Self care has been a tremendous focus of mine, but it wasn’t always that way. For the better part of my life, I had experienced depression, sometimes mild, sometimes more debilitating. My most recent bout of it lasted almost a decade, and it was not even something I had full awareness of until after the fact.
Part of this stems from a lack of self-care. Wallowing in pain as someone who is self-absorbed simply does not create a healthy person focused on self-care.
Over the past few months through the launch of TAMAR, which is the first-ever unisex perfume for mental health that celebrates you for who you are and whose story is built upon the foundation of self-love, self care, and self acceptance (and not to wear scent to appeal to others), and in the context of my podcast, The Common Scents Podcast, I have spoken to many people from all walks of life, learning about their self care and self love routines. In this detailed report, I took their self care routines to heart, and went further in performing detailed research with both suggested healthy and science-backed self-care routines so that everyone here can find something that will make them feel better.
Self care is not selfish. It never has been. The more you can nurture your own psyche, the more you have the mental strength and stamina to build others up. Self care in its healthiest form is something that makes others healthy. Almost like yawning, self care is contagious. A healthy practice of self love makes a person more desirable to others, because once you feed your soul, you can then feed the people who surround you. As they say before the airplane departs, you must put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help those around you. Self care may not feel that way, but operates in much the same way; you must focus on your own personal self before you have the mental fortitude to help others.
This next part isn’t necessarily scientific. But I can tell you, from my personal experience as a parent of four children, I became a better mother. Anecdotal experience is relatable; find something you can do for yourself and make it a consistent practice. You’ll likely be a happier, healthier, and more desirable person as a result.
In the many words that follow, I have listed a number of self care routines that I believe should be kickstarted for your self care regimen. You must take time during the day to make it a practice, a habit, preferably daily.
Given we are talking about 99 habits, though, you don’t need to do all 99. Frankly, I don’t even think you need to do 9. Take what makes you happy; not everything will jive with what you see here. Some will be harder to do than others; some will feel impossible. That’s fine, but you should do some self care daily. You owe it to yourself.
Make the time
Once upon a time, I used to say I never wanted to run. I had no time, no desire (frankly, I still don’t really love it). But on December 24, 2018, I said I’d do it. I started with the Couch to 5K (C25K) program, working my way up to a 5K which I failed miserably at (I finished, my time was just…well, walking pace, but I was “running!”). I ran two more 5Ks in 2019 with considerably better times, and with covid, I thought I’d stop, given I had the virus. Instead, I did 5Ks in my driveway (in fact, I did one on the day I tested positive), and I was okay with walking them and not going at my normal running pace. A year later, I don’t think I can match my speeds of 2018, possibly due to the lingering effects of the coronavirus. But I haven’t stopped. Every single day, I show up, whether it’s a walk with a little run or a treadmill walk/run at 11:30pm (and yes, I do those more often than I’d like to admit). Do I have time? Sometimes, really no. But self care is such a focus of my life and I see the difference. It has made a considerable impact on my life, so I’m confident with the right practice that aligns with your goals, it can work with yours.
Before I proceed with the list, as I said, I still don’t really love running. But there’s something about “showing up” that really has motivated me to keep going. For one thing, I’ve been doing it for nearly 900 days. To think of breaking that streak would be absolutely beyond reproach right now. Per Jame Clear in his book, Atomic Habits, it takes time for a habit to become ingrained. But once you do it, it becomes easier. When I stopped working out for a few weeks because I was derailed at the end of 2020, I was able to pick it up again and make it a habit again in January 2021. I run and work out because it’s a goal and I feel good after the fact, even if I don’t love the process. I know the output is self care. That’s enough for me. But this article isn’t about me. It’s about everyone. And I know I’m not much different than any other person.
Self care works. Below are some tried but true self care tactics that you should consider choosing for your life. My recommendation is to make one or two or even three of these (if not more) a more regular habit, perhaps a daily one. Don’t make more than three a daily goal, however (three may be more than enough); more than three could actually have an adverse effect on your mind especially if you do not have enough time to do everything you want on a daily basis.
