Practising self care is so much more than just getting out for a breath of fresh air or slathering on a face mask. And after the year we’ve all had, it’s even more important to take time for the little things that actually mean a lot.
Self care doesn’t have to involve expensive eye masks or fancy scented candles – it is by definition anything you do for you that makes you feel good in mind, body and soul. So, we asked Stylist readers and women all over the UK to share their favourite, free self care tips, tricks and advice for when you need a little ‘me time’…
Set digital boundaries
Setting online boundaries, specifically on social media, is something I’ve been much more aware of over the past year or so, particularly during the pandemic. Like all of us, I’ve spent so much more time online and have felt the pressure of being constantly accessible and available. I have made a conscious effort to turn off Instagram notifications, to mute WhatsApp conversations and keep my phone on silent to limit distractions – and also help with the temptation to mindlessly scroll! I think it’s really easy to forget that we have complete control over our online accounts and it’s totally okay to curate them so that they best serve us in whatever frame of mind or emotional space we might be in.
Suggested by Stacie Swift
I have been journaling for the last eight years – some days may be full paragraphs and other just words, it doesn’t matter. It gives me a chance to reflect on my thoughts and really feel those emotions to enable me to filter through and let the negative influences in my day go. Start with writing down one reason you do not put self care into your days. Is it time, energy, other distractions? Then write five reasons you enforce the decision to change, and how it makes you feel when you do. This will help you figure out what you want to change and process it.
Suggested by Alexandra Reece-Ford
My wellness ritual is lying down and listening to classical music. It’s my way to escape. It shifts my perspective physically and mentally. It has helped me to really tune into sounds, not only the music, but also after the experience I feel a lot more alert and aware of others, I guess I’m in a more mindful state. In my body and mind I feel a lot more calm, rested and also invigorated, it is also wonderful to do before bed and helps me to have a restful sleep.
Suggested by Christina McMaster
Smell good, feel good
Even with lockdown lifting, a lot of us are still at home more, working in isolation and only venturing out of the house for exercise and essentials. But I still want to feel good and a spray of perfume can be an instant way to lift your spirits. Each morning, and before I go onto client calls, I will spray Coco and it instantly boosts my mood and puts me into a new frame of mind. If it’s an evening event, for example my book club, I will use Coco Noir as it has a heavier scent, and now that it’s almost summer I switch to something lighter. It’s a really simple, but effective, self care habit that can make all the difference.
Suggested by Natalie Trice
Walk and talk
I live far away from some of my closest friends and often felt isolated in lockdown. About five months ago, I started something I call ‘Walk and Talk’. Roughly once a week, or whenever it feels right, a friend and I will agree a time, don our hats, coats and boots, and go for a walk near our own home. We pop our headphones in and enjoy a phone call, chatting as though we’re next to each other. Sometimes we both take coffee, to be enjoyed 100 miles apart, but down the phone. I’ve found it’s a really special way to feel connected to people, enjoy the outdoors and create a shared experience with people I care about.
Suggested by Jess Warren
My favourite colour to dress in is yellow because it’s a colour that instantly lifts your mood. It makes me feel happier, and it’s the perfect colour to wear when it’s dark and cold or when it’s turning to spring. A lot of people think of comfy clothes as being joggers and a hoodie, but they can be so much more than that. If you want to dress smart and still be comfortable while working from home, try wearing jersey fabric, things like smart hareem trousers, or a midi-dress with tights and boots, or slippers. Even a jumpsuit. It’s rethinking comfort – you can still look nice, it doesn’t need to be jeans. For me, it helps me feel put together like I can accomplish my to-do list and still feel good in myself.
Suggested by Susie Hasler
Dancing on my own
I like to be silly to feel good, as it boosts my mood and reminds me there are wonderful moments in every day. I’m a big fan of living room discos. Make a throwback playlist, turn on some fairy lights, and have a dance around. I’m sure there’s science behind the endorphin rush, but for me, it’s just damn good fun and makes me happy!
Suggested by Francesca Baker
Make your own mask
We all love a face mask, but I make my own. One favourite can be made with stuff you probably have in the kitchen. I mix a tablespoon of natural yoghurt, a few drops of lemon juice and a teaspoon of good quality honey in a clean bowl. Then spread the mask across my face and relax for 15 minutes. Rinse it off with warm water and you’ll feel the glow.
Suggested by Kate Morris-Bates
Put the wine down
Keep the ritual but change the ingredients. If you like relaxing with a glass of something, do exactly that: choose a lovely glass, chill it in the fridge, then add something sparkly and alcohol-free. There are loads of great alcohol-free fizzes, kombucha for example, but even sparkling water will cut it. Drop in a few frozen berries and a slice of lime. It’ll give you that special winding down with a drink feeling, but help avoid the after-effects of drinking alcohol.
