How to Build A Self-Care Plan, According to Experts

Updated: Mar. 07, 2022

Show up for yourself by developing and committing to a self-care plan, such as nightly journaling, for a healthy and balanced life.

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Committing to a self-care plan

Self-care has never been more important. But that doesn’t necessarily make it easier to stick with a self-care regimen.

Between job responsibilities, family obligations, and life’s ups and downs, we often don’t have enough time to build—much less maintain—a self-care regime.

But now might be the time to start getting a little more serious about committing to a self-care plan. (Here are the signs you’re not taking care of yourself.)

Why practice self-care?

A recent survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) took a look at stress in America and found that the majority of us are stressed out.

Almost eight in 10 adults surveyed cite Covid-19 as a “significant source of stress” in their lives. Close to seven in 10 say they have experienced increased stress throughout the pandemic.

The APA also found that close to half of those surveyed felt their behavior has been negatively impacted as a result of the pandemic. Specifically, they point to unexpected mood swings, emotional outbursts, and increased tension. (Here are short positive quotes to boost your mood.)

This is especially troubling given that anxiety affects 40 million adults, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Depression affects over six million adults each year, per the National Institute of Mental Health. Now more than ever, it’s important to make self-care a priority. (Here are some self-care quotes to help you get started.)

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Tips for building a self-care plan

To prioritize self-care in your life, here are nine tips on how to successfully build your own customized self-care plan.

Make up your own rules

“People have a preconceived notion of self-care and think that they have to engage in specific tasks,” says Candice Williams, a licensed professional counselor and athletic counselor at The Ohio State University. “But self-care is what you make it. I always tell my clients that they can make their own rules.”

You can opt to build a daily, weekly, quarterly, or annual self-care regimen. Maybe this includes 15-minute meditations and/or nightly journaling. Add in an eight-hour sleep routine or commit to quarterly mini-vacations. (Here are therapists’ tips for how to start a journal.)

The main goal of self-care includes engaging “in meaningful activities that reduce stress, while promoting optimal health and well-being,” says Barbara Ford Shabazz, clinical psychologist and director of the psychology program at South University. “Creating a plan is a highly individualized endeavor.”

Be realistic

Williams recommends creating a realistic self-care regimen that considers your daily responsibilities and obligations. “Often people are overly ambitious and create a self-care plan that they are not able to maintain,” she says.

“Self-care should not be stressful,” adds Shabazz. “Be realistic about cost and time investment. Do what you can with what you have. Don’t be afraid to scale back or adjust as needed.” And don’t lose good to perfect.

Balance intentionality with flexibility

When building a self-care regimen, it’s important to be intentional about including activities that are relaxing and calming. But keep in mind that you might have to make changes to your regimen as needed. Williams also recommends being organized to feel more grounded and settled. (Also, try these kitchen organization tips for healthy eating.)

Maintain your boundaries and recognize your barriers

Williams stresses the importance of establishing and maintaining boundaries with your responsibilities, such as work, and with the people in your life. Maintaining boundaries can also help you identify barriers that may prevent you from maintaining a self-care regimen. “Removing something that you feel is an unhealthy distraction is an act of self-care in and of itself,” says Williams.

Boundaries are also important to maintain if you’re working from home due to the pandemic. Williams recommends making sure to carve out at least 30 minutes a day to eat lunch away from your workspace and to identify a specific cutoff time for answering emails and doing any work-related tasks. (Here are more tips for carving out more “me time.”)

Make a “You” list

While building your self-care regimen consider creating a “you” list. This does not include various work-related deadlines or activities for other people. “Write self-care activities on small pieces of paper or popsicle sticks and place them in a jar,” suggests Williams. “Each time you want to engage in a self-care activity, pull from your ‘you list’ jar.”

Shabazz recommends that you plan your self-regimen in a way that honors your full self. “It’s imperative that your mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, financial, social, and professional needs are given separate space and attention,” she says. “Identify ways you’d like to take care of yourself in each domain. Develop a master list, keep it handy, and refer to it often.”

Be in the moment by unplugging

When engaging in any self-care activity, it’s important to be in the moment.

“An important part of self-care is being present in the moment and being mindful about how our body and mind are responding to daily responsibilities and how that impacts our productivity,” says Willams. “This allows us to take a step back and take inventory of where we are overextending ourselves. Remember, anything that you can’t take a step away from, you’re a slave to.” (Try these little habits to improve your mental health.)

Commit to consistency

Most things are ineffective if they are not done consistently. “It won’t work for you unless you work it,” Shabazz says. Consistency is key.

Make the little things work. “When it comes to self-care, it’s the little things that add up and make a big difference in your life,” says Akilah Reynolds, a licensed psychologist at The Black Girl Doctor.

Make the most of your limited free time. “Take just two minutes out of your day to do something for yourself,” she suggests. “Light a candle, listen to music, take a walk, sit still, dance, stretch. Starting small can have a domino effect.” (Also, opt for one of these self-care health products.)

Still not sure how to build a self-care plan?

If you want to create a self-care plan, but you’re not exactly sure how to build one to fit your specific needs, consider a monthly self-care toolbox subscription, suggests Williams. (Silk + Sonder journals are a great place to start.)

Or cozy up to a good read. Reynolds recommends one of her favorite self-help books, Michelle Obama’s BecomingAndranique Goodman, licensed professional counselor and clinical director of The Inner Psychotherapy Group, suggests Hey, Be Calm: A 21 Day Guided Journaling Workbook of Daily Reflections and Intention Setting

Next, check out these healthy experience gifts for wellness fans.