Self-care has become something of a millennial fad, the spiritual trend à la mode.
More than ever people are prioritizing the gentle care of their bodies, minds, and spirits, indulging themselves in whatever supports this self-care mentality. And while it does engender the occasional eye roll, what’s so wonderful about self-care is that it can be anything you want it to be. It doesn’t have to just be buying a $12 acai bowl after yoga, or getting a mani-pedi on your lunch hour. Self-care is personal, self-defined, and can very easily be free.
So here’s 7 somewhat out-of-the-box self-care practices I’ve developed over time. I hope some resonate you, and you expand your self-care vocabulary. Make self-care intentional, repetitive, spiritually-focused, and simple and you will reap its benefits: becoming closer to yourself, calmer, and more ready to invest yourself in your life. It’s a tender age we’re entering, my friends, and I’m so about it!
1. Do less when you exercise.
Many of us consider exercise to be a form of physical self-care. We go to yoga to stretch and surrender to sheer presence, but end up becoming hyper-focused on our form, how much we’re sweating, and whether we’re really pushing ourselves. This is healthy for our bodies, but somewhat toxic for our body-mind-heart connection. When we push our bodies to extremes and call it “care,” we are treating them like trained animals.
Instead try shifting the dynamic. If you workout twice a week and want to meet your goals, maybe you should add a third workout that is extremely soft. After your run, add another half hour of walking through a park, or doing some restorative yoga (there are tons of videos on YouTube to try). Play around with a healthier balance of working out and renewal.
2. Have a daily debrief.
Creating an intentional nighttime practice of gratitude and acknowledgement of your successes can be a very powerful self-care tool. Yes, you can scroll the ’gram all you want, but leave five minutes or so before you finally close your eyes to review your day. Play through your highlights, as well as your more difficult moments, and then come up with a little report on how you did today. But, you have to make sure you use a 3-to-1 formula: 3 ways you succeeded, grew, or chose a healthier pattern, and 1 way in which you know you can do better tomorrow. This little ritual can help foster a sense of gratitude and confidence, but also puts your inner-development in perspective without letting yourself off the hook.
3. Turn sleep into self-care.
Personally, I’ve made sleep into a really cozy and rejuvenating self-care routine with 2 simple changes. First, I make going to bed feel like going to the spa. I get into my satin pajamas, put on some sleepy spa music, turn on the aromatherapy diffuser prepped with lavender oil, open the curtains so the starlight can slip in, and tuck myself in nice and tight. When I make getting into bed feel luxurious, it becomes special, sacred, and a real gift instead of a necessity.
Second, I don’t set an alarm in the morning. (I will confess, my day rarely starts before 10am, so I get a little pass here, but bear with me.) Getting up naturally feels soft, easy, and incredibly refreshing, and it has made a significant difference in my experience of sleep. It took a few weeks of recording my sleep time, but eventually I saw that I sleep typically about 7.5 hours, so every night now I give myself room for 8.5. Yes, I set a backup alarm just in case, but allowing the space to wake up naturally everyday has become a very loving and gentle personal practice I highly recommend.
4. Begin a morning ritual.
Imagine if your morning began with a card pull, a little incense, a poem, or a prayer instead of a mad rush. Doesn’t it sound lovely? I’ve tried all of these practices, and they’ve all helped center me and really pull me into my core so that I stay truer to myself throughout the day.
The easiest morning ritual I like to suggest is pulling a card from a good deck (see the next practice) or getting a daily reflection book like Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening. If that’s not your thing, or you want to keep it free, I recommend getting daily meditations from a free online resource or app. Insight Timer is an app with lots of free guided meditations, or you could try something a little different and get a poem sent to your inbox every morning with Poetry.com. It’s a really lovely practice to care for your soul first thing before anything else, and that energy definitely vibrates within you throughout the rest of the day.
5. Get yourself a good deck.
Now I know this isn’t free, but there are so many (like so, so, so many) good decks out there nowadays, and I highly recommend trying an oracle deck. There’s ones like the Universe Has Your Back deck with single-sentence affirmations and mantras for daily reflection. Or there’s more abstract or archetypal decks like the popular Goddess Guidance Oracle, a collection of goddesses from all over the world and the energies they embody. Oracle cards open an immediate gateway into your emotional and spiritual world.
These decks are often only about $15, but if you have no money to spend ask for one for a gift. Seriously, people request decks all the time in the tarot world. You can also follow a good reader on Instagram and let them pull one for you everyday. Or make your own! Get some paper, markers, a list of affirmations, and go to town.
6. Join your pet’s daily routine.
This is definitely the most unusual of my suggestions, so if you find it a bit weird, I get that. A few years ago I was going through a really tough time in therapy, and a big portion of my day was dedicated to decompressing from the emotional whirlwind I felt inside. TV and books both felt more like distractions than a form of de-stressing, and in meditation my mind too often flowed back into the tsunami inside my heart.
So more and more I found myself following my cats around my apartment, and I developed the practice of laying with them on their daily sunbath on my bed, or leaning against the window beside them to watch the birds. Eventually I realized this was a practice in presence, and it became a form of self-care for me, with an added sense of nonverbal togetherness and love.
7. Put self-care into your schedule.
More often than not when I ask my friends what they’re currently doing for self-care, they say going to brunch with some people, baking some sweets for their partner. This is very nice, and probably soothing, but this is not self-care. By definition self-care is a practice for the self only, and should generally be selfish, solitary, and free of expectation or over-extroversion.
Instead, schedule time to bake for yourself, to take yourself to brunch. If you’re keeping it cheap, try what I do and take one afternoon a week to watch a movie only you would like, with a glass of white wine and a mountain of sushi. If I know I have a busy few weeks ahead, I try to take a day off and walk the neighborhood, play some Joni Mitchell on my piano, get into nature.