43 highly effective self-care tips

Self-care was something I didn’t do well in the final months of my husband’s life. Because I could do it all myself. Because I didn’t want to bother other people. Because self-care sounds rather selfish, self-centered, self-conscious.

But it’s not. Self-care is simply seeing to our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health so we can better care for others.


Photo credit: Unsplash


Here are 43 highly effective self-care tips, whether your life has been touched by cancer, you’re caring for an aging parent, or there’s a new baby in the house (or teenagers, for that matter):

1. Settle in somewhere outdoors. In a hammock in the woods. At the end of a dock. On a mountain top. Bring a book, camera, healthful snacks. Read. Munch. Snap photos.

2. Make a *deposit-here* box. Find a decorative box and label it: “Things I will eventually get to, but not this day/ week/ season.” Write down all that is pressing heavily upon you … like, sorting through your deceased husband’s belongings. Put the pieces of paper in your box instead of carrying the weight around with you.

3. Learn to knit. It’s incredibly therapeutic to create something lovely and useful out of soft fuzzy exquisite skeins of yarn.

4. Soak in a bubble bath. Light candles. Play your favorite music. Don’t fall asleep.

5. Brew a cup of tea. Find a favorite spot — window seat, rocking chair on front porch, leather chair by crackling fireplace — and sip slowly while accomplishing absolutely nothing.

6. Take a walk. Fresh air. Nature. Physical movement. Nothing beats this combination for self-care.

7. Start a gratitude list. No, you’re not grateful for a cancer diagnosis; you’re not grateful your child has special needs; not grateful your loved one died. But can I gently ask a few questions: Do you have a roof over your head? Food in your pantry? Taste buds to savor that food? The ability to walk or jog? Favorite tunes, and ears to enjoy the music? A puppy or kitten? What about freedom? And people who love you? Challenge yourself to see if you can number 100 things you’re grateful for.

8. Rescue a dog. And see if he doesn’t rescue you in the process.

9. Cook. Try a new recipe or make one of your favorite dishes. Light candles and make it a special family meal for no particular reason. Or invite someone over. Or take good food to your neighbor.

10. Establish a book club. Contact one or three book-loving friends, and nourish your heart and soul over a regularly scheduled coffee-and-book-discussion time together.

11. Keep a journal for one week. Record the progress you’re making in dealing with your challenges. Journal your fears and joys, frustrations and successes.

12. Play in the park. Borrow a child, if you need to. Swing on the swings, slide down the slides, and cross over the monkey bars with your borrowed child.

13. Treat yourself to chocolate. Try one of the dark chocolates coupled with raspberry, mint, or salted caramel. Make an occasion of it … like, after the dinner dishes are done and the fireplace is lit.

14. Listen to music. Anything that makes your soul soar. Grab headset and turn up the volume. See how many instruments you can identify. Tympani. Electric guitar. Cello. Peruvian woodwinds.

15. Join a Bible study group. These usually run six to eight weeks. Make a one-time commitment and, if it’s beneficial, commit to the next study. This not only nourishes your spirit, but can also provide new friendships, which nourishes your soul.

16. Sign up for a creative arts class. Water colors. Pottery. Calligraphy. Clock-making. Creating something brings deep pleasure and satisfaction, and there’s science that indicates creativity provides health benefits.

17. Stretch. Do a few simple stretching exercises first thing in the morning to relaxing music.

18. Plant a flower, vegetable or herb bowl. Start with a large container that has good drainage. Plant something tall and stalky in the middle. Work out from there with smaller plantings that are indigenous to your area. Water. Enjoy.

19. Visit your favorite coffee shop. Sit long with a good book. Sip slowly. Raise your eyes from time to time to notice your surroundings.

20. Launch a weekly Classic Movie Night. Invite a friend over. Make popcorn. Begin with Charade, starring Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. Next, Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief. Move on to Rear Window with Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart. And then branch out to Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

21. Unplug from all electronic devices. Try this for a couple hours. If you don’t go into any serious withdrawals, try it for a full afternoon. Fill in the downtime with reading, daydreaming, walking, napping, sketching, writing. The list is endless.

22. Nap. Set a timer and take a quick nap in the afternoon.

23. Declutter. Just a smidgeon. For most of us, doing a thorough declutter could take days, and so we put it off because we don’t have days. But what if you concentrated on one area, like the clothes hanging in your closet? What haven’t you worn for a year? Give it away!

