7 Types of Self-Care and How to Practice Them

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I used to walk into work every morning and recap my morning thus far with my supervisor, as she did with me as well. Most mornings, I would tell her how I hesitantly rolled out of bed to go for a run before getting ready for work. Without exception, she would look down, look back at me, and jokingly say, “Yeah, me too.”

Running (and not just any running–running on the treadmill) is one of my go-to activities for self-care. But it’s certainly not for everyone, and most people who do enjoy running would prefer to do so outdoors. I like to do that as well, but when I really need to check out, I put on a movie or a new series, start the treadmill, and just get lost in it.

While this is a great form of self-care for me, my boss at the time would have considered it to be torture. And the truth is, the things that really piqued her interest when she needed to leave work behind weren’t quite up my alley either. But we both had activities that we counted on to be there for us to act as cushions for the secondary trauma and compassion fatigue that we faced on a regular basis while working at that agency.

But that was back in the day where I had a free hour and a half between dropping my daughter off at school and getting to work. Now that that time gap has closed to negative 20 minutes, my opportunities to run have become few and far between.

But that doesn’t mean that the need to snap out of my everyday routine isn’t still there–I’ve just had to find new ways to fulfill it.

This is why it’s important to have a comprehensive understanding of self-care. Not only could your co-worker’s self-care go-to activity make you panic and want to cling to your ergonomic desk chair…but also, as your own wants, needs, and schedules change throughout your life, you may find that your current living and working situation have an impact what activities you find to be rejuvenating in this moment.

So what different types of self-care are there? The different classifications of self-care cover the various areas of your life that may need some nurturing. So in this article, we are going to look at 7 types of self-care and how to practice them. This way, you’ll broaden your knowledge of this critically important opportunity to reset your mind and body and revitalize yourself for each day to come.

So let’s take a look at the 7 types of self-care and how you can practice each. But first, let’s quickly review what self-care is.

What Is Self-Care?

There is a lot of history behind the concept of self-care, with external forces pushing this concept to the forefront of people’s minds. But, no matter why you’re practicing it, self-care serves the same purpose: to combat stress. We all know that you cannot function at your best or take care of others without taking proper care of yourself. And this doesn’t just apply to taking care of your physical self– it also requires your attention in life domains such as mental and emotional health.

In our epidemic of anxiety and depression, taking care of yourself is more important than ever. Continuously practicing preventative maintenance regarding all areas of your health and taking an active approach to your own wellbeing will allow you to cope with potential illness and disability in a partnership manner with your healthcare provider and regain a sense of control over your life.

Let’s look at how you can do this.

7 Types of Self-Care and How to Practice Them

1. Physical

This type of self-care is the one that you’re most likely already familiar with. Physical self-care isn’t just about getting your basic needs of food, water, sleep, and shelter met. But it’s also not about getting pedicures and massages every day. There are a number of dos and don’ts when it comes to physical self-care that you can practice to ensure your body is functioning at its best.

This means getting regular exercise, eating healthy foods, staying hydrated, practicing proper hand-washing and other hygiene habits, and giving your body the proper rest that it needs. When you prioritize physical self-care, you’re giving your body the best opportunity to operate efficiently and effectively. 

You become powered by natural energy when practicing physical self-care, which allows you to feel healthy and capable. Your immune system will be strengthened, which will aid your body in fighting off illnesses–meaning you will be sick less frequently and for shorter amounts of time than you would if you didn’t practice physical self-care.

But practicing physical self-care also means avoiding certain things, such as drugs, alcohol, excessive sugar, and anything else that can either harm your health or make you feel icky. This means being intentional about your bedtime, not trying to push through your workday when you’re feeling sick, and going to regular doctor and dentist check ups to prevent health setbacks.

As long as you’re practicing physical self-care, you will be putting yourself in a good position to practice self-care in other domains of your life as well.

How to get started:

2. Emotional

Practicing emotional self-care will help you connect with your emotions in a way that will help you process and handle them in a healthy manner. When you practice emotional self-care, you’re able to react to your feelings in a responsible and constructive way. Emotional self-care also involves practicing self-compassion and acceptance to help you maintain a healthy inner dialogue.

When you prioritize emotional self-care, you’re building the mental strength and resilience to overcome everyday challenges. Practicing emotional self-care requires acknowledging your unhealthy coping habits and learning how to replace these with healthier responses. It’s about taking the time to compassionately approach your feelings so you can effectively handle emotional setbacks. You can talk to a close friend about your feelings or make time to do leisurely activities that can help you learn how to process your emotions.

How to get started:

3. Social

Socializing certainly looks different these days than it did a few years ago. If you’re like many, your social gatherings have been reduced to just a few people here and there–and you’re probably not going out and meeting a lot of new people in your free time.

