Let’s be honest; the world today is quite chaotic.
Self-care has never been more critical in an age when we have had to deal with a pandemic, raging wildfires, other environmental disasters, and political upheaval all across the globe.
It may seem that self-care sounds like a vague cliche. For example, when we therapists recommend self-care to our clients, it can often ring hollow. How many of us are engaging in sufficient self-care ourselves?
What follows in this post is a list of self-care activities, many of which can be administered in a group setting for maximum impact. Working these activities into your clinical practice, or just into your everyday routines, is sure to impact your day-to-day life positively.
Before you continue, we thought you might like to download these Self-Compassion Exercises for free. These detailed, science-based exercises will not only help you increase the compassion and kindness you show yourself, but will also give you the tools to help your clients, students, or employees show more compassion to themselves.
This article contains:
Our 3 Favorite Activities
Below are a few activities we recommend if you are looking for ways to build or expand upon your self-care regimen.
There are not many activities that I see as more restorative in the long term than meditation. Taking time to reconnect with ourselves through meditation can help us live more in line with our values.
Meditation in a group setting can be incredibly motivating and inspiring. For a resource on selecting the type of meditation that can work for you, read this article investigating the differences between mindfulness and meditation.
2. Mindful conversation
A mindful conversation is a great act of self-care. It involves listening with your full attention, expressing yourself honestly, choosing your words thoughtfully and carefully, and suspending judgment.
Finding a partner or mindfulness activities group to engage in this type of conversation can not only be self-care on its own, but can also help you learn new self-care habits from others.
3. Exercise in nature
Any type of exercise is great, but exercising in nature can be incredibly soothing. Going for a mindful walk, run, hike, or bike ride in a scenic, natural setting is an excellent form of self-care.
Many group exercise classes are held outdoors. Consider joining a group or club that organizes outdoor adventures.
Fun Exercises for Groups of Children
It is so important to teach children about self-care.
Kids today are under a lot of stress and have to do more school work on a computer than ever before. It is important to teach children that fun can exist without a screen.
A good start for helping children deal with stress and anxiety is to teach them mindfulness skills with the following exercises:
1. Mindful breathing
We often think of breathing as an automatic activity, and it certainly is. However, with practice, we can get even better at breathing, and having the skills to breathe calmly and deeply can help children deal with anxiety and stress.
Here are two mindful breathing exercises that you can use with children, both in groups and individually.
Have the children lie down and give each one a small rock that has a good weight to it. Instruct each child to put the rock on their belly and to breathe deeply, into their belly, so that they can feel the rock rise and fall. Set a timer for perhaps three or five minutes as a start, and make sure that the room is silent.
You can repeat this activity and increase the length of it each time. This activity teaches children about belly breathing, which can calm an anxious mind.
Blow out the candle
Give each child a feather, or if you do not have a feather, instruct the children to stick up their thumbs. Tell them to pretend that each feather (or thumb) is a birthday candle that they have to blow out.
Have them breathe deeply, and then exhale slowly and powerfully to blow out the candle. Repeat a few times, and have the children debrief, perhaps noticing a new feeling of calm.
2. ‘Say what you see’ game
The ‘Say what you see’ game was created to help children with ADHD become more mindful of their surroundings (Burdick & Hallowell, 2018). However, it can have a grounding effect on all kids, quieting their minds as they tune into the environment around them.
Here are the steps of the game (Burdick & Hallowell, 2018). To set up, give each child a piece of paper and a pencil:
- Have the kids draw a picture of their surroundings.
- Have them take a deep breath.
- Have them look to the right and say what they see.
- Look to the left and say what they see.
- Look in front of them and say what they see.
- Look behind them and say what they see.
- Look up and say what they see.
- Look down and say what they see.
- Then flip over their paper and have the children draw a picture of everything they can remember about where they are.
To debrief, have the children talk about the differences between the two pictures. What is on the second drawing that wasn’t on the first? What did they notice after slowing down and breathing? How did it feel to do the exercise?
3. Fun without screens
This self-care activity is up to interpretation, but it is of great importance for kids who may be spending all day on computers for school. Here are a few suggestions for having fun without screens:
- Have a pillow fight
- Have a dance party
- Go for a walk in nature
- Pet a dog or cat or another furry animal
- Bake cookies or another delicious thing
- Make up a game
- Tell jokes
3 Ideas for Student Groups
The life of a student can be one of multiple stressors, conflicting roles, and work overload.
Self-care interventions have had promising results in student communities, including reducing stress, increasing mindfulness, and other positive physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual changes (Schure, Christopher, & Christopher, 2008).