24. Play fetch with a furry friend. I have learned profound life lessons simply by throwing a tennis ball for a dog.

25. Write a poem. Even if it doesn’t rhyme. Or if it rhymes too much.

26. Browse through an antique/junk store. Look for items that could be repurposed into something really cool — like, old wooden crates that could be used for book shelves, or a set of retro suitcases stacked beside your bed as nightstand.

27. Add one healthy thing to your diet this week. Next week, add one more healthy item. And then another the week after. See if these additions don’t crowd out the not-so-healthy stuff.

28. Rediscover your buried talents. What are your gifts that have taken a back shelf? Did you know there are meet-up groups for board-game enthusiasts, people who love to cook, inventors, African drummers?!

29. Engage in a snowball fight. Self-explanatory.

30. Keep a food journal for one week. Set a total number of fruit-and-veggie servings for the week. Meet your goal.

31. Step outside your comfort zone. Sign up for stand-up paddle board lessons or helicopter skiing. The delight that comes from gaining more confidence is definitely self-caring.

32. Cultivate new and old friendships for the purpose of reciprocating encouragement, wisdom and love. Meet regularly over coffee/tea on back porches, at cafés, along river trails.

33. Get a massage, pedicure, or manicure. If spa treatment is out of your budget, figure out a trade with a friend. Share lotions and nail colors.

34. Memorize a favorite poem or scripture. Repeat it to yourself often. Here’s the start of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything that I need.”

35. Make a snow angel. You’ve not made a snow angel until you’ve made one while wearing snow-shoes and hydration pack. Don’t try this alone as you’ll need help getting up.


Photo credit: Gary Johnson


36. Try out a support group. A group for caregivers or widows. Or a support community for adoptive parents. Or for people with red hair and freckles who were teased incessantly by brothers. Promise yourself to attend at least six weeks. If it’s a good fit, lengthen your commitment.

37. Put on some groovy music and dance as if your life depended upon it.

38. Watch an inspiring movie. My all-time favorite inspiring sports movie is Miracle, about the US ice hockey team that beat the Soviets at the 1980 Olympics. Also, Invictus with Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, the first elected black president of South Africa, is quite inspiring.

39. Laugh. The next time you’re in a private setting with a group of friends, challenge each other to laugh. At first it will sound fake, but see how quickly it turns into real laughter. And see how good it feels.

40. Treat yourself to outdoor music and food. My hometown hosts Munch ‘n Music on Thursday evenings in the summertime. A free concert in the park along the river. Bring your own blanket and dinner, or buy dinner from one of the food trucks. If your town doesn’t offer free outdoor concerts in a park, consider moving.

41. Plan to stay in your pajamas. All day. Light candles. Watch HGTV. Read magazines. Sip tea. Call someone you haven’t heard from in a while: your college roommate, niece, a previous neighbor. Sip more tea.

42. Reach out to someone. Take a bouquet of flowers to a friend who could use some encouragement. Listen to a child read. Visit a shut-in. Organize donations for a homeless shelter. Reaching out to others can take the focus off our own challenges and lift our spirits, which is definitely part of self-care.

43. Count all the ways God loves you while out in nature. Here’s a suggested start: 1) this beauty for my enjoyment; 2) legs to walk this trail; 3) sound of water rushing over large boulders; 4) this breath in, this breath out; lungs that work.

* * *

I’m living proof that each of these self-care tips can be effective in dealing with the overwhelmingness of life. I’ve done them all. Well, except the helicopter skiing. And I may not have ever joined a red-hair-and-freckles support group, but I certainly could have benefitted from one. (You don’t know my brothers.)

Self-care. It isn’t just something we do for ourselves. We replenish body, soul, spirit in order to be a more excellent caregiver, patient, spouse, parent, friend.

Ask yourself: Do I need to stay in my pajamas today?

P.S. If you found this post helpful or know of someone who needs to be more self-careful, please share, tweet or pin!


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  1. Marlys, this list is inspiring. Incredible. Creative. Prolific. My favorite are laughter and encouraging friends! She who refreshes others will herself be refreshed, apparently.

  2. Nasus

    An important self-care gift is to read Marlys’s delightful, inspiring, encouraging, creative, caring words!
    Thank you ,my precious friend so dear
    Your words play music to my ear
    Your heart shows through in what you say
    Thank you, dear friend, for making my day!
    Marlys, this above is your fault, as you suggested writing a poem or non-poem!
    With love and thanks to God for you!

  3. diane clark


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