Self-Care Activities to Reduce Stress

Looking for self-care activities to reduce stress? We show you how to get started and how self-care can improve your mental health.

Self-care activities can help you reduce stress, lower your risk of disease, cope with illness and increase your energy. All it takes to get started are small actions in your daily life: taking a short walk, calling a friend or practicing deep breathing. Self-care is about doing the things that help you live well: physically and mentally. And, self-care activities are unique to each individual.

“Self-care can simply be whatever brings one a deeper sense of inner peace,” says Dr. Allison Chase, clinical psychologist and regional clinical director at Eating Recovery Center in Austin, Texas.

Why is Self-Care Important?

“I now consider self-care to be an act of self-compassion, with no room for judgement,” says Katie Bendel, LMSW, a Pathlight Community Outreach Liaison.

Self-care, like self-compassion, means being kind and understanding to oneself during times of distress.

For those in recovery: It’s especially important for people in recovery to make time for self-care. Lack of self-care leaves a person vulnerable to negative feelings, saps their motivation and compromises the ability to cope with cravings and triggers.

For caregivers: parents and healthcare workers often struggle to put their own needs first -- but they need to take care of themselves in order to be useful to those in their care. It’s similar to when flight attendants tell us: “Put the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting others.” You have to be able to breathe to help someone else breathe.

What are the Benefits of Self-Care?

“Self-care is really an opportunity to prioritize yourself in a way that makes you even more available to all that’s around you,” says Dr. Chase.

If we are not taking care of our own needs, it becomes harder to fully engage with the world. Self-care is vital for building resilience toward the stressors in life that you cannot eliminate. When you take steps to care for your mind and body, you're better equipped to live your best life.

For those in recovery: self-care helps you maintain a stable mood, increases energy and motivation and leads to better coping abilities. Just one small act of self-care can have a domino effect, activating other healthy decisions that increase self-confidence and improve your overall sense of health and well-being.

How to Prioritize Self-Care

Self-care allows you to take care of yourself so that you can be healthy and productive each day. Feeling tired and sluggish? Maybe you need a bigger dose of self-care.

Self-care doesn’t just happen; you have to make time for it -- and you are not being selfish when you do.

We want to emphasize this point: self-care is not selfish. It is essential.

If you find that life becomes too busy or you forget to practice self-care regularly, consider creating a self-care checklist. Keep it close by and remember to check it daily. Set an alarm or reminder on your phone that will go off each day and encourage you to focus on self-care. Add an event in your daily calendar or find a reminder system that works for you. Just 10-15 minutes a day is all it takes.

See: How to make a self-care checklist

Ideas for Self-Care Activities

Self-care really is quite a broad topic. Making a routine for exercise, preparing and enjoying delicious food, and spending time on personal-hygiene — these activities can all be considered self-care. Recognize how each self-care activity you choose may sometimes be dependent on another: if you put meditation on your list but are getting inadequate sleep, you may doze off while trying to meditate.

Get a good night’s sleep

Sleep can have an enormous effect on how you feel both emotionally and physically, and not getting enough sleep can cause major health issues. The brain needs sleep to function. Without it, we are less patient and focused, make poor decisions, and become moodier, more irritable and emotional. Sleep is also one of the top ways we can help keep stress in check, as sleep deprivation can make us more sensitive to the effects of stress, ramping up our reactions to it.

Listen to our podcast and learn how to get better sleep.


Meditation is shown to be a simple, fast way to reduce stress. During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that often race through your mind — increasing stress. Meditating regularly as part of self-care may improve your physical and emotional well-being.

Yoga is considered a form of movement meditation where movement guides you into a deeper connection with your body and the present moment. Yoga and other forms of mind-body relaxation can support your mental health and prevent relapse. Stress and tension are common triggers of relapse. Meditation can help as you let go of negative thinking, dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

Check out our videos on yoga and meditation:

Yoga Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness Meditation

Spend time outside

Open your door and step outside. One of the most powerful ways to practice self-care is to increase the amount of time you spend in nature. Fresh air, the sounds of birds, the sight of trees, mountains or water — can all help relieve symptoms of depression or burnout. Spending time outside can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lead to a better night sleep, especially if you do an outdoor physical activity like gardening, walking or playing with your dog.


One study found that people with various medical conditions and anxiety who wrote for 15 minutes, three days a week, over a 12-week period had increased feelings of well-being and fewer depressive symptoms after one month.

ERC Recovery Advocate Lindsey Hall states, “When I can’t get out of my head: I’ll get out a piece of paper or open up a new Word doc in my computer and write down the first thing that comes to mind. Then, I’ll make a story out of it – wherever the story goes. It helps me move the narrative in my head to something I can move along on paper instead.”

Take time away from social media

How much time do you spend on screens each day? What if you removed all of the apps from your phone or computer? Don’t worry; you can always reload them later and not miss a beat. According to one study, keeping social media use down to just 30 minutes a day can improve your mental health and well-being. In the study, participants reported decreased depression and loneliness when they reduced their time spent on social media. Alternatively, keep the apps but reduce the amount of time spent scrolling through them. Set a timer or watch the clock and get off when you've spent what you think is a healthy amount of time on the app.

Listen to music or enjoy the silence

While listening to your favorite playlist can be calming or uplifting, sometimes sitting in the quiet is a more helpful way to lower stress.

Lindsey says, “Music is so therapeutic to me but sometimes music can lead me into a dark hole of emotions and when I have a hard time moving through that, I’ll just turn it all off so I can be alone with my thoughts and have nothing [like music] dictating them.”

Get organized

At first, this may sound like more of a stressor than a stress-reducer. But think about it: when you can’t find your game shirt or your passport, or forget the date of your next therapy appointment, your stress likely increases. Getting organized can save time and reduce stress, and it can begin with small, incremental changes, like writing down your appointments on a calendar or creating an area to keep important documents. Doing these things may also be considered what Lindsey refers to as “adulting.”

When feeling stressed, Lindsey says, “I try to do something that will help remind me I’m a capable adult, even if it’s just making my bed, washing the dishes or paying a bill.”

Take a deep breath and be creative

No matter what else you choose for your daily self-care activities, remember to take a few deep breaths along the way. Deep breaths restore important oxygen to our brains, helping us think more clearly. Once you’ve done that, perhaps draw a picture, make a clay sculpture or bang a drum.

“I find it incredibly therapeutic to play around on my keyboard and steel tongue drum,” says Lindsey. “I’m not amazing at either, but to create something is meaningful and builds my self-esteem in the moment.”

And that is, after all, the epitome of self-care.

Find more tips on how to reduce and manage stress.