Let’s talk about self care. I know “self care” is a buzzword right now, one you can find all over social media. But what does it mean? In general, self care is an intentional practice of caring for all aspects of yourself, including physical, emotional, and mental self.

One of the most common questions I ask clients is, “How are you caring for yourself?” I find self care to be a basic tenant of therapy and everyday life; without it, we can’t work on our relationships or function at our best level. What self care looks like is a little different for everyone, so one person’s solution may not be a good fit for someone else.

In the next section, I share 5 ways of caring for your physical, emotional, and mental self. While I focus on coping with stress, I purposely left the suggestions broad. Finding time or space for self care can feel overwhelming, so my hope is that you can take an idea and make it work for you and your schedule.

5 Effective Ways to Care for Yourself

1. Exercise. I know this is what everyone says, but exercise still is the number one way to battle stress. Luckily, to get the benefits of exercise, you don’t need to run miles upon miles or train for a triathlon. All you need to do is set aside 20 minutes and get your body moving. Do whatever feels good! Take a walk, turn on music and have a dance party, play tag with the kids. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. Just get that blood pumping and let your brain destress.

2.Turn to a friend or loved one. Studies show that social support (our social network made up of friends, family, and partners) increases life satisfaction and decreases stress. I know it can be difficult to ask for help or confide in someone when life gets difficult, and obviously the pandemic has made quality time with friends more difficult, but don’t discount the quick “how are you?” text or the Zoom happy hour with your pals. Anything that helps you feel connected with others will help decrease your stress level.

3. Do something with your hands. Remember the beginning of the pandemic when it seemed like everyone was baking bread? I have a theory about that. If you’ve ever baked bread, you know that it is a labor of love- one that takes precision, time, and (if you knead the dough by hand) upper body strength. It is a controlled and generally predictable process. I believe this was exactly what we needed during a time that felt out of control and unpredictable. In our world today, we need to be able to do something that fills us with feelings of success and safety, and what better way to achieve that then by doing something with our hands? Whether you like to bake, do DIY projects, arts and crafts, or a puzzle, you’re engaging in a form of self care that can help quiet any anxious thoughts and bring about a sense of peace and accomplishment.

4. Nourish your body. You’ve made the bread, now take time to enjoy it. Nourishing your body doesn’t have to mean just your food intake, but also the amount of water you drink or the sleep you get every night. If we aren’t taking care of our basic needs, it’s extremely difficult to take care of our emotional needs (i.e. stress). Find creative ways to drink your water, eat your greens, and put down the phone before bed. For example, my sister and I are in a daily battle of who can drink the most ounces of water. Grab a partner (this also counts for social support!!) and get your own competition going!

5. Self reflection. The goal of self care isn’t to avoid your feelings, but to help you understand them. I’m assuming that you, reader, are a human, and as such, you will have all the human feelings. Great! Our feelings give us information that we can learn from if we take a second to slow down, take a breath, and get curious. Getting curious about our feelings can be done through a variety of ways, including meditation, journaling, and counseling.