Create a Self-Care Routine: The Practical Guide

Self-care can feel complicated and overwhelming. Especially when you have a busy life and you always feel like you’re running out of time. Because where are you going to find the time to also invest in your self-care, and especially to create a personal self-care routine?

That’s how I always thought too. My to-do list was always so long that I thought “first I’m going to do all of that and then I will focus on my self-care”. Well, I can tell you one thing; the problem with an endless to-do list is that it never ends.

It wasn’t until I (literally) banged my head against the wall (well, actually it was a pillar) that I started to change this mindset. My PCS (post-concussion syndrome) taught me the importance of self-care.

Taking care of myself became my number one priority in my recovery process, and creating a self-core routine definitely helped with that. It didn’t happen overnight and involved a lot of trial and error, but eventually, I found a routine that suited me.

However, a self-care routine is very personal and changes over time, so I’m not going to share mine. But hopefully, I can help you with this guide where I share the steps I took and the things I kept in mind.

self-care routine

The power of self-care

First things first. Because why would you consider investing time and effort into self-care? Especially when you know it requires time and effort, which you initially might rather spend on something else.

Although there are different types of self-care, in the end, they all contribute to improving your overall health. That sounds pretty fabulous if you ask me. But the power of self-care ultimately lies in the fact that you will feel more fulfilled, energized, and balanced in all aspects of your life.

Related article: The Power of Self-Care: Prioritize Your Well-Being

Benefits of creating a self-care routine

Despite realizing the importance of self-care, it can still be difficult to invest time in it. You don’t know where to start or what to do, or when it gets busy you simply forget about it.

That’s why I love creating routines. For me, it is the best way to make a habit of something new.

Building your own routine doesn’t mean your whole day is filled with self-care. It means that you know when you will do something – and most importantly why you do it. Because knowing the benefits of doing something, will motivate you to stick to it.

And the same goes for creating a routine. After all, we already know that self-care helps improve our overall health; you feel more fulfilled, in balance, and more energetic.

But why should you invest time in building a routing for your self-care? The most important reasons are:

  • Create structure: building a routine for your self-care activities gives you a framework for how to include it in your day-to-day life. In this way, you know what you want to do at which moment, which makes it easier to stick to it.
  • Better decision-making: by having a self-care routine, you already decided to prioritize your self-care and when you want to focus on it. This prevents you from having to make new choices all the time, and you will notice that you are less likely to make “bad” choices for your self-care.
  • Efficiency: this one is largely in line with the point above; you will save time because you have to make fewer choices. But in addition, you can also combine activities to create a routine, so that you use your time completely efficiently.
  • Time management: assigning self-care activities to specific times in your day ensures that you give them full attention instead of rushing through them. This will prevent self-care from being neglected or pushed aside in the hustle and bustle of life.

Related article: 7 Effective Time Management Tips For Your Career

  • Reduce stress and anxiety: a routine serves as a calming anchor, providing a sense of control, stability, and relaxation in your day-to-day life.
  • Work-life balance: by allocating targeted time to self-care, you are less likely to do anything else – such as work tasks. This allows you to focus on your health, and better balance your work and private life. Besides that, you can include self-care in your working day, like taking a walk after lunch. This gives you a (short) break from your work, so you will return back at your desk with more focus and energy.
  • Self-awareness: a self-care routine encourages you to tune in to your energy, emotions, and needs. With this, you develop a better understanding of yourself, your triggers, and your desires, and it teaches you to make conscious choices that align with your overall well-being.

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Steps to create your self-care routine

Are you convinced of the importance of self-care and how a routine can help you? Great! But, motivation alone will not get us there.

It has probably happened before that you wanted something but then didn’t do it. And don’t feel guilty or bad about yourself, it is very human. Trust me, I speak from experience.

So now that your mindset is right, it’s time to get started. The following steps will help you create your personal self-care routine.

  1. Determine your needs
  2. Choose self-care activities
  3. Set priorities and realistic goals
  4. Schedule self-care time
  5. Mix and match activities
  6. Be consistent and flexible
  7. Reflect and adapt

Keep in mind that it is always a personal process that does not run in a straight line.

It is therefore possible that when you get to step 3, you notice that you want to change something from the first step. Nothing is set in stone, so make changes whenever you feel like it.

Although I will not share my own routine, I will use an example. This might make it easier to follow the steps and understand why you do and don’t do certain things.

Tip: write everything down for yourself. By writing out the steps, it becomes tangible and you also get a clearer picture of which direction you want to go. In addition, it gives you something to look back on and makes you accountable.

1. Determine your needs

As mentioned earlier, there are different types of self-care. Each of them contributes to your overall health in a different way, and they all include different types of activities. For example, there are specific activities that contribute to your mental health.

The first step in creating your routine is therefore to decide for yourself which elements of your health you want to focus on. Check in with yourself to feel where you are currently stuck and where you need to improve.

