How To Make A Self Care Checklist—A Guide For Beginners

The Self-Care Checklist That'll Keep You From Burning Out

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I used to laugh whenever someone mentioned self care.

After all, I was eating, sleeping, and exercising. Outside of work, I barely had enough time for anything else.

When the topic of self care came up with friends or colleagues, I’d imagine spending a ridiculous amount of money at the spa, having breakfast in bed, or eating out at a really nice restaurant.

It was only years later when I felt like I was running on empty despite checking all my ‘self care’ boxes that I realized how shallow my idea of taking care of myself was.

Yes, eating and sleeping mattered, but I’ve since come to realize that these were the bare minimum of self-care and that living a full, happy, and meaningful life is so much more than that.

WHY IS TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF SO IMPORTANT?

Self care is one of those things that’s easy to push to the sidelines when life gets busy, but here’s why it matters:

  • It’ll help you show up as your best self. Many of us underestimate how beneficial being well-rested, mentally and physically nourished, confident, healthy and purposeful is. It’s only when you get a taste of it that you realize that you’re able to get so much more out of life when you’re not constantly tired, stressed, unhealthy and upset.
  • The older you get, the more important self-care becomes. No one lives in their 20s forever, and life can start to feel heavier and less manageable as you get older. You take on more responsibilities, deal with more life-altering changes, develop health issues, need more time to bounce back from setbacks and realize that there’s more at stake when there’s possible loss on the horizon. The better care you take of yourself, the better equipped you’ll be to cope with or side-step these difficult life-progression hurdles.
  • It’ll help keep you resilient under pressure. When life is ‘OK’ and you’re managing to keep all the balls you’re juggling in the air, it’s all too easy fall into the trap of eating badly, discounting the importance of exercise, neglecting your relationships and buying into the mindset that you can ‘sleep when you’re dead’. But when a crisis comes up, you may just find yourself (as I did at several points in my life) cracking under the pressure mentally, emotionally and physically because your foundation has been weakened from prolonged, accumulated neglect.

THE BASICS OF SELF CARE

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This is the kind of self care that most of us are familiar with since it’s what keeps us functioning from day to day.

These are the everyday steps we take to keep the wheels of our lives turning productively.

These are things like:

  • Waking up early to get yourself mentally and physically prepared for the day ahead.
  • Making your bed.
  • Brushing your teeth.
  • Taking a shower.
  • Eating lunch.

Skipping some of these self care steps may seem inconsequential in the short-term, but let them slide for long enough and something’s bound to give.

Personally, I’m nowhere near perfect with these — there are days where I struggle to be productive and still find it impossible to stick with my workout and nutrition plan or go to bed early 100% of the time, but I make it a point to regularly assess how I’m doing and then course-correct so that I get back on the right path eventually.

HOW TO CREATE A HOLISTIC SELF CARE ROUTINE

Getting a hang of the basics can make a huge difference in your life, especially if you’ve just started to take better care of yourself, but you’re going to have to widen your self care net if you want to thrive.

These other areas of your life are equally as important:

SOCIAL

Are you regularly connecting with your family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors in ways that make you feel good about life? We humans are social creatures, so it’s crucial that you have social connections at home, work, school, and within your community that you can contribute to, as well as make you feel involved, accepted, and supported.

MENTAL

Everyday activities like playing a musical instrument, meditating and learning a new skill can not only help increase your brain’s ability to process information; it can also help delay its decline as you get older.

EMOTIONAL

Taking care of yourself emotionally involves nurturing your ability to identify, acknowledge and process your emotions so that you’re also able to express yourself in ways that others can understand and empathize with. It also means being able to set boundaries, be kind to yourself and ask for help when you need it, all of which play a role in your emotional well-being.

SPIRITUAL

Studies show that while spirituality won’t shield you from illness or difficulties in life, believing in a spiritual dimension of life, such as the human soul or the existence of a higher purpose can make it easier for you to cope with challenges and the healing process.

WORK

If you work full-time at an organization, you’ve likely experienced (or are experiencing) some kind of work-related frustration that’s affected your mental health, like unclear expectations and communication, toxic, manipulative leadership, and dysfunctional colleagues. Most of us tend to take on a blasé approach to these gnawing issues at work because we need a paycheck and don’t have the luxury of spending a lot of time hunting for the perfect job. However, this doesn’t erase the fact that toxicity in the workplace is linked to lower productivity, distress, depression, anxiety, burnout and trauma.

