What does self-care mean?

Self-care is a phrase you’ve probably come across, but what does it really mean?  

Self-care is the little things we do to look after our own mental health. It’s about trying to listen to how we're feeling and understanding what we need, even if it’s difficult, so we can care for ourselves. It's not all about candles, yoga and luxury bath bombs. It doesn't cost money and it doesn't need to be complicated. 

There's loads of things we can all do to look after our mental wellbeing, and taking any time you can for self-care is massively important. It could mean:

  • taking time out when we're feeling overwhelmed
  • making time to do an activity that we know makes us feel good
  • pushing yourself to do something you want to do even though you’re nervous about it
  • giving yourself permission to take a break and do nothing at all.
  • just doing the basics like eating and sleeping well when you're struggling.

It's also useful to remember:

  • What works for one person may not work for someone else.
  • Everyone's different so try to avoid comparing yourself to others and thinking you don't deserve support.
  • It's okay to have these feelings and you should never guilty.
  • Things look different depending on where we're at mentally at the time; what works for us when we're doing well might feel impossible when we're going through a hard time.
  • The important thing is that we listen to what we need, not what we think the world needs from us.
The important thing with self-care is not what it looks like, but what it does for you and how it makes you feel. When it comes to self-care it's not one thing, it's your thing.

Knowing what steps we can take to support our mental wellbeing can help us feel better, sleep better and have better relationships with the people around us – and that goes not just for today but for the future too.

Quick tips:

There are loads of resources that provide advice on self care strategies, many of which are listed below, but here are a few quick tips which may be helpful

Listening to music:

This may help you to manage your feelings in several different ways:

  • Music you enjoy may help improve your mood.
  • Really loud music may help to release built up tension/anger.
  • Music similar to the emotion you’re feeling could help release pent up emotions.
  • Music that’s the opposite to what your feeling, e.g. calming music when you’re feeling anxious could be soothing.
  • Baking may give you a sense of satisfaction and purpose, a feeling of 'I've made something!''
  • It may help to move around and do something with your hands.
  • Focusing on making something may provide a distraction from negative feelings.
  • It may give you a sense of purpose while doing something nice for yourself.
  • Trying new recipes may help to keep you motivated and give you the satisfaction of doing something new.
  • Try baking with someone else or making something you can share with your family or friends. 
Drawing and painting:
  • Many people find that spending time on artistic activities, such as drawing and painting, can be soothing.
  • Repeatedly moving a pencil or paint over paper can be a calming act. You could do it while rewatching a show or listening to music.
  • Being creative can be a way of expressing difficult thoughts and emotions that can’t otherwise be put into words.
  • Drawing and painting can give you a sense of productivity and of accomplishment.
  • You can make art using different materials in different ways to express your feelings, let your anger out of even become absorbed in a world of your own.
Spending time with people you trust:

We all need people in our lives we can turn to when we’re struggling, whether for a deep discussion or just a chat. This could be a friend, family member, teacher or mentor- it doesn’t matter as long as you feel safe and able to be real with them.

  • Sometimes we just need a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on, other times advice can be really helpful.
  • Talking to someone you trust can be a really helpful way to try and reduce your worries/problems. A problem shared is a problem halved.
  • It may help to remind you that you’re not alone.
  • Writing things down in a journal or a diary can help you to analyse a situation that is worrying you.
  • Diaries can be a way of sharing difficult feelings and expressing thoughts that you might not be able to say out loud.
  • Using a diary can be a way of highlighting the good days and the bad which may help you learn more about yourself and your mental health. 
  • Creative writing can also be a great way to express your thoughts and feelings.
  • Some people find that it helps them realise how they’re feeling about a particular situation if they write it into a story, because they empathise more with the character in the story than with themselves.
  • Poetry can be another way of expressing your feelings, rather than carrying them around inside you.
  • Writing a letter could be a helpful way of expressing how you feel. You could write a letter to yourself or to someone else, even if you don't send it. It's always good to talk but if you're struggling to tell someone how you feel, write down what you want to say and tell them what you them to do.
Physical exercise:
  • It’s really important to make sure you choose an activity that you feel comfortable and safe doing. Exercise is just about moving in the way that best suits you.
  • You don't need to be an athlete to do some exercise. Little walks or short physical activities can work just as well.
  • Swimming or walking around the block is something you can do on your own or with a friend or family member.
  • Any type of repetitive exercise such as jogging or swimming can be a great time for reflection.
  • Dancing to your favourite song can be as beneficial from a mental health perspective as lifting weights or running.
  • The physical benefits of exercise include a lower resting heart rate and the release of endorphins, which have a positive impact on mood; so regular exercise can improve your mood and wellbeing. 
  • Exercise in any form can be a great way to shake off your negative energy.
  • To get some more ideas about different types of exercise, you could have a look at the exercise page in the lifestyle section of this site. 
  • The Anna Freud Centre has more information on the benefits of physical exercise for self-care.

