This is our guide for the people who constantly ask themselves: How do I practice mental self-care?
Sometimes we forget what self-care activities work for us – especially when our stress levels are high.
There are few things as important to our mental and emotional well-being as practicing self-care. After all, how can you expect to be at our best for others when you aren’t at your best for yourself?
That’s why it’s important to take time out of your busy day to help yourself unwind.
But if you’re like most people, you might look for ways to take a break without feeling like you’re taking a break from the important things you need to get done.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of 17 practical self-care ideas that won’t add to your stress load, but will help you feel calmer, happier, and better able to cope with whatever challenging situations come your way.
Big Reminder: Practicing your mental self-care IS a productive activity.
1. Go for a productive walk.
I know, I know! You’ve heard this tip 54,800 times.
But I have some tips to make your walks feel productive and relaxing.
First of all, a great benefit of taking the right kind of walk is how walks physically remove you from your workplace or stressful environment. This gives you a chance to distract yourself with another activity.
Going for a walk is considered self-care because it gives you time to relax and exercise. It also allows you to get outside in nature, which can be restorative – even if you don’t have a destination in mind.
In fact, going for a walk is also a physical coping mechanism. That means it could help both your mental health and your physical health.
Here are some tips for taking a self-care walk:
- First, find a quiet place where you won’t be distracted. Unplug the phone and turn off the TV.
- Next, decide on a length of time to walk, and an amount of distance.
- If you don’t have a walking route, choose a street, park, or mall where you know you’ll feel safe and minimally anxious. (We’re setting the scene here!)
- Then, choose a playlist for your walk or walk in silence!
- Set a timer for however long you want to tune out for – 15 minutes? 90 minutes?
- When the timer goes off, you are done with your walk.
2. Watch a funny movie.
Watching a funny movie is one of the best self-care activities you can do. It is a simple, effective way to reduce stress, anxiety and improve your mood.
Daily routines that give you pleasure can improve your mental health and support your general wellbeing. You can watch a funny movie that you’ve already seen a few times or you can watch something you’ve never seen before.
If you don’t have time or energy for a full movie, try creating a playlist of funny videos – from YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, or even home videos – that make you laugh every time.
There are many options that can brighten your day and improve your mood and energy levels!
3. Listen to music that matches your mood.
Listening to music that matches your mood can make you feel understood and therefore more relaxed. This form of emotional self-care can be really beneficial to your mental health!
Tip for my spiritual friends: If you enjoy religious music genres, this can also be an opportunity for spiritual self-care. 🙂
It’s a win-win because listening to music is both enjoyable and can have a positive impact on your mood and energy levels. Empirical studies have shown that people who listen to music regularly can develop a more positive mood in their daily life, which contributes to long-term positive mental health.
Need ideas for a playlist that matches your mood? One of my favorites is this one:
I have playlists for every type of mood and mental health struggle I have faced: depression, panic attacks, anger towards men, anger towards family, grief, thinking about the ones I love, angst, hope, energy boost (for days when I’m on the edge of falling into a depression), etc.
4. Take a nap.
Taking a nap has benefits beyond just being a quick energy boost. A nap can help you recover from mental exhaustion and keep your mind sharp. So, not only can naps help reduce stress, they can also help develop a healthy mind for a productive day.
I’ll be honest, taking time to improve your sleep quality is not that easy.
To improve sleep quality: Take a nap in the early afternoon. Studies have found that a 10-20 minute nap in the afternoon are the most effective at releasing physical and mental tension.
5. Do an exercise video.
Even as someone who loves being active, when I’m depressed or just having a bad mental health day, exercise is impossible for me to do.
So if that sounds like you, you’re not alone. Here’s why exercise could really be a great self-care strategy for you though:
One of the most important aspects of self-care is exercise. This enables us to stay healthy and be more productive. Exercise can be in the form of any physical activity that you enjoy, such as dancing, jogging, swimming, yoga.
If it gets your heart rate moving up, it could be a great exercise! Yep, that even means having sex, cleaning your house, or doing the dishes.
