The past few years have shown us that self-care and mental health are deeply connected. Whether it’s a global pandemic or being a caregiver and a working parent, we can only thrive when we set aside time to take care of ourselves.
The truth is, trying to fix burnout after it’s happened isn’t sustainable. We need to implement self-care tips for mental health daily— before we’re running on empty.
A proactive self-care routine has the power to boost your personal well-being. As a result, your work performance, relationships, and physical health will improve, too.
Wondering where to begin? Let’s dive into what self-care is and our top 7 self-care tips for mental health.
What is self-care?
Self-care is the collective set of practices that you engage in to make sure that you’re happy and healthy. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines it 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 health worker.”
However, the common understanding of self-care is somewhat less clinical. Self-care is a form of self-love that helps us maintain both physical and mental fitness. While the WHO’s definition of self-care is prescriptive, self-care is additive. It’s the practices that make us feel good — about ourselves, our futures, and our lives.
Examples of self-care
There’s no limit to what is considered self-care. It really comes down to the quality, intention, and proactiveness of the action.
For example, if you’re prone to headaches, self-care might look like:
Seeing a doctor to determine the underlying cause
Drinking plenty of water
Reducing alcohol, caffeine, or sugar intake
Signing off work early or skipping social plans to rest
Or let’s say your job is extremely stressful right now. Maybe you’re trying to finish an important project or going through a busy season. You might want to take part in self-care activities like:
Getting enough sleep every night
Taking a mental health day when you feel burnt out
Not letting your work-life balance get out of control
Taking breaks away from the computer to manage eye strain
Prioritizing physical health by scheduling workouts
In both of these examples, there are an endless number of actions you can take either proactively or reactively. However, the purpose is always the same: manage the situation and the effect it has on your well-being.
5 pillars of self-care
Many people think that self-care is just about taking bubble baths or sleeping an extra hour. However, our well-being is impacted by every area of our lives, so we should apply self-care in each of those areas.
There are five main pillars of self-care that we should be aware of: mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and social self-care. Let’s take a closer look at each.
When we talk about mental fitness, we’re talking about the activities that keep your mind challenged and engaged. These are the things that get you into a flow state — where you’re effortlessly focused on something you enjoy. Experiencing flow as much as you can, challenging your mind, and learning new things are all forms of mental self-care.
Here are a few ways to improve your mental self-care:
Listen to an interesting podcast on your daily commute
Make time to read, even if it’s just a few pages of your favorite book before bed
Say yes to learning and professional development opportunities at work
Taking care of your emotional health means working to understand your feelings and how to deal with them. While a wide range of emotions is healthy, it’s also important to know what they’re trying to tell you and express them in a constructive way.
Here are some ways to work on your emotional self-care:
Your physical health is critical to your overall well-being. When your basic needs aren’t met, you tend to be less emotionally and mentally resilient as well. The symptoms of anxiety, depression, and many other ailments mimic symptoms of dehydration.
Here are some ways to work on your physical self-care:
Keep up with and prioritize regular doctor visits
Address health problems as they arise, instead of letting a busy schedule get in the way
Take care of your body by exercising and eating nourishing foods
Our spiritual self-care connects us to something larger than ourselves. It can be externally focused, like a religious practice. However, inner practices — like meditation and breathwork — can also provide spiritual fulfillment. Spiritual wellness is an individual journey.
Here are a few ways to boost your spiritual self-care:
Practice yoga or other mindful movements that connect you with yourself
Make your chosen spiritual practice a priority — you can start by setting aside just 10 minutes a day
Connect with a community that helps you boost your spiritual well-being
The time we spend with our friends, family, and loved ones is part of what makes life meaningful. But despite how much human beings need social connection, we often neglect it — especially when we’re already feeling low. Spending time with others who make us feel good is a great way to take care of our mental health.
Here are a few ways to improve your social self-care:
Start a hobby that connects you with others, like joining a recreational sports league or learning to dance
Check in with your friends and family members regularly (it’s okay to put reminders on your calendar!)
Don’t let social media take the place of real social interaction — plan to see your loved ones in person or give them a phone call
7 self-care tips for mental health
What does it look like — in practice — to self-manage your mental health, and where do you even start? We reached out to a number of people at BetterUp, both coaches and staff, to find out what practices they use.
The results? People use a wide array of resources, and most people have a combination of practices they use on a regular basis. Not only does one size not fit all, no single option is a cure-all.
1. Develop mindfulness
One of the first words that came to mind for BetterUppers was “mindfulness.” That’s because mindfulness practices have a cumulative effect on our mental health.
However, developing a mindfulness practice is famously challenging. With so much to do and so many notifications clamoring for our attention, it can be hard to tune it all out for even a minute.
Here are a few tips for developing this practice:
Mindful breathing: Taking deep breaths can immediately calm your mind and body. The best part? This is easy to do even if you’re at your desk, driving, or in the middle of a Zoom meeting.
Gratitude: Reflecting on what you’re grateful for can bring you back to the present moment, especially if you’re worrying too much about an unknown future. This is one of the best and easiest ways to practice self-care for your mental health.
Mindful walking: Jay Beaulieu, Sales Development Representative at BetterUp says, “I came across the practice of walking meditation and found that it works great for me. It’s the exact same practice of quieting your thoughts and reclaiming your attention as seated meditation, but perhaps better suited for folks who like to be on the move!”