FINANCIAL

Although it’s no surprise that having a low income is associated with elevated psychological distress, few of us think about improving our financial health as part of a self-care routine.

Personally, taking charge of my finances has helped lift a huge mental load of anxiety, stress and worry over the years.

SELF CARE IDEAS

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Think of creating a self care routine as putting together a plan to advocate for your own well-being — it’s something no one else can do for you.

If you’ve never come up with a self-care routine before, here are some practical ideas to start with:

BASICS

  • Drinking eight glasses of water throughout the day.
  • Eating breakfast.
  • Prepping your meals for the week.
  • Organising your medication and vitamins so you don’t forget to take them.
  • Leaving your house 30 minutes earlier so you don’t get stuck and stressed out in traffic.
  • Eating lunch.
  • Adding vegetables and fruit to each meal.
  • Setting your priorities and their corresponding to-dos at work.
  • Taking breaks at work at regular intervals.
  • Leaving the office by 6pm so you can go work out or spend time with your family.
  • Eating dinner.

SOCIAL

  • Connect with a friend.
  • Join an in-person or online support group.
  • Go for a walk with someone.
  • Go for a group exercise class.
  • Take a class to learn a new skill and meet people.
  • Plan a fun group activity with your friends or family.
  • Invite a close friend over for a meal and movie marathon.
  • Write a thank-you note to someone who’s helped or been kind to you.
  • Give a gift to someone you care about.
  • Give yourself permission to skip social events, guilt-free.

MENTAL

  • Get moving exercise is good for your body and mind.
  • Start writing in a gratitude journal.
  • Make getting enough sleep a priority.
  • Nurture an optimistic outlook (not to be confused with toxic positivity).
  • Establish boundaries and make them clear when you need to.
  • Play games that keep your mind sharp, like crossword puzzles or chess.
  • Follow a morning routine to prepare for the day.
  • Learn how to garden.
  • Pamper yourself with a home spa ritual.
  • Get a massage.

EMOTIONAL

  • Get an emotional support pet.
  • Practice deep belly breathing.
  • Learn what your emotional triggers are that get you upset, anxious or angry.
  • Allow yourself to express your emotions in a safe and supportive environment.
  • Start journaling.
  • Practice self-compassion.
  • Be your own best friend.
  • Learn how to ask for help when you need it.
  • Make time in your schedule to do absolutely nothing.
  • Do at least one thing that makes you happy.

SPIRITUAL

  • Spend time in nature.
  • Learn how to be comfortable in silence.
  • Say a prayer.
  • Learn yoga
  • Learn how to forgive.
  • Meditate.
  • Connect with a like-minded spiritual community.
  • Experiment with spiritual tools like tarot cards, crystals and rune stones.
  • Learn about a religion or spiritual practice you’re not familiar with.
  • Learn about chakras.

WORK

  • Set boundaries with your boss and co-workers.
  • Set clear expectations and deadlines with your boss and team.
  • Negotiate for flexible hours.
  • Negotiate for paid time off.
  • Make a close friend (or two) at the office who will have your back.
  • Say “No” to projects when your plate is full.
  • Be consistent about when you arrive at and leave the office.
  • Take a short break every hour or two to decompress and clear your head.
  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • Take a sick day when you’re not feeling well.

FINANCIAL

  • Track your income and expenses.
  • Create a budget.
  • Prioritize repaying your debt.
  • Build a healthy mindset around money.
  • Look for trends in your spending habits.
  • Learn how to use your credit cards mindfully.
  • Check your bank account balances.
  • Review your insurance coverage.
  • Learn how to invest and grow your money.
  • Set up an emergency fund of 6-12 months’ living expenses.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR SELF CARE ROUTINE WORK

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Now that you’ve got plenty of self care ideas to work with, it’s time to figure out the ‘how’ and ‘when’ of each.

STEP 1: BREAK IT DOWN

I usually start by breaking mine down into ideas that I can implement weekly, monthly, annually, and in emergencies.