And it doesn’t have to be long either…
Pro tip: Set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes and just do a physical activity until the timer rings.
As my family doctor always tells me: “Any exercise is better than no exercise!”
6. Listen to audio books.
Listening to audio books is a self-care strategy because it can take your mind off of any chaotic and focus them on an engaging story that you enjoy! It’s a win-win.
Think of reading or listening to a great book as a self-care trip that you can go on from the comfort of your own bed! Practicing mental self-care should feel comfortable and rewarding.
You can effectively give your mind and body a break by diving into an engaging story.
Give it a try! There are many free audio books (with text on the screen) on YouTube.
Try searching for [your favorite genre] + audio book in YouTube.
7. Take a bath.
Physical self-care is linked so closely to your emotional health! Think about it…
Baths make you feel good for so many reasons. They are a form of aromatherapy, they reduce muscle tension, and they give you a bit of time away from the chaos in your life.
To so many people, bath time is self-care time!
For me, baths also help me sleep better. So, by the next day, my energy levels are higher and I feel like I can be myself more.
Some people I know, like my mom and cousin, use baths as part of their recovery process for a traumatic event or bad physical injury. Of course, baths aren’t a medical treatment by themselves, but they can make the mental and physical pain of recovery much more tolerable.
8. Take pretty pictures.
Humans like pretty things. That’s why spending time looking for pretty things can be a great physical and emotional self-care habit.
If you do it with your dog, cat, or friends, it can even be considered a social self-care habit!
Making time to focus on the present moment can help you notice new things about your environment and can help you become more in-tune with your body.
And hey, you don’t need expensive photography gear or a photography degree to take pictures that look amazing to you.
To relax through photography, practice taking pictures of scenes that you find calming and peaceful.
9. Smell your favorite perfume or candle.
Smelling your favorite perfume, candle, or lotion is considered aromatherapy!
Here’s how it works: Aromatherapy is considered self-care because the pleasant scent of your favorite candle, perfume, or essential oils can help you to relax, calm down, and reduce your anxiety.
Smelling things you love is a way to improve your mental health by adding soothing scents to your self-care routine. Many people find it helpful to prevent themselves from feeling overwhelmed in times of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Think about what smells that make you smile. Here are some ideas:
- Creamy, rich smells with vanilla (my favorite!)
- Sweet scents of baked goods
- Savoury food scents
- Floral scents that bring you back to nature
- Holiday scents with pine cones and spices
- Seasonal scents – beachy smells for the summer, fresh spring scents, cozy autumn scents, and comfy winter scents
10. Read your favorite poem.
Even if your favorite poems are children’s poems, you can find comfort in them. That’s the key to self-care – comfort that suits YOU.
Reading a poem is considered self-care because it is an activity that can build a mental habit of self-reflection. It can help you think deeper about important things going on in your life.
I admit, self-reflection is intimidating. But I always opt for opportunities for self-reflection because it pays off in long-term closure and comfort.
My favorite poems are in the kid’s book Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.
11. Listen to a motivational speaker.
Listening to motivational speakers is considered self-care because it’s a means of hearing other people’s experiences. This can help you realize that you are not alone in living through similar traumas and experiences.
My friends in medical school – and you’ll find this in medical student forums, too – make playlists of motivational speeches on YouTube that they listen to every day or every week.
They’re essentially making their emotional self-care a priority to prevent really bad mental health days.
Because let’s be honest – When you’re in a stressful environment that you can’t get out of, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have bad mental health days…
But by prioritizing self-care behaviors, those bad mental health days could be more tolerable than before.
Even if you don’t watch all of them today, try making a YouTube or Spotify playlist of motivational speeches that might resonate with you.
Pro tip: Choose speeches that talk about struggles you care about or traumas you’ve dealt with – addiction, sexual abuse, failing at everything you’ve put your heart and soul into, etc.
