Emotional Self-Care: What It Is & Ways to Do It
Olivia Groves •
In our fast-paced lives, it can be hard to incorporate emotional self-care into our daily routines. But emotional self-care plays a big role in helping us meet our emotional needs and overall well-being.
In the self-care pie, there are pieces that make up our holistic needs as human beings. Spiritual, physical, emotional, mental and social components need to be a part of our self-care plans. If we are taking time to care for our needs in each of these areas, we are prioritizing our overall well-being—and emotional self-care is a big one. Here's why, and how to practice it.
The self-care pie chart, including emotional self-care.
Why it’s important to engage in emotional self-care
First, it's important to understand what is emotional self-care. Different from the other types of self-care, emotional self-care focuses on being able to identify, understand and care for our emotions. The focus on our inner self, our emotional self, is what makes this type of self-care unique.
Part of the human experience is experiencing uncomfortable emotions as a result of difficult situations. Whether it’s a result of pain, loss, change, or a mix of all of them. We have to confront difficult emotions like sadness, anger, resentment, and frustration.
One of the ways we can prioritize our emotional well-being is by cultivating a specific emotional self-care practice. These are emotional self-care strategies that help us become aware of what our needs are. And make us better equipped to face the inevitable challenges of life. Plus, emotional health is essential for us when it comes to how we manage stress in a healthy way.
11 Ways to Practice Emotional Self-care
1 - Know and plan for your needs
Reflect, think and plan for what you need emotionally and mentally. A prerequisite to establishing our emotional self-care routines is knowing what we need to get out of them. So many of us throughout our lives, be it from our careers, our education, our upbringing, are taught to sacrifice and do whatever it takes to achieve our goals.
Phrases like, “strive for excellence,” and “keep your eyes on the prize,” and “don’t back down.” They condition us to keep pressing forward at all costs. Even at the expense of our own mental well-being. So, it may take some rewiring for us to become aware of our needs...
- What do we need to do to feel better about ourselves?
- What do we need in order to be healthier mentally?
- To reduce negative thoughts and increase positive ones?
- What do we need to do to maintain a healthier emotional state throughout our days and weeks?
These are all questions we can ask ourselves in order to understand our fundamental emotional needs. And create a self-care practice that protects and cares for them.
2 - Set clear boundaries
You don’t need to defend your choices. There are so many books on this topic of boundaries. Setting them, maintaining them, reinforcing them. It can be tricky business. Especially with a close friend or loved one. This is why setting boundaries is an important part of emotional self-care.
Often the lack of boundaries in our relationships leads to negative outcomes. Without boundaries to protect our privacy, we end up feeling hurt, sometimes steam rolled, and even taken advantage of. These result in emotions that are difficult to process and feel like partially our own faults.
While we can’t control how someone responds, we can control what we share and how much we open ourselves up to someone. This is a boundary. Deciding what boundaries need to be set and even practicing conversations in your head before meeting with a particular person is a good idea. It just might help you maintain and reinforce the value of this particular emotional self-care strategy.
3 - Do something that makes you smile and laugh
Research shows all the benefits of laughter and fun and light heartedness. That’s why it’s important to make sure you do something that lightens your mood. It may not seem like a priority, especially when our to-do lists are sometimes longer than we can manage.
But part of our mental self-care and emotional self-care needs to stimulate our brains in a healthy way with laughter and smiling. There are lots of hobbies for women in their 20s as well as lists of hobbies for women in their 30s that may give you some ideas.
One of the fundamental goals of emotional self-care is to refuel emotionally. Doing something that is life-giving instead of something that is life-sucking is key.
4 - Make time for rest
Plan for it and do it. It may sound silly to plan for rest, but in our busy lives, it’s important. Schedule time daily to do something that allows you to rest. Even 10 minutes or 30 minutes in a day to do some mindfulness exercises can help boost our mood and reduce stress.
If we allow ourselves to detach from our to-do lists and make time for rest, our emotional health and overall health will benefit. This is just one of the many self-care strategies we can use to manage our stress. Plus, rest helps us be better equipped to care for ourselves in other capacities as well as our loved ones.
Some examples of rest may be dedicated alone time, a bubble bath, mindfulness and breathing exercises, a nap, or even something more physically challenging yet mentally restful like a long run, a new hobby, or getting some fresh air on a hike.
5 - Stop the people pleasing and stop apologizing
Many of us are familiar with “people pleasing.” It is when we bend over backwards and often subjugate our own needs and wants in order to make someone happy. It is often accompanied by uncomfortable emotions.
The tension between wanting to please others and wanting to do what’s right for us. But when we continuously suppress our own needs and wants for the sake of someone else’s perceived happiness, we are not fostering a healthy relationship. In fact, it will take a toll on our emotional state.
Learning to say “no” and not apologize for it is similar to setting boundaries. As Carly Schweet reminds us, “reserve sorry for when you’re truly sorry”. But more than that, this requires that you take time to foster self-confidence and self-love. These two things are important for us to function properly in healthy relationships. And they’re essential to our emotional self-care and health.