Below follows a few self-care activities that are effective in different studies of student populations. These suggestions are in addition to basic self-care practices such as exercise and sleep.
1. Physical contemplative practice: Yoga, tai chi, or qigong
Each of these practices involves slow, purposeful movement with an emphasis on breathing and calming the mind. They can be done in a group or independently.
Graduate students who practiced one of these three practices reported positive changes such as increased comfort in their bodies, increased ability to deal with negative emotions, and the ability to take responsibility for and communicate feelings (Schure et al., 2008).
Students described these activities as a “high yield investment”; spending an hour each day in these activities improved their entire day (Schure et al., 2008).
2. Mindful eating
Students live such busy lives that sometimes eating can be an afterthought. Although healthy eating is always a good idea, it is not always possible for students to cook for themselves. Regardless of what they are eating, students can still practice mindful eating.
Mindful eating involves bringing present-moment, non-judgmental awareness to mealtimes. It starts with keeping mealtimes sacred by avoiding multitasking: no studying or watching TV during mealtimes.
Eating slowly, chewing well, and practicing gratitude for the food you are eating are all helpful steps toward mindful eating. The practice is one example of how to fit mindfulness into an already busy schedule.
3. Practice one non-school-related self-care activity per week
What you do for your weekly self-care activity is up to you, but you must do it. Setting a weekly self-care goal was a vital component of a brief stress-management intervention for medical students (Greeson, Toohey, & Pearce, 2015).
Students picked one activity to do for an hour each week. In addition to the mindfulness practices mentioned earlier, this activity helped decrease perceived stress and increase mindfulness (Greeson et al., 2015).
If medical students can find an hour to do something relaxing each week, so can other students. The trick is in the scheduling. For the most success, pick an hour at the beginning of each week and stick to it.
Workplace Self-Care: 4 Activities for Employees
The workplace can be extremely stressful.
It’s a place where performance demands can result in an ever-present pressure to do more, causing burnout and other kinds of suffering.
Here are four suggestions for group-based workplace self-care activities.
1. Start a book club
Sometimes talking with coworkers can be a drag, especially if there is nothing to talk about besides work. Starting a book club with colleagues can give you common ground for conversations that feel more refreshing than workplace gossip or complaining.
2. Pet-friendly workplace
Employees who work from home experience the benefits of having their furry companions around while they work. Workplaces could be well served by allowing employees to bring dogs to work.
This practice can also take the pressure off of pet owners to find others to walk their dog, helping them to feel less burdened and more satisfied at work.
3. Group fitness
If your company has the resources for it, consider adding group fitness classes to your perks list. Exercise in the middle of the day can help employees feel more energized and happy as the day goes on.
If group fitness isn’t available, consider using your lunch break to get your blood pumping, walk with coworkers, or practice yoga.
4. Practice self-compassion
This recommendation goes for employees and bosses alike. Self-compassion is an exciting addition to any workplace self-care intervention. By extending kindness to yourself during times of stress, you will be more able to advance understanding and compassion to others.
This type of thinking can have a snowball effect on an organization. Whether you are interacting with coworkers in person or through your computer screen, consider treating yourself with kindness during difficult times as a way of helping your organization as a whole (Devenish-Meares, 2015).
Exercises for Teachers and Counselors
Teachers and counselors each have stressful jobs that can require a large amount of emotional labor. Many of these professionals enter these fields because of a desire to help others and be with people.
However, if teachers and counselors are not at their personal best because of stress or isolation, they cannot be at their best when helping their students and clients. Below are some self-care suggestions specific to teachers and counselors.
1. Attend therapy or supervision
It can be emotionally taxing to always be on the therapist side of the dyad or the classroom’s teaching side. Attending personal therapy can give the therapist space and opportunity to work through personal issues, allowing them to be more fully present in the therapy room.
Supervision can help the therapist “zoom-out” and see client issues from a different perspective. Having a supervisor’s input can make your work easier and more effective.
2. Spend time alone
Both of these professions require many hours of interpersonal contact, and taking time to be alone can help you recharge (Baker, 2020). Find a meaningful way to spend your time alone, meditating, exercising, or doing another activity that you enjoy.
3. Learn a new skill
Counseling and teaching require practice, training, and dedication to improving your craft. However, with so much time spent performing your work activities, it can be easy to feel like you are “in a rut” (Baker, 2020).
Spending time to learn a new skill, such as knitting, cooking, or playing an instrument, can help make your life more varied and interesting. Be sure to pick a skill that is meaningful to you to enjoy the process and the fruits of your labor.
