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Self-Care 101: Building Better Health Habits

The concept of “self-care” is everywhere nowadays. But social media sometimes complicates something that can be fairly simple. While visiting a salon for a new haircut, or getting a flashy mani/pedi are valuable ways to get some me time, there are other forms of self-care that aren’t necessarily as fun, but just as important. Let’s break it down. 

Self-care in popular culture

Self-care is a buzzword with increasing popularity, both in the media and across social networks. It’s also become a marketing ploy, with hundreds of products promoting self-care mantras to draw in consumers who are looking for ways to prioritize their mental and physical health. While some of these things can be helpful, many people need some ideas for lower-cost, more accessible versions of self care. 

What are some examples of more accessible forms of self-care?

The National Institute of Mental Health emphasizes that self-care is about taking care of your mental and physical health. This looks a little different for everyone because we all have different needs. However, here are a few baseline tips and tricks: 

  • Daily hygiene. Showering, brushing your teeth, flossing, hair care, and nail care are essential parts of a hygiene routine. Doing these things helps prevent infections and other illnesses. 
  • Use preventive care services. Annual physicals and routine dental cleanings help catch health issues before they become a problem. Make sure you see your doctor and dentist.
  • Exercise regularly. Most people need around two and a half hours of moderate exercise per week to lower their risk of developing chronic health issues. It can also help reduce symptoms for depression and anxiety.
  • Get good quality sleep. People who get enough sleep each night experience better moods and cognitive function
  • Maintain positive relationships. Not all relationships are created equally. Nurture the positive relationships you have with family and friends to build a support system. 
  • Eat healthy. Choosing healthy foods is a great way to put self-care first. It’s tempting to dive into comfort foods, but some research shows they’re not all that comforting after all. 
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water. Minor dehydration can actually have a negative impact on your mood. 
  • Be mindful. Practicing mindfulness makes it easier to be grateful and thankful in everyday situations. Many sources suggest that these are the keys to happiness and contentment. 
  • Take up a hobby. You won’t regret it. 
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Alcohol and tobacco are linked to cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and many other health conditions. Avoiding them will improve your health and lengthen your life. 

Self-care isn’t always as glamorous as popular culture suggests. In fact, it can be downright inconvenient. But prioritizing the grittier things, along with the fun things, will benefit your holistic health in the long run. 

The biological basis of habit formation

Making these less glamorous self-care activities habits will help you stick to them. When something becomes a habit, you don’t really have to think much about it — you just do it automatically. 

There are good habits and bad ones. You can actively choose to develop good habits and break bad ones as you prioritize mental and physical health through self-care. 

Developing a habit is a three part process involving a cue, a routine and a reward. The cue is a person, place, thing, or time that lets you know it’s time for a specific action. Once you’ve seen the cue, your brain automatically prompts you to complete your habit, like washing your hands after using the bathroom. 

Habit formation in practice

Changing your behavior can be a difficult process, but it’s often worthwhile. If you’re looking to develop new healthy habits, follow these steps:

  1. Identify the habit you want to form and why. Beginning an exercise regimen to improve your health or achieve a weight loss goal is a great example. 
  2. Choose a time for your new habit. Exercising before or after work helps some people maintain consistency. 
  3. Give yourself a reward each time you complete your new habit. Eat your favorite food or buy yourself something new.

Breaking a bad habit is a little different than forming a new one. You’ll need to find a behavior or activity to replace your old habit. This could look like choosing fruit over candy, or going on a quick walk to reduce stress, instead of smoking a cigarette.

Developing self-care practices through habit formation

Start by defining your self-care goals in the context of your physical and mental health. Then, you can develop good habits that fall in line with your priorities, whether that’s maintaining good oral health, losing weight or kicking bad habits like binge drinking.

Ready to book a doctor’s appointment? Visit Zocdoc.

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The Paper Gown, a Zocdoc-powered blog, strives to tell stories that help patients feel informed, empowered and understood. Views and opinions expressed on The Paper Gown do not necessarily reflect those of Zocdoc, Inc. Learn more.