How to Create a Self-Care Plan That Works For You

This is how to be there for yourself.

by Ashley Abramson

Modern parenting is a lot like trying to juggle a bunch of on-fire chainsaws…while pogo sticking…and reciting “Jabberwocky” from heart. In short, there are a lot of needs to balance and it requires a lot from you all the time and you need to take care of yourself. Yes, who has the time? But creating a self-care plan — that is, a curated mix of activities that support your physical and mental health — is a crucial tactic to prevent burnout and be all you can be for yourself and your kids.

Self-care – especially for busy, stressed-out parents – isn’t as easy as signing up for a gym membership or committing to wake up early to meditate every day. To get the most out of self-care, it’s important to evaluate your own skills and what you need to improve. From there, you can create a curated self-care plan that’s right for you. Much like a specific diet, a good self-care plan is one that is tailored to your particular needs.

So how do you create a self-care plan that works for you? According to California-based marriage and family therapist Amber Trueblood, developing a self-care plan that works for you has five steps that work together. This is what it takes.

1. Identify Your Baseline

Stress is pretty much universal –– but we all have different values, priorities, lifestyles, personalities, and family dynamics. Practically, that means it’s important for you to develop a self-care plan that will be effective for you, given all these unique factors.

Begin by identifying your baseline (your normal stress levels) and the moving parts that add stress. When you’re aware of your currently emotional state and how it fluctuates situationally, you can better implement self-care resources that work for you, when you need them.

“Allow yourself space and time to consider your emotional state, or your emotional bank account,” Trueblood says. “You’re the only person and the best person to accurately calculate the ‘balance’ in that emotional bank account and determine if and when you may need a refill.’”

2. Be Honest With Yourself About What You Really Need

Self-care isn’t a new idea. It’s very easy to look around and see what activities or tools appear to be helping others, whether it’s running, meditation, journaling, podcasts, or hitting the heavy bag at night. But before you jump on the bandwagon and adopt someone else’s self-care practice, you need to think through what actually rejuvenates you. Trueblood says mindlessly engaging in “self-care” that doesn’t actually work could easily set you up for failure, frustration, and further depletion of your emotional bank account.

Instead, she suggests creating a list of “true” self-care tools –– a custom menu, so to speak. In the process, keep in mind that true self-care should reduce your stress hormones and increase your good-mood hormones well beyond the actual activity. Here are some prompts to think about when you’re brainstorming your self-care “menu”:

  • Your senses: For instance, do you absolutely love the smell of the woods? Does 1980’s hip-hop music make you smile and want to get up and dance across the room? Do you love the feel of that fuzzy robe and a warm mug of tea?
  • Connection with others: Do you need more alone time? Do you need more time with that one best friend who makes you laugh? Do you need less time with that neighbor who leaves you feeling drained (Note: Avoid energy vampires who leave you feeling depleted and drained and avoid Zombie Content which is any material that eats away at you the rest of the day.)
  • Basic needs: Are you getting enough water? Are you eating healthy? Are you breathing slowly and deeply? Are you moving your body every day in a way that feels good for you? Are you protecting your sleep with a nighttime routine of unwinding, disconnecting from devices, and mindfulness practice?
  • Pleasure: What do you love to do? When we feel busy and stressed, we often look to what we can do less of than what we can do more of. However, adding something you love to do, just for the delight of it, is a powerful self-care tool. Ask yourself what can you do twice a week that truly delights you?

3. Select Your “Preventative Activities”

Now that you’ve created your list of all the activities, practices, and tools that personally replenish your emotional bank account, select two that you can reasonably do on a daily basis. “Keep these simple and as easy as possible to implement into your current lifestyle and schedule,” Trueblood says. “For instance, you might decide that every day this week you will drink two full glasses of water before noon and at night you’ll do a ten-minute guided breathing practice.”

4. Select Your “Emergency Activities”

Return to your custom menu again and circle two self-care tools that’ll work for minor irritations, two that are great for moderate stressors, and two that you’ll save for big-time emotional overwhelm. Trueblood suggests putting this list, your Emotional Emergency Plan, on a sticky note near your computer, on a slip of colored paper that you keep in your wallet, or as a digital note on your phone. Then, when you experience an emotional challenge, determine the level : minor, moderate, or major. Pick one of the two items and do them as soon as possible.

If you’re in a low place, Trueblood says clearly and specifically telling your loved ones you’ve hit a wall and need to engage in self-care ASAP can be extremely helpful, too.

5. Reassess occasionally

Stress –– and the things that help relieve it –– is just as dynamic as we are. Depending upon how much change and uncertainty is in your life at the moment, Trueblood says it’s a good idea to reassess your list on a weekly or monthly basis. If you tried something and it didn’t work, find a way to change it. If you thought of something even better, try that. If you need to have more grace with yourself and try again next week, do it. The goal is to pay attention to yourself and your needs, and when needed, pivot accordingly.