Ever since returning from a sabbatical back into the corporate world, I had been struggling to maintain many of the good habits built during the break.
It took 9 months of working late nights and suffering from burnout and mild depression to snap me back into reality. I realized that my mind body and spirit have been moving constantly and I was in need of some serious self-care.
My struggle to keep self-care consistent is real. And I figured this would probably be the case for most normal people who have to juggle work, relationships, family / pets and everything else important in life.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or constantly depressed, chances are your mind body and soul need to take a break. This doesn’t mean inactivity; it means that you need to allow yourself to slow down and focus on what matters most.
This post describes 17 of the most powerful self-care habits that brought the greatest impact on my levels of happiness and contentment.
Habits take time to build. And I hope that this post will inspire you to start taking care of yourself and running the race of life sustainably.
17 self care habits for a happy life
1. Spend 30 minutes in solitude
There’s a reason why this is first on the list.
Many of us spend our days around events and people 24/7. We are constantly bombarded with noise and information overload. There is no time for us to sit in quiet contemplation, to process the information we receive daily, and to reflect on our lives.
The demands of modern life can and will eventually take their toll on you. As your body and mind go into overdrive to participate in the daily rigor, it can affect your relationships, physical and mental health.
While it is not feasible to break away completely from our family or work commitments, we can make time daily to enjoy a few moments of quiet. Take 30 minutes daily to clear your mental clutter, find time to just be. Listen to music, write in your journal, or simply reflect.
You will find that this 30-minute investment will help you return to the world with a clearer mind and direction to deal with the stresses of everyday life.
2. Keep a self-care journal
Self-care journaling is a great way to improve your mental wellbeing. Journaling reduces stress, clarifies your thoughts and feelings, and helps you increase your self-awareness.
When you journal, you are taking your mind away from the distractions in life and focusing inward. It is a great (and inexpensive) way to help you understand what is going on inside you.
If you are new to journaling, there is no one size fits all process. Try to find the right time to write – whether it is before bed or first thing in the morning. If you are unsure of topics, you can start with the following ideas:
- What has gone well in your day?
- What has not gone as well in your day?
- What are you thinking and feeling right now?
- What are you grateful for?
- What goals did you have for today? Did you achieve them (if you are writing at night)
As you write in your journal, keep digging deeper for each topic and start uncovering yourself step by step.
3. Laugh heartily at least once a day
“Laughter is the best medicine” – this old saying has been supported by research.
The immediate effect of laughter includes:
- Increased blood circulation to your organs and stimulates endorphins released by the brain
- Aid muscle relaxation and reduce tension
In the long term, laughter has a positive effect on
- The immune system. Positive and happy thoughts help to fight stress, which is the cause of many illnesses
- Your mood. Laugher lessens anxiety and depression, as well as self-esteem
- Pain relief. Laughter enables the body to produce its own natural painkillers
If you find it difficult to laugh at something, try watching a comedy, or simply fool around with your pet. Chances are you’ll rekindle that sense of humor in you.
4. Practice gratitude daily
Research continues to show that gratitude is strongly associated with happiness. Gratitude helps people experience positive emotions, improve their health and build stronger relationships.
Practicing gratitude is possibly one of the most impactful things you can do to improve your wellbeing. Simply saying thanks in the morning, or writing down what you are thankful for daily, will help you feel more positive already.
“To live a life we love, we must first love the life we live.”
5. Breathe deeply
In my yoga school, we are taught that the quality of our breath determines the quality of our life. This cannot be truer.
The more I consciously engage in deep breathing, the more alert and energetic I feel. A simple 2-minute exercise has an immediate and lasting effect.
This is because deep breathing increases oxygen in your brain and muscles, resulting in prana or life energy being delivered to once stagnant areas and bringing energy to your mind, body, and spirit.
Try taking a few minutes each day to just focus on your breath. Breathe deeply into your belly and experience its benefits firsthand.
6. Drink enough water
The human body is made up of more than 50% water. For some organs such as the heart, lungs, and brain, this would be more than 70%.
Some of the physical benefits of drinking water include:
- Strengthening the immune system
- Improving hair and skin texture
- Enhancing kidney function to flush out toxins
- Preventing bad breath
- Improving physical performance
- Reducing headaches
More importantly, hydration will help with mental health as well. Dehydration tends to negatively impac
- Your mood
- Brain performance
- Energy levels
- Anxiety levels
The amount of water you should drink depends on your height and weight, health, and your activity levels. In general, you should aim to drink 8-10 glasses of water per day.
Start increasing your liquid intake one small step at a time. If you don’t like plain water, you can improve its flavor by drinking non-caffeinated teas, fruit-infused water, or healthy clear soups.
7. Eat nutritious foods
Food is fuel to your body. Focus on eating to live, rather than live to eat.
This means to eat real, whole, and nutrient-rich food. Avoid processed foods and meat.
If you find yourself craving unhealthy foods, try to address the root cause of this issue. Are you eating because you are feeling emotional? Or because you are bored?
Knowing your triggers for food can help you take the right steps and build a healthy eating habit for your body and mind. It also helps you to understand yourself better and learn to shape your habits and intentions accordingly.
This is real self-care!
8. Sleep sufficiently
I used to believe that rest and sleep are for the weak. That was until I started suffering from burnout and sleep deprivation. Working till 1-3 am in the morning and waking up at regular hours (6 am) daily took its toll on me after several years on the job.
