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A young woman wearing a straw hat is relaxing with a book on a grassy beach, watching a colorful sunset

Treat Yourself: Women's Self-Care Essentials

Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s critical to our wellbeing.  

As friends, mothers, professionals, daughters, and in all the many roles we play as women, we can often fall into the habit of putting ourselves last on the list of priorities. Taking the time to care for ourselves can feel like an indulgence. But when we neglect the relationships we have with ourselves, and set our own needs aside, we can become exhausted and depleted on many levels. So how can we be sure we’re showing up for ourselves in meaningful ways to support our health and wellbeing?

The best place to start, according to the International Self-Care Foundation, is by making sure we are addressing our wellness in each of the 7 Pillars of Self-Care: Mental, Emotional, Physical, Environmental, Spiritual, Recreational, and Social.

Read on for our most essential, actionable self-care practices (and the sage wisdom of our favorite self-care quotes) to make sure you’re taking good care to treat yourself well, in every area of your life. Get ready for lower stress levels, improved mental and physical health, higher self-esteem, and even better relationships.

1. Mental Self-Care

"Nourishing yourself in a way that helps you blossom in the direction you want to go is attainable, and you are worth the effort." - Deborah Day

Our mental health is crucial to all that we do, and tending to our own mental wellbeing means building a healthy mindset and cultivating practices that support a balanced mindstate. This can look like nurturing a positive mental environment with daily affirmations, challenging yourself to learn a new skill, or diving into a new book. But an unexpected form of self-care with enormous mental benefits is developing a routine for healthy skin. 

Elevate Your Skin Care 

Skincare has become something of a self-care buzzword, making its way onto listicles galore. But have you ever wondered why? While at first glance the recommendation may seem a superficial indulgence, there has been extensive research into the connection between our skin health and our mental wellbeing. 

Our skin is in constant communication with our brain. This ongoing conversation between our organs, alerting each other of environmental or internal stressors and hazards, is referred to as the brain-skin axis. Mental stress can show up on the skin, and the stress skin experiences when unprotected from the environment can show up in our mental state by spiking cortisol levels (and even causing signs of aging). 

Our natural defense to this stress response is the skin barrier, which can easily be disrupted or damaged by harsh skincare products. Choosing gentle, barrier-strengthening cleansers, moisturizers, and serums can go a long way toward both a relaxing, mindful daily ritual and our mental wellbeing. Try incorporating natural, chemical-free skincare products with a rejuvenating scent into your routine, and start the day with skin protection with the added bonus of energizing aromatherapy.   

2. Emotional Self-Care

“The most creative act you will ever undertake is the act of creating yourself.” - Deepak Chopra

The world around us can affect our emotional lives in countless ways, and emotional self-care invites us to develop healthy coping strategies and outlets. You might find benefits in emotional self-care approaches like seeking the support of a counselor, lifting your mood with a weekly comedy night, or limiting your exposure to alarmist news channels, but also consider finding a way to express yourself creatively to bolster your emotional wellbeing. 

Explore Creative Outlets 

Engaging in creative activities has been shown to reduce stress, give us a greater sense of appreciation for the world around us, and even to lift our self-esteem. The best part? There’s no wrong way to do it, and no limit to the creative pursuits you can try your hand at.  

Try signing up for a sculpting class with a local studio, or explore activities you can do in the comfort of your own home like cross-stitching, candle-making, or even cooking an instagram-worthy new recipe. These Buffalo Chicken Tostone Sandwiches would be a tasty place to start. (Bonus points for protein, essential vitamins, and flavonoids!)

3. Physical Self-Care

“Self-care is your fuel ... Whatever the road ahead or the path you’ve taken, self-care is what keeps your motor running and your wheels turning.” - Melissa Steginus

In the realm of physical self-care, we prioritize the needs of our bodies such as adequate rest, whole nutrition, and regular exercise. In addition to check-ups with your doctor(s) and dentist, it’s imperative to make time for rest, movement, and nourishing your body. 

Don’t Skimp on Sleep

How much rest do you actually get on an average night? In order to keep all systems go, according to Harvard Health, women need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. And, more than 60% of women regularly fall short of this goal. 

Inadequate sleep puts us at risk for a number of health concerns, weight gain, and impairs concentration. To ensure you’re getting quality rest, avoid napping during the day, say no to caffeine after midday, and aim for 30 minutes of moderate daily exercise. You can also try setting a sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, and incorporating sleep-supporting nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D into your routine. 

