20 best self-care ideas and activities for mental health

The last few years have been an uphill climb for many of us, and this new level of stress shows no signs of stopping. At the start of the pandemic in 2020, depression among American adults rose from 8.5% to 27.8%, according to an October 2021 study. In fact, it reported in March of 2021 that 52% of all American workers felt tired.

But what do these statistics mean to you? Like many of us, you’re probably feeling a lot more stressed these days, and burning the candle at both ends is taking its toll.

Enter: self-care. It’s a buzzword you’ve probably heard in recent years, but what exactly is it? And does it really help in the grand scheme of things?

“Self-care is the different ways we take care of ourselves that lead to better physical, emotional and spiritual well-being and health,” Hope Weiss, LCSW, tells And keep in mind that while self-care is incredibly important for those diagnosed with anxiety and depression, it’s something that can benefit anyone, whether you have a specific illness or not.

“Self-care helps us be more resilient,” says Weiss. “It provides a solid foundation so that we are not so easily knocked down by the stresses, challenges and experiences we have in life.”

That’s why it’s key to establish a daily routine that emphasizes self-care so that when challenges inevitably arise, you feel even more capable of taking them on.

“It’s not a fad. It is not a unique experience. We don’t do it once or twice, and then we’re done with self-care. It is a lifelong process. It’s something we build into our lives so it becomes a routine, just like brushing our teeth,” says Weiss.

Need some inspiration? Here are 20 self-care ideas that can boost your mood and make you feel better: mind, body, and soul.

Care of indoor plants

If you find yourself in a happy mood when you’re surrounded by houseplants and all things green, it’s not just in your head. For example, in a study that focused on participants who stayed at home at the start of the pandemic, those with indoor plants reported significantly fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. You know what that means: go to your local plant store and equip your home with plants to bring the outdoors in. As a bonus, you’ll feel good every time you tend to each plant.

Read a book from your childhood

Maybe a warm and fuzzy dose of nostalgia will make you feel better. Think of some of your favorite books from when you were a kid and head to the library or Amazon to pick them up. Curl up in a chair with a snack of your choice and read your concerns.

Increase self-compassion

“Self-compassion is an internal way of practicing self-care,” says Weiss. Begin by speaking with “kindness, understanding, and warmth,” as you would a good friend.

Over time, you will become more in tune with your own thoughts and feelings. “Then you can put a hand on your heart and tell yourself things like, ‘This is really hard for me right now,’ ‘I’m dealing with a lot,’ ‘I can be happy,’ or ‘I can be pain-free.’ “

Have a spa day at home

A classic way to practice self-care is to pamper yourself, and for good reason. If you haven’t had a spare minute to yourself lately, an avocado mask, bubble bath, and pedicure can feel amazing in the comfort of your own home. Not to mention, you can do it all on a budget if you’re not planning on heading to an actual spa right now.

Don’t have enough time for a full spa day? Take a hot shower with lavender or peppermint scented shower steam for a quick recovery.

Spend time in the water

“If you’re in a body of water, your internal state just calms down,” NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar told TODAY’s third hour.

Simply being near water can dramatically improve mental health, whether it’s a walk by a lake, watching a stream in your backyard, or even watching YouTube videos full of ocean views. Take some time each day to increase your H2O, even if it’s just watching a two-minute ocean video during your lunch break.

Eat something whole and fresh

feeling stressed i eat every processed food in sight? No judgment on our part, but your body and mind might feel a little better if you go for something whole and nutritious. Even if it’s an apple you eat between bites of cookie dough, it’s one step toward practicing good self-care.

Attend to basic needs

Sometimes it’s best to go back to basics.

“Are you taking care of your basic needs?” Weiss asks. “I see this often gets neglected when people are stressed. Are you taking time to eat? If that’s a challenge, maybe set an alarm to remind yourself to eat something. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you drinking enough water? Move the your body during the day? These are all things that give us fuel to get through our days.”

