3 Key Components to Building Your Healthy Self-Care Routine

SunsetEstablishing a good self-care routine can sort of be compared to putting on an oxygen mask when an airplane cabin loses pressure. “Put your own mask on first before assisting others,” the flight attendant warns us during the safety brief before departure. While it may seem selfish and counterintuitive for some to help themselves before assisting others in an emergency, there is a simple truth contained in the order to don your own mask first:

You cannot help others to the best of your ability if you are stuck fighting for oxygen.

The same can be said of self-care. If you are not your best self, how can you provide the best support to those around you? It is important not only to monitor your own well-being, but also to make sure it is well maintained before a crisis occurs so you can take care of yourself and others when your help is really needed.

In order to develop your own self-care routine, evaluate these three essential components of self-care in your own life:

Physical Self-Care

The physical component of a good self-care routine incorporates all aspects of your life that affect you physiologically, such as diet, exercise, and the quality of your sleep.

A poor diet can profoundly impact your immune system, mental health, and risk for chronic disease. Our society’s acceptance and reliance on many convenient and fast foods may further compound the problem for some by perpetuating dietary issues, poor nutrition, and amplifying the effects of stress.

why-a-better-well-being-may-be-just-a-walk-away-thumb Exercise for physical self-care doesn’t have to be tough. Click to enlarge.

Exercise is also an important part of self-care, especially as more people take on sedentary jobs that have them sitting behind computer screens all day. The Harvard School of Public Health recommends healthy adults get at least 75 to 150 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity each week. Your physical activity does not have to be running a marathon; it can be something easy like a daily 30 minute walk after work, after dinner, or during your lunch break.

Finally, sleep—both quality and quantity—is a component of self-care that often gets overlooked, but according to a recent study in the Journal of Neuroscience, lack of sleep may actually cause irreversible damage to brain cells. In the study, researchers examined the brains of mice that were put under similar sleep conditions as late shift workers. They were only allowed to sleep four to five hours each day and after just a few days, scientists discovered significant brain cell loss in a particular area of the brain stem responsible for alertness and staying awake. Sleep is also important for healing damage we do to our bodies each day, weight loss, and maintaining healthy stress and hormone levels. The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep each night for adults to remain healthy. To help you get better sleep, they also recommend the following:

  • Try to keep the same sleep schedule even on the weekends.
  • Try to incorporate a relaxing ritual such as reading a book or a few minutes of meditation before bed.
  • Maintain a good exercise routine.
  • Make your bedroom as dark and quiet as possible.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bedtime.

If you’re still not convinced you need to sleep seven to nine hours each night, challenge yourself to do so for a week or two and see how you feel after you’ve gotten a period of good, restful sleep. The results will likely encourage you to continue taking care of yourself in this manner.

Mental Self-Care

Use it or lose it, the old saying goes. The mind is part of the body and, like the body, needs to be exercised to protect from cognitive decline and chemical imbalance, and to help you achieve your best sense of self. The mental component of a good self-care routine addresses your emotional needs, allows you to engage your creativity, and challenges your brain.

Engage your emotions by experiencing and acknowledging them in different ways. When you are angry at a friend or relative, write a letter you may or may not send that expresses exactly how you feel. Try writing in an “emotional journal” at the end of the day that details how different situations throughout the day made you feel. Acknowledge the good and the bad. You might be surprised to discover that these simple exercises may not only help you be more present in the moment, but they also may teach you to be more empathetic and conscious of the emotions of others.

You cannot help others to the best of your ability if you are stuck fighting for oxygen.

Allowing your creativity to run wild is another great way to exercise your mind and de-stress. Find an activity you enjoy such as painting, drawing, or writing that allows for creative self-expression. Let go of shame, regret, and caution, and let your artistic sessions get as weird as you want them to be. And don’t be concerned about whether you are any good at it; that’s why you practice it.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, low levels of education have been linked to a greater risk for Alzheimer’s later in life. One hypothesis for this is a lower level of lifelong mental stimulation. Several bodies of important neurological research point to the possibility that regularly challenging your brain with activities like crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and jigsaw puzzles may help improve the lifespan of and facilitate better connections between brain cells. Although research is still being done to prove these hypotheses, it’s relatively safe to assume that exercising your problem-solving abilities can contribute to a healthier you.

Spiritual Self-Care

Even if you are not a religious person, spirituality is still an important component of a good self-care routine. On the other hand, if you do follow a particular religious faith, spirituality may already be a big part of your self-care routine without you even being aware of it. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, religion is only one avenue of expression when it comes to spirituality.

Spirituality is a blend of how you connect with others on a social level, how you connect with a higher form of your own self, and how you connect with the concept of something that is bigger than you. Expressing your spirituality might be dedicating time each day to pray about what concerns you, spending a few minutes in quiet meditation, or socializing with others and discussing what spirituality means among the group. Others ways people express their spirituality may include:

  • Trying to live by a set of values you wish to see in others.
  • Acknowledging the things in life you are grateful for.
  • Reading books concerning spirituality in an effort to develop your own.
  • Spending time outdoors connecting with the natural world.
  • Volunteering to help those in need.

This component of self-care is important to our overall well-being because it helps us cope with stress, allows us time to reflect on ourselves, and provides safe space to express thoughts, beliefs, and emotions that are central to our own worldviews.

Know When Your Self-Care Routine Needs Work

Perhaps one of the most important parts of self-care is being able to recognize when you need to practice a little. If you neglect your own self-care for too long, especially if you are a caregiver or health care provider, you may experience burnout or some form of compassion fatigue that makes caring for others in an ethical way difficult or nearly impossible.

