year as part of my theme of getting back to what’s Essential — happiness, health, and a simple but well-lived life…all things that — surprise! — a self-care practice can support.
But it’ll only work if it’s actually things you want to do. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Then ohmygod why was this so hard for me to do?
I think part of the challenge was that for so long I tried to make other people’s self-care practices my own — things I’d read in books, recommendations I’d gotten from courses, or the typical suggestions that often float around the life coaching/coachee world. But the truth is not all self-care practices are a one-size fits all, so they won’t feel like self-care practices to you. And guess what? If they don’t, that’s totally okay. Just move on to the next! Sometimes you can tell right away — usually because the thought of doing it feels about as exciting watching paint dry…there’s no feeling of “Yeah, that needs to happen like, yesterday.” And then sometimes the self-care suggestions you read about may sound appealing after all, so you give it a try. But for some reason, using it just doesn’t feel natural. You don’t think of doing it in those moments when you probably need it the most, so they instead become this thing that you’re not doing right, that you’re failing at, and that must mean the whole self-care thing is a giant bag of crap altogether, right?
Here’s the thing: the easiest self-care practice you can create starts by taking the activities you already love, the ones that really refresh + replenish you and don’t just feel like more commitments to check off your to-do list (that last one’s huge), and building a go-to list around those.
So here’s my own list of self-care practices that I use on those days/weeks I’m feeling either a little blah and a whole lotta run down.
1. A day-time shower
This is probably the one I turn to most often as sort of “self-care maintenance”, both because it’s super accessible (important!) and it feels like I’m pampering myself. I tend to be an evening showerer, so that’s where the idea of a morning or day-time shower as a luxury became a thing. There’s just something about stepping out of the shower into a daylight filled room that makes everything feel new and better than whatever it was before.
Now, if this works for you, awesome, and remember that it can be anything you want it to be. But my “day-time showers for self-care” tend not to be just your run-of-the-mill showers-for-cleanliness. Because that doesn’t say pampering to me. That just says I’m clean. No, this kind of shower involves:
- Music: I have a bluetooth shower speaker I bought on Amazon specifically because of this self-care practice. It let’s me control volume and tracks, and thankfully means I can now stop reaching out of the shower and dripping water all over my phone every time I wanted to change a song. My music choices often depend on my mood and the season (no joke) — in the summer I listen more to reggae/island music or country; in the fall it’s all about folk/americana singer/songwriter.
- Body wash: If I’m not using either my Alba Midnight Tuberose or Lush’s The Olive Branch body washes (both cruelty-free), then it’s just a random shower. I incorporate new favorite scents as I stumble upon them, but these are my go-to’s in terms of feeling relaxed + rejuvinated all at once. (And if you’ve ever wondered what a high school graduation in Hawai’i smells like, it’s that tuberose body wash.)
About bath’s: I’m honestly not the biggest bath fan. I end up feeling overheated and bored. But if and when I do suddenly crave a bath, you’d better believe there’s a Lush bath bomb in it. Their Sex Bomb bath bomb is my favorite at the moment.
2. A day out of the city
Driving into the mountains saved my sanity once up on a time, and it still does to this day. Because it’s such a huge part of keeping me from feeling like I’m being pulled in a thousand directions, Nate and I try to take a day-trip out of the city at least once a month. And these are legit day-trips. Like, at least 3 hours in one direction. There’s always a point I hit in the drive where I finally feel like we’re far enough away from the sheer busy-ness of life that every muscle I have releases.
Not only is this one of my personal self-care practices, but these drives have also become a self-care practice for my marriage. It’s a time when there’s no one else around (for now, soon there will be a baby boy in the car with us!) and we can check in with each other about how things are going for us individually and as a couple.
The main thing here is to identify something that’s tried and true: what has made you feel better in the past? How can you incorporate that into a daily, weekly or monthly practice? Even if I can’t get out of the city everyday to clear my head, knowing that it’s coming up does help…a bit like a release valve at the end of the month.