Related article: Self-Care Activities to Improve Your Mental Health

Is this in terms of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual, professional, or financial self-care? It can also be a combination of a few of them. That’s very normal.

To do this, it might be helpful to first ask yourself why you want to invest more time and effort into your self-care. How are you feeling at the moment and maybe why are you feeling this way?

Example: in this case, Person A’s needs are physical, mental, social, and financial self-care.

Her main reason to invest more time and attention in self-care is because she has been feeling drained in recent months. Her energy level is very low, therefore avoids social situations, is quickly frustrated, and finds it difficult to save money, which in turn causes stress.

2. Choose self-care activities

There is a long list of activities that can contribute to each type of self-care. And some of these activities can be placed under multiple types of self-care. So you probably get it, there are endless activities to choose from.

But in order to keep up with something, it is important that you do things that suit you and that you enjoy doing. So don’t put things in your personal self-care routine that you hate. That makes it more difficult to continue doing it and is likely to backfire.

Look especially at what you like to do and where you think you can get energy from.

Related article: 56 Self-Care Activities of 30 Minutes or Less

In addition to looking at activities per type of self-care, it is also good to take into account how much time you have. Because some people complain that they don’t have enough time, but for self-care, you really don’t need hours.

There are a lot of self-care activities for 30 minutes or less, and even for just 5 minutes, there’s plenty to think about.

Based on your needs from the previous step, you can now make a list of activities that suit you.

Example: per type of self-care Person A can make a list of several activities that suit her interests and needs, which also differ in time investment.

  • Physical: sleep 7-9 hours, stretching, take a walk
  • Mental: reading, breathing exercise
  • Social: call her mom, have a coffee with a friend
  • Financial: save money, evaluate your spendings

3. Set priorities and realistic goals

Now you know what your needs are and how much time you have available, it’s important to start looking at what’s achievable.

You probably want to improve all aspects of your life, but at the same time, you still have only 24 hours a day. So keep in mind to be realistic here, and therefore it’s important to make choices.

Look at the list of self-care types you want to focus on and number them. Give the type that currently needs the most priority a 1, the next a 2, and so on.

After prioritizing the types of self-care, it’s good to think about what you want to achieve by investing more in self-care. Do you want to feel a certain way? Do you have health, career, or financial goals?

Ultimately, self-care isn’t something you just do for a few weeks to achieve those goals. It’s something you want to hold on to and that also means that your goals may change over time.

Example: Person A decides that her priorities are as follows: 1) mental, 2) physical, 3) social, 4) financial

This is because she wants to feel more energized, see at least once a week friends, and in the upcoming 3 months she wants to save a specific amount of money.

4. Schedule self-care time

Just knowing what your priorities are, and which self-care activities you want to get started with, is of course not enough.

In the end, you have to actually do it, and you need time for that. It’s as simple as that.

But how do you do that?

  1. Look at moments that come back every day. Think of waking up, brushing your teeth, having lunch, etc. Instead of having to create new moments in your day, you can use a few minutes for self-care activities before or after these recurring moments.
  2. Combine small activities. As you know by now, many self-care activities only take a few minutes. If you find it difficult to do these activities separately throughout the day, you can also combine them in one moment. For example, after waking up, think about doing a few self-care things in a 10-20 minute “wake-up routine”.
  3. Schedule the time in your agenda. Some activities will take more time and are therefore less easy to combine with something you already do on a daily basis. To ensure that you have enough time for this, it is helpful to block moments in your agenda. You can permanently block this time, but you can also choose to do this once a week, two weeks, or a month. In this way, you can respond more to recent events.

It often works best if you have a certain routine for the things you do. This can be, for example, a “wake-up routine”, or a specific routine before you go to bed.

For the activities that require more time, keep in mind that it really isn’t necessary to set aside time for them every day. You can see this in the example below, not every day something is planned besides the recurring activities.

Example: recurring daily activities for Person A are:

  • Sleep from 23h – 7h
  • After waking up:
    • 7 minutes breathing exercise
    • 30 jumping jacks
    • 5 minutes stretching
    • 10 minutes reading a book
  • After lunch: have a walk of 15-20 minutes
  • Before going to bed: 10 minutes reading

During the week Person A blocks time in her agenda for the following types of activities:

  • Monday: 8-9AM sports
  • Tuesday: 11AM call her mom
  • Wednesday: nothing
  • Thursday: 6PM sports
  • Friday: 17PM meeting friends
  • Saturday: 10AM sports
  • Sunday: 11AM evaluating financials

5. Mix and match activities

When we do the same thing day after day, we can get bored quickly. And it won’t come as a surprise, but that makes it more difficult to keep it up.

Of course, if something works well for you, such as that “wake-up routine”, stick with it! But this is mainly about the larger activities, for example cycling for an hour every day instead of alternating different types of sports.