That last point is important. I spent December 2018 focused on two goals: a daily practice of “running” and a daily practice of reading. I put on another daily goal of working out. In November 2020, with those being almost natural for me, I decided to start a few more goals focused on learning (watching educational videos, taking Coursera courses, all good stuff). Personal growth. Personal enlightenment. But because I was so gung-ho about doing them daily, it had an adverse effect on me. Since I couldn’t do them daily (there aren’t enough hours in the day for all the self care things I want), I fell apart. I do them sparingly without expectation now and I feel better for it.
Since January 2021, I’m back to my regular goals: running, reading, working out, and a renewed focus on good nutrition. I’m human so not every single day will be as diligent as the previous, but I’ve shown up. I’ve been feeling better than ever.
In this list below, I am providing some science-backed self-care methods that work for making you feel better.
The simple activity of running is a rewarding experience for your mind and body. Not only does it help you stay in good shape, it triggers the release of endorphins. Endorphins are basically natural painkillers; they activate opioid receptors in the brain, leading to a feeling of euphoria. The reduced discomfort and increased pleasure leads to a general state of well-being. Running helps your body by helping maintain and even lose weight, improving your cardiovascular health, and strengthening your bones and muscles. It is the perfect antidote for a stressful day, and an amazing starter in the self-care journey.
Back from a long run? Drink some water. Adults should drink at least twelve glasses of water each day, roughly three liters (100 ounces). Water is essential for life. It helps maintain your core body temperature, assists in digestion, and keeps your muscles and organs functional. This, in turn, helps you feel good and promotes well-being. In addition, an adequate amount of water balances chemicals in the brain, helping manage stress and anxiety.
Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Yet smiling does amazing things for your mood. Smiling is perhaps the easiest self-care tactic you can practice. Studies have shown that even the simple act of smiling (even if you have no reason to) boosts your immunity, lowers feelings of anxiety, and helps the release of dopamine and serotonin, which are hormones that cause feelings of euphoria and make you feel better overall.
4. Listen to music
Music is a way to promote relaxation, especially soothing instrumentals. It is a nice way to enhance your neural networks and thus maximize your brain function. It even improves your blood flow, along with inhibiting stress hormones like cortisol and relaxing your heart rate. This is an excellent way to help yourself relax and improve your mood. Listening to music you love helps regulate your mood and rewards you with serotonin and endorphins, making you feel delighted while increasing your energy levels. Music is known to improve your memory and creativity levels. Music associated with a happy memory (concerts, time spent with a person, a party) launches you into a euphoric state. A mood regulator, music boosts your happiness chemicals and is a great self-care hack.
Freebie! Get a free month of Brain.fm, science-backed instrumental music which was created to improve focus, meditation, and sleep, at this link. I use it when I need total focus and the lyrics of my favorite tunes are too distracting.
Some fun stats… Over 2 million people have leveraged Brain.fm to date. Power users report an increase in focus by up to 200%.
5. Laugh more often
Laughter is the best medicine, and this is an age old saying that holds true. Explore jokes and memes, watch a comedy movie, and hang out with a funny friend. Or sometimes for no reason at all, just laugh. Laughter not only boosts your immunity, it reduces stress and makes you less prone to pain and anger, rewarding your body with serotonin and dopamine, the hormones associated with feelings of euphoria, and endorphins, the hormones that make you feel energized. Laughing more often will help you burn calories, so they’re good for your physical health as well.
6. Complete a small task
We are often stuck in a slump, which leads us to feeling low, and we then blame ourselves for not being productive enough. Every activity we perform has various tasks associated with them, and completing even the smallest of tasks (as long as we are aware) can make you feel amazing. Complete your book, do some cleaning, make a simple dish, paint a ceramic, water your plants. There are numerous tasks you can complete without having to do a lot. The brain rewards the completion of a task with dopamine, and each time we do it again, we feel more productive. A nice way to manage this is by creating a checklist. Every time you complete a task, check that off to gain further benefits and rewards.
7. Organize and clean
More often than we think, a messy environment causes us to feel agitated and irritated, making us feel stressed and messy. Organizing a shelf, your closet, your room, or maybe even a small drawer can make you feel better. Vacuum your room, dust your shelves, clean your books, or go on an all-out cleaning spree, because all of this will make you happy. Cleaning and organizing our surroundings makes us feel productive as well as focused. It boosts our moods and we feel more confident in our abilities. Even the sight of a clean, organized place helps our brains to relax and we feel comfortable, leading to lower stress levels. The activity of cleaning creates a sense of reward and causes the release of dopamine, which in turn associates cleaning with happiness. We’re then more likely to replicate it, so it promotes a sense of tidiness.
