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What Are the Different Types of Self-Care?

By Carley Schweet

In this article:

When you think of self-care, what comes to mind? 

For some, you may be transported to a day of pampering at the spa or lounging away in a hot bath while sipping your favorite tea before bed. Others may think of self-care as eating lunch sitting instead of standing or taking a long shower. While self-care can look different for everyone, it’s essential to know that there are different types of self-care, and each unique style has an impact on how we care for ourselves.

A quick Google search will tell you that there are several different types of self-care—all the way up to seven or eight! That’s a lot of information to remember. It can feel overwhelming for those just getting started with the idea of self-caring. For simplicity’s sake, we can break down self-care into three main categories:

  1. Physical
  2. Emotional
  3. Spiritual

To have a well-rounded and holistic self-care practice, we must first understand the different types of self-care and actively practice from each category. When we pay attention to and address each category’s needs, we can feel more confident in having an effective, well-balanced self-care practice. 

For example, if you were to only focus on physical self-care—hitting the gym, going for a long run, and eating a bowl of broccoli—you would still experience feelings of burnout. That’s because eating vegetables and breaking a sweat will only take you so far, and might not address what you really need to feel happy and healthy. It’s critical to pay attention to the other two types of self-care, emotional and spiritual, and work to address your needs on a holistic level to get the most benefits.

‌‌‌‌The different types of self-care

Let’s take a closer look at the different types of self-care and examine some simple ways that you can begin to practice from each category. Remember, your self-care practice is unique to you and doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Also, what works for your friend or neighbor might not necessarily work for you. It’s critical to approach self-care with an open mind and a sense of curiosity. 

1. Physical Self-Care

Physical self-care is anything that improves your overall physical health and wellness. We must take care of our body (it’s the only one we have!), and when we choose to go for a run or eat vegetables with dinner, we are practicing a physical form of self-care. 

Easy ways to practice physical self-care:

  • Go for a walk or a run outside
  • Schedule (and go to) your annual doctor’s appointments
  • Wear sunscreen daily (organic and SPF 30 or higher, ideally)
  • Eat generous amounts of fruits and vegetables
  • Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep each night
  • Stretch your muscles daily
  • Brush and floss your teeth morning and night
  • Take your daily supplements
  • Treat yourself to a soothing foot massage with an organic peppermint balm

As you may have noticed, you won’t find “binge-watch Netflix” or “eat a pan of brownies” on the list for physical self-care. While these activities may be a form of self-soothing or self-comfort at the moment, they’re not actively contributing to your overall physical health or wellness. Physical self-care doesn’t have to be indulgent or complicated to be supportive, but it must be an activity that directly improves your overall physical health and wellness.

2. Emotional Self-Care

While often overlooked, this form of self-care is just as important as physical self-care. Having an emotional self-care practice can help you feel more tuned into your feelings and emotions, which is essential for your overall mental health.

So, what does emotional self-care look like? Having an emotional self-care practice requires you first to identify your personal needs. This process can look like assessing where we stand when it comes to overall happiness and what actions we can take to improve those requirements once identified. 

Once you have a better understanding of your individual emotional needs, you must make an intentional decision to work to honor those needs. It can be easy to brush off our emotions or make excuses, but real emotional self-care requires follow-through and behavior change. Check out the example below.

Identifying an emotional need: realizing that you are feeling burned out and examining why you’re feeling that way (say, for example, from taking on way too much work)

Corresponding and supportive action: saying “no” more and setting a boundary around your availability for additional work

When you don’t take the time to acknowledge our feelings and emotions, you can begin to feel stressed, resentful, misunderstood, and frustrated. Over time, these feelings can start to intensify and lead to overall unhappiness.

Here are some ways that you can practice emotional self-care:

  • Take a few deep breaths and tune into your nervous system
  • Set boundaries and say no to requests as needed
  • Journal your thoughts and feelings
  • Communicate what’s on your mind instead of writing off your feelings
  • Experience your emotions without guilt, judgment, or embarrassment
  • Work on giving yourself grace as you try new things

3. Spiritual Self-Care

Just as it’s essential to eat well, move your body, and tune into your emotions, it’s equally important to have a spiritual component to your self-care practice. A spiritual self-care practice could look like having an active connection to a higher self and a higher power, the universe, etc. Spiritual self-care is a deeply personal practice and can look different for everyone based on their unique spiritual beliefs. 

When you actively practice this form of self-care and nurture the connection with your higher self, you may:

  • Find yourself being more in-tune with yourself on a deeper level
  • Feel more connected to the community surrounding you
  • Unlock a more profound sense of peace and compassion for yourself

What is your higher self, you ask? Your higher self is who you are as an individual when all ego, fears, worries, and conditioning is removed. The higher self operates from a soul-centered place and is, ideally, aligned with your values. It’s a sense of self that holds your most important values at heart.

If you’re interested in learning more about spiritual self-care and incorporating it into your practice, here are some ways that you can begin:

  • Connect with a like-minded local community who hold the same spiritual values
  • Apply an essential oil like Frankincense when doing deep self-development work
  • Take a walk outside and immerse yourself in nature
  • Begin a meditation practice (bonus points if you light an essential oil-based candle to amp up the zen vibe)
  • Cleanse the energy of your space using palo santo sticks or a dried sage bundle

‌‌‌‌Creating holistic self-care practices

When you intentionally create a self-care routine that incorporates the three main types of self-care outlined above, you’re creating holistic self-care. Holistic self-care is excellent because it allows your whole self to feel supported and nurtured—mind, body, and soul. You can examine the root of issues and challenges you face instead of going through the motions of self-care. 

‌‌‌‌Adapting your self-care routines to meet your needs

No matter how you choose to practice self-care, it’s important to remember that self-care is a deeply personal practice that can change day by day, moment by moment. For many of us, our routine lives have changed drastically in the last few months, and we’re forced to adapt to our new roles and schedules. 

Self-care should adapt to support you as needed. If it feels like you’re pushing your self-care for one reason or another, consider how you can work to switch up your routines or try a different type of self-caring. Ultimately, make decisions that leave you feeling supported and happier than when you started. 

If you’re feeling excited and inspired to try out some new types of self-care, get quiet and ask yourself what you need right now at this moment to feel supported. Then, ask yourself what you need long-term to feel cared for and tended to. Jot down your answers and figure out what type of self-care they fall into and begin to practice accordingly. Remember, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to create a self-care practice, as long as what you’re doing truly helps support and improve your health and wellness on a holistic level.

Above all, try to remember that self-care isn’t selfish; it’s necessary for survival as a healthy and happy human being. As you go about your day, remember that the more you work towards creating a practice founded on the three main types of self-care, the more joy-filled and grounded you’ll become. Ask yourself, how do you wish to show up in the world and for those around you? In fact, that question would make a great journaling prompt for your emotional and spiritual self-care practice!

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