How to Do Self-Care if You’re Not Into Self-Care

Self-care is woefully misunderstood, and that’s a problem. Perhaps the best way to think about it is to borrow a line from airplane safety lectures: You need to put your own oxygen mask on first. Would that still be necessary if taking care of oneself was more common?

What exactly is self-care? How do you get started? And why can self-care be especially important if you’re considering or going through a divorce? Below you’ll find a breakdown of self-care basics to help you start prioritizing your own needs. 

What is self-care?

The term “self-care” is often accompanied by pictures of a beautiful woman relaxing in a bubble bath or participating in the latest workout trend. (Goat yoga, anyone?) But these examples frame self-care as a luxury rather than the necessity it is. 

At its most fundamental, self-care is attending to your basic needs, including getting enough sleep, enough nutritious food, and staying hydrated. If you’re coming from a place of depression or grief, these basics might be all you can manage for a while – and that’s okay. When you’re ready to move beyond the basics, the National Institute of Mental Health suggests eight ways to get started with self-care, including practicing gratitude and focusing on positivity.

Self-care is also about pleasure, according to somatic coach Jess DeVries. Jess says, “What makes your mind/body/spirit feel good? Each person's self-care will look different because we are all different, but it’s good to try pulling from all these areas.” 

For even more inspiration, check out this self-care worksheet. 

Why do some people balk at the idea of self-care?

There are many reasons why people might cringe at the idea of self-care, and if that’s the reaction you’re having, it’s worth examining. 

Seeing self-care as a luxury

When self-care is framed as a luxury, it’s easy to dismiss it as out of reach. Whether due to monetary or time constraints, luxuries are often the first items crossed off the list during times of scarcity or stress. But these times are when we need to focus on self-care the most. Luckily, self-care doesn’t need to be expensive or time-consuming. 

Lack of energy

Stress often brings fatigue. Sometimes, even getting out of bed is a struggle. Eating a balanced breakfast and taking a shower might seem entirely out of reach. This is why self-care goals can start as small as they need to be – and can focus on the absolute essentials – like getting enough food and water to get by in the short term. 

It’s not how we were raised 

“Most of us weren't taught to listen to our bodies to know what they want, especially if we were socialized to put others' needs before our own,” says Jess. This covers a lot of ground. From having to eat and sleep on someone else’s schedule to having to keep the peace in the household, many people never learned to check in with themselves. 

Examples of self-care 

For those thinking about divorce

Contemplating a big life change can be scary, and it can feel difficult to hold inside all the feelings it brings up. Remember, you don’t have to do this alone. Reaching out for help can be part of self-care, whether that means calling or making time to see a friend or even bringing in professional support from a coach or therapist

For those going through divorce

The process of divorce can feel so overwhelming that you reach the end of the day unable to remember whether you ate a single meal. And the human body can only survive so many days like that. Jess has several self-care suggestions to help you through this time:

“Making sure you eat breakfast with your coffee. Turning your phone off for X amount of time. Setting aside time to meal plan. Taking a dance class. Not opening your work email on weekends. Getting a massage. Giving yourself an orgasm. Getting a babysitter just to have time to yourself. Screaming in your car. Cooking a tasty meal. Ordering a tasty meal. Going for a hike. Going to a movie. Saying no. Taking a bath. Gardening.” – Jess

For the newly divorced

Being on your own for the first time in years (or decades) can be scary. But despite the name, self-care doesn’t have to be a solo activity. Jess encourages people to think about how they can be held and supported by their communities. This could include delegating the planning necessary for socialization. Try asking a close friend to organize regular get-togethers – from coffee meetups to book clubs. Make sure you’ve got a regular opportunity to see people who care about you.

What self-care is not

Self-care includes activities that are nourishing in the moment as well as those that improve your long-term well-being. That means some short-term coping mechanisms that may feel helpful in the moment don’t make the list. For example, drinking to excess may feel like it’s getting you through a bad day, week, or month … but the benefits are an illusion. Alcohol can be rough on your system, and it’s also a depressant, which means it’s likely to make you feel worse overall. 