  • Daily: These are the very basic self care steps you take every single day help you put your best self forward at work, at home and in social settings. They also serve as the powerful foundation for the rest of your self-care routine.
  • Weekly: Your weekly self-care steps would typically involve reflecting on the week you’ve had or preparing for the week ahead (like planning and prepping your work lunches) so you can prioritize what’s important to you and take the guessing out of your everyday routine.
  • Monthly: These are bigger steps that you’d need to take more time out to do, like going over your finances, enjoying a spa day or decluttering your home.
  • Annually: These are self care steps that don’t fall into your everyday routine, but are just as important, like your annual health exam, going on a long overdue vacation, or mentally preparing to spend the holidays with your family (especially if they tend to be stressful).
  • Emergency: When a crisis (regardless of whether it’s big or small) strikes, you’ll need a ‘break-in-case-of-emergency’ self care routine to fall back on that’ll help you cope, heal and get back on your feet regardless of whether you’ve had a bad day or just gone through a traumatic break-up.

STEP 2: BE CONSISTENT

The most difficult part of self care is making it happen, and biggest obstacle I’ve personally struggled with is being consistent with my self-care routine, especially when my days get hectic days and I barely have time to sit down to think.

Once I’ve got my self care checklist sorted out, the most effective way I’ve found to make being consistent easier is to use a habit-tracking app like Habitify, which lets me list my habits for the day and check them off when I’m done them for the day, week or month.

Just the simple act of checking off my self care steps makes me more mindful of the habits I’m trying to build, which then makes it more likely that I’ll prioritize them.

LITTLE THINGS THAT MAKE YOUR DAILY SELF CARE ROUTINE EASIER (AND FUN)

Yes, taking care of yourself is hard work, but it doesn’t mean that it has to feel like a chore. If you’re doing something every day, you might as well feel good doing it.

Here are my favorite (almost) everyday essentials for feeling my best:

THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE MAKING A SELF CARE CHECKLIST

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Before drawing up your self care checklist, here are some other questions you’ll need to consider:

WHAT ARE YOUR CURRENT PRIORITIES?

What is your life stage or situation like right now? What specific goals would you like to achieve with a self-care routine? How will they align with what’s happening in your life? Your answers to these questions will help you refine your self help checklist further to ideas that you’re confident will work for you.

WHAT ARE YOU WILLING TO MAKE TIME FOR?

When it comes to making changes in our lives, whether or not we succeed all boils down to how much time we’re willing to set aside to make something happen.

WHAT’S WORKED FOR YOU IN THE PAST?

Think back to when you last tried to make a positive change in your life: What did you do that worked? What didn’t work, and why? Being mindful of your past success and failures will help you figure out how to go about making the changes you’re thinking of, happen.

DO YOU HAVE ANY FINANCIAL CONSTRAINTS?

Some self care steps won’t need much money (or any at all) to make happen. For example, not keeping junk food in your house or walking more. Others will require you to set aside a little or a lot of cash to make happen, for example: Taking classes or hiring a financial planner.

YOUR FIRST STEPS

Ultimately, a self care routine is meant to keep you from burning out, live a balanced life and help you be present, so it’s not something you want to rush into.

You don’t have to do everything on your checklist right now and you certainly don’t have to splash a lot of cash to feel better either.

In fact, the best thing you can do to start taking better care of yourself right now is to meet yourself where you are and take baby steps: Go to bed 30 minutes earlier, learn how to say “no” to things you don’t want to do, or add a 30-minute walk outside to your evenings.

And don’t worry about doing things perfectly — on some days, simply not getting out of bed, not doing the dishes or turning your phone off is self care.


HELPFUL RESOURCES

Online-Therapy.com Therapy has taught me to look at my life and the metaphorical mountains (mental, emotional, and physical) I’m climbing from a different perspective, and how to navigate them in better, healthier ways — skills that I feel everyone should have but aren’t taught in school, and rarely, at home. Online-Therapy offers you an affordable way to get the help (or mental health flossing as I like to call it) you need starting from $40 per week. Membership comes with a live, 45-minute session with your therapist plus unlimited messaging each week, and access to their online cognitive behavioral therapy program. Together, these tools equip you with the skills you need to navigate difficult emotions, as well as yoga and meditation videos for additional support. If this is your first time using Online-Therapy, you’ll receive 20% off your first month here.