2. Prioritize physical activity
If movement seems, well, more your speed, several BetterUppers cite exercise and physical activity as their go-to mental health habit. Here are a few ways to make this self-care tip for mental health a little easier:
Or maybe a Peloton workout: Catie Farrow, Head of Storytelling at BetterUp, seconds a regular Peloton habit as a balm for mental health.
Find a workout you love: Exercise isn’t one-size-fits-all. The best workout is the one you stick with consistently. The benefits of moving your body are magnified the more you do it.
As a woman of color who is making peace with the idea that my identity transcends that of an athlete, my journey of self-acceptance began and continues to evolve in relation to my body. I have Jessamyn Stanley to thank for reminding me I am so much more than the sum of my physical parts.
Ashley Strahm, Content Marketing Manager at BetterUp
3. Spend time in nature
What do hiking, gardening, and vacations all have in common? Time spent in nature. Many people find just being outdoors to be a therapeutic experience. The American Psychological Association (APA) links spending time in nature with lower stress levels, improved cognition, positive affect, and subjective well-being.
Here are some ways to develop this practice:
Build your houseplant collection: Mario Perez, BetterUp contractor, shared, “I don’t spend a lot of time on gardening, however, I have some plants and potted trees. I really enjoy watering them and seeing how they grow.”
Leave the electronics behind: Madeline Miles, a Staff Writer at BetterUp, advocates “uninterrupted, unplugged exercise. A walk, a hike, something where you’re not able to plug into any technology and just let your brain go on cruise control for a little while.”
Move your normal activities outside: If you’re looking to incorporate more time outside in your schedule, you can combine it with anything on your schedule. Try reading outdoors, eating lunch alfresco, or taking a walking meeting.
4. Practice self-acceptance
A big part of protecting our mental health is keeping our inner critics in check. Learning to pay attention to our self-talk is important. Self-criticism can kill our motivation, energy, and creativity.
Here are some tips for practicing self-acceptance:
Recognize that we’re all just human: BetterUp Care Coach Teregi Coleman says, “Life is easier when we recognize there are no such people as quitters, losers or failures. We are all just human beings who sometimes quit and sometimes lose. There are also no such things as winners. We are all just humans who sometimes win or are very successful in certain areas of our lives.”
Talk back to your inner critic: Don’t let that little voice in the back of your head be in charge of what you believe about yourself. When you criticize yourself, fight back. Make a list of all the things you love about yourself and refer to it in these moments.
Build self-compassion: You’re kind to your friends when they make you mad or mess things up. So why can’t you do the same thing for yourself? When you make a mistake, work on forgiving yourself.
5. Do Inner Work®
At BetterUp, we regularly take time to engage in intentional, restorative, and reflective practices. We call this Inner Work®, and it’s the key to making our outer work more successful and sustainable.
Here are a few ways to turn inwards as a form of self-care:
Forget about how things “should be”: BetterUp Enterprise Sales Leader Michael Tamam says that this struggle is the root of many mental health challenges. If we can actively release our perceptions of how things should be, we’ll be able to focus on ourselves and find internal peace.
Make it a daily habit: Michael suggests cultivating a daily habit of looking inwards and examining your inner landscape. Whether that’s through journaling or simply spending a few moments in quiet contemplation, the important thing is to take time for yourself.
Get to know yourself: Why do you do the things you do? Self-discovery boosts your self-awareness. That can improve your mental health and behavioral health since it helps you understand your internal motivations.
6. Work on understanding your mental health
One of the best self-care tips that we can offer is to understand your mental health. Whether you have a mental illness or just want to support your overall well-being, getting informed can help.
While you can do that by reading resources online or watching documentaries, one of our favorite ways to learn is through the wide variety of books on mental health. Here are some book recommendations from our team at BetterUp:
Who Moved My Cheese?: and The Power of Habit: Atu Kyeison, a GRC Analyst at BetterUp, recommends (and absolutely loves) these books. He says “These books really helped me understand how habits are formed and broken — and how changing one piece of the habit loop can change an entire outcome.”
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: Leilani Garrett recommends this Deepak Chopra classic. “I’ve read it many times,” she says, “and have listed out the important points, along with other affirmations that mean something to me, which I read every morning.”
The Obstacle Is the Way: Danny Codella, our Senior Writer, specifically mentioned this book as a favorite to help him keep [his] head above water through countless trials.
The Daily Stoic: Cait Dowling (Storytelling & Customer Advocacy) suggests reading the daily excerpt from this book. She says, “It’s a great perspective re-fresher and helps ground me regularly — and it’s short!”
Unwinding Anxiety: This book comes highly recommended by Maggie Wooll, our very own Managing Editor. She says it does a great job of “teaching you how to understand your brain and get curious about what is going on as an antidote to the fear/anxiety/reaction cycle.”
7. Find your flow state
Sometimes, the best way to take care of yourself is to just get out of your head. You can try these activities to manage anxious thoughts and get into flow:
Meditative prayer, such as saying a rosary or other rote prayer cycle
Volunteering with children
Doing challenging manual labor
Final thoughts on self-care for mental health
When you ask the question, “How do I proactively take care of myself so that I can thrive?” self-care no longer looks like a reactive set of products and activities. Your self-care is purposeful — you have a goal and can form the plan that works best for you.
The amazing thing about developing a self-care strategy is that it becomes a kind of Inner Work® practice. To have a truly effective plan, you have to know yourself. You must become intimately aware of what you need, how you feel, and what will make a difference.