Benefits of self-care

Sometimes our needs are really as simple as that of a houseplant: A bit of water and sunshine go a long way. Practicing good self-care, whatever that means for you, will have an immediate impact on your mood and set you up for better days ahead. 

Like most habits, self-care gets easier over time. Seeing the benefits of positive change reinforces sticking with these new habits. For example, if you challenge yourself to move your body every day, whether that means going for a walk or doing stretches at home, you may find yourself more at home in your body and eager to keep that trend going. 

Prioritizing your well-being can move into all areas of your life, including interactions with friends, family, and at the workplace. When you put yourself first, it becomes easier to say ‘no’ to things you don’t want to do and to skip activities that will stress you out. Because having good boundaries can be part of self-care! 

Consequences of avoiding self-care

Self-care can include the most basic elements of minding your well-being, including taking necessary medications. Missing these basics could have catastrophic consequences. 

Even less-extreme situations, such as just getting a little less sleep than you should every night, can have cumulative effects that may become unmanageable. 

How to ease yourself into self-care

Divorce is a time of huge transition, and it can be liberating to imagine the life you want to have. It’s necessary to be realistic about where you’re starting from. Setting unrealistic goals is one of the best ways to sabotage yourself before you start. 

Try starting with some items from this list of 101 self-care ideas

Start small, and celebrate your wins

Jess says, “If the idea of self-care feels overwhelming, it can be helpful to start with really small time increments. Can I sit with my coffee, breathe deeply, and enjoy the sunrise for 10 minutes? Five minutes? Three minutes?” This framework can apply to any habit you want to begin. 

Make a list of just one to three self-care items you want to start with. Anything goes, from taking a shower to brushing your teeth. 

  • First, try celebrating every single time you accomplish one of your goals. 
  • Once that feels manageable, try tracking your progress on a weekly basis – maybe even using a sticker chart on the fridge. Gold stars aren’t just for kids! 
  • Once daily goals feel manageable, give yourself a star for every week that you manage a task every day.
  • If the analog method isn’t for you, try downloading an app that lets you track your good habit streaks instead!

Holding yourself accountable

Cut yourself some slack! New habits are difficult to form, and perfection is not the goal. Missing a day, week, or even a month is no reason to give up on your goals. Just get back on the horse and start up again. 

To help you stick to your goals, find a system that works for you. Whether you decide on a sticker chart, bullet journal, or tracking app, seeing a series of green dots or gold stars is surprisingly motivating. 

Even more motivation can be found in pairs or groups of people. Try to find a friend with a similar goal, and work on it together. Technology can help. There are a variety of apps that will let you “friend” other people and match your daily progress with theirs. Even the Apple Watch fitness app will show you whether your friends are meeting their movement goals for the day. Just remember, it’s not a competition; it’s about mutual support. If groups are more your style, try to find a gym or yoga studio with a monthly motivation board – yes, some of them are giant sticker boards – to help you get through the door each day. 

And fitness is far from the only goal you can track with apps or work on with friends. Set goals for how many books you’re going to read or how many glasses of water you’ll drink in a day. The more you can gamify your goals and share them with others, the easier it will be to stay on track. 

Sometimes, our needs are really as simple as that of a houseplant: A bit of water and sunshine go a long way. Practicing good self-care, whatever that means for you, will have an immediate impact on your mood and set you up for better days ahead. 

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Relationship Specialist
Communication, Mediation, Sexual Health, Life Coaching
Stella believes communication is key to satisfaction in relationships. Professionally trained as an intimacy educator, coach, and mediator, Stella brings empathy, expertise, and a fresh perspective to help clients find their sticking points and break through the roadblocks to their goals. Stella’s wide-ranging expertise has led to being featured on the evening news discussing the importance of sex education in schools, appearing as an expert witness in court, and even speaking as an authority on banana slug mating habits. Stella lives in Oregon and is the author of two books, Tongue Tied: Untangling Communication in Sex, Kink, and Relationships, and The Ultimate Guide to Threesomes. Learn more at or follow her on Instagram @stellaharriserotica.