What is it and how do I get it?

What is Self-Care?

Step-by-Step Guide

Getting Started

Self-Care Ideas


Journal exercises

What to do when you’re really sad

Printable Version

What is Self-Care?

Self-care is one of those words that therapists use, forgetting that the rest of the population has never heard of it. Basically, it is a noun referring to taking care of your own emotional well-being.

Self-Care works on two levels. First, the obvious- it allows you to take care of yourself, to nurture yourself. Second, it subconsciously sends you the message that you deserve to be taken care of, which can help increase your self-esteem, self-worth, and happiness.

Self-care doesn’t need to take up a lot of time.  Even the busiest person could build in five minutes a day to do some deep-breathing or to call a friend.  Explore how self-care can fit into your schedule.  Show yourself that YOU are just as important as the other responsibilities in your life. 

Self-care can mean adding one thing into each day that you can look forward to.  It could be watching your favorite TV show, taking an extra long shower, or spending five minutes in silence- whatever works for you.

Just because you’re feeling happy, doesn’t mean that self-care isn’t necessary.  It is still important to pay attention to your needs and feelings, and to nurture yourself. 

Thoughts and Behaviors…

Self-care isn’t just about activities, it can include any thoughts or behaviors.  For instance, it includes stopping yourself from using negative self-talk.  It also includes setting and enforcing boundaries in your relationships (with parents, friends, romantic partners, colleagues) that honor what feels healthy for you.  Finally, it includes identifying your needs and asking someone else to help you meet those needs; self-care isn’t something that needs to be done in isolation from other resources (friends, family, doctors, therapists, medicine, etc.).  All of these types of self-care might take more guidance and may be more easily explored with a therapist.  Remember, you get 12 FREE sessions of individual therapy at Student Counseling Services.  You can start your self-care by making an appointment with us (805-493-3390).

How do I use Self-Care?

When you are feeling really sad…

If you are feeling suicidal or like you can’t handle this on your own, call Student Counseling Services at 805-493-3390 or Campus Security at x3911.

If you aren’t feeling suicidal, and prefer to handle this without professional help, the first steps of self-care are just getting yourself through the day:

  • Figure out what tasks you are scheduled to do today.  Decide what you are up to doing, and make other arrangements for the ones you can’t do today.
  • Make sure that you are getting some kind of nutrition.  If making food or going out to eat feels too hard, order in.  If eating seems like too much of a chore, allow yourself to have more liquid nutrition- yogurt, smoothies, protein drinks, etc.
  • If you can, buy the quality tissues, so your nose isn’t raw after crying all day.
  • Open the shades in your room or sit outside for a little bit.  The sunshine may help.
  • Think about what might be comforting to you, and then do it.  This might mean curling up in bed and watching DVDs on your laptop.  Allow yourself to do that. 
  • Reach out to friends and family that would be supportive.  If you haven’t done this before, give them a chance to step up to the plate and show that they care.  They just might surprise you.
  • Allow yourself a day to just be sad.  Try not to force yourself to be happy.  Sadness can be your body’s and mind’s ways of saying that you need to slow down.  If you feel up to it today, take a look at your life, and identify potential changes you might want to make.  (This could be a good time for journaling.) If not, make a note to explore what this sadness was about when you’re feeling steadier. 
  • Once you are feeling more mobilized, then you can apply other self-care techniques.


Created by Jacqueline Belanger, Ph.D. , California Lutheran University, 2008