8. Get a good night's sleep
Most people have messy sleep schedules. Adults need at least 7-8 hours of sleep daily, and it is better to have uninterrupted sleep. When we sleep well, our body repairs itself. Good sleep is essential for a healthy heart. A small nap is also very beneficial for us, as it lowers our stress levels and makes us more energized and alert. Sleeping well helps us lose weight, makes us more productive, and improves our ability to retain information. Sleep is needed for our bodies to produce various hormones, especially serotonin (which comes from a healthy and consistent sleep schedule) to boost our moods. Serotonin keeps us happy, so sleep is vital in maintaining a stable state of mind and ensuring your body works optimally, rewarding you when you deserve it.
Book to Read: Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker. This may be one of the most powerful books on sleep out there—while it may be slow to start, it’s absolutely terrifying.
Not a reader? According to science, you should start (see tip #57). But you can take Walker’s MasterClass instead.
Meditation has many benefits, mostly associated with relaxation. Meditation can be performed using various procedures and can include breathing exercises using music. Alternatively, others may benefit from guided meditation. Meditation promotes feelings of relaxation, reduces levels of stress hormones, diminishes negative thoughts, and increases patience. Studies show that it helps you focus better, even improving your levels of creativity. Simple forms of meditation lead to serotonin boosts. Loving-kindness forms of meditation boost oxytocin levels, the hormone associated with love and bonding, to help you appreciate others and yourself.
10. Take a long shower
Taking a shower is quite underrated. It is an incredible activity because cleaning yourself not only helps your body fight diseases, it helps you relax and boosts your mood which improves your productivity. It also creates the feeling that you are taking out time for yourself. Consider adding scented soaps and shampoos, as they make you calmer, and a clean body (that smells good) leads to a feeling of well-being. You can also try a cold shower, which alerts you and pumps your body with adrenaline and endorphins to increase your alertness and get you ready for a busy day or a daunting activity, while hot showers or baths relax you and reward you with serotonin and oxytocin which creates a feeling of happiness, relaxation, and self-love.
11. Plan something exciting
It’s simple: we tend to be happier when we have something exciting to look forward to, be it a simple break from work or a weekend away in a resort. Planning an exciting activity makes us work better, carrying us through any undesirable task or event (or stressful workweek!). An upcoming event makes it easier to complete your work or school related tasks, and an unsatisfactory day going through the motions may seem to pass quicker when looking forward to a night out. This gives us the benefits of anticipation. When we expect a reward after doing something, we get conditioned to be more hopeful in the face of adversity. Upon receiving the reward, the brain releases dopamine, which excites us and generates a feeling of happiness.
12. Develop a creative hobby
A hobby can make all the change in the world. Taking up something that will make you feel productive and excited, and having something to look forward to helps you in every aspect of life. Activities like painting, writing, reading, photography, or even dancing improve your levels of serotonin and put you in a happier mood. A creative hobby makes you feel more productive, instantly uplifting you; the happiness multiplies when you get better at it with practice, boosting your dopamine levels which creates a feeling of reward and makes you repeat and practice. A hobby is also a great distraction when you are suffering from anxiety, inhibiting your adrenaline levels to make you feel relaxed. Hobbies, such as playing musical instruments, watching intense movies, and going on jogs and runs, give you a surge of endorphins which remove feelings of pain.
13. Embrace the power of positivity
It is well-known that thinking positively makes your life, well, more positive. Negativity causes stress and a sense of sadness. Keeping a positive attitude towards everything you deal with on a daily basis, ignoring the flaws of your surroundings, and focusing more on positive news, as well as training yourself to complain less (nobody is perfect!) makes you less irritable. Positivity encourages you to pursue tasks, keeping your anxiety at a minimum while your brain rewards you with serotonin to put you in a joyful mood. Positivity thus improves your quality of life. When we realize the positive elements of our lives, it transforms us into a better version of ourselves.
