Self-care can range from physical activities like taking a warm bath, to social activities like catching up with friends, to mental activities like taking a break.

Self-care involves conscious participation in activities that promote healthy functioning and enhance a person’s well-being and quality of life. It helps reduce stress, boost self-confidence, and improve overall happiness.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that self-care means taking time to do things that improve both physical and mental health in order to live well.

This article explores what self-care is and includes examples. It also discusses the importance of self-care, common barriers, and how a person can build a self-care action plan.

A female journaling as part of a self care routine.Share on Pinterest
Nuria Seguí/Stocksy

While self-care can mean different things for different people, it is a broad term that covers what a person does or engages in to improve or preserve their physical and mental well-being.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.”

Most people already practice self-care to stay healthy. This includes eating healthy foods, taking medicines, and doing physical activities.

About 6.7% of the U.S. population practice a form of health self-care on a daily basis. A 2020 survey also found that 7 in 10 Americans are aware of their need for self-care.

Below are different self-care examples broken down into other areas of self-care.

Physical health

Self-care includes activities that make a person feel physically well and helps maintain their physical health.

A 2016 study on self-care practices of college students found that practices like sleep hygiene and food habits are positively associated with student engagement, persistence, and performance.

Examples of this include:

Learn more about the benefits of exercise for physical and mental health.

Mental health

Self-care for mental health encompasses everything a person does to keep a healthy relationship with their mind. These include activities that keep the mind focused and engaged, like brain-stimulating activities.

According to NIMH, self-care can have several benefits to a person’s mental health. These include:

Examples of mental self-care activities include:

Emotional self-care

A person needs to learn how to acknowledge and regulate emotions as they arise and healthily process them. Emotional self-care can help individuals navigate their feelings, increase empathy, and learn coping mechanisms to deal with difficult emotions.

Some examples of emotional self-care are:

Learn more about how to set boundaries.

Spiritual self-care

Spiritual self-care involves activities that center on spirituality and activities that nurture the soul. These include:

  • engaging in prayer and meditation
  • attending a worship service
  • doing yoga
  • self-reflection
  • reflection
  • walking in nature
  • attending a retreat

A 2019 review found that yoga and mind-body meditation reduced stress and burnout among healthcare workers, as well as improved their quality of sleep.

Social life self-care

Humans are social beings who need regular interaction. Social relationships are beneficial for a person’s health and well-being while being isolated can negatively affect a person’s mental, emotional, and physical health.

A 2018 study found that loneliness and lower perceived social support are associated with poorer outcomes in mental health conditions like:

Social self-care involves activities that build and grow a person’s relationships. These include:

  • engaging in healthy social media use
  • spending time with family and friends
  • keeping a date night on the calendar
  • calling loved ones
  • trying new hobbies and joining groups to meet and socialize with others

Learn more about the health benefits of being social.

Workplace self-care

Employees may find it essential to engage in activities that allow them to share their skills and strengths and make them feel fulfilled in their careers. This may also include striving for a work-life balance and doing tasks that prevent burnout.

A 2020 American Psychological Association (APA) survey found that three in five employees experience adverse impacts of work-related stress, like lack of interest, motivation, or energy and lack of effort at work.

Self-care examples related to work include:

  • spending time with co-workers outside of work hours
  • attending seminars and conferences
  • taking a mental health break or vacation leave when necessary
  • using time management
  • not responding to work emails or messages outside of office hours

Learn more about how to deal with work anxiety.

Financial self-care

Self-care may also include managing one’s finances and actively meeting one’s financial goals and obligations.

A 2022 study found that financial literacy is a better predictor of happiness than income.

Examples of financial self-care activities include:

  • completing tax responsibilities on time
  • meeting with a financial advisor
  • paying bills
  • budgeting money
  • learning about money management

Looking after oneself is crucial to living a healthy and happy life. Amid increasingly busy lives, it can be easy to forget about looking after oneself. But engaging in self-care can help people feel better in different areas of their lives, including their health, relationships, and work.