Keep It Moving 

The health benefits of regular movement and exercise can positively impact every aspect of our wellbeing, from improving sleep quality and supporting our mental health to strengthening relationships and improving self esteem.

In contrast, when we don’t make time to move, falling into a sedentary lifestyle can adversely impact our mental and physical health, putting us at higher risk for a number of conditions. We can have a harder time thinking clearly, solving problems, managing stress, and even develop self-deprecating thought patterns.    

Make sure your body has the energy, endurance, and movement supporting nutrients it needs, and start building non negotiable time for exercise into your day. Try signing up for a dance class with friends (a great creative outlet) for a bit of social fun while you work up a sweat, or check out a free fitness app like MyFitnessPal or Nike Training Club to get moving at no cost anywhere you like, on your own timeline. 

Prioritize Nutrition & Hydration

Proper nutrition is the foundation for all other forms of self-care. When we don’t receive the optimal levels of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and proteins needed to support the function of our intricate bodily systems, every area of our lives can suffer. Fatigue, mental and physical health concerns, poor mood, digestive troubles, and accelerated aging can all be results of subpar nutrition. And when nutrient levels are low, our immune systems take a hit, making it easier to catch every common bug that comes our way. 

Prioritizing nutrition improves our mood, energy levels, sleep quality, immunity, memory, and focus, allowing us to show up more fully for those we love and the projects we’re passionate about. 

Eating a nutritionally balanced diet of whole foods like high fiber fruits and vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and complex carbohydrates (such as these sweet potatoes) helps to give us the nutritional foundation we need to power our bodies and lives. 

Try making a meal plan to help you eat healthy, even on a budget, and explore balanced, healthful recipes like this quick and easy stuffed avocado, full of protein and healthy fats. And because it can be difficult to get everything our bodies need from diet alone, make nutrition easy on yourself with this high-achieving trio: a multivitamin conveniently pre-packaged with optimal nutrients for day and night, probiotics to help balance gut health and improve nutrient absorption, and omega-3 fatty acids to support the functions of the brain, muscles, and many other other bodily systems.    

Plus, don’t forget to hydrate. Drinking plenty of water (experts say 11 cups daily for women) helps our bodies to better absorb nutrients, regulate bodily temperature (looking at you, hot flashes), improve mental clarity and mood, help us sleep better, and can even lead to healthier, younger-looking skin

4. Environmental Self-Care

“Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.” - Hermann Hesse

As much as cultivating an inner sanctuary is essential to our wellbeing, being intentional about the outer environments we spend our time in can play a huge role in our sense of wellness and quality of life. Practicing environmental self-care, broadly, is taking care of the spaces around us, and carving out time to be in places that nurture us. This can look like keeping your home and workspace tidy and clutter-free, spending restorative time in nature, hanging mood-boosting artwork in your office, or even volunteering for your local community garden or river clean up project. 

Create a Home Oasis

So much of our time is spent in our homes, whether for leisure or work, and the ambience and cleanliness of the spaces around us can directly affect the way we feel. Creating a home environment that supports rest, wellness, creativity, and relaxation, tailored to our individual needs and preferences, can help us to feel more grounded, physically and emotionally safe, and less stressed.

Try starting with one area or room in your home, and arrange and decorate the space with your comfort and peace in mind. You can focus on the quality of the air you’re breathing, the sensory experience of fabrics and temperature, add potted plants for a pop of natural green, and remove any thing or object that causes you to feel stress or negativity. 

For more tips on folding your home space into your self-care routine, check out this Environmental Wellness Toolkit from the National Institutes of Health. 

5. Spiritual Self-Care

"Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel." - Eleanor Brownn

We care for our spirits by creating a sense of meaning in our lives. For some this may mean participating in faith based activities or joining a spiritual community, but spiritual self-care can also look like starting a gratitude journal or nourishing your spiritual world through mindful practices like yoga. 

Be Mindful

For centuries, forms of mindfulness – being intentionally present and aware of our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations– have been practiced across cultures to facilitate and deepen spiritual connection. Benefits, according to the American Psychological Association, include nervous system and emotional regulation, an improved sense of calm and concentration, reduced stress, improved memory, and better relationships. 

Try exploring mindful meditation. Various meditation techniques have been used for thousands of years to promote inner peace and balance, improve self awareness, stimulate creativity, build patience, support physical and mental health, develop coping abilities, and help with deeper, better quality sleep. You can find plenty of guided meditations on Youtube or free mindfulness apps, or try this beginner mindfulness meditation exercise.  

