13 small ways to practice self-care

by | Mar 4, 2022 | Last updated Apr 5, 2023

Self-care has become such a buzzword that it’s almost lost all meaning. Memes on social media chalk up self-care to spending tons of money for “retail therapy” or eating an entire stuffed crust pizza and washing it down with a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke. And while self-care can mean different things for different people, Dictionary.com defines self-care as “the products or practices used to comfort or soothe oneself” (the stomach ache from eating a whole pizza probably doesn’t apply). 

Although self-care can increase your sense of well-being, it can be tough to carve out time for yourself to practice it regularly. That’s why we’ve listed 13 small ways to practice self-care that are easy to implement. Add these to your routine at a time when you have a few minutes, or practice one of these when you’re feeling overwhelmed and need a break. 

  1. Do a brain dump: Spend 1-2 minutes getting all your thoughts out on paper. Grab a piece of paper (or your notes app) and write “brain dump,” the date, and the time at the top of the page. There are no rules for a brain dump: write your thoughts down in a stream of consciousness, add scribbles and doodles, orbullet points—anything goes. If you need help, start with these prompts: What’s on my mind? If my brain could talk right now, what would it say? What thoughts am I experiencing? Try setting a timer for a minute or two, and write continuously until the timer goes off. 
  1. Write a gratitude list: One way to center your mind is to practice gratitude. We know, we know—the concept can seem corny and overdone, but there is real science behind expressing gratitude (recognizing and being thankful for all the good stuff in your life). Gratitude can help you feel more optimistic, sleep better, feel happier, and improve relationships. Take a few minutes to jot down 5 things you are grateful for right now: it can be as poignant as a happy relationship, or as small as a good cup of coffee. Take some time to reflect on what you’re grateful for, and if you can, get in the habit of jotting down what you’re grateful for regularly. 
  1. Take a warm bath: If you are able to carve out 15-20 minutes in your day, then draw yourself a warm bath. Enjoy the time to yourself. Notice how the warm water feels on your skin and how it relaxes you. Extra points if you can add bubbles, candles, and some soothing music. 
  1. Enjoy a cup of herbal tea: Take a few minutes to brew a cup of herbal tea and sip on it mindfully to relax your mind. Chamomile, lavender, and peppermint all have calming qualities. Make sure to inhale the soothing scent as you sip, and enjoy your warm beverage until the last drop. 
  1. Stretch your body for 5 minutes: If you’re like most working adults, then you spend much of your day hunched over a computer or keyboard. Make sure you take some time to stretch your body, even if it’s just five minutes at your desk. Check out these 5 mobility stretches you can do at the office or from your desk chair to ease tightness and stiffness. Bonus: spending a couple minutes away from your screen will also help calm your mind. 
  1. Get up from your desk or workspace and walk around: If you want to get your blood flowing even more, take a break for a few minutes to get up and walk around. You don’t need to go outside (although that’s certainly an option), but just moving around your space will help stretch out your legs, ease stiffness, and get some steps in. Even if you’re only able to walk around for a short time, every little bit adds up. Try doing this several times throughout the day to take a mental and physical break from your work. 
  1. Move your body for 10 minutes: If you’re of the mindset that movement only “counts” if you are able to do a 30-minute workout, then it’s time to combat that thought distortion. Some movement is better than nothing, and taking a little bit of time to get your heart rate up and move your body will be beneficial for you in the long run. If you’re able to, take 10 minutes to move, whether that’s a short workout video on YouTube, a quick bike ride or jog in your neighborhood, or some bodyweight exercises like squats and planks in your living room. 
  1. Read 5 pages from a book: Do you have a book that’s been sitting on your bedside table and has become more of a coaster than reading material? Set aside 5 minutes to read a few pages, and make sure to savor the much-deserved quiet time and break from your busy life. 
  1. Unplug your devices: We know this one is much easier said than done. But taking some time to completely disconnect from all screens and electronic devices has proven to have mental health benefits like reduced stress and an increase in quality sleep, not to mention ease the strain on your eyes. Try putting your computer on sleep mode, turning your phone on do not disturb, and leaving all electronics in another room. Even if you are only able to do this for 20 minutes, it will give your mind a break. 
  1. Recite a positive affirmation: OK so this one might seem cheesy, but hear us out: writing down positive affirmations to repeat to yourself can give you a mood boost, which is much needed during times of stress. Jot down a few positive affirmations on sticky notes and place them on your mirror, desktop, or kitchen cabinet—anywhere you will reliably read them. Some examples:
    • “All I need is within me right now.”
    • “I am unstoppable.” 
    • “Every day is a fresh start.”
    • “I’ve got this.” 
    • “I am grateful for the things I have.” 
  1. Give yourself a hand massage: You probably don’t realize how much tension you hold in your hands and fingers until you take a moment to massage them. After typing and texting all day, massaging your hands will provide a relaxing relief. For 5-10 minutes, carefully massage your own hands. Close your eyes and notice how your mood shifts as the tension is released from your fingers and toes.  
  1. Light a scented candle or diffuse essential oils: Smell is one of the most powerful of all our five senses, and diffusing essential oils or lighting a scented candle can really affect our mood. If you want something relaxing, try something with lavender, sandalwood, or eucalyptus. For a pick-me-up, try cinnamon or citrus scents like grapefruit and orange. 
  2. Try a 5-minute guided meditation: When you’re in the middle of a jam-packed day, it probably seems impossible to find time to be still. But meditation can help reduce stress and anxiety, and you only need to practice it a few minutes a day to reap the benefits. Try a five-minute guided meditation, like this 5-minute mindfulness meditation on YouTube, or enlist the help of an app like Calm or Sattva.