Hug a pet

According to a 2020 study by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute, 74% of all participating pet owners said they experienced improvements in mental health from owning a pet. If you’re in need of some self-care, cuddle with your cat or dog and feel the stress build up with each stroke, which, by the way, is good for you. i your furry friend If you don’t have a pet, volunteer at an animal shelter or adopt for a friend.

move your body

Get those endorphins going with a workout, even if you don’t feel like it at first. You’ll feel better as soon as your blood starts pumping, whether you’re going for a run or lifting light weights. If you’re having a tough mental health day, know that even five minutes of walking around the block or marching in place can have an uplifting effect.

curl up in a “nest”

When in doubt, put yourself in your own “nest”. Pile on tons of blankets, throw on a hoodie, and snuggle up on the couch.

Throw on a heavy blanket to mimic the feeling of being hugged. “Many people like the feeling of pressure against their body and find that pressure quite relaxing,” behavioral sleep psychologist Lynelle Schneeberg tells

Go on vacation alone

Even if you’re overwhelmed at the thought of traveling alone, it can be good to give your spirit some grounding and perspective on your own. Book a “self-care vacation” to a place you’ve always wanted to go. While you’re there, spend some time in nature, make a couple of spa appointments, and keep a journal to put your thoughts down on paper.

Take some time off from social media

Sometimes social media can be a real drain on one’s mental health, especially when you compare your life to others, read negative comments, or engage in less than pleasant political debates. Commit to a week or month off from social media when you really need a break. Or practice social media self-care by controlling the types of posts you see, muting certain people, or stepping away from scrolling if you find yourself doing it for too long.

Have a movie marathon

Thank goodness for Netflix and Hulu, right? Curl up for a night of self-care with a couple of your favorite movies, the ones that make you feel good down to your toes. Don’t forget blankets and comfort food, too.

Listen to the records

While music is certainly therapeutic in general, there’s something about listening to records that can make you lose track of time in the best possible way. Go back in time (or imagine what it was like to live during that time) by playing some old-school albums, complete with pops and crackles for added ambiance.

Book time with a therapist

Therapy is absolutely a form of self-care, whether you’ve already been diagnosed with a mental illness or simply need some extra support these days. Ask friends for recommendations, get a referral from your primary care doctor, or turn to virtual therapy if staying home instead of going out is your form of self-care.

Set boundaries

Setting boundaries, even with those you love most, is an underrated form of self-care. Saying yes to too many things can make you feel like a superhero who’s come to save the day, but you’ll be stretched before you know it. Practice saying “no” in a way that feels kind and right to ensure you have plenty of self-care time in your schedule.

Lose track of time

“Have you ever had an experience where you don’t know where the time went?” says Weiss. “A wonderful way to self-heal is to engage in an activity in which you concentrate so much that you lose track of time.”

Of course, this differs from person to person, but Weiss recommends “being in nature or doing some kind of creative activity, like art, baking, or writing.”

“These activities often feel bigger than ourselves. They fuel us and can help us feel calm and inspired,” she adds.

Wear your most comfortable outfit

Even if you’re going out, figure out a way to put together the coziest outfit possible so you feel good from top to bottom. Wear jeans that look like velvet leggings, make your oversized sweater softer and wear flats, preferably with a padded lining. Or if you stay at home, spend the day in your favorite sweats and do not do it feel bad about it, even if someone comes.


Time and time again, and study after study, meditation has been shown to do wonders for mental health. The good news: You don’t have to be the Dalai Lama to reap its benefits.

Have a meditative self-care session with a meditation app, practice some yoga, or just sit quietly in a room and take in everything around you, noticing the sights, sounds, and smells to help- live the moment

Take a nap

If all else fails? Close the blinds and take a nap. Whether it’s 15 minutes or a couple of hours, don’t feel guilty about tending to your needs when your body tells you to rest. In fact, never feeling guilty about any kind of self-care activity. The world can wait, but your well-being cannot.

Put yourself first, always