12. Plan a party.
Yep. Even if the party isn’t real, planning a party can feel amazing! Think about it…
- You feel productive because you’re doing SOMETHING (this is huge if you’ve been depressed and can’t even force yourself to brush your teeth)
- Your brain is exercising its organization skills
- You get to think about things you like doing (and maybe do some of them in the process)
- You get to think about yummy foods and drinks that you like (and maybe eat/drink some of them in the process)
- You get to take your mind off of the chaos in your life by planning something fun
Those sound like some pretty solid ways to practice mental self-care that could be beneficial to your mental health!
And who knows? After planning the party, you might actually have the energy to make it a real thing! Having a rough period for your mental doesn’t mean that your social life has to be dead.
13. Play with your pet.
Playing with animals has been proven beneficial for people of all ages, including seniors, because it provides a safe and supportive environment for socialization without human judgement.
Some researches even found that enough animal playtime can lower blood pressure and help alleviate stress and anxiety.
If you love animals, playing with them can be a great way to relax and re-energize. It’s a great way for those with both mental and physical health issues to take care of themselves.
Don’t have a pet? Try going to a pet cafe or petting zoo. You can even try to volunteer at a local animal shelter or sanctuary.
Being around animals has huge benefits for humans and are even suggested to help patients with certain medical conditions to recover and build a sense of agency.
Give it a try!
14. Do a crossword puzzle.
Or any puzzle! Sudoku, word searches, or math puzzles.
Puzzles are a type of brain game, a type of self-care activity, that stimulates the mind and can facilitate healing. It’s a pretty fun way to allocate self-care time into your day.
There are many free websites for puzzle games that you can try. Your brain and mental health will thank you for giving it something fun to do!
15. Play a video game.
Today’s videos games have evolved beyond the Atari and Pac-Man classics.
Nowadays, games can be much more complex or simply designed for specific purposes – education, stress-relief, etc.
Even video games that don’t seem to have a purpose can help people relieve stress by providing an engaging environment to distract from real-world issues. The escapism nature of a video game is a legitimate form of self-care.
If you’re struggling with depression or feeling like you don’t have a sense of control in your life, video games can be a really gentle and inexpensive way for you to feel in control again.
Pro tip: Look for a game that allows you to do things that you can’t easily do in real life. For example, games that let you pay your mortgage, raise animals, go to school, catch the bad guys, go on adventures, open a bed and breakfast, etc.
Whether or not you’re looking for a game specifically designed for stress-relief, there is a video game out there that is bound to make you feel better – either through giving you a distraction from real life or giving you some control over something.
My favorite games include Animal Crossing, Mario Kart, Pokemon Sapphire.
16. Get a massage.
If you can afford a massage, it could really help with your physical and mental wellbeing.
Massage therapy is highly effective for many medical and psychological ailments. It decreases stress, increases the immune system, and lowers the blood pressure.
Massage can also improve the physical health of patients with cancer, arthritis, diabetes, and chronic pain. The pressure from a massage can also help ease the symptoms of muscle spasms.
17. Play in the rain.
William James, the father of American psychology, said, “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” Self-care is our ability to choose.
By playing in the rain, we are focusing on our surroundings and letting ourselves be free of judging ourselves.
My favorite time to run is actually when it’s lightly raining. There’s something about rain that is really therapeutic.
Pro tip: Even if you don’t play in the rain, you can try to do breathing exercises with the windows open on a rainy day. Breath work like that grounds you to the present and can be considered a daily exercise that can improve your quality of life in the long-term.
Summary of ways to practice mental self-care
If you ever catch yourself asking, “How do I practice mental self-care?” take a look at this list to get some ideas you might have forgotten about.
As you dive headfirst into these new ways to practice mental self-care, it’s important to keep in mind that self-care is more than just a buzzword.
It’s about taking care of your mind, body, and spirit.
Since this can come in many forms depending on what you like and what you’ve experienced, I made this shortlist of effective and fun ways to practice mental self-care.
My hope is that you can incorporate 2-3 of these into your life every day so that you get closer to developing positive mental health habits. 🙂
Do you want to vent about your problems to an anonymous self-therapy tool? Try our forever-free My Therapy Buddy tool here!
Contact us here if you have any questions or awesome milestones that you want to share.
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