I feel like the importance of self care is pretty common knowledge, but something I’ve noticed while browsing through self-care blogs is that a lot of self care ideas aren’t inclusive of people who struggle with what some may consider the most basic of activities. So when I talk about inclusive self care ideas, I mean ideas that are available to all people, no matter their level of functioning.
The nature of some mental illnesses, such as depression, means that finding the motivation to engage in self-care activities can be very difficult. So naturally, what can seem easy for one person may be a huge chore for another.
It can be offensive to some people, who are struggling to take care of themselves, that blogs everywhere recommend bubble baths and face masks like they’re cure-all activities. When you haven’t washed in weeks, how easy do you think it is to fill a bath complete with epsom salts, essential oils and candles?
I’m by no means dissing that act of self-care (because this is one of my favourite ways to relax and unwind), but recognizing that for some people this seems like a big feat!
That’s why I’ve created this inclusive list of self care ideas for different levels of functioning. So on your good days you can run that bubble bath, while on your bad days just changing your underwear may be enough. And that’s totally okay.
I know this is a long list… so if you came for inspiration and nothing more, scroll towards the bottom of the page for a handy infographic. Otherwise keep reading for my inclusive self care ideas!
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Self care ideas for bad mental health days
Who said you need a masseuse to relieve tired muscles? Use your hands or a massage tool to rub muscles in a circular motion. Rubbing your feet in particular can have such a relaxing effect on your body!
2. Practice breathing techniques
Slow, deep breathing can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, making you feel calm and safe. There are several different breathing techniques that you can try, which I talk about briefly in my free meditation eBook.
3. Eat raw food
This may sound strange, but there is a reason this is here! Not only is raw food the richest in nutrients, but it requires very little time or effort to prepare. This means that your mental health can benefit from eating healthily, even when you don’t have the motivation to prepare or cook a meal!
4. Unplug all electronics by a certain hour
Backlit screens are awful for your body clock! Vow to switch electronics off by a certain hour so you can get a good nights rest.
5. Drink a glass of water
I don’t know about anyone else, but when I’m low in mood even drinking water seems like a huge chore. But dehydration is going to make you feel SO much worse! If you notice you haven’t had a drink in a while, just make it your goal to drink a glass of water. Your body will thank you for it.
6. Cleanse your body/face using a cleansing wipe
If bathing/showering is too much right now, just take a cleansing wipe to your skin. Feeling dirty is a horrible feeling and this will help to alleviate it.
7. Brush your hair
Even if you only do half the job, just brush your hair a little bit. The longer you leave it, the more tangled it’s gonna get!
8. Brush your teeth or use mouthwash
I know it seems like a chore, but brushing your teeth is going to make you feel so much more clean and fresh. Pro tip – get yourself an electric toothbrush to save yourself half the work! And if it’s still too much, just use mouthwash for now.
9. Open your blinds/curtains
If anything’s going to make you feel worse on a down day, it’s a dark and dreary room. If leaving the house feels impossible right now, do yourself a favour and at least open a window to let some light in! This will also help your body clock and allow for a better nights sleep!
10. Open a window
Similarly, letting in fresh air is going to make you feel so much better. You may not be able to pluck up the courage to leave the house – but an open window is better than no fresh air at all!
11. Put on relaxing music
This is one of the easiest ways to relax. It requires very little effort to put on, and you can just lay there passively while it plays. Easy peasy!
12. Watch your favourite film (positivity only!)
We all have those favourite films that we can just watch again and again, right? Those films that we can quote all the words to? The great thing about sticking one of these on is that it is not only enjoyable, but isn’t effortful to watch as you already know the plot line! Just make sure it’s upbeat and positive – I love a bit of Disney when I’m down!
13. Watch a motivational ted talk
Motivational ted talks are great for bringing up your morale. It’s easy to feel hopeless and like nothing is worth it when you’re having a bad mental health day – ted talks can make you feel more hopeful about the future. There are some amazing inspirational speakers out there; try googling the best ted talks for your particular need i.e. “best ted talks for anxiety relief.”
14. Reach out to a friend
Don’t isolate yourself if you don’t have to. If you have a friend that you can talk to, reach out to them. Even if it’s just a simple catch up, connecting with other people can make you feel much less lonely.
15. Drink a warm drink
The warm sensation of a drink can be very calming. Use this as an opportunity to practice mindfulness and truly be aware of the warm sensation travelling through your body. Whether your beverage of choice is coffee, tea or hot cocoa, grab yourself a cuppa and relax.