4. Carve out time to talk with colleagues
Each of these professions has unique demands and pressures that those in other industries may not understand. They are also usually performed alone, as you are the only
professional in the classroom or therapy room.
Carving out time each week to connect with your colleagues can help you feel less isolated and remind you that you are part of a supportive community of professionals (Baker, 2020).
Joining a community of like-minded professionals to connect with is invaluable. Suppose you sign up for the Positive Psychology Toolkit©. In that case, you will not only have access to over 370 tools and resources, but you can also access the Positive Psychology community, where lively debates and discussions on a diverse array of topics provide stimulation and support.
If you are looking for more concrete self-care tools to use with your clients, look no further than our above-mentioned Positive Psychology Toolkit©, full of activities to help your clients.
Below follows a summary of several activities from the toolkit, all of which are dedicated to self-care.
1. Taking Care of Myself activity
Sometimes clients do not realize the importance of self-care, but everyone takes part in caring for themselves somehow. The Taking Care of Myself activity is a good starting place for clients who have not thought much about self-care. This exercise uses relaxation and thought-provoking exercises to get your client thinking about how they care for themselves.
2. Self-Care Vision Board
A vision board is a visual representation of a concept or idea using images, illustrations, and words. The Self-Care Vision Board can help you lead your client in the creation of a vision board.
The process of creating the vision board can be intuitive and fun, a self-care activity in itself. Once the vision board is made, the board can be stored in an area frequently visible to the client, serving as a prime or reminder for self-care.
3. Therapist Self-Care
Therapists can be especially vulnerable to burnout because of the high level of emotional labor demanded by their work. The Therapist Self-Care tool provides a list of 20 strategies that therapists can practice to bring their best selves to work, leave work at the office, and stay happy and healthy in their personal life.
4. Energy Management Audit
Time is a finite resource, and with so many of us living busy lives these days, there is often little time to spend replenishing our energy. Just like the other self-care tools, the Energy Management Audit focuses on ways to prevent burnout.
The audit is done to assess areas where your client may be losing energy without even realizing it. The audit is a questionnaire that breaks energy down into four different categories: mind, body, emotions, and spirit.
Breaking energy down into these four categories can help your client find small ways throughout the day to conserve or improve their energy levels to live a happier and more productive life.
5. Managing Toxic Relationships
Good relationships can be one of our most significant sources of happiness and support, but toxic relationships can be a significant source of distress and misery. Sometimes it is difficult to recognize that a relationship is unhealthy and know what to do about it when you realize it is no longer serving you.
The Managing Toxic Relationships tool was created to help clients recognize toxic relationships and then to offer guidance on how to manage these relationships.
6. The Self-Care Wheel
This useful article considers the Self-Care Wheel as the perfect tool to assess burnout, with helpful activities and worksheets to inject more self-care into your day. It explains what the wheel of wellness is and the benefits of the self-care wheel, with a substantial selection of self-care resources.
7. 17 Self-Compassion Exercises
If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others develop self-compassion, this collection contains 17 validated self-compassion tools for practitioners. Use them to help others create a kinder and more nurturing relationship with the self.
A Take-Home Message
Self-care can sometimes be cliche, but it can also be a life-saver. Finding a version of self-care that works for you, your clients, or your students can help revitalize yourself and your community in difficult times.
By reading this article, you have taken a big step forward in developing your self-care regimen. Any of the above exercises can be adapted to your individual sphere or delivered in a group setting. You can practice them yourself or teach your clients to practice them.
Remember, if you are going to teach a practice to someone, make sure you try it yourself. When you genuinely believe an exercise works, your clients will take notice and try it for themselves. Try these self-care worksheets in addition to the tools above to build a solid self-care foundation.
We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download these Self-Compassion Exercises for free.
- Baker, L. (2020). Self-care amongst first-year teachers. Networks: An Online Journal for Teacher Research, 22(2), 1–16.
- Burdick, D., & Hallowell, E. M. (2018). Mindfulness for kids with ADHD : Skills to help children focus, succeed in school, and make friends. Instant Help.
- Devenish-Meares, P. (2015). Call to compassionate self-care: Introducing self-compassion into the workplace treatment process. Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health, 17(1), 75–87.
- Greeson, J., Toohey, M., & Pearce, M. (2015). An adapted, four-week mind–body skills group for medical students: Reducing stress, increasing mindfulness, and enhancing self-care. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing. 11(3), 187–192.
- Schure, M. B., Christopher, J., & Christopher, S. (2008). Mind-body medicine and the art of self-care: Teaching mindfulness to counseling students through yoga, meditation, and qigong. Journal of Counseling & Development, 86(1), 47–56.