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Self-Care Strategies: Your Guide to a Complete Self-Care Plan

Updated: Jan 8, 2019

What is self-care? As this concept becomes more and more commonly discussed amongst the general public, some definitions of self-care have become twisted.

When thinking of self-care strategies, many people envision luxurious bubble baths, deep tissue massages, and facials.

While these things may be a way of pampering yourself, many of the prevailing ideas of self-care strategies can be expensive or difficult to attain for many people.

Self-care strategies are often much more basic and helpful than a bubble bath.

Depending on a person’s mental health status, as well as their financial means, self-care can vary greatly from person to person.

The Importance of Self-Care Strategies

Self-care strategies are behaviors that balance the effects of emotional and physical stressors in our life [1].

Getting exercise, sleep, healthy eating, pursuing our hobbies, and seeing a psychotherapist are all examples of self-care that will help provide this balance.

Self-care is about taking care of yourself before you develop a stress-related health problem (like high cholesterol or increased blood pressure).

Self-care strategies can improve your physical and mental health by increasing your self-esteem and decreasing stress [2, 3].

Self-care is incredibly important for everyone, but strategies for self-care will vary from person to person.

Self-Care Strategies and Depression

If you are someone who is struggling from extreme depression and have to work hard to even get out of bed in the morning, it’s often not realistic to expect yourself to go to the gym four days a week.

More than this, you will likely begin to feel guilty for “not taking care of yourself” and not working out.

This often results in a cycle of depression, and having these high expectations for yourself will often leave you feeling even worse, rather than feeling good, accomplished, and rejuvenated.

Therefore, the first thing to do when you are thinking about self-care is to set realistic goals.

Setting Self-Care Goals

If you struggle to get out of bed and practice daily hygiene routines on a daily basis, start there.

Self-care strategies may include getting out of bed, showering, brushing your teeth, or getting dressed in something other than pajamas after you shower.

If you have a medication prescription, take your medications as prescribed, without missing doses. These self-care techniques will help you improve your mood, and are an important part of taking care of yourself.

If getting out of bed still seems like an unattainable task, set yourself the goal of rolling over to the other side of the bed, or sitting up in bed for a little while.

Know which goals will be difficult yet attainable, and then strive to meet those goals. The symptoms of depression will make self-care seem impossible, so it is important to start small and set manageable goals for yourself [4].

For people who do these activities mechanically, reminding yourself that these activities are self-care may be helpful as well.

Try being more mindful when you are taking a shower or brushing your teeth. Remind yourself that you are doing these things out of love and care for yourself!

Strategies of Self-Care in Moderation

Many things can be self-care. However, like many other things, moderation is key.

Watching a show on Netflix after a long day can be self-care, but if you have watched six hours of Netflix in one sitting, it may not be self-care anymore.

Likewise, enjoying a glass of red wine in the evening may be a self-care strategy. A glass of wine may feel relaxing to you, and if you are mindfully tasting the flavors and enjoying the glass of wine while relaxing, this could easily be self-care.

However, if you are enjoying two bottles of wine in the evening and using the alcohol to avoid your feelings or just attempting to “feel better,” this glass of wine is now an unhealthy coping mechanism.

Self-Care is Different for Everyone

In addition, depending on your personality and general coping skills, you may have very different self-care strategies than your friend, spouse, or another loved one.

And that’s okay!

If you are generally avoidant, you may tend to deal with stress by shutting down. You may procrastinate and push things to the last minute, finding yourself in a constant state of anxiety because of this.

For you, self-care may be about getting more things done ahead of time. This will require you to challenge yourself when you begin to notice your avoidant behavior getting in the way.

Try to focus on getting just one task done at a time, rather than looking at a lengthy to-do list.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you are generally someone who overworks, tends to deal with stress by “getting things done,” and never take a moment for yourself, self-care may be about putting your to-do list down.

You may need to work on accepting that you need to take a break once in a while. If this sounds more like you, try slowing down.

You will always have more to do, and to-do lists are often never-ending. Make sure you take time to relax and find something you enjoy doing, rather than constantly working!

More self-care strategies you can practice

Set Limits. Practice saying “no” when you are asked to do things, especially if this is something you don’t often do. Know when you are stretched too thin, and practice not taking on too many responsibilities. Whether this is at home, work, or both, saying “no” to others is an important part of caring for yourself [5].

Get Enough Sleep. Most people require 7-8 hours of sleep to feel fully functional, but this does vary from person to person. Try to keep yourself on a normal sleep schedule, as well. If you practice consistently getting up and going to bed at the same times, you will notice that you begin to feel more awake and focused throughout your day.

Feed Yourself. Make sure you are getting enough calories, and that you are eating healthy. Include enough vegetables and protein in your diet. Some sugar is okay, but again, focus on moderation when it comes to junk food. It is important to practice mindfulness activities when eating [6].

Drink Water. You may need to address some subtle dehydration. In today’s world of coffee, soda, energy drinks, and other fluids, we often forget to drink enough water. If your fluid levels are too low, you may have a headache, dry mouth, be cranky, or have another change in your mood [7]. So if you’re feeling anxious, try drinking a glass of water to see if it restores some of your calm.

Know Yourself. What helps you relax? When you have a stressful day at work, would you prefer to take a walk? Listen to music? Meditate? Pray? Talk to your partner or another loved one? Play with your kids?

There are many things that people can find relaxing and use to de-stress, and this can vary from person to person.

Someone who perceives themselves as very artistic might come home and paint a picture at the end of a long day, and find this a very fun and relaxing activity.

Another person, who does not enjoy art and perceives themselves as a “bad artist,” may think this is a very stressful activity, and would not find this relaxing in any way. It is important to explore your options and know what you enjoy!


As you finish reading this article, take a few minutes to relax. Relax your jaw and loosen your shoulders away from your ears. Take a few deep breaths, and relax your arms, your stomach, your legs, and your feet as you do so.

We all tend to hold tension in our bodies, and relaxing our muscles throughout the day is something you can do anytime, anywhere! This is a type of self-care for our bodies, even if we don’t have the ability to relax with a bubble bath or a massage.

Try incorporating some of the above techniques in your life, and notice if you have an improvement in your mood, or a decrease in your stress levels. Enjoy taking care of yourself!

About the Author

Stephanie M. Sullivan is a Limited Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at A Compass Within Personal Consulting in Rochester, MI. She specializes in anxiety, self-care, gender, sexuality, polyamorous relationships, and other forms of consensual non-monogamy. Stephanie often utilizes collaborative, solution-focused theories to help empower her clients in their life’s pursuits.


[1] Meinecke, C. (2010). Self-care in a toxic world. Psychology Today. Retrieved on November 6, 2018 from

[2] Chambers, R., Wakley, G., & Blenkinsopp, A. (2006). Supporting self-care in primary care. Seattle, WA: Radcliffe Publishing.

[3] American Heart Association. (2018). Stress and heart health. Retrieved on November 6, 2018 from

[4] Serani, D. (2017). Why self-care is hard for depressed individuals: Understanding how frontal lobe dysfunction impairs self-care. Psychology Today. Retrieved on November 2, 2018 from

[5] Baratta, M. (2018). Self-care 101: 10 ways to take better care of you. Psychology Today. Retrieved on October 28, 2018 from

[6] Sullivan, S. M. (2018). How to be mindful and practice mindfulness activities. The Family Therapist. Retrieved on October 28, 2018 from

[7] Warner, C. (2016). What dehydration does to your body with scare you out of future hangovers for life. Bustle. Retrieved on November 6, 2018 from

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