16. Change your clothes
It seems minor, but changing your clothes can have a big impact on how clean and refreshed you feel. Even if it’s just changing into a fresh pair of jammies, try changing it up to lift your mood.
17. Put dirty clothes in the laundry basket
A messy cluttered room can be really negative for low mood or anxiety. I know how easy it is to accumulate dirty clothes and underwear all over the floor when you’re low in mood and motivation (been there). You don’t have to actually do the laundry here, but just picking clothes up and moving them into the laundry basket can give the illusion of a tidy room. Completing this task can also make you feel super accomplished!
18. Colouring in
A minimal effort mindfulness activity, colouring in gives you something meaningless to pour your attention into. You can pick an art piece as simple or as complex as you like. This is one of my favourite things to do and really helps me to zone out.
19. Stretch your body
If you’re low in mood and housebound, there’s a good chance you haven’t moved your body much today. You may laugh at the suggestion of going for a run, but stretching your body in your bed can be a simple way of increasing blood flow and making you feel relaxed.
20. Make your bed
It may seem silly if you’re not leaving your house, but try not to wallow in your bed sheets forever. Even if you plan on staying in bed, it’s better to lay on top of a made bed so it doesn’t feel too much like bed time. Plus, making your bed is a simple task that can trick you into feeling like you’ve accomplished big things!
21. Stroke an animal
Obviously this one is dependent on having an animal. If you do have a pet, give it a cuddle or a stroke – pets can be so therapeutic. If you don’t, try stroking a textured fabric. Sure, it’s not quite the same but it is definitely a calming mindfulness technique.
22. Do a brain dump
Not as weird as it sounds, a brain dump is simply writing out your thoughts and feelings as they come. No censorship, just get it all out on paper. This is a great way to clear the mind. You don’t have to keep it – shredding it or burning it can actually be very cathartic.
23. Light a candle/incense or diffuse essential oils
Smell is one of the best senses for mindfulness. Put on something smelly and sit and enjoy the scents it gives off.
24. Download/use the Calm app or Headspace
These apps are helpful tools to give you some time out to practice self-care. Calm is great for practicing mindfulness, while Headspace is full of tons of guided meditations. If you’re somebody that benefits from guidance and instruction, give these apps a go.
25. Make a plan to look forward to
When you’re down, it can be difficult to experience excitement or feel hopeful for the future. Give yourself the best chance by making a plan to look forward to. This gives you something positive to think about while you tell yourself this is only temporary.
26. At the end of your day, write out the positives
Even if you’ve had a crappy day, there are always some positives to take from it! Reflect on these by writing them down. This is a good way to help shift your negative mindset.
Self care ideas for higher functioning days
Meditation is not only great at calming the mind in the moment, but also acts as a tool to help you be more resilient to future stressors. If you’re interested in starting a meditation practice but don’t know where to start, I’ve written a beginner’s guide to meditation that breaks it down for you – plus it’s completely free!
2. Practice yoga
There are so many benefits of yoga that it would be silly not to incorporate it into your life! Yoga is awesome for your mental health and can definitely help prevent your mood from becoming low.
3. Declutter your closet
Ever heard the term less is more? Getting rid of your unwanted clothes can make you really appreciate the garments you do have. I’m gonna take a guess that there’s at least a few items in your ‘drobe that you never wear… ditch them.
4. Write a list of things you love about yourself
What better way to make you feel good than to explicitly name the things you love about yourself? The things you love can be anything – physical characteristics, personality traits, quirks. Whatever they are, don’t shy away from them. Own them!
5. Practice gratitude
Gratitude is a wonderful tool at making you feel good. Thinking of all the things you’re grateful for can make life seem that bit more wonderful. Who cares about the negatives when there are so many things to be happy about?!
6. Watch the sunrise/sunset
The warm tones of a sunrise/sunset are so calming. And the rising and setting of the sun is a slow enough process to give you some time out to just be.
7. Practice positive affirmations
Ever heard of the law of attraction? Word has it you can make your greatest desires come true just by thinking about them. This little life hack is called manifestation! When you practice positive affirmations, you send messages out to the universe that you are ready to make shit happen!
8. Walk in nature
Take a mindful walk in nature. Observe your surroundings, breathe in fresh air, listen to the birds. This is a great form of grounding.
