If you google
I learned from my psychologist and exactly what self care is (and is not.) He taught me that
So, when you create a self-care plan, you need to use different self-care strategies and activities that fit into all three of the categories of physical, mental, and emotional.
I am going to share with you a 7-step process for creating a self-care plan. And it will include each of the three different aspects of self-care.
I have created for you a list of self-care strategies and activities that are broken down into those three areas. This will help you when you create your self-care plan.
I want to note that we are focusing on a “maintenance” self-care plan, but you should consider creating an “emergency” version as well. The difference between the two is simply that during a rough/difficult/recovery from an acute event you will need to practice more intensive self-care to get you back to your baseline.
For instance, when I left the hospital from my major manic episode, my sole focus was self-care to continue on the road to recovery. I wasn’t living day-to-day
This post contains Amazon and other affiliate links. This just means that at no extra cost to you I receive a small commission if you purchase something through the links in this post. This is one of the ways I support my blog & family. Read my full disclosure policy.
*DISCLAIMER: I am not a mental health-care professional and you should not use the information in this article in place of professional medical advice or treatment. I share my experiences with mental illness challenges to inspire others and be a source of hope in an otherwise dark and unrelenting struggle.
✅ What is a Self-Care Plan?
Self care plans are like fingerprints. Everyone should have a unique one tailored to their needs.
A self care plan is a framework of strategies and activities that positiviely contribute to your overall health–physically, emotionally, and mentally. It’s a well thought out (plan) that hleps you get the most out of life and also deal with life’s inevitable challenges.
It’s a mistake to think you only need to practice self care when life gets hard, stressful, or some aspect of your health is in a crisis situation. (*Note: you can have an emergency self care plan for crises but it shouldn’t be the only self care plan you have.)
An effective self-care plan is customized to your individual needs and included reassessing often since what you need may change as circumstances in your life do.
✅ How to Prioritize Yourself
One thing we are all virtually pros at is putting ourselves at the bottom of our “To Do” or “Priority” lists. Sometimes it’s a concious decision because we are caretakers, bosses, household fairies, parents, friends, But other times sacrificing self care happens when we are overwhelmed and so stressed out we are just putting out fires everywhere. So it’s hard to be proactive when we are stuck in reaction mode.
There’s a lot of things in this world that we want to do, but if you don’t have the time or energy then it can be difficult. Prioritizing yourself is often one of those tasks that people are tempted to put off until another day because they feel guilty about not being able to complete everything. While there may never come a chance for complete fulfillment, prioritizing yourself can help you feel better and more accomplished.
Below are some tips that will make it easier to prioritize your needs:
- If you take care of others, take care of yourself first because that is really the only way you can continue caring for those you love.
- Don’t let guilt become a roadblock to prioritizing yourself.
- Focus on small steps that you can do, one at a time.
✅ How to Make Time for Self Care
First it’s about putting a high value on your health and worth. Embracing that we are worth a whole heck of a lot is sometimes hard to do, especially if you’ve been dealing with mental health concerns. You have to give yourself value.
Then it’s important to realize that everyone who depends on you gets a better version of you (and actually benefits more) when you are well taken care of. Yes, you actually have more and higher quality to give when you make yourself well taken care of .
There are three main ways to prioritize self care.
- Set boundaries for yourself
- Think of self care as part of your daily routine. We all have a morning routine or an evening routine. Take some time to consider what you need in order for that to work well and then incorporate it into your day, every day
- Find support. This might be talking with someone who can help talk through any challenges you’re facing; checking out resources on the internet–there are so many!
✅ Setting Self-Care Goals
Practicing self care can be challenging, especially when you are trying to balance all the aspects of your life and responsibilities. It is important to make the time to take care of yourself so that you will have enough energy for everything else in your life. That is why setting self care goals is a vital first step.
To start, identify what goals you think are the most important for you right now. Ask yourself what areas in you life cause you the most stress. Focus your self care goals on what types of activities will help you deal with this stress.
It’s also important to identify what you need in order to achieve that goal. Do you need to ask for help to make time for achieving these goals? What resources do you need? There may be certain products (like essential oils, coloring books, or exercise equipment) to fulfill these goals. There are other resources like books, apps, therapy that may also be helpful.
Make a list of what you need to do in order to achieve your goal and work backwards by breaking down the tasks into manageable time frames.
Also, keep a record of these goals, milestones, and accomplishments so that you can look back and see the progress you have made.
You will also want to make sure you are setting realistic expectations for yourself. It’s better to set smaller goals that you can achieve consistently, than complex goals that require so much effort you find yourself not doing them as much.
Goal-Planning Tools for Self Care
When you are setting self care goals, there are many great tools you can use.
1. If you like using pen and paper, then a planner or journal may be perfect for you. You’ll want to make sure there are plenty of blank pages or sections for writing down goals and habits that will help keep track of progress. You might also need different color pens so that you can classify each goal.