Self-care behaviors are crucial for a healthy lifestyle and can lead to improved physical and psychological health. This, in turn, can boost individual and social well-being.

Similarly, a 2022 Iranian study showed that self-rated health positively impacted Iranians’ happiness.

In a 2018 study on U.S. medical students, findings showed that engaging in various self-care practices resulted in lower perceived stress and higher quality of life. They also have greater resiliency and a lower risk of higher levels of distress amid training.

While participating in self-care might seem easy on paper, in practice, barriers exist that may limit a person from engaging in regular self-care. Below are some of them:

Feeling selfish or guilty

Many people worry about being perceived as selfish if they practice self-care. People may feel compelled to use their time for others instead of self-care, particularly those in caring professions or with caring responsibilities.

A 2019 study found that self-care behaviors promote higher levels of professional quality of life among social workers.

Similarly, a 2017 study found that late-career psychologists who engage in more self-care tend to report greater professional well-being.

Lack of time

Self-care often takes the least priority in a person’s schedule. A person may have too many responsibilities and commitments or have difficulty prioritizing and managing their time.

In a 2019 study, three in four nurses in the U.S. reported not having enough time to exercise, prepare healthier meals, or do relaxing activities.

Learn more about ways to relax.

Lack of understanding

A person who does not understand their need for self-care and its benefits may not find it necessary to engage in it.

In a 2019 study, providing education intervention improved self-efficacy to overcome barriers and self-regulation in people with diabetes.

Belief that self-care is expensive

Some activities, like exploring a new hobby or traveling, tend to require money and may be challenging if finances are tight. Health conditions may also add a financial burden which can also hinder self-care.

However, self-care does not have to be expensive. There are many budget-friendly ways to relax and take a break.

Lack of self-compassion

People who cannot extend understanding and acceptance to themselves when they feel inadequate or fail may not allow themselves to engage in self-care.

A study found a correlation between self-compassion and perceived self-care ability.

Poor support

A poor workplace culture that stigmatizes self-care, including seeking help or asking for vulnerability, may discourage people from engaging in self-care.

A person who wants to focus on their self-care may start by creating a self-care action plan. This will serve as a guide that will help them promote their own health and well-being. This involves the following steps:

  • Assess one’s well-being and stress level: This includes understanding the importance of self-care and becoming self-aware of one’s needs. Many people are also unaware of how stressed they are and how it affects their lives. Assessing stress levels and well-being can give a person a picture of their current health.
  • Identify stressors: Creating an inventory can help people identify their stressors or learn how to cope with them.
  • Identify one’s coping strategies: Every person creates coping strategies to deal with life’s stressors. Making a list can help them recognize healthy and unhealthy coping strategies. They could then adopt healthier ones in exchange for unhealthy ones.
  • Identify current self-care practices: A person can highlight the self-care practices they are already doing and see whether there are any imbalances.
  • Identify potential barriers or obstacles: It is important to identify barriers or obstacles that can prevent a person from implementing their action plan. This way, a person can anticipate and address them when they come.

Learn more about why stress happens and how we can manage it.

Engaging in self-care pursuits can be more achievable with support from other people.

A person may start by listing friends and family members who:

  • they are comfortable with
  • take their concerns seriously
  • value them
  • are trustworthy
  • help them solve their problems

They can also look into community organizations for other people with similar interests or local support groups that deal with specific issues.

The Mental Health America Affiliate and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Connection offer ways for a person to find support groups in their area.

Taking care of one’s self is essential for overall well-being. Self-care can help reduce stress, manage mental health conditions, and improve physical health.

Self-care activities can take many forms, such as taking a break, meditating, getting enough sleep and rest, reading a book, and learning to be kinder to oneself.

Creating a self-care action plan can be a significant step toward prioritizing self-care. With support and a proper action plan, one can implement self-care into their life and enjoy its benefits.