Not only are the stars beautiful to look at, but I feel like looking at the night sky can really help change your perspective. How irrelevant do your problems feel when you look up into the universe? Even better than gazing from your window, stargaze outside to experience true peace!
10. Exfoliate and moisturise your skin
Just because it feels damn good. You’ll never want to stop stroking your skin after doing this, and that’s a distraction in itself!
11. Visit a cafe alone or with a friend
Whether you’re meeting up for a natter or having a cuppa on your own, cafe’s are a super relaxing place to be. Experiment with finding your favourite cafe – there are tons out there that each have their own quirks!
12. Go to the movies
I love going to the cinema because I feel like I can get really absorbed in a movie this way. This is a bit of time out from the outside world. Plus, if you go with a friend, it gives you something to discuss afterwards! Maybe at that cafe I mentioned 😉
13. Make a smoothie or juice
Who doesn’t like smoothies and juices? Making your own is super simple if you have the right machine. I also love using a masticating juicer because it helps to maintain all the good nutrients. A really calming process, and a boost for your body!
14. Go to the gym or a fitness class
Whether you’re trying to reach your fitness goals or just going for fun, the gym can be great for your mental health! Exercise releases endorphins, which can give you a natural high after your gym visit. Plus, it’s great to have goals and something to work towards – seeing subtle changes in your body over time is so rewarding!
15. Bake a cake
Baking is fun and you get the added bonus of a tasty treat at the end! I love trying different vegan cake recipes from this Ms Cupcake baking book and I honestly didn’t know I could bake so well until I got this! Treat yo’self.
16. Write poetry
Poetry is an amazing way of expressing yourself. Forget all those ‘rules’ you learn in English Literature, just write straight from the heart and create some beautiful art!
17. Digital detox
We could all do with one of these every once in a while. Getting caught up in social media or TV is so easy and every now and then we should just give ourselves a break to shut off! This can have a calming effect on the mind and give you time to discover new hobbies and find happiness from within.
18. Visit a spa
I don’t think I even have to explain this one.
19. Read a book
Reading is so underrated. Fiction has the ability to take you into a whole other world where you can truly use your imagination and go internal for a while. And non-fiction can teach you so much and expand your awareness. Check out these truly inspirational books for spiritual growth.
20. Make a positive playlist
Making a positive playlist now means that you’ll have something to listen to when you’re not feeling so great. Your future self will inevitably thank you for it!
21. Create art
Whether it’s drawing, painting or crochet, create whatever you feel inspired to create! Don’t think about the end outcome or whether it’s “good” or “bad” (this is difficult, I know), just go with the flow.
22. Have a bath
Run yourself a relaxing bath with epsom salts and candles. This will soothe your muscles making you feel open and relaxed. Or have a hot steamy shower, if you prefer.
23. Do a face mask
I know, I know… I did say self-care isn’t as simple as a face mask (and it isn’t). But that doesn’t mean face masks don’t have their purposes! Sure, they’re not going to cure all of your problems – but they can make you feel nice and pampered, which is a step in the right direction! This is my favourite face mask – it makes my skin feel amazing and it’s completely vegan!
24. Create a pinterest board of self-love quotes
Pinterest is full of self-love quotes. Create a board that you can look at every now and then when you need a boost of lurve!
25. Try on outfits that make you feel good about yourself
So what if you’re not going anywhere? That doesn’t mean that you can’t get dressed up and admire yourself. We all have those go-to outfits that we feel great in. Feeling good in what you wear can contribute massively to your self-confidence!
26. Create a self-care habit tracker
Creating a self-care habit tracker helps you to hold yourself accountable and makes sure you’re giving yourself the love you deserve! This means that you’re less likely to fall back into negative patterns of behaviour.
Consistency is key
As with everything, consistency is key. You can’t just practice one of the self care ideas as a one off and expect to never feel low again. Keep track of your habits and hold yourself accountable.
The idea is that the more often you practice the self care ideas on bad mental health days, the more likely you are to achieve higher functioning days. Similarly, the more often you use the tools on your high functioning days, the less likely you are to have poor mental health days!
I hope that this post has provided you with some helpful and inclusive self care ideas. I know that practicing self-care can seem impossible when you most need it. But you’ve got this! Make sure to never make excuses for caring for yourself – you deserve it.
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Esther Cundall is a psychology graduate and certified yoga teacher. She is the founder of the blog Hopeful Lotus, which guides readers to grow to their fullest potential using spiritual and personal growth practices. By sharing her own journey, she helps others find their own hope and heal from within.