2. If you are more of a digital person, then there are a lot of online tools that can help you achieve your self care goals. Some people find it easier to make their plan in this way because they don’t have to worry about losing or forgetting anything since everything is stored digitally and synced with all devices.
3. Another option is an app on your phone. These apps usually come pre-loaded with templates for goal setting that can be customized to your needs. They also include reminders and features like syncing with your calendar.
✅ 7 Steps to Create a Self-Care Plan
To keep it simple, but to cover all aspects of getting off to a good start with your self care plan,
Follow these 7 steps:
- Identify what you value.
- Take an assessment of your current self-care practices.
- Make a list of all current self-care activities you do.
- Identify what new self-care activities you want to try.
- Choose 2-3 new ideas from each self-care category (physical, mental, emotional) to add in your self-care plan.
- Set goals that will help you create a plan and implement the activities you have chosen.
- Keep track of progress you make and reassess your self-care plan as your needs change.
To help you I have several free printables in my self-care starter kit in my Resource Library that you can grab here.
1. What do you value?
You might be surprised that this is where you should start, but it is the foundation of creating your self-care plan. What you value drives your decisions and your habits. Sometimes when fighting a chronic or mental illness, we get a bit out of sync and our actions and habits no longer match our values.
So take a minute and step back to consider what do you value most in life.
- Being present and engaging with your family (ex. spouse, kids, siblings)?
- Spending time with friends?
- Professional achievement and success in your career?
- Your faith?
- Pursuing a hobby or a passion?
- Eating healthy and exercising regularly?
- Continual learning and personal growth?
- Seeking adventure?
- Supporting a cause or volunteering in your community?
- Traveling to see the world?
2. Assess your current Self-Care Activities
Think about the things you value but are not actively engaging in or seeking. You want to make sure that as you are developing your self-care plan, you are making changes in the areas you have kind of “lost your way” in practicing or nurturing.
There may be some things you value, but are not in a point with your health that you can focus your energies on right now. That is okay because “the now” is just one of many seasons of your life. Don’t put yourself in a box and lose hope that your situation will never get better or improve in such a way that you can pursue things that are out of reach in this moment.
3. Create a list of all of the positive self-care strategies and activities you are currently doing.
Get a piece of paper out and make three columns-one for Physical Self Care, one for Mental Self-Care, and one for Emotional Self Care. Write in each column what good habits and activities are you currently doing in each category. If your list is short, don’t worry because it is a start in the right direction. When I first started focusing on self care, my list was literally 2 or 3 things;)
4. What good habits, strategies, or activities should you add to that list?
Take out a new sheet of paper and brainstorm all of the self-care strategies and activities you can think of in each category that would have a positive impact in your life. Right down even the activities that are hard for you to do right now, but that you know are best for your overall health and well-being. This won’t be a list full of bubble baths, bon-bons, and pedicures. (Are bon-bons still a thing?)
5. Refine your focus.
Now, go back to your first list of things you currently do that are good self-care activities and practices. Take 2 or 3 ideas (in each category) from your brainstorm and add them to that list.
It’s important to take things slow and start with simple habits or routines you can implement now. It takes time to develop new habits (or replace bad ones) and you definitely don’t want to overwhelm yourself. Taking on too much at a time is NOT a good self-care strategy.
6. Create a plan and set goals for implementing new self-care strategies and activities.
Start with a few new strategies you listed in the previous step. I suggest giving yourself a few weeks to a month to establish those new self-care strategies and build them into your routine. Then, add a few more and go through the same process of keeping it simple but consistent.
That’s why it’s important to create a self-care plan for the future and set goals. Take a few new activities and set goals and a date for when you want to tackle them. Just focus on a few at the time. When tackling big self-care strategies and activities like starting to eat healthy, make them a singular focus for a given amount of time.
For me, I am at the point of tackling healthy eating. That takes a lot of my time and energy I know I have to start with simple changes and build from there.
7. Commit to your goals and keep track of your progress.
You can use journaling to keep track of how you are doing practicing these new self-care activities. Bullet journaling is really popular now and probably a good place to start. You can also use an app, like Productive Habit Tracker. I used it for a while and it allows you set goals and create a daily/weekly/monthly to-do lists and set alarms to remind you to complete the tasks. You can also read another post I wrote, 20 Mental Health Apps for Managing Your Mental Health.
Checklists are another great way to keep up with tracking your progress.
Get your FREE Self-Care Checklist and start rocking your mental health today. You can download them from my Resource Library by clicking the button below.
✅ Different Self Care Plan Examples
We all go through different seasons in life. While you definitely want to have a “go-to” ongoing self care plan, there are circumstances that you may want to have created alternate plans for different situations/times of the year.
Emergency Self Care Plan
When you feel completely overwhelmed by stress or anxiety, it can be hard to know what you need in order to take care of yourself. You might feel like you’re on the edge and that any moment now is going to send you over the edge–into a panic attack or some other type of meltdown.
