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How to Choose a Self-Care Activity

Many professionals advocate self-care, but how do you decide what's for you?

Upsplash/Boram Ki
Source: Upsplash/Boram Ki

Pick up any magazine or newspaper and chances are there will be an article on the importance of self-care. But like anything else, it’s wise not to go to either end of the self-care perspective, but rather, to maintain a healthy balance. Maybe your health-care provider suggests that you engage in more self-care activities to help fend off depression or to decompress from your stressful job, or maybe it’s just about coping with life’s usual stressors. But the problem is, you may have no idea which self-care activity to choose.

Self-care is what we do for ourselves in order to maintain a sense of psychological, physical, and emotional well-being. In his book Instant Calm (1995), Paul Wilson suggests that self-care activities for relaxation can be divided into four routes—spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical. Activities that fall into these categories include engaging in spiritual practice, reading, writing, learning something new, sports, being in nature, yoga, healthy eating, beauty treatments, or massage, to name a few. Each person gravitates to a form of self-care that resonates with him or her. Before choosing the self-care activity that’s right for you, you need to know yourself and understand what helps you feel empowered. Ask yourself which activities energize and feed your soul, and which ones drain you.

Whatever self-care practice you choose, it should be one that helps you cope with the stressors in your life. “The effectiveness of the coping strategy rests on its ability to reduce immediate distress, as well as to contribute to more long-term outcomes such as psychological well-being or disease status” (Snyder, 1999, p. 5). The idea is that whatever self-care practice you choose, it should be something that charges you up and makes you feel better, rather than something that brings you down. Someone might suggest, for example, that you try skydiving. Perhaps you decide to try it once because you think it will be a good escape for you, but it stresses you out more than your job! The result: you realize that this activity is not the best form of self-care for you. This activity, for example, might work for thrill-seekers who need the pump of adrenaline, but it won’t work for the more contemplative or meditative type of individual.

Sometimes we have to try a few forms of self-care to see what works best at a given time. For example, at times you might be in the mood to learn something new, while at other times you might want to stick with what you know. When you engage in self-care, it should feel like you’re going to your happy place. You should feel a sense of elation. Your heart center should feel strengthened by the experience. Engaging in self-care should make the activities of daily living and working feel much easier.

There are times when we’re busy with family and/or work responsibilities and might not have the time to engage in organized self-care activities. We’re simply unable to carve out the time. But there is a solution. Studies have shown that engaging in breathing exercises is a form of self-care that can carry us through difficult or challenging situations and help calm us, and they can be done at any time during the course of the day.

One type of easy-to-learn breathing exercise is called pranic breathing. It really works and is not overrated. You do not need any tools except for being present. This breathing exercise will calm you and also energize you. Basically, it involves a 6-3-6-3 breathing cycle that you can repeat 12 times. I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll feel revitalized after doing it. Here are the simple steps:

  • Gently place your tongue on the roof of your mouth. (This helps circulate the energy in your body.)
  • Inhale through your nose for a count of six.
  • Hold your breath for a count of three.
  • Exhale through your nose for a count of six.
  • Hold your breath for a count of three.

There’s no doubt that if you engage in too much self-care, you might not get all the things done that you need to take care of during the course of a day. Like anything else in life, balance is essential. What used to be the work/play balance has now become the work/play/self-care balance. Sometimes play can be a form of self-care, but if your best form of self-care is meditation or going for a massage, you’d be hard-pressed to call that “play.” It’s more like health maintenance.

Sometimes these categories are not so black and white, though. For example, if you have a stressful job, you can incorporate self-care into your workday. In her article “Self-Care 101,” Maria Baratta (2018) says that sometimes we need to allow time during the day to decompress; in addition to breathing exercises, you might consider going outside for a five-minute walk, speaking with a friend, or doing some stretching exercises near your desk. Self-care encompasses allowing your brain to rest for a period of time and just stopping what you’re doing. It’s a matter of life and . . . breath!


Baratta, M. (2018). “Self-Care 101.” Psychology Today. May 27, 2018.

Brown, S. B. (2019). “Why Men Are Falling in Love with Self-Care.” Psychology Today. May 3, 2019

Snyder, C. R. and B. L. Dinoff (1999). “Coping: Where Have You Been.” In C. R. Snyder, ed. Coping: The Psychology of What Works. pp. 3–19. New York: NY: Oxford University Press.

Wilson, P. (1995). Instant Calm. New York, NY: Plume Books.