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How much me-time did you take today?
The answer is, most often, not enough.
The pressure and uncertainty of everyday life can make it difficult to develop a consistent self-care plan. A recent survey by Birchbox revealed that 1 in 3 people feel guilty for taking time for themselves, but the majority wished that they did.
Some people believe that self-care is a selfish act. In reality, the opposite is true. Both you and the people in your life benefit greatly when you take time to look after your physical, emotional well-being, and mental fitness.
Let’s learn why self-care is vital to your well-being and how to create your own, personalized self-care plan.
What is a self-care plan?
Does self-care bring to mind a pampering massage, a shopping trip, or even a trending Twitter hashtag? That’s because the true meaning of caring for yourself is often misunderstood.
A self-care plan is a set of daily activities we deliberately take part in to improve our inner and outer well-being. Self-care isn’t just about pampering or grooming yourself, although that can be part of it.
By following a self-care plan, we take care of our holistic wellness — our mental, emotional and physical health. Taking time out of each day to nourish every part of ourselves helps us live healthier, happier, and more fulfilling lives.
Self-care plans are a lifelong journey, and they look different from one person to the next. That’s because everyone has a unique set of physical and emotional needs they need to fulfill. You may feel energized after an intense workout, while someone else may prefer to meditate instead. Self-care strategies that work for you may not work for someone else.
5 reasons you need a self-care plan
A well-curated self-care plan enhances your overall well-being. Here are five reasons why everyone needs one:
1. Improves mental health and well-being
Finding time for self-care activities that bring you joy and relieve stress is beneficial to your mental health and well-being.
Activities like connecting with others or daily exercise are simple but effective ways to maintain a state of well-being. Regular exercise releases chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that improve your mood. It also helps you think more clearly and improves your memory.
Some self-care activities can train your mind, like mindfulness or learning a new language. They can help you build your mental fitness, which can strengthen your mental health and help you avoid mental exhaustion.
2. Manages stress and anxiety
Stress is a universal feeling experienced daily by many of us. Continued stress increases the risk of developing:
Creating a self-care plan is critical when it comes to managing stress and anxiety. It also helps you to cope with feelings of depression more easily.
When we practice self-care, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. This allows us to relax our minds and bodies. According to Dr. Herbert Benson, director of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind and Body Medicine, some of the best self-care practices that counter the stress response include:
3. Prevents illness
Taking care of your mind and body helps prevent health conditions like heart disease, stroke, or cancer. Activities that prevent heart problems include not smoking or drinking less alcohol.
A consistent self-care plan also preserves your overall physical health. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-care as “The ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, and maintain health.”
The more you engage in activities that promote good hygiene, nutrition, and an active lifestyle, the more likely you are to keep illness at bay and strengthen your immune system.
4. Maximizes productivity
Productivity often gets confused with getting as much done as you can. As a result, caring for yourself is pushed to the side to make room for working more and doing more until you eventually burn out.
However, prioritizing self-care is the key to becoming more productive at home and in the workplace. Dr. Russell Thackeray, a licensed clinical psychologist, explains that people who practice self-care have better cognitive abilities, including better focus and concentration. As a result, they tend to produce more.
When you give yourself exactly what you need to function at your highest potential, your work performance will naturally improve.
5. Enhances personal relationships
One of the most common misconceptions about self-care is that it’s a selfish act. It’s no wonder Americans neglect me-time because it makes them feel guilty. According to Birchbox, two-thirds of Americans put caring for others and social responsibilities ahead of their well-being.
But how can you fill others’ cups when yours is empty? Finding time to show yourself kindness isn’t selfish at all. It makes you a better friend, caregiver, work colleague, or romantic partner. Bringing your best self to a relationship strengthens your connection with those around you.
You can also include your loved ones in your self-care plan. Going for a daily walk with your friend, for example, is a great opportunity to bond and practice self-care together.
The key aspects of self-care
Self-care nourishes your mind, body, and soul. Let’s explore some of the most important dimensions of wellness and how we can implement them in our self-care plan.
The physical aspect of self-care involves making lifestyle choices that help you stay fit, healthy, and energized. Here’s how to look after your physical well-being:
- Exercise daily
- Go on nature walks
- Have regular checkups with your health care providers
- Eat a well-balanced diet rich in nutrients
- Maintain a healthy circadian rhythm by having a good sleep hygiene
- Quit smoking
- Drink in moderation
- Get enough sleep
Physical self-care is all about forming healthy habits that enhance your well-being and ditching unhealthy ones.
