Tips for Starting a Self-Care Routine
With the social movement of mental and emotional health being discussed more openly in the media and in our society at large, the importance of self-care and creating a routine for yourself has been showcased by all types of media outlets. Bloggers and vloggers share their own routines with their audience, health magazines have featured articles about the importance of taking care of your body and your mind, and the hashtag #TreatYoSelf has circulated widely across most online platforms.
Plenty of videos and articles list specific things that you should add to your self-care routine, but there aren’t a lot of resources out there that give advice on how someone should begin to get into the regular habit of self-care, especially for those who struggle with mental health issues and already struggle with taking the basic steps to take care of themselves.
All things begin with a single step, and creating a routine for yourself is no exception. Below are some steps that can be taken by anyone who wants to make an effort to take better care of themselves; mind, body, and soul.
Getting a Little Help for Forming New Habits
Just because we’re focusing on taking better care of ourselves doesn’t mean that we have to go at it alone. If establishing a self-care routine is entirely new to you and you don’t know where to start, or the idea of adding more things to fit into your day feels overwhelming, there are some apps available that make forming new and healthier habits less of a challenge.
One of my favorite apps for managing your habits is called Habitica, and it’s freely available for most operating systems, and they also have a website with even more helpful and fun resources. The way this app works is by putting your habits, good and bad, in the context of tasks that need to be completed or avoided by your “character,” a pixel art-rendering of your own likeness in the app. When you complete tasks, you earn XP, which allows you to level up and earn gold, and falling back into bad habits hurts you, lowering your HP and threatening to send your character back a level if their HP falls to zero. It’s a very simple concept, but the way that Habitica is executed makes it incredibly easy to understand and start using, and you can even communicate with others that use the app and who may be using it to work on themselves, just like you.
Another app that I highly recommend for both self-care and mental health purposes is called Aloe Bud and is available for iPhone users, with the app coming to Android in the future. Its adorable, simple design makes the app very user-friendly and straightforward. The app gives you a journal feature for you to reflect on your progress, it provides the space to complete self-care activities and check in on your progress, and it offers gentle and unobtrusive reminders to help introduce self-care into your daily life. The online community surrounding Aloe Bud on social media, especially Twitter, is a very positive and supportive environment.
Let’s Call it “Me Time”
One reason that starting a self-care routine can appear so daunting is that the assumptions we associate with developing that routine may involve a long, multi-step process of washing your face with different products, or something that seems akin to a spa visit that could take all day. Self-care doesn’t have to be a time-consuming process, especially in the beginning.
One easy way to start is to schedule a little “me time” into each day. This can be as little as 10 minutes or as long as an hour, whatever you’re able to pencil into your schedule. And it doesn’t even need to involve putting on a face mask or lighting scented candles if that’s not your thing, to each their own. Patricia J. Hancock has published a number of articles online and has even developed her own online course called How to Uplevel Your Self-Care Routine. For her, this “me time” that she sets aside every day is used for not much more than some simple medication and quiet reflection.
“My time is set aside in the early morning where it’s just me, the dog, and my coffee,” says Patricia. “Me-time is made of a quiet, or close to quiet as you can get, time allotment in your day … Take this time to reflect on your successes, no matter how big or how small they may seem. Medication, prayer, these can be added to your me-time. If you’re just getting started … it’s tough to get into this mindset, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes.”
Even though examples of self-care routines in movies and on social media involve things like face scrubs and painting your nails, the easiest place to begin your self-care journey is from within. Start with the mind and move forward from there. According to Patricia, “The goal of your me-time is to unburden yourself from mental baggage, using your own inner-strength to overcome what is inhibiting you.”
Rituals & Routines
Practice, practice, practice. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
These mantras we’ve encountered throughout our lives (usually grouped in threes) apply to far more than learning a new instrument or studying for a test. In order to form any kind of new habit, the trick is consistency. In the beginning, it will be difficult to remember to take that period of time you’ve been trying to set aside for yourself, but by trying to make it a regular part of your schedule you’ve kick-started the process of creating healthier habits, and that’s the most important thing.
While you’re trying to integrate your “me time” into your daily life, make sure not to forget any necessary daily rituals: meals, downtime, getting enough sleep, etc. If you’re not taking care of your body at the most basic level of keeping yourself fed and rested than you will need to improve those habits before you start introducing new ones to your routine.
A psychologist named Abraham Maslow created something called, “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” as part of a paper he wrote in 1943. This hierarchy is depicted by the image of a pyramid with the inside divided into 5 sections. The bottom section of the pyramid represents a person’s physiological needs, aka the basic needs of food, water, air, and shelter. According to Maslow’s hierarchy, you cannot achieve any other needs in the higher sections – safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization – until those most basic of human needs have been satisfied. This concept applies to self-care as well; you won’t make any progress on improving your mental or emotional health by making time in your day to decompress and reflect if you’re not giving your body the fuel and rest that it requires in order to function.
Enjoy your Self-Care!
These changes that you want to make in your life are for you, and only you. It should not be a grueling process to try and wake up earlier in the morning in order to keep up with your self-care routine when you’d rather just be asleep. If there’s a part of your self-care that you find you’re not enjoying then it’s probably not that effective way of treating yourself, is it?
Do things that make you happy, that make you feel better inside and out. It can involve some type of exercise, but if you’re not someone who exercises regularly and you try to force yourself to start a regular 30-minute workout, you’re going to hate it and become discouraged. It’s good to make a habit of getting exercise, preparing healthier meals, and taking the time to tend to and moisturize your skin, but jumping right in isn’t always the best way to get started; Take baby steps by dipping your toe into the self-care activity you’d like to turn into a regular habit before going full-tilt and becoming overwhelmed.