There’s no way to say exactly what counts as self-care because everyone’s definition is their own and unique.
The underlying rule is that it’s something that brings you sustained joy in the long run, Courtney says. And though there are plenty of examples of self-care that seem to tread a fine line between a health-enhancing behavior and self-indulgence, self-care doesn’t have to be about padding your calendar with luxurious experiences or activities that cost money (though it certainly can).
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Consider a manicure or a massage or any other pampering activity. It might seem indulgent, but if the activity helps you de-stress and carve out time for yourself, it counts as self-care, Amsellem says. If weekly manicures or monthly spa days are beyond your means, they will likely add stress to your life in the long run, so there are plenty of other self-care practices you can adopt.
“Self-care does not have to cost anything — it’s just doing things you enjoy. And a lot of the things we enjoy or feel fulfilled from cost nothing,” Amsellem says. “Stepping outside and taking a deep breath, for example, might be the greatest act of self-care.”
Even if you can’t spend lots of time and money, Gill Lopez says you can still practice self-care several times a week by turning things you do every day into self-care practices.
Maybe you try being more mindful of your thoughts on your commute, or maybe you find ways to make daily tasks, like showering, more enjoyable. Pick a soap with a scent that you love, and focus on the physical sensations of the shower. Gill Lopez says: What does your shower smell like? What does it sound like? How does the warm water feel on your skin? “For about 10 minutes in the shower, which I have to do anyway, instead of letting my monkey brain run wild, I’m right there,” she says.
Daily chores like making your bed in the morning are also examples of self-care — or can be. “This is where that individuality comes into play, because for some people there is no way making a bed feels like self-care — it may just feel like a chore,” Amsellem says. But if it helps you claim your day and gives you a sense of accomplishment early on, you’ll have that with you even if the rest of the day gets derailed, Amsellem says.
The simple act of making your bed in the morning likely isn’t sufficient to account for all your self-care, she says. You may need to routinely devote time and energy to other self-care practices, she adds. “But if there are some days when you feel out of control, on those days, starting the day off doing what you wanted to do for yourself might be one of the biggest forms of self-care you engage in that day.”
And sometimes when all of our other self-care plans get thrown out of whack (you worked through your yoga class, your friend canceled your coffee date — we’ve all been there), it’s those small practices of self-care that provide just enough calm to help us get through the day and wake up in a better mood tomorrow.
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