This dimension of self-care is all about looking after your mental well-being. In other words, it’s about taking good care of your thoughts and feelings. Your inner dialog and the way you speak to yourself play a big role in how you perceive yourself and the rest of the world.
Mental self-care also involves training your mind. Just as you train your body to keep it fit, you also need to keep your mind sharp. A sharp mind makes you more capable of dealing with stress and navigating big life changes.
These mental self-care habits can help you keep your mind healthy and sharp:
- Spend quality time with loved ones
- Set professional goals
- Learn something new
- Engage in a hobby you love
- Take a break from your phone
- Practice positive self-talk
Emotional well-being focuses on bringing awareness to our emotional needs by becoming conscious of our feelings. This awareness allows us to process our feelings in a healthy way — focusing on the positive emotions and managing the negative ones.
Let’s take a look at some powerful ways to improve your emotional health:
- Start journaling
- Practice self-compassion
- Observe your thoughts without judging
- Practice gratitude
- Use breathwork to regulate emotions
- Do acts of kindness
Emotional self-care helps you respond rather than react to life’s challenges. Responding means you’re measured and thoughtful when you approach a situation. Reacting, on the other hand, is an immediate emotional response that usually results in a negative outcome.
Professional self-care is any activity that helps you thrive in the workplace while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Engaging in activities that help you develop professionally and bring you a sense of fulfillment, like doing Inner Work™ or applying for a promotion, are just some examples of self-care in the workplace.
Here are a few other occupational self-care practices:
- Use your vacation days
- Take time for yourself before meetings
- Learn a new soft skill
- Work for a company that prioritizes employee wellness
- Become a mentor
5 steps to create a self-care plan
The right self-care plan for you is the one that meets your individual needs. Start your personalized self-care plan today by taking the following steps:
1. Take a look at your current habits
Before you create your self-care plan, observe where you are now. What strategies do you use to deal with life’s demands?
Do you go on a walk to relieve stress or tend to withdraw from your friends and family? Do you have a few too many glasses of wine after a tough day at work or take a long bath to relieve tension?
Write down an honest inventory of positive and negative coping strategies you’ve developed throughout the years. This step helps you identify your harmful habits as well as your existing self-care practices.
2. Identify your self-care needs
Think about what you value most in your day-to-day life. Make a list of all your physical, mental, emotional, and professional needs. A good example of a self-care plan is one that considers all areas of well-being.
Writing down your needs can be a real eye-opener. You may discover you’re already meeting your physical needs, but you’re neglecting your emotional needs.
3. Write down practices that support your needs
Now it’s time to decide what self-care activities will help you meet your needs. Consider asking yourself questions like:
- What activities bring me joy?
- What helps me feel energized?
- When do I feel at peace?
- What makes me feel fulfilled?
- What’s helped me cope with difficult moments in my life?
Write down the self-care practices that you plan to do daily and those you’ll only do once in a while. For instance, you’ll want to eat healthy every day, but you may only schedule dinner with a friend once a week.
4. Fit them into your schedule
Here comes the tough part. You need to find pockets of time throughout your busy day to do these practices. Remember, self-care isn’t selfish. It’s an act of kindness to yourself.
Instead of jamming all sorts of activities into your day, start small. Making a drastic change may feel overwhelming, causing you to give up on your plan. Instead, add one to two activities into your routine each week.
Start with the ones you need and value most and work your way down. Your priorities will also change from time to time. If you’re battling a cold, for example, your physical needs take precedence over professional self-care.
Evaluate how these self-care practices are helping you improve yourself and add more to your plan as you go along.
5. Remove any barriers
Remember the negative habits you identified earlier? It’s time to let them go. These self-destructive coping mechanisms are getting in the way of your self-care plan.
Begin by reducing and then removing harmful coping habits. Pick the most detrimental one and replace it with a self-care practice instead.
Don’t be afraid to ask your friends or family members for help. Sharing your self-care plan with a network of supportive people can help you overcome obstacles more easily.
How to stick to your self-care plan
A self-care plan takes time and consistency to work.
Keep your plan simple and choose the self-care activities you love. Doing things that bring you joy is the key to sticking to your routine.
Your self-care plan can also be as flexible as you need it to be. You’ll have your good days and your bad days. Don’t be too hard on yourself when things don’t go as planned. You can always have a fresh start.
Give yourself the kindness you deserve and build your own self-care plan today. A BetterUp coach can offer you a customized coaching session to help you get started on your well-being journey.
Sr. Insights Manager