If you find yourself feeling ground down and think you need help developing a good self-care routine, consider finding a therapist or counselor with whom you can form a therapeutic relationship. There may be underlying issues, emotions, or behaviors that need addressed in order for you take care of yourself physically, spiritually, and mentally.

If you feel like you are wearing thin trying to address other people’s needs and your own all the time, remember the warning from the airline attendant and reach for your oxygen mask.


  1. How much exercise do you need? (2013, November 20). Harvard School of Public Health. Retrieved from http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/physical-activity-guidelines
  2. How much sleep do we really need?? (n.d.). National Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from http://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need/page/0/1
  3. Spirituality. (n.d.). Mental Health Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/spirituality
  4. Stay mentally active. (n.d.). Alzheimer’s Association. Retrieved from http://www.alz.org/we_can_help_stay_mentally_active.asp
  5. Zhang J., Zhu Y., Zhan G., Fenik P., Panossian L., Wang M. M., Reid S., Lai D., Davis J. G., Baur J. A., Veasey S. (2014, March 19). Extended wakefulness: Compromised metabolics in and degeneration of locus ceruleus neurons. Journal of Neuroscience, 34(12): 4418–4431.

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Chas

    May 18th, 2015 at 3:38 AM

    It is so important to remember that there are all three of these components which have to be nurtured and cared for in order for one to achieve optimum health and wellness.

  • Gwen

    May 18th, 2015 at 10:31 AM

    All of these things will take a little bit of time to establish as a habit in your life. There are many of us who are very accustomed to taking care of other people but it seems so strange and foreign to take care of ourselves! I don’t mean to sound selfish but really we have to begin with taking care of ourselves before we will ever be able to do anything useful for another.

  • maret

    May 18th, 2015 at 3:15 PM

    I guess that I am just one of those people that has a hard time justifying taking time out for me when there are so many other people in my life that I feel like I need to pay attention to. There is my husband, my children, my parents, my friends, my work colleagues… the list goes on and on. I know that the right thing to do is to draw the line somewhere… but where to actually do that is where I begin to struggle.

  • gail

    July 24th, 2015 at 1:49 AM

    I used to get up half an hour early before my husband and children to spend time praying for my day, asking the lord to help me order my day. I found focusing on God and leaving my cares with him knowing that he can carry my load, gave me peace and a smile on my face. Your husband and children come next. Then each day you prioritise putting the most important things that need doing, looking at, helping with. One day it will b a friend another work situation or family I keep a paper calendar and write dates appointments sometimes thoughts people to call places to go. But for me sat afternoon was family time nothing got in the way of that. And sunday mornings I went to church to thank jesus for his strength love and mercy in my life. Thats what works for me. Sometimes it changes a bit but in general I live this way. Allways do something in the day you like. Phone a friend go for a coffee dance to music while doing the house work that allways puts a smile on my face. X

  • REED

    May 19th, 2015 at 3:39 AM

    I don’t go to church so I guess I’m not religious but I do the other things, volunteering and stuff, but I still feel sometimes like there is something missing. Do you think that this could be my sign that I need to somehow begin looking for something deeper and more meaningful in life?

  • ellery

    May 19th, 2015 at 10:21 AM

    I don’t know if this makes a difference or not, but once I decided to leave my job behind at the end of the day, I can’t tell you how much more amazing I have felt. I have always been the guy to bring work home with me, evenings and weekends I felt like I had lost a limb if I didn’t work on something for my job. But I stared to see how this was consuming me and that this was the only thing that I ever made time for. It had to stop. And now? I feel better than I have in years by making this one small change in life.

  • Tallulah

    May 20th, 2015 at 1:11 PM

    There are days when I feel so tired and alone and then I look back at the things that I have experienced over the past week and I see that the whole week has been devoted to other people and none for myself. Those are the times when after doing this little evaluation and seeing how bad that this has made me feel, that I know that I have to pay more attention to myself in the coming days.

  • flawless elite

    May 21st, 2015 at 9:58 AM

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  • Tracy

    May 23rd, 2015 at 3:10 PM

    I have finally bought one of those fitness tracker things so that I can take care of myself in a better way. I know that I still have to do the work but it kind of holds me accountable to myself in a way that I wasn’t really doing until I could see it all displayed on my phone in vivid detail. It gives me a visual of the things that I am doing well for myself and the things that I could work on a little more.

  • Carol

    May 25th, 2015 at 8:51 AM

    OK so I know that church isn’t the answer for everyone but it has been for me. I have learned so much about myself and my needs by being there and it has made a real impact on me finally finding a group with whom I felt like I could belong.

  • frances M

    May 25th, 2015 at 4:38 PM

    Self care must come first watch out for the warning signs and take immediate action on maintaining your mental health I find meditating really useful and listening to positive affirmations that are to be found on YouTube.

  • Joanna

    July 23rd, 2015 at 10:17 AM

    Very good article and very useful advice…. it is our responsibility to take good care of ourselves…so we can enjoy life to the full..so we welcome each stage of our lives with joy and happiness and not regrets..

  • Kait

    May 2nd, 2017 at 9:07 AM

    I love how these articles tell you to get more sleep as if that were something within your control. Less alcohol, less caffeine, try meditating, etc. I would get sleep if I had the time. But on top of work, classes, homework, my internship……..there’s no time. I barely even have a social life, let alone sleep. It’s even more ironic when it’s your psychology teachers who recommend you to get more sleep. Meanwhile, you have a 20 page paper on the benefits of sleep due by class next week , must be handed in on time, NO exceptions…yet with all the stuff in your life, you only have what? ? 2 hours throughout the whole week where you’re actually free to work on it.

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