Simplify Your Life: 100 Ways To Slow Down And Enjoy The Things That Really Matter by Elaine St. James I got my hands on this treasure over 15 years ago, way before simple living and minimalism became popular, and it was the first resource that introduced me to practical, everyday steps I could take to ‘un-complicate’ my life. I didn’t have enough life experience then to ‘get’ everything that St. James presents in this book, but when I revisit the pages of Simplify Your Life now, they make perfect sense. If you’re just starting out in your simple living journey and are exploring your possibilities, I highly recommend giving this a read first.

Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How To Say No To Take Control Of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend Not having boundaries can end up wreaking havoc in your relationships and leave you feeling resentful, used, and disrespected. In this book, Cloud and Townsend show you how to get over the guilt of setting limits (this is particularly helpful if you’re a recovering people-pleaser like me) and equip you with the skills you need to build healthy relationships that will fulfill, not drain you dry.

Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen and Roger Fisher Lousy, conflict-ridden conversations strain relationships, and don’t make difficult relationships any better. Here, the authors take you into the process of managing and expressing your feelings constructively rather than constantly muddling through who’s right, who meant what and who’s to blame — all of which keep us from handling difficult conversations well.

Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret To Recognizing And Coping With Narcissists by Dr. Craig Malkin I never realized narcissists existed until I became tangled up with one for several years. It was only after I discovered what a narcissist was that I understood the damage that had been done to me. Dr. Malkin, a therapist, explains the true nature of narcissism — the good and bad, how unhealthy levels of narcissism can wreak havoc on your life, how to spot red flags that you might be dealing with a narcissist, and how to not only cope, but thrive when dealing with the narcissists in your life.

The Simple Living Guide When life feels overwhelming, this guide-and-workbook-in-one will help you gain clarity with your values, well-being, career, relationships and money.

The Good Morning Guide If your mornings are typically rushed, chaotic and stressful, I made this guide to help you start your day calm, sane and strong.

Tribe Of Mentors: Short Life Advice From The Best In The World by Timothy Ferriss Nothing beats having a mentor in your life who can personally guide you from day one. But not everyone does, and if (like me), you don’t, it doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from the best virtually or through books. Take what you need from the likes of Ray Dalio, Ben Stiller, Bear Grylls and more in this varied but comprehensive compilation of bite-sized advice on life, work and purpose from some of the best minds in the world.

$5 Meal Plan Cut back on the stress of cooking your own meals, and save time and money with a meal-planning service like $5 Meal Plan. As a member, you’ll get a pre-made meal plan, recipes and shopping list for five dinners and sides, plus one breakfast and lunch emailed to you every week. Prefer to have a custom plan for each week? You can pick specific recipes by cooking method, ingredients, dietary preference and meal of the day. Sign up for a free, 14-day trial here.

Amazon Fresh Barely have time to cook, let alone do your grocery shopping? Shop online and have all your ingredients delivered to your doorstep with Amazon Fresh. Get all the fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, dairy, whole grains and even kitchen supplies you need to cook healthy, flavorful meals at home.

Amazon Meal Kits Want healthy meals that taste good and all the ingredients you need picked out, prepped and sent to your doorstep? Amazon Prime members (not one yet? You can sign up for a 30-day free trial here), have the option to order Amazon Meal Kits, which contain fresh, prepped, one-pan meal ingredients that you can whip into a meal in 10 minutes or less.

iHerb This I order all my daily vitamins plus my favorite healthy snacks and natural personal care essentials from iHerb because all the products they sell are independently tested by third-party laboratories to verify their quality and authenticity. Shipping is usually quick and free (with a minimum purchase), making it a convenient alternative. If this is your first time buying, you get 10% off their first order.


START FEELING CALMER, HAPPIER & HEALTHIER…NOW.

If you’re too busy surviving, chances are, you’re not thriving. You’re feeling tired, unhealthy, unmotivated and just plain worn-out from life. I created my FREE Daily Self-Care Ritual Workbook just for busy folks like you who want to take back their health, peace of mind and happiness. Get your very own copy of the workbook HERE. No spam. Just helpful, good-for-you stuff. Pinky swear.


Photo by Jackson David on Unsplash

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