6 - Practice gratitude
Sometimes we get stuck on the negative. It’s inevitable when life throws us curveballs. But it's especially important to break this cycle in order to reduce our stress. We all know the phrase, “for every negative, there’s a positive.” And while that may feel like a platitude, especially on our worst days, there is some truth to it.
Part of rewiring our negative emotions is learning how to silence our inner critic or inner negative voice. One of the best ways to do this is to look for the positives, the things we have to be grateful and thankful for, and to spend time meditating and thinking about those.
There are many ways to practice gratitude. Try setting a daily intention of gratitude. Try adding a morning gratitude meditation session to your routine. Try keeping a list of things you’re thankful for in your journal. A great resource on gratitude journaling or writing is Ann Voskamp’s book, “One Thousand Gifts”. Also, check out Silk+Sonder’s resources on practicing gratitude:
- How To Practice Gratitude: Your Guide To Crafting A Gratitude Practice That Actually Works For You
- 5 Ways to Practice Gratitude Today
- Burnt Out On Your Gratitude Practice? Here's How To Give It The Spring Refresh It Needs
7 - Feel your feelings
Experience your emotions. This is important to help us process what is happening around us. But it’s also important as it teaches us to show grace and acceptance to ourselves. So many of us have a harsh inner critic. By allowing ourselves to feel what we feel, we are silencing that voice and rewriting our personal narrative of love. Which is a key part to self-discovery.
Part of emotional healing and health is also finding ways, even if they’re simple ways, to improve our love of self. Positive affirmations can be one way that we start our day with positive thinking about ourselves. Another emotional self-care strategy to help us with this is to say yes to what we truly desire some days instead of sequestering our desires. In other words, what’s something you can do today to help you show extra love and care for yourself?
8 - Ask for help when you need it
You have a team, tribe, support system, people who love you. Take them up on their offer to help. For the ones who love us and offer their help, it’s a joy, delight, and privilege to be called on to help. Taking good care of yourself can look like not doing it all by yourself. This is a critical part of knowing your limits and prioritizing emotional self-care.
Leaning on the people around us is one way we can let go of total control and allow ourselves to be cared for and looked after. This can be hard. But it’s a huge part of having our emotional needs be met. When we feel loved and cared for, we feel good. Simple as that. And making space for these positive emotions is a healthy way to practice mental self-care and emotional self-care.
9 - Seek professional counseling advice or help
There are times when what we’re going through needs to be discussed with someone who is a professional counselor. It can also just be nice to talk through things with a third-party. Someone who is objective, uninvolved, plus has the training to help us when we need to process.
Seeking a professional counselor is a great way to not only prioritize our emotional well-being but also deepen our emotional intelligence. A lot of times, counseling or therapy requires us to share deeply personal information and process our emotional triggers. But it can lead to significant personal growth and help us be better equipped to face situations that we will encounter in the future.
There are lots of online, virtual and in-person counseling options available. Talkspace, Betterhelp and Psychology Today's “Find a Therapist” directory are great places to start.
10 - Start a journal to help process emotions
If you haven’t already, starting a journal can be a great way to further your self-discovery and process emotions. There are so many different types of journals that you can choose from. Whether it’s a daily journaling format or a less structured journal where you write through different prompts or topics, it is all beneficial. And there is a type of journal that is right for you.
You don’t have to take an entire mental health day (although we recommend you do sometimes!) in order to prioritize your mental and emotional self-care. This is especially true when you add journaling to the mix of your self-care activities. Journaling is a great self-care idea for many of us. It doesn’t take much time - even a short 30-minute journaling session could lead to you understanding and discovering something new about yourself.
Check out our resources on different types of journaling you could try and some journaling prompts for self-discovery.
11 - Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
We’ve saved this one for last, but it’s certainly not the least important. If you’re not getting enough sleep at night, nearly all of our new emotional self care strategies are useless. Research shows sleep deprivation and sleep deficiency can lead to increased depression, mental illness, suicide and risk-taking. The body and mind need sleep to maintain both our physical health and emotional well-being.
Plus sleep is a habit of most all successful women and men. It’s an essential part of our overall health. And it’s a healthy way for us to “reset” our emotional clocks and be re-energized and ready to face a new day.
List of Emotional Self-care Books & Resources
If you’re still wanting to learn more about emotional self-care, check out these resources we’ve found. A mix of books, blogs and more, these can be great places to find answers to questions about what emotional health and emotional well-being ought to look like.
The Black Girl’s Guide to Healing Emotional Wounds
Your Brian is Always ListeningAnd check out the Silk+Sonder Blog for more resources on self-care, journaling, habits and healing.
Thank you, Olivia, for this thorough, well-written reminder of just what emotional self-care is. I am pretty terrible at it, but doing better every day. The Silk and Sonder journal helps a lot and the emails remind me to take a minute to look at the blog.
Delana NOV 22, 2021