Try to find variety in this. You may even be surprised by something that you unexpectedly like a lot.

And if it works for you to do exactly the same thing every day, that is of course also perfectly fine. The most important thing is that you look and feel what works best for you.

Example: where Person A already blocked time in her agenda for workouts, she doesn’t always do the exact same types of sports. She has a few sports activities she likes, but her weeks can look as follows:

  • Week 1: boxing – yoga – running
  • Week 2: fitness – running – fitness
  • Week 3: fitness – yoga – running
  • Week 4: running – fitness – yoga

6. Be consistent and flexible

This of course sounds contradictory. But make sure you pay consistent attention to your self-care and also be flexible.

Crampy clinging to self-care can actually lead to an undesirable effect. It should help you to feel more energized and balanced, and not to get anxious and stressed by unexpected changes.

Always ask yourself what is important to you and what contributes to the life you want to live. Of course, unfortunately, you cannot always control everything yourself, and sometimes you have to move along a bit.

Example: Person A was planning to go for a run, but her friend calls her to invite her for lunch. She hasn’t seen her in a while, so although she was planning to work on her physical self-care she decides to go and meet her friend. Maybe she can go for a run later that day, and otherwise, it’s not a disaster. Besides that, meeting her friend is also important for her and it is a form of social self-care.

7. Reflect and adapt

As mentioned earlier, self-care is not for the short term, but something you want to stick to consistently as it contributes to your overall health.

This means that the initial goals you set may become irrelevant over time. Then look back on what you have achieved, and especially what new goals you want to set for the coming period. Depending on those goals, you may have to focus on other self-care types and therefore also select other activities.

How often you will evaluate is very personal and can of course also depend on your goals. Because within what time frame did you want to achieve this?

Personally, I like to work with a planner that I fill in every Sunday for the following week. In addition, the planner works on a monthly and quarterly basis with goals, priorities, and evaluations. Where the elements of the quarter are of course larger than those on a monthly basis.

Example: Person A fills in her agenda once every two weeks. At that moment she immediately looks back at how the past few weeks went and what she may need to change for the coming period. In addition to that, she looks to the bigger picture with her priorities and goals every first day of a new season.

Tip: Find support

Acquiring new habits and routines can be difficult. Especially when you are already very busy, it feels like this is something else you have to take care of. And that can be quite overwhelming.

If you feel that this makes it more difficult to stick to your new routine on your own, see if you can get friends involved.

For example, you can take a yoga class with a friend instead of alone, and then drink a coffee somewhere to immediately catch up with each other.

Related article: How To Build New Healthy Habits and Finally Stick To Them

Self-care can be overwhelming and all over the place, but having a personal self-care routine can definitely help with that. By making clear for yourself what your needs, priorities, and goals are, it will be easier to decide on which self-care types you should focus on. When you know that, the fun starts by choosing the activities and scheduling time for them. This is all with the main goal to improve your overall health in the end.

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18 responses to “Create a Self-Care Routine: The Practical Guide”
  1. Great tips here. We need to take care of ourselves, and yet we rarely “find the time.”

  2. These are some really great tips. I’m so bad at self care – I’m a mum so I put myself at the bottom of the list most days! Thank you for sharing.

  3. I love everything about self-care routine as it is so important now when we tend to forget about ourselves! Thanks for sharing

  4. Selfcare is a necessary part to keep us focussed on whereever we want to get to. I resonate with the steps outlined in this post for creating a selfcare routine. Especially determining my needs hit home for me. Thanks for putting this wonderful post together.

  5. Self care is so important. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Good info that we all should apply!

  7. Really appreciate this post. Self care is so necessary. Thank you for sharing great tips 🤗

  8. Yes! It’s so easy to forget to take care of ourselves, but it’s a must.

  9. I think this aslo makes you more focus in other aspects as well.
    Self care is self love. And no one will love you more the. Yourself.
    Good topic 👍🏾

    1. Totally agree to that!

  10. Ally

    Thanks for the great article! Loved reading it for tips

  11. I started focusing more on self-care after bouts of syncope. Started writing it in my planner as a must-do. Great tips! Our health and well-being need to be a priority.

    1. Sorry to hear that you had to experience that… But couldn’t agree more; taking care of ourselves definitely need to be a priority in our lifes!

  12. Self-care seems to be becoming more important to me as I age. Great article.

  13. Self care is something that I didn’t think about until got to be an adult. I’m still learning what my routine is but I definitely take more time for myself. I appreciated this blog. Thank you

    1. Thank you for your great feedback! We learn a lot at school, but personally I believe we should also learn more about how to take care of ourselves.

  14. The thing most people forget about self-care is that it is a sort of constant gardening. You must continue to make time to pour into yourself in order to show up in other spaces in the world. Lovely post!

    1. Well said! This is a great and I think also a recognizable comparison for a lot of us. Thanks for sharing!

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