Ever since I was old enough to choose my activities and lifestyle, I have been chronically busy. I would love to say that throughout my life, I have been able to practice self-care while living a busy lifestyle, however, that has not been the case most of the time. It wasn’t until I had a severe case of mono that I realized my stress management and self-care skills were subpar. So subpar that I ended up sick for well over eight months, and I am still healing dental and gut issues that surfaced as a result of my illness… two years later.
These days, the term self-care seems to frequently get a bad rep in the sense that people have a very glorified perspective of it. Contrary to belief, it doesn’t have to be time-consuming, expensive, or difficult to achieve. Adding little things into your routine as a daily self-care practice can be more effective than having that one day or several hours to yourself. Smaller practices are also usually easier and less overwhelming to make stick, rather than drastic lifestyle changes that often only stick for a phase. Just like saving pennies add up to dollars, utilizing small pockets of your day for self-care will add up for your health.
Throughout my work, I hope to always acknowledge that everyone’s body is different and requires different methods of care. In the time that I’ve really focused on bettering my self-care, I have found a few things that have really worked for me, so I wanted to share them with you.
1. 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise
I learned this technique in one of my first lectures of nutrition school at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and it’s been super helpful to me! Dr. Andrew Weil, who gave the lecture, recommends doing this exercise twice a day. After consistent practice at least one month, the body will begin to recognize it as a calming tactic. For example, you can use this technique if you can’t fall asleep or if you feel yourself getting angry, etc.
The benefits: Quick tool to relax the mind and body, lower blood pressure, decrease anxiety, and help prevent panic attacks
How it works: Start by exhaling all the air from your lungs. Then breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 7 counts, and audibly breathe out for 8 counts. Repeat this for four cycles. If you want to know more about it or have an example, Dr. Weil has a video and article about this technique here.
How it has helped: As someone prone to anxiety, I use this in situations where I am starting to feel overwhelmed and anxious to help ground me. It’s also been useful if I wake up in the middle of the night in helping me fall back asleep. I use it as a daily practice as well as mental health “survival” skill. Definitely one for the mental health first aid kit!
Time commitment: 1 minute
2. Dry Brushing
When I first heard of dry brushing, the people I heard talking about it were using it mostly for cosmetic use such as a reduction in cellulite, removing puffiness, helping get rid of backne. No one was using it for inflammation, but I realized that the root cause of puffiness is actually inflammation itself. So, I dug deeper into the research and found a much more developed list of benefits. I did not imagine it to be as useful as it was for my lymph nodes, which has responded particularly well.
I started dry brushing about a year ago. My lymph nodes are generally the quickest to react to things that don’t agree with my body. They swell often, especially the ones around my neck, jawline, and ears. During these flare-ups, pain levels increase which also makes things quite uncomfortable. Dry brushing has helped decrease these flare-ups for me, as well as speed up the draining process when the flare-ups do occur.
The benefits: Promotes lymphatic drainage and inflammation reduction, gets rid of dead skin cells, boosts energy, reduces cellulite, promotes healthy blood flow and circulation. When your blood is moving as it should, your body naturally detoxes quicker and easier.
How it works: Starting at your feet, dry brush in small circles working your way up the body, toward your heart. Then work your way down your arms from your hands. Brush your chest area before your face and neck to help open up the glands first for best drainage. Be more gentle on your face or get a softer brush for your face. There are dry brushes that are made specifically for sensitive or soft skin that you can purchase. Spend a little extra time in areas that are more congested—for me, the neck area. Some prefer to do this before a shower, to rinse any dead skin cells off in the shower. Others like to dry brush after a shower and apply body and facial oil to moisturize and soothe any irritations.
You may need to shop around to find a dry brush that works for you and your skin. Don’t be afraid to try a different brush if you feel it hasn’t worked for you! It took me three different dry brushes to find the perfect fit. The dry brush I use can be found here, or you can check your local Whole Foods.
How it has helped: As I mentioned, the lymph nodes around my neck are almost always inflamed. Dry brushing has helped keep swelling reduced with fewer flare-ups. I do notice a slight energy boost sometimes, so I try to do it in the morning. One perk that I didn’t expect, dry brushing has reduced my back acne too.
Time commitment: 5 minutes
3. Tongue Scraping
Sounds gross, right? It looks about as gross as it sounds, but it’s totally worth it. I first learned about tongue scraping from Lee From America. I was so nervous to try it and sucked at it the first month of doing it. Now I am pretty decent at it and it’s probably the easiest self-care habit I have built into my routine. The tongue holds so much information about the overall health of the rest of your body, so it’s important to keep the health of your tongue in check. After doing this and seeing the benefits for myself, using a toothbrush to clean my tongue just doesn’t do the trick for me anymore.