There was a time when I journaled on a daily basis. Then there was a time when journaling felt like another nagging thing I had to do before I could just stop doing things for a second. So when I began thinking of self-care practices I could turn to on a regular basis, I knew I needed to find a middle ground somewhere when it came to journaling.
So I started coming up with prompts. One of the toughest parts of journaling for me is always feeling like I have nothing to say. Or (and especially when I’m using this in a more targeted, self-care sort of way), that I have too much to say and isn’t that just super exhausting? Prompts help me to focus my writing for a certain period of time. So, for example, if I’m in a slump, am feeling unmotivated and as a result unproductive, then I can commit to journaling for a week (or any time period) and choose 7 prompts I can use to tackle the big issue in bite-sized pieces, just one each day. These prompts can range anywhere from questions like “If I were doing the one thing I wanted to do right now, what would it be and how would doing it make me feel?” to “Why do I feel the need to be productive right now? What happens if I’m not? What real impact does this have on myself/others?” etc.
Prompts help me to articulate my thoughts, as well as keep me from feeling overwhelmed by having to write for 5 hours in one sitting just to get it all out. As a bonus, because I sat down at the start of my 7 days to write up these prompts, I’ve actually thought pretty deeply about what I feel I need to address in order to help myself feel better. Win!
4. Coffee + creative work with friends
A few years ago, a group of friends and I started Creative Nights once a week where we’d get together at a cafe and work on purely creative projects — the books we wanted to write, posts for a food blog or articles to submit for publication, a graphic novel. It wasn’t very stringent…we’ve worked on job applications, grad school readings and, when it would have otherwise stressed us out not to, even work for our paid jobs. But the intention was always there, and there was a commitment from all of us that we’d support one another to actually get things done during that set aside time. Plus, because at its core it was just a casual gathering of friends, it made the entire process completely enjoyable.
While things get busy for all of us on occasion, we’ll sometimes still meet up on a weekly basis for actual work sessions at cafes, and it always reminds me of what I’m shooting for in life — freedom of time to spend it doing the things I want to do with the people I love. It’s a taste of location independence that never fails to re-motivate me.
5. A personal retreat day
This is the big one. My go-to when I need to pull out all the stops and nothing else seems to be working. It’s easier to do right now when it’s just me and Nate, and we don’t have a child to coordinate care for, so it’s not without its own challenges for those who do have very real external commitments.
But if you are able to carve out some time to take a personal retreat day, remember that it doesn’t need to be huge. You don’t need to rent a house in the woods and book a personal chef or anything (though if that’s what you need and can reasonably do, can you invite me?). My personal retreat days are mostly a vacation day I’ve taken from work or another day when I can arrange to be the only one home for the entire day. I plan everything from start to finish, including:
- Making sure I have my meals covered, whether it’s ordering in from my favorite spot, or making sure I have all the groceries I need to make the exact thing I want to eat.
- Scheduling time for movement (taking a walk with a friend or going for a swim at the gym first thing in the morning, or going to a restorative yoga class at the end of the day).
- Actual sessions to tackle specific areas of my life. This usually depends on why I’m feeling the need for a personal retreat day to begin with, and I often write out the prompts for these sessions the day before the retreat starts, or during the morning hours so that I can tackle them in the afternoon.
- Something fun to do to treat myself in the evening (could be a date night with Nate that I ask him to plan, or a solo night at a spa — especially good if I’ve been super stressed and tense lately).
The personal retreat day is like a shot of nothing but self-care for 24 hours straight. For me, it’s mostly used during times where, for some reason or the other, I haven’t been great about regular self-care maintenance for a while and ended up depleting all my reserves. The personal retreat day ideally fills those right back up. But I can see having these quarterly just to be sure I’m not getting to that stage — probably a way healthier option!
Do you have your list of go-to self-care practices that you can turn to on a regular basis?