In our increasingly busy and hectic world, it often feels impossible to care for our own needs and desires, let alone those of our loved ones. For this reason, among many others, we all could use a dose of self-care, whether it’s taking a hot bath at the end of a long and stressful day, attending a weekly yoga class to calm day-to-day thoughts or simply enjoying a cup of tea while reading your favorite magazine on a quiet Sunday afternoon.
The term “self-care” has a wide umbrella, and however you choose to define it is totally fine, experts say. In essence, it is considered anything that fosters physical, mental or emotional health and awareness. But in the age of millennials and Gen Z-ers, self-care has transformed from a concept of caring for oneself to a multi-billion industry that, in and of itself, spans across nearly every category imaginable. These groups are reported to spend twice as much as baby boomers on workout regimens, life coaches, therapy, and apps to improve well-being.
“We have noticed an increase in the number of venues offering various forms of quick self-care—nail salons, massage studios, yoga studios, health clubs, food services, life coaching, and flotation tanks, to name a few,” says Vivian Sierra, PhD, a marriage and family therapist in Saint Louis, Missouri. “These industries have grown exponentially as self-care becomes something we do to not just pamper ourselves, but also to take a break from the mad rush, to improve quality of life or to simply look and feel better.”
And while there's no doubt that self-care has become a marketing buzzword for anything related to improving oneself, the practice is not unnecessarily indulgent or a waste of time. “Sure, there are many forms of self-care that don't involve spending money, such as taking a bath, turning off your phone, engaging in healthy relationships, but if getting a manicure or a massage is how someone can slow down, breath, pause a little bit more, and become more aware of what's happening in their own life, I'm all for it,” says Kerri Axelrod, certified integrative nutrition health coach and yoga instructor.
In our self-care-centric world, it’s important to remember the goal of it all: to make you healthier, stronger, more mindful, and more courageous, says Jennifer Louden, a best-selling author and teacher. “Yes, sometimes self-care is watching The Crown and eating buttery popcorn—we all need to shut off and create and connect just for fun—but the general trend of self-care is healthiest if it is helping us each become more alive and interconnected rather than self-centered or comfortably numb.”
The key is to not stop at the surface, says Axelrod. Self-care needs to be balanced with a holistic approach to wellness. We all know the damage daily stress can do to our minds, bodies, and relationships, so think of it as a preventative practice. If you’re looking to add some self-care to your every day without falling victim to exorbitant expenditures, here’s how these experts recommend prioritizing your physical, mental, and emotional health.
Work out often
You’ve definitely heard this one before, but the truth is that exercise helps in nearly every single realm of your life—helping to keep you healthy mentally, physically and emotionally. That last one is perhaps most important, since a sweat session is the most effective and natural approach to combating the blues. “The body releases feel good chemicals called endorphins in response to physical activity that create a sense of wellness and have an analgesic effect on the body, aiding in relaxation and mood stabilization and improving your ability to deal with life’s challenges,” says Robin H-C, behaviorist and bestselling author of Thinking Your Way to Happy. Even 20 minutes a day is enough to make a big difference in your state of mind.
Mind your nutrition
Who doesn’t enjoy sitting down to a mouthwatering meal? But experts warn that focusing food around what tastes amazing instead of what it can do for your body and mind is going about things the wrong way. In other words, make sure you are choosing nourishing options to encourage natural health. “Toxic and inflammatory foods are a fundamental self-sabotage and the opposite of self-love,” explains H-C. She suggests training yourself to eat nourishing whole foods such as fresh vegetables, lean meats, and fish at least 85 percent of the time.
Unplug from everything
We’re not just talking about social media, but also your phone and email. Axelrod recommends putting your phone on airplane mode one hour before bed and not turning it on until after you've spent some time checking in with yourself in the morning. “You'll feel more refreshed going to bed and waking up with a clear mind, rather than immediately checking email when you wake up or scrolling through Instagram before bed.”
Whether meditation means committing to a consistent yoga practice or taking 10 minutes in the morning to put your thoughts to a halt and muster a cloud of silence, experts agree that the benefits of mindful meditation are endless. “Even if it's just for five minutes, take some time to be present in the moment,” suggests Michelle Elman, five board accredited life coach. “Those five minutes can really help reduce the feelings of stress.” If you can't stand the idea of being silent, she suggests getting a guided meditation in the form of an audiobook.
Take a bath
If you’ve had a spare 10 minutes to spend immersed in a hot bubble bath, you know how insanely relaxing and rejuvenating it feels. Axelrod suggests dipping into one filled with epsom salt about an hour or so before bed to help with muscle relaxation, detoxification, and to aid in a restful sleep. “You can also add one to two drops of essential oils like lavender to help further promote relaxation,” she says.
It might seem like a big waste of time, especially when you have 15 million other things on your to-do list, but this age-old practice does wonders for your mental and emotional health. “Often we become so engaged in accomplished-based living that we forget to look back and honor the growth and progress that is so apparent in the rear view mirror of life,” says H-C. “Don’t forget to take time to acknowledge yourself and your progress.”