First things first: There is no “right” way to practice self-care. As the name implies, it’s highly personal to you and what you need to feel like you’re living your best life. So, any activities that involve looking after your emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing, totally fall under the umbrella of self-care—not matter how small (or big) they may be.
For some, self-care is scheduling a day full of beauty appointments and cocktail dates with friends. For others, it can simply mean turning the push notifications off on your phone and rewatching Seinfeld for the millionth time.
As such, when you’re trying to make up a personalized self-care routine that feels less performative and more restorative, there are a few things to keep in mind. “Think of a self-care checklist not as a list of to-dos, but as a guide to help you take better care of yourself,” suggests Jamison Monroe, mental health expert and the founder and CEO of Newport Academy. Although self-care at times gets a bad rep for being selfish, Monroe says that in actuality, “when you take good care of yourself, you feel better, and this can help you better care for other important people in your life as well.” So basically, it’s the wellness version of putting on your oxygen mask first.
Ready to solidify your self-care routine? Here are some helpful tips from mental health experts on how to create a self-care checklist that works for you.
1. CONSIDER YOUR TIME
Every week has 168 hours in it. Figuring out an ideal and realistic allocation and breakdown of your time is a great place to start when creating a self-care checklist, according to Nancy Irwin, PsyD. “This allows you to be in control of your time versus it controlling you,” she says. Break down your day and week in a realistic way—when you account for how many hours you invest in non-negotiables like work what do you have left for your health, social life, and overall self-care?
Ask yourself: “How do you want these hours to work for you to give you the most balance and fulfillment possible at this point?” Dr. Irwin says. Once you figure this out, recognize that “this will be a work in progress” Dr. Irwin says adding to keep in mind that this isn’t a rigid schedule, “you can update it and morph it when life changes.”
2. BE REALISTIC WITH YOUR ROUTINE
Setting unrealistic goals is a recipe for self-sabotage. Instead of going from no hours of meditating a week to five, set smaller goals and tasks at first and reassess them regularly as your practice deepens. While coming up with the things you’d like to make part of your self-care checklist, don’t just think about the action or goal itself but how you’ll accomplish or implement the necessary changes. “How will you create more time in your day? Whether that be replacing 30 minutes of social media time before bed with meditation, or moving your gym workout to an outdoor run in order to spend more time in nature, it is important to be realistic about how you will make time for a change,” Monroe advises.
3. START WITH THE BASICS
With self-care, it can be easy to get wrapped up in the complexities, but taking care of yourself doesn’t have to require much. Monroe says one of the best things you can do is to “ask yourself the simple question: Am I getting enough rest and nourishment?” From there, “look at other areas of your life that might need more attention—relationships, creativity, fun, etc. Once you identify what areas need more self-care, make a simple list focusing on ways to nourish yourself in each area.”
4. CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF
Depending on what type of person you are, you could find yourself scheduling your self-care time in by the minute or you might sporadically get to it throughout the week—either way Dr. Irwin recommends checking in with yourself once a week. Get comfortable with the idea that although you might not tick every box on your self-care checklist, writing them down will, at the very least, psychologically help you make progress.