You often hear people refer to elaborate skincare routines as a form of self-care. And I’m one of them. Caring for my skin in the morning and evening ensures I spend time alone with my thoughts every day, at least for a few minutes—not to mention that it keeps my skin looking and feeling good. But it got me thinking: What are other ways to practice self-care that aren’t necessarily related to skincare? Some research was needed. And done!
What Exactly Is Self-Care?
According to the WHO (World Health Organization), “self-care” is defined as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.” Sounds awfully technical compared to how the term is generally used, doesn’t it? The concept is also defined as encompassing hygiene, nutrition, and lifestyle, among other things, as well. Now, that’s more like it. There seems to be a consensus that self-care includes any activity that helps you care for yourself on a physical, mental, or emotional level. And since every person’s needs are different—and constantly evolving—there is no one-size-fits-all routine when it comes to self-care. It’s all about discovering what works for you!
Self-care includes any activity that helps you care for yourself on a physical, mental, or emotional level. And there is no one-size-fits-all routine.
Self-Care … or Self-Indulgence?
As someone who puts pressure on myself to constantly be productive, I struggle with taking time to just enjoy or take care of myself. (Thanks, guilt.) Tending to my physical health is different: Exercising or going to a dentist’s appointment doesn’t make me feel quite as guilty, because I see those activities as necessary for my well-being. The issue with this way of thinking is that mental health is just as important as physical health, and I’m working hard to be better at acting accordingly. I just want to make sure that taking time out because I need a break doesn’t turn into laziness and shirking my responsibilities.
But from what I understand, self-indulgences are akin to bandages: They’re a temporary fix that help distract you or make you feel better quickly—in my case, video games or scrolling social media—but their effects don’t necessarily contribute to your overall health down the line, like self-care practices might (e.g., meditation or going to bed early). Something to keep in mind.
Self-Care Beyond Skincare: 6 Strategies to Explore
Running with the idea that self-care involves not only mental but also emotional and physical wellness, here are some paths to explore. I’ve started implementing some of these strategies, and toying with others. And there are some I’ve just recently zoned in on as things to work on. Here goes!
1. Breathe or meditate
I’ve always admired people who meditate—how are they able to clear their thoughts for entire minutes at a time?! But apparently, meditation is more about refocusing on the present moment than emptying your head. Even if it’s just starting or ending the day with a few deep breaths, this is something that might be worth doing more regularly.
2. Disconnect from the internet
I am very, very bad at this. So far, the best I’ve been able to do is consistently leave my phone at home when I go for walks—which I started at the beginning of the pandemic to simply get out of the house. We often don’t realize it, but using our phones is like an addiction. How many times a day do you reach for your phone to check something and then get sucked into the social media vacuum, only to put it back down and realize you don’t have the information you needed in the first place?
3. Allow yourself to be idle
Sometimes I look back on my time as a teenager and try to remember what it felt like to be bored and have absolutely nothing to do. My life as an adult couldn’t be more different! As someone who is rarely, if ever, doing “nothing,” this New York Times article entitled “The Case for Doing Nothing” really stuck with me. Since I first read it over a year ago, I think back to it regularly and have been making a conscious effort to allow myself to not always be productive or busy as a means of recharging my mental batteries. This includes taking my coffee onto the balcony—without my phone or iPad—and just watching what’s happening on my street for a few minutes, or soaking in the tub sans music, podcast, or Netflix playing in the background.
4. Learn to say “no”
When the coronavirus pandemic hit and everything started shutting down, everyday life changed for everyone. Like many people, I went from having a full schedule of work, personal, and family engagements to questioning whether I really needed to risk leaving the house to go to the supermarket. I have to admit that my calendar suddenly going from full to empty felt liberating despite the horrible context that triggered the change.
And now that life is gearing up to semi-full speed again—for now—I can see myself easily slipping back to how things were before quarantine. I have trouble carving time out to relax on weekends, while also coordinating picnic and outdoor activities with all the friends I’ve missed over the past months. I know I’m not the only person whose mental health benefitted from having fewer social obligations at the height of the pandemic, and I repeatedly told myself I’d be better at saying “no” and setting my personal boundaries once life started going back to normal again. So I’m going to do my best to honor that.
5. Make healthy tweaks to your eating
Taking care of your body and keeping your energy levels high is also an important part of self-care. You hear more and more about how what you eat also affects your mood and even your mental health. But even without digging deep into the science of things, I, for one, see a difference in how I feel when I’m stocking up on fruits and veggies versus when I don’t eat as many for a few days (i.e. on the weekend).
My tip for loading up on crudités: On Mondays, I chop bell peppers into strips and keep them in an airtight container, ready to snack on throughout the rest of the week. Then, every day, I prepare my afternoon veggie bowl at the same time as my lunch: I wash a handful of cherry tomatoes, cut up some cucumber and radishes, and add my pre-sliced bell peppers. This takes no more than five minutes. When I start feeling peckish, my bowl is ready and within reach of my desk. Healthy and delicious! (I’m about one serving away from turning into a bell pepper. Oh well.)
6. Get more and better sleep
Why? It can improve everything from your mood and productivity to food choices, while reducing your risks of developing certain health conditions. This is another area I struggle with—it seems that even when I get to bed early, I have trouble just turning off my brain (and my phone, if we’re being honest). I think another key element here is that not everyone needs the same amount of sleep to feel good. So, the best strategy might be to experiment with different ways of improving this aspect of your wellness—types of bedding, room temperatures, times to disconnect, or anything else that might optimize your shut-eye session.
What are some ways you practice self-care beyond skincare? Have you discovered any tips that have improved your overall wellness?