Suggested by Janey Lee Grace
Break up with your scales
My self care tip would be to bin the scales. Society places a lot of worth on the size that people are, which in turn means we apply pressure to ourselves and it can really be a massive detriment to our mental health. I say eat what you want, there’s no such thing as food guilt and food shame.
Suggested by Lindsay McGlone
Try a DIY essential oil
For this DIY self care hack you’ll need a jam jar, some vodka and citrus fruit peelings from at least four fruits. Peel the fruit and allow the peel to dry on a paper towel. When it is dry, cut it into small pieces and put into your jam jar. Cover the peel with vodka (this will extract the oil from the peelings). Screw on the lid, shake the jar and leave it in a cool, dry place for three days. Strain the mixture into a bowl with a fine sieve, decant into a clean jar and leave for a few days until the alcohol has evaporated. You’ll know when this has happened because all you will be left with is orange oil. Use the oil exactly as you would an essential oil, adding a few drops to water in a spray bottle to spritz your room. Using them to spray the room, or rub into your wrists before bed or in the morning can boost your mood and keep you feeling calm.
Suggested by Sally Brockway
Every time somebody says something nice about you, make a note of it. Whether it’s on a Post-it note, in a notebook or on your phone, whatever works best for you. Then, when you are having a down day and doubting yourself, go back to your list of compliments to remind yourself how fab you really are. The science behind it? Gives you a great hit of dopamine which improves your wellbeing and is known as the feel-good hormone.
Suggested by Natasha Davis
Paint by numbers
When I have time, I love nothing more than to do the full exfoliate, hair wash, hair mask and top to toe moisturise routine. But I also love to include a little bit of painting by numbers while I let it all soak in. I have my shower and while I’m letting my hair mask do it’s magic I sit and paint by numbers for about half an hour instead of scrolling on my phone. Always makes me feel so calm and collected.
Suggested by Georgia Trodd
Plait it out
Whenever I’m feeling tense or highly-strung, I find the best way to relax is to get comfy and braid a fishtail plait. It might sound weird, but the flowing and rhythmic movements of the hands puts you into a state of relaxation, the gentle movements of the hair offers a scalp massage, plus your hair looks super pretty at the end – it’s a triple whammy. There’s a good how-to video on YouTube.
Suggested by Kylie Carter
Be a softie
It’s not the usual conditioning treatment you’d expect, but I soften my toe cuticles up ahead of giving myself a pedicure by covering my toes and feet in moisturiser, then wrapping them with clingfilm and socks for a couple of hours and letting it do its magic. This really works and is effective and fuss free if done overnight too.
Suggested by Marian Kwei
Learn something new
Finding a new outlet has been a great way for me to have some time to myself. I have a disability which makes getting out and about difficult. Then there’s working from home and having five children to look after. I’m a huge fan of finding new things to learn, usually online via membership communities. They’re full of like-minded people who are interested in learning the same things. At the moment, I’m learning fine art photography in a free Facebook group. It’s something that will be useful for work, but it’s a fantastic, positive way to spend my free time and everyone I’ve met online has been so helpful and supportive. It’s a great way to take time for you – it’s free and brings you not just a skill but new friends too.
Suggested by Lucille Whiting
An ancient tradition that still works today
One of our favourite self care tips is the ancient Indian tradition of hair-oiling. We’ve both found that our self care habits have changed dramatically since reaching our 20s, and we have largely reverted back to, and been influenced by, our Indian heritage and mothers’ home remedies. Aside from its incredible benefits, hair-oiling brings back the comfort of our childhoods. We start by warming a small amount of oil in a bowl (a blend of alma, castor and almond oil), and then gently run this through dry hair, ensuring to massage into the scalp and ends. The best results are when you oil before bed and then wash it out in the morning.
Suggested by Kiran Hothi and Sonam Kaur
I make a lip scrub that is easy to create at home and it really helps with all the additional stress our skin is getting from wearing face masks. It exfoliates them gently and isn’t harsh. To make it, mix half a cup of sugar, half the juice of a lemon and two tablespoons of honey. You could also add coconut oil. Mix the ingredients in a bowl and then transfer to a jar. It will keep in the fridge for three to four days. If you’re feeling generous, there’ll be enough to share with friends and family too.