However, even if you’re not engaging in as many in-person social situations as you did before the pandemic, you still need to tend to your social self-care needs to live a fulfilling life. Now–more than ever–maintaining supportive relationships is a critical part of optimizing your mental health. You can still prioritize the safety of yourself and others during social interactions without putting anyone at risk. People thrive off of feeling like part of a group, so nurturing the social connections that you have is essential to your wellbeing.

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Maintaining supportive relationships is a critical part of optimizing your mental health.

But even before the coronavirus hit, you may have found it to be difficult to set aside time for friends. I remember someone once said to me: the best plans are cancelled plans–and, at the time, I couldn’t have agreed more. After work I want to go home either to rest or to tend to personal matters– I don’t want to sit at a bar for another two hours or stay out for a late dinner. And it can become easy to neglect your relationships on the weekends when life gets chaotic with kids’ sports games, birthday parties, and domestic tasks.

There isn't a rule of thumb when it comes to the amount of time you need to devote to your friends. I know I can spend hours at a friend’s house and leave feeling like we hardly connected and I can also have a quick exchange in the hall with a co-worker that seems meaningful in some way. Everyone’s social needs are different and how you spend your time with others impacts the quality of the interaction. To practice social self-care, you need to determine what your social needs are and how you can create time to build an optimal social life that works for you.

How to get started:

4. Mental/Intellectual

Keeping your mind sharp and continuously challenging your cognition has a big influence on your psychological well being, which is where mental self-care comes in. Anything that you can do to fuel your mind and make you think in new ways will help you stay inspired to be a lifelong learner.

Taking the time to learn something new can recharge your brain and re-energize your desire to learn.  Being intentional about exposing yourself to new ideas can not only give you a better sense of mental acuity, it can also help you feel like you’ve accomplished something. This type of self-care is especially important during a quarantine where you’re at risk for feeling cognitively stagnant. Mental self-care will help assure that you continue growing, even when the world seems to have come to a halt.

How to get started:

5. Financial

Financial self-care involves reducing your financial stress by ridding yourself of bad spending habits and taking control of your money. Living with financial worries can impact all areas of your life, leading to stress, anxiety, and depression. When people struggle financially, they tend to ruminate about it, which leads to worsening negativity that turns into a cycle of overall pessimism.

Practicing financial self-care can make it easier to deal with your finances by making sure you're tracking your income versus your spending. Whether you rely on a financial planning app, you listen to a personal finance podcast, or you manually record all of your spending, you can practice economic self-love in a way that will help reduce your overall stress.

No one is going to dispute the stress involved with having financial trouble, and practicing financial self-care may not always be applicable to your life if you're struggling with unemployment or you’re having trouble making ends meet. And while self-care won’t change these situations for you, it can help you correct how you handle them. Your relationship with money may look very different from your best friend’s, but you need to define how your finances shape your life and find a way to manage your money so your money doesn’t manage you.

How to get started:

6. Professional

Professional self-care is meant to reduce the amount of stress that you feel surrounding your career. I know I struggle with finding a healthy work-life balance, so professional self-care is one that is important to me. Because this allows me to make my working hours more efficient, it also helps me set boundaries that mark the end of work and the start of home.

When reading through the ways in which you can practice professional self-care, you may think that some of them don’t apply to you or your type of profession. For example, I can’t tell you the last time I didn’t take a “working” lunch–but these things are important to everyone. No one’s job is more important than their own well being because as soon as your well being suffers, so will your performance at work. But if you have a sense of purpose at work and you make sure your career goals are SMART, you should be able to clarify that line between your time and your work time.

How to get started:

7. Spiritual

No matter what your spiritual beliefs are, you can practice self-care through spirituality. Whether or not you consider yourself to be religious, caring for your soul is equally as important as caring for other aspects of yourself–and allowing all facets of your life to work together is a critical component for happiness.

You can have a spiritual experience even when you’re completely consumed in your favorite activity. So, like many other sectors of life, this can look different for everyone. You may find that you have strong mental breakthroughs when you’re transitioning between yoga poses, or you feel exceptionally connected to the earth when you follow your intuition, or you really feel you’re living your purpose when you engage in meditation or spend time in nature.

Spiritual self-care involves anything you can do to tap into your spiritual side.

How to get started:

Final Thoughts on Types of Self-Care and How to Practice Them

Making yourself a priority will help you become the best version of yourself, and knowing what self care works best for you is a start. Whenever you start feeling burned out or a bit overwhelmed, take a minute to think about which type of self-care you might need to spend some time nurturing and get to it! With time, you’ll have a self-care routine that allows you to achieve both balance and clarity in your life, which will reduce stress and help you function at your best.

Finally, if you're planning to dedicate an entire day to self care, this post on self care day ideas can help.

Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.

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