Surprisingly enough, we actually have more resources when we are feeling like in the next moment we might come crashing down. The resources we need more than ever are those that remind us of how to take care of ourselves.
Sometimes the best place to start is with your emergency self-care plan, which might include things like talking about what you’re feeling and what’s going on or taking a short walk outside.
The best thing we can do for ourselves is to create a plan that reminds us of the things that will help us feel better. It’s important to know what your self-care needs are, and then have resources available when you need them in order to avoid being reactive or making decisions from a place of fear.
Self care isn’t just bon bons and bubble baths. That’s why you need to know what your needs are and have resources at the ready when you feel like things are spiraling out of control, so that self care can be a proactive decision instead of reactive one.
The best way to create this plan is by asking yourself:
- What do I need right now?
- Who in your support system can you call at a moments notice when you are in a crisis?
- What are some easy but effective self care activities that you can do at a moment’s notice?
- Do you need to call your doctor or therapist?
Then create a list you can easily refer to of emergency self-care activities.
Some examples are:
- Call up a friend that you know is supportive and listen to them
- Take some time for yourself after work by going home early or
- Take a walk outside
- Read a good book
- Find an activity like yoga or meditation which can be deeply relaxing
Being ready for times of high stress can help you to jump right in to focusing on self care without much effort. That’s a big reason why having an Emergency Self Care Plan is important.
Self Care During the Holidays
Keeping up with self care during the holidays is a challenge for lots of people. The holidays can make our ever stressful already jam-packed lives overwhelming and put us in crisis mode.
The anxiety of spending time with family members who you may not get along with, making time in your schedule for extra holiday activities, the financial burden of buying gifts for everyone are just a few of the reasons that make the holidays overwhelmingly stressful. And when you are prioritizing your holiday to-do list over yourself, self care is the first thing that gets sacrificed.
However, self-care is actually what can keep you happy and healthy during the holiday season.
By creating a self care plan for the holidays, you are taking control of your health and happiness.
Here’s what you need to consider when creating a self-care plan for the holidays:
- Make a list of all the tasks and responsibilities you usually have during the holiday season. Be brutal and let go of the least important things.
- Block out time for activities you enjoy, such as going to the movies or taking a yoga class.
- Keep your schedule flexible in case of last minute meetings and family engagements that might require more attention.
- Take care of yourself by eating healthy food and getting enough sleep.
- Take breaks from cooking or shopping on occasion, instead make lists that you can check off when it’s time to complete these tasks
- Schedule some downtime each
A holiday self care plan is an effective way to make sure you have the time, energy and space to keep up with all the demands of the holidays and actually enjoy this season of celebration.
Self Care Plan for the Whole Year
You can create a self care plan for the whole year by identifying what you need to do in order to feel balanced. It’s also important that these things are realistic so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
The activities and self-care goals in our self care plan may need to change between the with different times and seasons of the each year. By planning out your calendar year, it helps you be prepared and better able to keep up with self care.
Where you live and the varying degrees of the climate and temperature change will be important to consider when making a yearly self-care plan.
The summer may allow you to do outdoor activities like swimming/hiking/outdoor activities while the winter restrict what activities are available.
Since I am greatly affected by the lack of sunlight in the wintertime, I make sure to use my SAD Light therapy lamp first thing in the mornings.
🌷Spring: start thinking about your garden and making it beautiful for the spring/summer ahead. Plan what you want on your plate at mealtimes – maybe more greens, asparagus or strawberries (depending on when they are in season).
☀️Summer: leave work earlier so you can enjoy nighttime. If you have kids, this is an opportunity to spend more time with them.
🍁Fall: start planning for the holidays – you might want to make a list of those who have been there for you throughout your year, and think about what they would like as gifts, or how you can give back in some way over the course of December.
❄️Winter: take care of yourself by getting enough sleep and time with friends.
The other aspect of making a self-care plan for the whole year is considering how often it makes sense to engage in different self care activities.
For instance, getting a facial, taking a trip or cleaning out your closet may be something you only do once or twice a year. Whereas having dinner with a friend may be more like a monthly activity.
Also, consider things like getting your annual wellness checkup, setting up your budget or what goals you have for the future.
Remember that making changes takes patience – don’t be discouraged if at first it’s difficult to follow through on these new habits or routines. You can always make adjustments to your yearly self care plan as time goes on.
According to research done by Anne Kennedy at the National Primary Care Research and Development Centre, University of Manchester in the UK, “support for self care is increasingly viewed as a core component of the management of long term conditions.” So whether you live with a mental health condition or any other chronic illness, self care can be pivotal in managing your diagnosis and allowing you to live a better version of life.
So, now that you have set your self care goals and created a self-care plan that is individualized for you, it’s time to make it happen! This is where the real work begins.
Self care is not easy. It is an “adulting” task and you will have to push yourself at times to keep moving towards your goal. But, research shows that a balanced self-care plan will optimize your mental health and overall well-being.