Suggested by Phyllis Woodfine
No spa, no problem
Abhyanga is a type of massage done with warm oil, such as jojoba or sweet almond oil. Start with your head: apply the oil to the roots of your hair and massage the scalp, be sure to rub your ears too. Next, you can go to the hands, direct the movements to the heart. After that, apply the oil to your belly, moving clockwise; then – on your feet. Pay special attention to your elbows and knees, these areas tend to have the driest skin. Finally, massage your feet. After the massage, you need to wait 15-30 minutes for the oil to penetrate the skin and nourish it. To avoid boredom, throw a robe over your shoulders and have a cup of tea or read a book. After that, take a warm shower without soap and washcloth, so you will achieve the maximum effect. It’ll be like you’ve given yourself a spa day.
Suggested by Leyla Yusupova
Self care with a little extra
I really started looking into self pleasure once I felt my self care was up to scratch. If I get all my macros right, and I exercise, and I make time for mental health, why don’t I feel like I’m living my best, most indulgent life? If self care answers my basic needs, self pleasure addresses all the extras. In the past, women especially weren’t taught about their sexuality as a valid subject to explore, and that meant both with others and by themselves. Taking time for physical self-pleasure definitely empowers me with self-knowledge, makes me a better communicator with my partner, and it also helps release endorphins.
Suggested by Fosca Farace
The ‘emotional freedom’ aka tapping technique is a free, simple way to help ward off the physical effects of stress and anxiety. The act of physically tapping on key acupressure points in the body (head, chest and hands) while talking aloud (or in your head) about how you are feeling, sends a signal directly to the amygdala in the brain, telling it it’s safe. I discovered tapping after experiencing a huge trauma, and I now do it nearly every day to let go of negative emotions as they arise, particularly for releasing anxiety, sadness, anger, guilt, as well as physical pain eg back pain, period pain, and more.
Suggested by Sarah Tobin
I started doing jigsaw puzzles in the first lockdown out of pure boredom. I was feeling very restless, and it was actually my mum who suggested I try one – she was concerned that I was spending too much time in front of my laptop screen. Aside from simply being something to do, the process ended up being extremely beneficial for my mental health. It may sound strange that something so simple can have such a profound effect. But for me, it’s a way of disconnecting myself from the screens and resetting my mind. Focussing on the jigsaw in front of me is a distraction from the chaos or struggles which have inevitably resulted from the global pandemic. It’s wonderfully therapeutic and also brings a childhood nostalgia, which is comforting and familiar.
Suggested by Jessie Moore
Every evening I make a ‘yay list’ – where I write down all of the things that made me happy during the day. Even if I haven’t had the best day, when I note down my yay moments, I realise that my day has been better than I thought. I’ve been doing this for about two years now. I realised I needed to start putting myself first and not stop thinking that self care is selfish. I literally make my lists anywhere, from post-its to on my phone and once on a napkin! I like to do it at the end of the day as I’ve noticed it helps me go to bed feeling good.
Suggested by Natalie James
Pick up a pen
I practise calligraphy as a form of self care. The slow and meditative approach to the craft is immensely therapeutic, and very relaxing too. I started practising calligraphy five years ago, as I was looking for a new hobby and something to focus on after a break-up. I have always loved writing, and I very quickly fell in love with it as an art form. Not everyone gets on with meditation, but this repetitive movement and being able to create something gives that same calm and centered feeling. You don’t need any particular specialist kit or to have amazing handwriting to practice calligraphy either, you can still create beautiful lettering using the same principles with just a pen or a pencil.
Suggested by Grania O’Brien
Set the scene, then sleep
Setting your mood the night before helps to get us out of the habit of going to sleep in a negative mindset. It helps us to wake up in a positive mood, even if we haven’t had enough sleep. So before I nod off, I say out loud that this sleep will recharge, heal and energise my mind, body and spirit. This works on the basis that the last thought we have will be the first we wake up with, so consciously make it a positive one. I’ve done it for about five years now. If I neglect to do it, I really notice a difference.
Suggested by Taz Thornton
Like what you see
I regularly (often at least three times a week) take the time to really look and accept what I see in the mirror – the bits I like, the bits that are changing. I take time to see and feel each part of my body, sometimes doing my stretches, or simply looking and seeing. I feel it’s especially powerful right now as I live alone and have had very little of being held, hugged, or touched this year. It’s easy to feel like you don’t exist. I’ve been doing this as an act of self-care for about a year, and I find doing it to be soothing because it helps me be grateful for my body. If looking at yourself naked in the mirror is too scary for you then try starting clothed. It’s about self-acceptance. It’s about getting to the you who lives under your skin.
Suggested by Judith Quin
Image: Irina Munteanu/Getty