Staying atop of your wellbeing is a must, especially during uncertain, stressful times. These tips will help you make time for self-care for a mental health boost every day.

By Lexi Walters Wright
Updated June 03, 2020
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With so much going on in the world right now, taking care of yourself might be low on your priority list. Especially during periods of uncertainty or crisis, concern for your family, friends, and community can overshadow your own needs, but it's times like these when mental health and self-care are especially important.

"Self-care makes us sane—or a little more sane, anyway," says Jamie Nelson-Kirby, a licensed marriage and family therapist. "Self-care makes us feel more like our true and authentic self and helps to fill up an often depleted cup."

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As replenishing as self-care can be, Nelson-Kirby says she sees many clients (especially women) who can't commit to it. "We have a hard time prioritizing it because of the overall guilt we feel that we should be doing something more 'productive' or something for our children, partner, or other people. Self-care seems to take the disguise of selfishness or extravagance, which is so backward," she says. Because without it, we have little to offer those people in our lives (or even our own selves).

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And no, self-care doesn't have to include luxurious baths or long calls with your girls. By definition, according to the International Self-Care Foundation, a UK-based charity whose mission is to "champion self-care around the world," self-care is simply anything we do to preserve our wellness and fend off illness. The organization identifies seven key areas of self-care to consider. See how often you can sneak these self-care tips into your every day.

1. Ask and Learn About Your Health

According to the International Self-Care Foundation, a crucial element of self-care is health literacy, or the ability to understand what a health care professional has advised. For example, you know flossing is good for all of us, but understanding why might stick the habit for you. Furthermore, Googling a new physical symptom is a surefire way to send yourself down a mental rabbit hole. Actually make an appointment (or call the nurse line) when something is up so you can begin to get to the bottom of a suspected affliction.

2. Know Your Health Numbers

Not everyone is comfortable memorizing their BMI and cholesterol stats, but being generally aware of your present level of health goes a long way toward wellness, self-awareness, and even self-esteem. Engaging in regular health screenings is key, and so is knowing how to access those results. Consider setting up an online patient portal account to make your health info easily accessible anytime.

3. Exercise Regularly

Moderate exercise has many health benefits, such as soothing your sore typing shoulders or easing your foul, cooped-up mood. To incorporate exercise into your day, set up a calendar reminder for a mid-day walk, try out a new local fitness class (even if it's virtual), or really go after that garden you've been neglecting. Being active not only reduces your risk of illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, and even dementia; it also helps you manage existing conditions and enjoy deeper, more regular sleep.

4. Have a Food Plan

That could mean a three-square-meal weekly lineup, a go-to list of healthy takeout options, or something in between. Whether you're the menu-planning type or someone who can survive on the same daily desk salad (featuring lean protein and healthy fat, of course), being mindful of your food intake is a smart self-care move. A good food plan includes the when and how as well as what you're going to eat.

5. Be Your Own Safety Officer

Getting hurt is the opposite of self-care, so practice what the International Self-Care Foundation calls "mitigating risk." Get that flu shot. Quit smoking. Wear the SPF, a helmet, and your seat belt. Limit your drinking and practice safe sex. These tips aren't as exciting as setting a standing weekly date night or blocking off nightly reading sessions, but they're self-care activities all the same.

6. Wash Your Hands

The World Health Organization says that hand washing is the single "most important recommended behavior in developed nations." Good hygiene is one of the best ways to care for yourself and stay healthy, so wash your hands frequently and be sure to do it thoroughly.

7. Use Meds and Self-Care Services Responsibly

You likely know that more doesn't necessarily mean better when it comes to using health products (like prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs) and wellness services (such as chiropractors, nutritionists, or trainers). Being a responsible self-care consumer means being appropriately cautious about what you put in your body and how you treat it. Follow what your physician has advised for recommendations specific to you.

Self-care ideas can be more common-sense than you think, therapist Nelson-Kirby says. "Lately, I feel like self-care is way more basic than I used to make it," she says. "While massages and pedicures are amazing and important, I think the real self-care for me is exercise, meditation, good quality friend connection time, and sleep."

However you concoct your own self-care regimen, the most crucial step is to make it a priority—period.

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