One of my favorite things: This decal, saying Be Awesome Today, sits on the wall in my bathroom. While I don’t stare at it and let the message absorb within my mind and psyche, it doesn’t have to. I think its sheer presence is enough to make me feel more positive. I am convinced that this decal, just by being there and screaming “Be Awesome Today,” helps me be a happier and healthier person. (Note: I wasn’t always one who embraced this philosophy, and thought it was cheesy af, but it works!)
14. Practice gratitude
Gratitude works like magic. Keep a list of everything you are grateful for, and add to that list. Thank people more often, be grateful for your blessings, and most importantly, thank yourself. Gratitude helps us focus on the positives of life and even makes us realize how little our problems might be in the grand scheme of things. When we practice gratitude, we boost our serotonin levels which makes us happy and satisfied. Gratitude removes our self-serving bias where we blame extraneous reasons for our problems, and directs us into performing the best we can as we raise the bar for ourselves.
15. Keep a journal
Journaling an account of your day as well as your thoughts and feelings helps you organize your ideas, thoughts, and dreams. The habit of keeping a journal and writing are both rewarding experiences that improve your mental health. It is a safe space for your emotions and creates the feeling that you are being heard. It helps you manage your anxiety as you realize what initializes patterns of undesirable behavior, and gets you to realize and therefore helps eliminate your fears and problems. Writing about aspects that make you proud boosts your happiness chemicals. Anxiety management becomes easier once you develop the habit of writing a journal.
Check out these resources: Whether you are into micro journaling through The Miracle Morning or desire the more traditional Moleskine classic journal or you even prefer an electronic means of journaling (I personally am a huge fan of Daylio), there are journal options for anyone who prefers to express themselves with the written word.
Make it a daily habit, even if you don’t have anything substantial to say. The act of writing your thoughts to paper or electronic medium is enough to help you feel at ease, leaving some of the day’s work to rest.
16. Relive a happy event
What was the last time you reflected on a happy memory? Once we live in a happy moment, we tend to remember it, so it’s quite easy to do. Remember every detail of what happened, laugh at the small moments of joy, relive what cheered you up, and recall the behavior that you found rewarding and amazing. Share it with someone, write it down, or just reflect on it. The positive memory will make you delighted, giving you a surge of dopamine that uplifts you and improves your mood. The dopamine release is accompanied by the formation of memory, so it may help to take more time to participate in various rewarding activities. Reflecting on a night out with friends, a quiet evening with a book, an amazing meal or time spent with someone you cherish keeps you hopeful and joyful.
17. Have a snack
A healthy diet is often the key to a healthy mind, in addition to being beneficial for your body. When we take the time to have a small, healthy snack, we appreciate the food we have while consuming some enjoyable calories. Put on a movie, or pick up a book, or maybe sit in your bed and have a nice snack, slowly feeling into the taste mindfully. It seems like a simple activity but it boosts your dopamine because it is something you do to celebrate and enjoy the small pleasures of life.
18. Celebrate the little things
We throw parties upon receiving a promotion or achieving something big, but how often do we celebrate the little things and wins that life is actually made up of? It could be anything: reaching a new workout goal, finally trying a new activity, advancing while learning to play an instrument, or even finishing the book that you haven’t been able to. These small wins become more significant when you take out some time and celebrate them. Your brain rewards you with dopamine, and you feel more productive while maintaining your performance and aiming for more. Every little win is an achievement, and appreciating what we do is very important.
19. Reflect (in a healthy way)
We rarely take out time to think about ourselves when life gets busy. What have we done lately? What could have been handled better? What planning might be essential? These are things to ponder about from time to time. By engaging in healthy reflection without blaming oneself too much or being unreasonable, we can formulate various ideas and strategies to tackle our issues. This helps you to understand how you should progress without repeating any undesirable behavior, and puts you in a better mood.
Avoid these pitfalls: Ruminating. As stated above, reflecting can be either positive or negative, but if you reflect only on the negatives—the guy who cut you off on the highway, the coworker who embarrassed you at the office, the friend who destroyed your life and brought you down to your lowest of lows (that last one hits home for me)—you will find yourself in a funk that can breed the opposite of self care, lending itself to self-destruction as a depressed mood often manifests through the repeated internalization of the “what ifs” that you don’t need to waste your emotional energy on. Don’t. Move along, don’t overthink it, and live your life. You can’t change the past, so keep your headlights on toward what’s ahead. The future awaits!
