We’ve talked before about the bullshit the internet likes to tell people about self-care. (Namely, that it’s all about temporary fixes for stressed-out millennial women who can’t really handle life and just need a bath and some chocolate.)
There are plenty of lists out there of little indulgences that can make you feel a bit happier and calmer for a while. This is not one of those lists.
If you want to take a bath or get a massage or a manicure, then go for it! We’re not trying to deprive you of anything here. But there’s obviously a lot more that you can be doing to take care of your one and only, amazing and capable self, so here is a list of bullshit-free self-care activities. See if there’s one or two you’d like to incorporate into your day.
The basics. This is your go-to list when stress is getting to you, or pretty much whenever.
1. Block all social media and news apps from your phone for a day. Seriously. When you log on the next day, you can catch up on everything… or not. But today, don’t let the weight of the world fucking touch you.
2. Spend 5 minutes every morning just closing your eyes and paying attention to your breathing. You don’t have to become a meditation guru, and you don’t have to beat yourself up if you miss a day. This is just a really nice way to start your day and get your own shit together before everyone starts demanding things of you.
3. Relax the tension you’re holding in your face and shoulders. Yes, right now. We know you have it.
4. Pour yourself a big-ass glass of water and drink it all.
5. Light a candle, and for just a few moments, really pay attention to the act of flicking the lighter or striking the match, the smell of the wax, the way the flame looks. This is a little reminder to try to be mindful and present, not just slide through your day on autopilot.
6. Stock your kitchen up with your favorite fruits, veggies, and healthy snacks. Only the ones you actually like.
7. Go to bed 20 minutes early tonight. You almost certainly need it.
8. Hang out with a dog or cat. No electronics, no other humans, just fuzz therapy. Animals are amazing at being present, and being the center of another creature’s love and attention is awesome for the self-esteem. Plus, interacting with them can reduce your blood pressure, release the feel-good bonding chemical oxytocin, and a gigantic range of other health benefits.
9. Spend 2 minutes stretching. No structure, no pressure to do it right. Stretch whatever feels like it needs stretching. Hang out in a stretch for as long as you want, and move on when you’re done.
10. Foam roll. If you’re not sure how to do this, start here.
Future stress prevention self-care
If you’re feeling strong and happy today, this is the perfect time to do a little preparation so you don’t end up in one of those shit situations in the near future that really stress you out.
11. Block off one day every week or two where you don’t make any plans or commitments. If it helps, think of this as a plan and a commitment to yourself. Sure, you may still have obligations to your family, roommates, or pets, but don’t book yourself for any activities that you would write down on the calendar.
12. Take a look at your prescriptions and see when they’re going to expire. If they’re expiring soon, schedule doctor’s appointments before that happens.
13. Find some healthy recipes that you know you can prepare and you’ll enjoy eating. Shop for ingredients for a couple of them so you can avoid the “Wtf should we eat?” game with your partner or roommate that usually ends in pizza and regret.
14. Fill up your gas tank, even if you’re not all that low.
15. Set your bills to auto-pay and mark when they’re due on a calendar you actually check.
Kind of like future stress prevention, but for the more distant future.
16. Start that thing you’ve been wanting to start. Seriously. Whether it’s your novel or a new language or a dance class, the time is now. Don’t make your future self regret never doing this shit.
17. Practice saying “no” to things and people that take too much of your energy. Start small, like declining an invitation to a thing you really don’t want to do (but probably feel obligated to do). Be as polite as you need to be, but protect your time. It’s seriously the most valuable thing you have, so don’t give it out to everyone and everything.
18. Put a couple extra bucks into your savings account this week, if possible.
19. If you don’t already have a fitness activity that you fucking love, find one. One you genuinely enjoy doing, not just one that makes you feel like you’re burning calories. It’s so much easier to stick with your fitness goals—and feel good about yourself—if you’re having fun.
20. Get comfortable doing things that are uncomfortable. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something that scares you like skydiving or public speaking. It can be signing up for the rec league of a sport you’ve never tried or striking up a conversation with that one cool acquaintance that you really want to be friends with. It’s totally okay to feel nervous. Just don’t let awkwardness or fear rob you of the amazing opportunities that are awaiting you.
Go the fuck outside self-care
Spending time in nature won’t magically solve all of your problems, but it does have benefits for your stress levels, creativity, concentration, and physical health, so you should probably do it anyway.
21. Go for a walk, and try not to get lost in your thoughts. Count how many things you can hear. Notice what you can smell. Anytime you start to get hung up in your mind, see if you can go back to paying attention to what you hear and smell.
22. Lie in the grass and look at the sky. Don’t touch your phone.
23. Play outside with a dog, and try to see things from their perspective. Running around in the sun is SO MUCH FUN for a dog. They’re not worrying about the future or regretting the past. They’re fucking frolicking. Try to let yourself frolic a little bit with them.
24. Take your ordinary workout outside if the weather allows. Changing your scenery can really freshen up your routine and add new challenges, like wind and hills.
25. Go outside on a clear night and look at the stars. Even if you live in a bright city and you can only see a few, it’s still a great way to make your stress feel a little less significant.
Stop making excuses self-care
If you’re in a rut of overeating and skipping workouts, then maybe a gentle ass-kicking is the best self-care right now.
26. No sleeping in. Wake up a little early tomorrow to do something just for you, whether it’s a quick morning run or a few minutes of meditation.
27. Throw out the junk food in your pantry. Yeah, it feels wasteful, but this momentary feeling of regret is still better than the regret you’ll feel if you eat it all.
28. Make a plan to work out with a partner this week. It’s easier to make yourself show up if someone else is counting on you!
29. Lay out your workout clothes for tomorrow so you can throw them on first thing in the morning or as soon as you get home from work. Reducing the number of steps between you and your workout will make it more likely to happen.
30. Start saying “I don’t” instead of “I can’t” when it comes to eating crap. This makes it a choice you can feel proud of, rather than an obligation you’d love to rebel against.
31. Buy a really nice, really large water bottle. The fanciest and most expensive one you can afford. Think about how guilty you will feel if you don’t drink a ton of water out of it all the time.
32. Pay attention to how you feel when you eat, rather than turning your brain off and snarfing. If you get full or the food stops tasting good, stop eating it.
33. Remind yourself that you get to choose exactly who you want to be and how you want to treat yourself. You’re not trapped by your past decisions and habits. You get to wake up tomorrow and decide to be a boxer or a Crossfitter or a tennis player or a dancer or a vegetarian or a non-smoker. And you have this choice. Every. Fucking. Day.