The Samaritans also have lots of useful advice on their Self-Help page. This includes an app which helps you create a safety plan. You can store it on your phone/device and look back on when you need it. 


Dialectical BehavioUr Therapy

What is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy?

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is a type of talk therapy (psychotherapy) which is specially adapted for people who experience emotions very intensely.

Dialectical means combining opposite ideas. It focuses on helping people accept the reality of their lives and their behaviours, as well as helping them learn to change their lives, including unhelpful behaviours.

It is a structured, skills-driven approach to managing anxiety and improving emotion regulation. A key focus of these interventions is distress tolerance, which is the ability to accept and allow uncomfortable emotions.

Calm Harm is an award-winning app funded by teenage mental health charity stem4, to help manage the urge to self-harm. It was developed by Clinical Psychologist Dr. Nihara Krause MBE, in collaboration with young people and uses principles from an evidence-based psychological treatment called Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).

There is a range of downloadable DBT worksheets that can help you work through difficult situations by using a variety of techniques. Here are just a few:

IMPROVE the Moment worksheet - Distressing situations do not always have quick solutions. When this is the case, there might be no choice but to sit with uncomfortable emotions and wait for them to pass. The IMPROVE worksheet outlines skills for improving the moment, making it easier to tolerate these situations.

ACCEPTS worksheet - In the moment, distressing emotions may seem impossible to overcome. However, over time, these emotions will lessen in intensity, and eventually fade away. The acronym ACCEPTS outlines seven techniques for distracting yourself from distressing emotions until they pass, giving them time to lessen in intensity, or fade away. 

DBT : Dialectical Behavior Therapy - Skills, Worksheets, & Videos This is a comprehensive website which introduces skills via video links and worksheets aimed at taking control of your thoughts, emotions, and relationships from mindfulness, distress tolerance and emotional regulation to intrapersonal effectiveness.

Self Care Apps:

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There are many different apps which offer a huge range of self-care strategies for young people which are both anonymous and confidential. They can give you control over when you can access support and you can log-off at any stage. 

The Anna Freud Self Care apps page contains an extensive list of approved apps delivering self-help strategies, from game-based apps which can help to prevent and manage stress and anxiety, to apps offering distraction techniques to overcome negative thoughts.

CAMHS resources apps page also has an extensive list of apps including:

moodgym provides training in cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), and consists of five interactive modules which are completed in order. These include information, interactive exercises, workbooks to record thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and quizzes with personalised feedback.

Happify aims to help you break old patterns and form new habits. Whether you're feeling sad, anxious, or stressed, this app offers tools and programs to help you take control of your feelings and thoughts with a range of interventions such as positive psychology, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

SafeSpot is a helpful app and website that aims to provide young people with access to coping strategies and resources in order to help them through tough spots. SafeSpot provides your own personalized coping plan, useful strategies and tools to help and directions to local resources to help you.

Good Thinking also provides a list of NHS approved apps for young people, which include support for university students who need health advice, as well as apps to improve mood and increase motivation.


The NHS Every Mind Matters page has lots of help and advice, including a series of videos on self care which cover things such as social media, dealing with change and dealing with unhelpful thoughts.


More self-care ideas

If you're after more info or ideas, there's plenty of great help out there including: