Between balancing school, family life, social life, and extracurriculars, it's easy to let caring for yourself fall by the wayside. Sometimes, we get so busy that we overlook our own needs, which can leave us feeling drained, stressed, and overwhelmed.
Self-care is all about taking time out of your schedule to focus on yourself. Essentially, it's an opportunity to take a break from what you "should be" doing to do something you enjoy. Self-care gives your mind and body the opportunity to rest and replenish. In turn, the practice of self-care helps build your resilience, allowing you to better cope with stressful life events, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).
When you take care of your mind, it’s easier to cope with any stress and emotional strain that come your way. When you're more resilient, you're less likely to experience stress, anxiety symptoms, and low self-esteem. Even if you're juggling a hectic schedule, try to see self-care as an investment in yourself. Self-care is fundamental to our mental wellbeing and our relationships with ourselves and others—just as exercise and nutrition are essential for physical health.
What Self-Care Means and What It Doesn't
The phrase "self-care" might bring up images of spa days and shopping sprees, but it's a lot more than that. Self-care involves intentionally engaging in activities that help reduce stress. In the words of Audre Lorde, an activist and self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
It's important to try to not think of self-care as an indulgence. Sometimes, self-care is about lifting yourself up and nourishing your mind, but self-care also includes the necessary (and sometimes boring) things you need to do to take care of your own needs. It might not feel relaxing to schedule appointments, do your schoolwork, or clean your room, but it's essential to take care of yourself even when it may feel more mundane. Even though it might be tempting to scroll through social media for hours and study tomorrow, caring for yourself today prevents tasks from piling up. Self-care also involves everyday habits like getting enough sleep, moving your body, and eating a balanced diet.
Self-care isn't selfish, and it doesn't have to be expensive or time-consuming. It's also not a one-and-done kind of thing. Self-care is a never-ending process, and it's important to practice self-care at every stage of life—from adolescence through adulthood.
With that said, taking care of yourself is usually the most challenging when it's most needed. Self-care is a valuable tool for coping with stress. To cultivate positive mental health and build resilience, try making self-care a normal part of your life by building a self-care routine into your daily schedule.
Start getting into the habit of carving out time each day, even if it's only a few minutes, just for you. Take a walk, listen to music, read your favorite book, or do some yoga. Whatever it is that makes you feel refreshed and rejuvenated, make time for it.
Self-Care Strategies for Teens
The practice of self-care looks different for different people. To figure out what self-care means for you, take some time to think about what makes you feel good. Depending on your personal preferences, self-care might look like a long walk around your neighborhood or reading a book. Maybe it's calling a good friend or journaling. Whatever makes you feel good might change depending on how you're feeling. Listen to your mind and body, and do something that makes you feel nourished each day.
If you're not sure where to start, there are countless ways to start practicing self-care. From healthy lifestyle changes to wellness practices, here are some ideas to help you start building a self-care plan:
- Try talk therapy: Contrary to popular belief, talk therapy, or psychotherapy, isn't just for people with acute mental health issues. In fact, psychotherapy can have wide-ranging benefits for everyone—whether you're navigating difficult life events or experiencing symptoms of depression. Talk therapy provides a safe, judgment-free space for you to discuss your feelings with a licensed therapist, define your mental health goals, and establish the right treatment plan. Even though seeking professional help might feel intimidating, talk therapy can make all the difference in your self-care practice, even when you start going proactively.
- Get your body moving: Physical self-care is just as important as emotional self-care. Physical activity gives your body a dose of mood-boosting endorphins, which trigger positive feelings. Essentially, physical activity increases your heart rate, which puts your body systems under stress. In response, your brain sends a message to flick the endorphin switch "on" and flood your body with mood-boosters. As little as 15 minutes of aerobic exercise (increasing your breathing and heart rate) each day is enough to release endorphins and leave you feeling energized. What's more, studies have consistently shown that regular exercise reduces the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions.
- Eat food that nourishes your body: When it comes to eating, forget about being thin or fitting into that pair of jeans. Instead, focus on your physical and mental health. If you have a hectic schedule, try meal planning or packing some healthy snacks so you have something to eat during the day. Eating a healthy diet will help you feel more energized, boost your mood, and think more clearly.
- Practice positive self-talk: Taking the time to give yourself a pep talk might sound cheesy, but it's worth trying. Set aside time each day to vocalize your goals and how you're going to achieve them. If you're experiencing low self-esteem or caught in a low mood, try using realistic stepping stones to get where you want to go ("I'm taking the time to study and by doing so, I'm going into this exam confident and I'll do better.")
- Get enough sleep: If you've ever gone to class after pulling an all-nighter, you know the toll that insufficient sleep and exhaustion can take on your body. It's easier to handle stressful life events when your body feels good, and getting enough sleep is essential to feel your best. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, adolescents aged 13–18 years should get 8–10 hours of sleep each night. One good way to achieve restful sleep is to avoid your phone before bed. Whenever possible, try not to do anything else in bed (schoolwork, studying, etc.) other than sleeping.
- Take a creative break: Whatever you're doing, make sure you make time for yourself to take breaks. Instead of putting on the TV after school, why not use the creative parts of your brain? Whether you're doodling, journaling, cooking, or playing an instrument, give your brain a much-needed stretch to help ease stress and anxiety. This helps keep your mind active in a way that watching TV or scrolling through social media doesn't do.
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness and meditation have wide-ranging benefits, from easing chronic pain to reducing depressive symptoms. It can be done in the form of simple mindful thinking in a dark room, or you might try using a guided meditation app. Countless guided meditation apps are freely available, and they can help you start living a more stress-free lifestyle.
- Surround yourself with loving relationships: The benefits of social support are far-reaching and long-lasting. Research shows that spending time with close friends and family members helps improve our physical health, boosting our immunity, illness recovery rates, and longevity. Social relationships also help sustain us emotionally by reducing stress, improving our quality of life, and helping us feel good about ourselves. If you're stuck in a depressed mood, call a close friend or family member for support and reassurance. And if you struggle with accepting compliments, try training yourself to say "thank you."
- Nurture your strengths: Finding opportunities to do things you're good at is beneficial for our mental well-being in so many ways. In the short term, you get a quick fix because you've completed what you have set out to do. In the long term, when you nurture your strengths, you feel more useful, highlighting your ability to contribute to the world. If you're not sure what you're good at, try making a list or asking a close friend what they think. It can be something as simple as baking delicious cookies or drawing great portraits. Once you know your strengths, you can start seeking out opportunities to demonstrate them, establishing a strong foundation for self-worth that you can continue to build on.
While navigating your own approach toward self-care, don't forget to remind yourself that you are worthy of care. Some days, recognizing your self-worth is going to be harder than others. Give yourself permission to take care of your own needs and experiment with different forms of self-care. It's not a one-size-fits-all approach, and what works for someone else might not work for you.
At the end of the day, we all need to take care of our mental and physical health to strengthen our ability to cope. Self-care is essential for preventing stress before it starts taking a toll, and it's fundamental for sustaining your mental wellness in tough times.
If you're having a hard time recognizing your self-worth, don't hesitate to reach out for professional help. Charlie Health's team of licensed clinicians is here to support adolescents struggling with mental health. At Charlie Health, every patient is assigned to an experienced, compassionate therapist who understands their unique mental health concerns. Our mental health professionals are available to listen to your needs, answer your questions, and help you start feeling better.