Having trouble relaxing into your meditative practice? Try adding nutrients that support rest and relaxation into your regimen.   

6. Recreational Self-Care

"When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life." - Jean Shinoda Bolen

Prioritizing our interests, fun, and joy for the sake of health? Sign us up. Recreational self-care means doing precisely that. 

Make Time for Hobbies

When was the last time you set aside a few hours to simply enjoy an activity that fills your cup? Devoting time to our hobbies isn’t just fun, it’s also one of the best ways to give ourselves a much needed break in order to better manage stress, constructively express emotions, and boost our mood. As author Ann Lamott says, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” 

Try reconnecting with a passion you’ve set aside, like playing an instrument, working on your tennis serve, or even catching up on the latest in reality TV.  And, hobbies don’t have to be costly. Volunteering with your local animal shelter for a pet-induced mood boost, running with a great playlist in your earbuds, or searching for new skills to learn on Youtube are all no-cost ways to enjoy a little down time. Work in some social and physical self-care with a group outing in nature, like a kayaking trip or walk through the prettiest park in town, and make sure to pack your healthy snacks, plenty of water, and nutritional support to keep you feeling energized. Bonus: mix this anti-aging, protein-packed powder into your water bottle to stay hydrated while giving your hair, skin, and nails a pick-me-up.       

Incorporate Everyday Luxuries 

We’re not talking about Birkin Bags and expensive shopping sprees. Incorporating luxury experiences into your everyday routine can help to cultivate a sense of joy. Things and experiences we choose solely because they make us feel comfortable and cared for can have a great impact on our happiness. You have permission to do something special for yourself, simply because you deserve to feel cherished. 

Need a little treat? Try adding a thoughtful, just-because touch to your daily life by mixing fresh berries or cucumber into your water pitcher, applying a hydrating eye cream to tired eyes, taking a bath with scented oils or epsom salts, or adding an elegant garnish to your dinner plate. 

7. Social Self-Care

“When you say ‘yes’ to others make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself.”           - Paulo Coelho

Human beings are social creatures. Having a fulfilling social life is not a frivolity - we literally need connection for our wellbeing. According to the CDC, quality social connections and community help to improve and support both mental and physical health, and allow us to better cope with stress, depression, and anxiety. When we practice social self-care, we are intentional about building healthy relationships and setting boundaries when we need to. 

Make Time for Loved Ones

Strong relationships = strong health. When we build nourishing relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and others in our communities, we can see benefits in our immunity, mental state, self-esteem, empathy, and even the length of our lives. While life’s obligations and professional responsibilities can sometimes make social events or outings with friends fall down our list of priorities, the risks of social isolation and loneliness to our health can be dire.

Try setting a weekly lunch meeting with a positive colleague, joining a local hiking group to expand your social circle, or building time into your schedule for regular walks with a neighbor who lifts your spirits. 

And as you shift social self-care up on your list of priorities and focus on strengthening your relationships, don’t forget to count the relationship you have with yourself among them. This will improve your relationships with others overall, as well as boost your confidence, improve your ability to solve problems, and reduce stress. Try starting by building greater self trust. Committing to keeping the promises you make to yourself can have an enormous impact on improving your self-relationship, as well as your personal confidence.         

Set and Maintain Your Boundaries

Boundaries are an often overlooked and extremely beneficial self-care essential. Simply put, setting boundaries as a form of care for yourself means prioritizing your needs by saying no to people and situations that drain you. Saying yes to these things can lead to a depletion of energy, and even build resentment in our relationships.

Studies show that women especially struggle with setting healthy boundaries, given historically assigned social and societal expectations. But as the culture has shifted into modern day and demands on women have become even greater, the importance of boundaries has become more paramount to wellness.   

While turning down an invitation or request might bring up feelings of guilt or pressure, practicing this particular form of self-care can help us to avoid burnout, find clarity and focus, improve our sense of identity, contribute to mental and emotional health, and build self-esteem. 

Try scheduling dedicated self-care time, and view any draining requests that conflict with your self-care schedule just as you would any other time conflicts – it simply isn’t humanly possible to do both. Kindly communicating your boundaries, and saying no to something that may negatively affect your wellness is simply saying yes to caring for yourself.  


The research has spoken: Self-care isn’t an act of selfishness, indulgence, or vanity. It is an unavoidably and undeniably critical element of your wellbeing regimen, and you deserve to prioritize your health on every level for the highest quality of life. You are multifaceted, and your self-care practices can be too. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and you get to choose the best ways to show yourself care and empower your wellness journey. Where will you begin?

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