20. Get a massage
Getting a massage is an amazing way to relax. On every level, a massage boosts your happiness chemicals. Even better, getting a massage from someone you love boosts your oxytocin and deepens your bond with them, so in addition to relaxation, you’ll achieve a calm state of mind. A deep massage from a professional pumps endorphins in your body and acts as a painkiller, providing you with energy while helping to manage your stress. It is a great self-care activity to de-stress and put your mind and body at ease: use oils, get a calming head massage, or go to a spa. Practice it in a way that makes you comfortable.
Essential oils are derived from plants and have many benefits. Smelling these oils is a form of aromatherapy, which uses the relaxing and therapeutic qualities of these smells to cause your brain to release serotonin and dopamine. It is a readily available, inexpensive and easy way to soothe your nerves and relax, with studies showing it to be beneficial for immunity and to reduce pain. Essential oils like lavender and lemon are especially therapeutic while also providing many other benefits, and can be used to relieve discomfort or in conjunction with activities like meditation.
Aroma therapy, not aromatherapy: While not an essential oil, per se, perfume can have similar results. In fact, TAMAR was established when founder and CEO Tamar Weinberg discovered perfume after suffering a debilitating 9 year depression. It was this experience that propelled her to start a perfume brand focused exclusively on mental health, wellness, and most importantly, self-care.
After sharing her story, several others have since approached her saying the same thing: perfume has this healing potential that we do not appreciate. This works. Better yet: the right perfume stays with you all day, unlike essential oils which fade on the skin or disappear when you’ve left the room.
22. Step outside
Stepping outside your house once every day, even for a mere 10 to 15 minutes, can boost your mental health and provide numerous benefits. The bright sunlight triggers serotonin, which has a connection to bright lights. The fresh air and aroma can help release endorphins. Take a long walk, appreciate the trees and greenery around you, or simply sit in the sun for some time; stepping outside away from technology and into nature helps your mental state, is a natural healer, and is emotionally healthy. On top of everything, it makes you feel calmer and relaxed.
Make it a focused walk: In the height of the pandemic, when everyone was staying indoors, research emerged from the University of California at San Francisco that “awe walks” can genuinely change a person’s perspective. What’s an awe walk? This is a stroll where you intentionally shift your attention outward instead of inward; in other words, focus on the beauty around you versus the upcoming trip you have or the project you need to do for work. The results were fantastic, showing that one fifteen-minute walk each week resulted in a much greater sense of happiness. Plus, we should genuinely appreciate the world’s beauty, as it will help with our ability to express gratitude.
23. Practice a power pose
A power pose is an easy life hack to boost your confidence and reduce your stress, making you feel assertive, dominant, and powerful. High power posing can help you achieve more and improve your mental state. Mimicking certain poses and facial expressions makes us feel better as it makes us behave and feel more confident. Even two minutes of power posing can make all the change you need. This subtle shift in body language triggers the release of dopamine associated with reward, as it creates the perception of power and increased self-assurance.
Book to read: If you want a book about the power of power posing, read Presence by Amy Cuddy. This bestseller not only explains the benefits of power posing with illustrations on what to do, but gives you a rich scientific background into the importance of a mindset shift.
24. Practice progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a proven way to decrease pain and de-stress, and it also acts as a treatment for anxiety and phobias, as suggested by many studies. It is a simple procedure: tense a group of muscles while breathing in and relax them while breathing out. Muscle relaxation is a great way to promote well-being since it forces relaxation, and when your muscles are relaxed, you do not feel anxious. Relaxed muscles, in fact, trigger your serotonin mood boosters. With practice, it gives desirable results and is effective in making you beat anxiety to feel relaxed and at peace.
25. Set a small, attainable goal
Setting a small goal or having an aim, like mastering a specific tune while playing an instrument or completing a new workout or walking more steps everyday, is a way to keep you engrossed in desirable activities. Setting a small, attainable goal for yourself helps you believe in yourself and increases your confidence. It triggers the release of dopamine when you work towards it, and starting with an achievable aim helps motivate you to try bigger things, which further improve your happiness levels.
Start small with this book: I’m sure by now you’re familiar with the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. The idea is simple: do something better than the day before, and over time, the results will compound so that you will see insane gains.