The benefits: Removes the film on your tongue (created from dead skin cells, plaque, food particles, yeast that can otherwise stay on your tongue for over a week), helps curb bad breath, clears toxins and bacteria, can help promote better digestion and organ health that has been linked to tongue health, and the best part: enhance taste buds.
How it works: Using a tongue scraper, scrape the tongue from back to front and side to side. Check out Lee From America’s tutorial video – this is where I learned it from.
How it has helped: Being a foodie, I do notice some enhancements of my taste buds after tongue scraping. The general health of my mouth has improved and it’s been the cheapest and quickest addition to my routine.
I purchased this tongue scraper! It comes as a two pack of stainless steel scrapers (get a friend to try it with you!). Because they are stainless steel, they are long-lasting (one or two per lifetime!) and bendable to work for any mouth size. I’ve also heard you can also do this with a spoon, but I have yet to try it.
Time commitment: 30 seconds
4. Face Masks (and yes, boys can do these too)
A “self-care Sunday” favorite of mine! Face masks are awesome because you can treat yo’self while still being productive. Or sometimes it’s a good way to force yourself to relax for 20 minutes.
The benefits: Depending on the type of face mask, masks can hydrate the skin, remove excess oils and impurities, unclog pores and cleanse the skin.
How it works: Each face mask is different, so be sure to read the instructions before using. Generally, apply the face mask to cleansed skin and let sit for a period of time before rinsing off. Be sure to use lukewarm water when rinsing, as hot water can contribute to drying out or irritating the skin.
How it has helped: Consistent weekly face masking has reduced my acne and helped balance my skin. I use them in addition to my daily face wash, toner, and face oil.
See my favorite face masks and cleansers on my favorite products page.
Time commitment: 5 minutes application time + 10-30 minutes processing time
We all know meditation is supposed to be good for us. But who the heck can sit still for 5, 10, 20, even 30 minutes in silence and not be thinking of the hundred other things you could be doing? I struggled with this for years before I finally decided to ditch the idea of how meditation is supposed to go and instead accept it for what it was for me at that time. With meditation, trusting in the process is key, especially as a beginner. That’s why they refer to it as a practice.
The benefits: stress management (by reducing the stress hormone cortisol), increases self-awareness, can help improve sleep (especially if meditating to wind down at night), reduces anxiety, raises your internal energetic vibration.
How it works: Everyone has their own methods of meditation and what works for them. I have tried many methods and tricks before I found something that stuck. Here’s what works for me: I imagine a bright color as good energy and black as negative energy. When I deeply inhale, I envision a bright color traveling through my veins and body, reaching down to my toes, through my fingers, filling up my lungs, etc. When I exhale, I envision all the congested negativity and low energies leaving my body as black air. Then, I will choose a new color and repeat this process until I feel that the black air has become clear, white, or blue. Sometimes until I can’t think of any more colors to inhale, sometimes until I fall asleep.
How it has helped: Using this along with the 4-7-8 breathing method has helped me center myself when I start to feel uncharacteristically angry or anxious. It’s also helped calm my mind when I have too many thoughts bouncing around. As an empath, it has helped ground me so I can recognize what feelings are my own and what I am picking up from those around me.
Time commitment: Whatever feels right! 5 minutes, 20 minutes, whatever works for you.
6. Go to one of your favorite places.
For me, it’s a small coffee shop 30 minutes away. There are different places or activities that will do this for each person, but to me, it’s important that the entire experience is relaxing, especially as someone who generally works from home. The drive to my favorite coffee shop consists of roads through open fields and I am kindly greeted with a honey cinnamon latte upon my arrival. My favorite music in the background, my favorite color painted on the wall, and a small-town feeling community around me—this is one of my happy places! It’s exactly the atmosphere that I’m looking for. I also tend to get a lot more work done away from home, so I often use this as self-care getaway + a workspace.
The benefits: Good vibrations, a clear mind, and a refreshed soul.
How it works: Get the heck away from the daily grind and get to your happy place! If you’re feeling a little stuck on where to go, try visiting different coffee shops, parks, forest preserves, museums, etc. Take some time and figure out what works best for you!
How it has helped: I always leave this little coffee shop feeling so inspired with new ideas and with a pep in my step. When things start to feel stagnant or I start to feel behind, I know I need a mini-escape to my favorite hang out spot.
Time commitment: However long feels right, or however much time you can step away for!
Since I’ve really begun practicing self-care, I’ve grown to love and implement so many practices into my routine. While these are just a few of the many, they are definitely some of my favorites! Sometimes, we can justify doing everything on our long to-do list except self-care, but prioritizing it can and will make all of the difference in our lives. Being burnt out only slows us down and most of the time, the items that do get checked off our lists aren’t necessarily done to their greatest potential if we had more inspiration, time, or brain power. Stepping away and setting aside time for you is like oil to a machine. Prioritize you, even in small ways, and you’ll keep running smoothly.
Edited by: Codi Ann Backman
Hand-drawn Design by: Kerra Sun Creative