Research supports what I had experienced – more studies are showing that when you chronically do not get sufficient sleep, you are at a higher risk of getting high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, or stroke. Other issues that can emerge include depression, obesity, lower immunity, and lower sex drive.
So try to sleep well and get enough hours of well-deserved rest for your mind and physical wellbeing.
9. Make rest a priority
Similar to the story of sleep, rest is usually something most of us de-prioritize. Many of us are living in overdrive. We know that we need a break, but the world has conditioned us to believe that if we do rest, we are being lazy.
Yet you would be doing yourself a great favor by taking the much-needed break – whether it is a 5-minute breathing exercise, a digital detox, a run in the park, or simply enjoying the solitude with a cup of coffee.
Rest allows you to take a step back from the constant grind, reframe your perspective, and clarify your mind. You will then be able to come back stronger and do the things that matter.
“Rest is to prepare for the long journey ahead” – Chinese Proverb
10. Build a mindfulness habit
Mindfulness means simply being aware of what you are doing at any given moment.
This can be in the form of meditation (we will talk about this later), or it could simply be just paying attention to your breath.
My favorite mindfulness activity is holding a cup of filtered coffee in my favorite mug, sitting on the sofa, and just enjoying the smell and taste of each sip. It’s very simple, yet very powerful to set a calm tone for the day.
Research has shown that mindfulness helps with stress and reaps more benefits than the energy invested.
Try out your way of practicing mindfulness. Start with one minute and work your way up as you go along.
If you want to explore mindfulness deeper, you can practice mindfulness-based meditation. This is a great way to focus your thoughts and reset your mind.
Simply find a quiet and peaceful space in your home. Close your eyes and focus on every inhale and exhale. Try to step away from your thoughts and simply follow your breath into your lungs, and out through your nostrils.
If you find yourself wandering in thought, bring your mind back to your breath.
5 minutes is all you need to feel the effects of meditation.
Related: Top 10 Meditation Tips for Beginners
11. Move your body
When you’re living a sedentary lifestyle, you are not only keeping your body inactive, but your life force or prana is being stagnant.
According to the WHO, a sedentary lifestyle “increase all causes of mortality, doubles the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, and increases the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, lipid disorders, depression, and anxiety.
Keep yourself moving – this can be anything from a 5-minute brisk walk to a hatha yoga class or an interval workout. Just get yourself off your chair and get your blood flowing. You’ll feel much more energized and less stressed after!
12. Hug your loved ones (including your pet!)
I gotta admit, I love hugs. This isn’t really the norm in Asian culture, but I’ve built a habit of hugging my good friends and families (and my dog) each time we meet!
Research has shown that hugging can help a person feel happier by reducing feelings of loneliness and boosting feel-good hormones.
A simple action can do a lot for your well-being. So go ahead, find someone or something to give a hug to.
13. Set boundaries
In this “work from home” era, many people have purported to experience worse work-life balance because work simply does not stop when it is time to leave the office.
If you truly care for yourself, you will have clear boundaries about how and when you work, use technology, consume social media, and other activities that expend your energy and attention.
Be intentional about how you spend your energy. If there is no meaning to the time spent on something, be ruthlessly honest and don’t allow yourself to overstep that boundary in the future.
14. Organize your space
Clear spaces make for a clear mind. When you declutter your home or desk, you’re allowing yourself to get rid of all the distractions and unwanted mess.
When you get organized, you know exactly what you need to do and where things are being placed. This not only saves you time for your daily work but also gives you a greater sense of control and clarity on how to run your day.
As a bonus, the act of decluttering can be quite therapeutic. As you organize your area and clear out things that are no longer important, it is akin to letting go of burdens that do not serve you.
Start small with the organization. Perhaps start with an area in your room, or even your backpacks and purses. As you get used to the act of organizing, you can expand your scope and perhaps one day aim to live in a completely decluttered home and office space.
15. Read self-help or personal growth books
Whether you like reading or not, there is no doubt that reading is highly important in your intellectual development. One of the best things you can do is to read personal growth or self-help books. The best ones would have already distilled all the important information into bite-sized pieces so that you can implement the learnings in your daily life easily.
Some of the classic personal growth books to start with:
- Essentialism by Greg mckeown
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
- 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
- Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverence by Angela Duckworth
16. Get outside and be in nature
Immersing ourselves in nature can be one of the most effective strategies for self-care and healing. It allows us to build a deeper connection with the world and universe.
Just 20-30 minutes in nature can significantly reduce anxiety, stress, anger and sadness, according to a Harvard study.
Whether you are near a forest or conservation area, or simply just a park filled with greenery, try taking some time off to walk or hike and absorb all the sights and sounds of nature.
17. Practice positive affirmations
Many times we are our own worst critic. Most of the things we tell ourselves tend to be negative. This negative self-talk can unintentionally make us feel negative emotions such as regret, anger, guilt, or hate.
Instead of feeding yourself negativity, start building positivity through daily positive affirmations. This has the effect of increasing your confidence, self-esteem and happiness levels.
Start with repeating positive statements about yourself in the mirror every morning. You may not believe in these statements initially, but your mind will catch up with your mouth and eventually you’ll start to believe in them.
Not sure where to start? Get 31 days of positive affirmations for confidence here.