Here’s the punchline: if you get 1% better every single day for one year, you’ll end up 37 times better by the end of that year.
That’s powerful stuff.
26. Dress up!
Fashion can be used as a form of self-care. And no, not necessarily wearing expensive, branded clothes. Taking an enriching shower. Wearing deodorant. Choosing clothes from your wardrobe that complement your personality. Don clothes that put you in the right mood for a productive activity. It is not compulsory to look glamorous. Just put on something that you feel is right for you. This becomes a rewarding experience where you see yourself as someone well-dressed. You feel important, and that ends up improving your mood and empowering you to perform at your very best. Investing in style is also a tactic that can help you conquer social situations, improve your work ethic, and create a lasting impression on people you meet.
27. Volunteer and help others
When we help others selflessly, we enjoy the benefits of altruism and the positives that accompany volunteering and helping. Volunteering makes us feel more useful, and it also accompanies a better perception of the self, including improved self-esteem and happiness when someone benefits from what we do. This can include a wide range of activities, from helping someone move to a new home to volunteering at a hospital or helping cleaning up after an event. With the release of dopamine, it becomes a rewarding experience. You build camaraderie with the people you help, improving personal bonding, which gives you the benefits of the love/bonding hormone oxytocin.
28. Label your strengths
A nice trick to make yourself feel more confident and worthy is identifying your strengths and labelling them. The power of language is remarkable, and when you describe things differently, it changes your perception towards them. Identifying your strengths and making them sound incredible can improve your view of the self, and it makes you feel awesome and unique. Considering your strengths as superpowers makes for an exciting endeavor and a dopamine boost!
29. Look at cute images
Viewing “cute” images, like baby ducks, pandas, puppies, kittens, or even babies, makes us feel the warm fuzzies. In fact, that feel good vibe has been studied, suggesting that these adorable photos increase productivity levels as well. You can easily find such images on the internet, so give them a chance to put you in a good mood; it should happen pretty quickly, if not instantly. If these images remind you of your own pet, or you want to pet the animal you are seeing, it can boost your serotonin and oxytocin levels as well.
30. Reach out
The talking cure is a classic approach to help you soothe yourself. You derive great benefit when you have someone to talk to and they listen to your woes. This helps not only because they might give helpful advice, but also because sometimes you just need to vent, although not too much (it’s also not recommended to substitute a listening ear for professional help). Over time, this tactic builds trust and increases your oxytocin levels when you feel heard and loved, while providing your mind with relief when you finally “get it out.” Sharing your concerns and feelings openly also elevates your mood. After all, when you realize that others are facing similar situations, you know you’re not alone.
Decluttering is amazing for your well-being. Cleaning up places not only gives you free space to keep your stuff, it helps you feel calmer and even more productive. A cluttered space can cause anxiety even when you look at the mess, and often hoarding things creates distractions that you will be better off without. Removing, donating, or throwing unwanted or unused stuff helps you focus more on what’s important. A clean space also creates the feeling of reward, which triggers the release of dopamine, relaxing you. A clean working environment becomes one less thing to worry about.
Book to read: There’s a reason Marie Kondo is seen as an icon in the world of decluttering, creating a cult-like movement of organizers and certified declutterers: she preaches the notion of decluttering, and has created a massive movement. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing is her bible on the subject matter, and even if decluttering is not your jam, this book is worth perusing for its nuggets of wisdom.
32. Engage in awe-inspiring activities
Awe is often described as a feeling which lies between surprise and fear. Engaging in such activities makes you feel connected to the world, creating a unique feeling. It is a good serotonin booster and impeccable to calm and soothe you, all the while making you excited. Awe-inducing activities are numerous, from reading an intense story or by watching an arousing picture or video, or star-gazing: watching the beauty of nature. It can also be achieved by experiences like taking a walk, or marveling at the beauty of the universe in its entirety.
Remember the awe walk we discussed in step #22? There’s a reason this works. And just think, you can kill two birds with one stone when considering combining awe-inspiring activities with walking…and music, and gratitude, and heck, wear perfume while you’re doing it, because that’ll anchor you in the present (see tip #33, immediately below this one!) and can help you appreciate your surroundings even more.