10 Tips for Practicing Self-Care When You Are Just Not 'Feeling It'


When you’re overwhelmed by stress, depression or the political environment, it can feel impossible to think about saving time in your busy schedule for enjoyment activities. Many of the clients in my counseling practice have told me they have stopped doing the things that used to give them pleasure,“Because I just don’t feel like it.” They are talking about things like exercise and good nutrition. They are talking about date nights. They are talking about hobbies. They are talking about community or spiritual activities. They are talking about the basics of life.

It can feel hard to justify time to yourself or self-care activities when the world around us feels so chaotic. Many of us preempt our own basic needs because we tell ourselves that loved ones depend on us and there is no time. Whatever the reason, the effect of postponing self-care is higher and higher stress, and lower and lower mood.

How do we overcome this feeling, and give ourselves the basic nurturing we need in spite of stress?

Studies show that going ahead and doing the thing we used to enjoyeven without any desire to do it —  can produce positive feelings and enjoyment in a lasting and sustainable way. One of the most active ingredients in the highly effective treatment, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), proves just that. DBT uses the technique Opposite Action to explain that doing the activity associated with how you want to feel, instead of following the impulses of the feeling that you are actually having, can produce those positive feelings you are missing. By acting opposite to your urge to hunker down on the couch, hide out in your home or ignore that invitation to hang out, you are taking the initial steps out of the fog of depression and stress.

Behavioral Activation, one of the first-line treatments for depression, proves the same results: that those who take action and don’t wait for their depression to improve before starting self-care, improve much faster and prevent future relapses into depression. You don’t have to run a marathon or scale Mount Everest for this to work. You can start small and walk around the neighborhood, call an old friend, meditate for five minutes or take yourself out to lunch or coffee. All of these small practices of self-care accumulate and add up to a hearty investment in your well-being. Eventually, these investments will accrue interest and even more enjoyment.

In the beginning though, you may not want to. And that’s the heart of it exactly: Not feeling it is the best indication that you should just go ahead and do it anyways. Self-care and pleasurable activities are essential to our wellbeing and mental health. Taking care of ourselves by reserving time for enjoyment is as necessary as eating our vegetables, getting exercise or your annual check-up.

Some people need to tell themselves they must take care of themselves so they can take care of others. Others remind themselves self-care will extend their lives and improve their health in the long run. Whatever it takes to get yourself going, go ahead and do it, even  — or especially — if you’re not feeling it.

10 Tips for Practicing Self-Care When You Are Just Not “Feeling It”

1. Ask yourself: What activities were you doing during a time in your life when you were feeling your best? (It is probably not a coincidence that you were feeling good when you were doing them.)

2. Make time in your schedule for self-care. Set an alarm. Write down a self-care “appointment” in your calendar. Give yourself a quota for self-care activities each week or month and make sure you meet your goal.

3. Tell loved ones about your self-care goals and ask them to support you in your process. You may be surprised by the sudden uptick in invites to do pleasurable activities together.

4. Practice saying “no” when you have taken on too many responsibilities. This can be tough for a lot of people, but remind yourself that your wellbeing depends on it, and also that you are modeling good self-care for those around you.

5. Don’t just do self-care, but do it 100 percent  — all the way! Don’t stand in the corner at the party. Instead: try the food, smile, dance a little bit, make chit chat (again, even if you don’t feel like it). Some people will feel tripped up by this part, and may feel like they are lying when they don’t actually feel very good. Remember, you do not have to pretend you are feeling good. The idea is to take action, which over time will produce those positive feelings naturally.

6. Practice, practice, practice. Don’t give up if you do self-care once, and it doesn’t work right away. Just remember, how long have you been feeling down or stressed? It may take a little bit of time to notice a difference. But, if you do dedicated self-care every day, I believe you are bound to experience a significant lift in mood.

7. Don’t forget to do self-care activities even when you’re feeling good. Self-care not only has an intervention effect when we are feeling down, but it also has a preventive effect when we are feeling good. The more internal resources you have, the more equipped you will be to handle stress when it hits you unexpectedly.

8. Don’t beat yourself up when you forget to practice self-care. We all do, and it only feels worse to judge ourselves for it. Start again, start small and keep going.

9. When you do finally experience joy, love, pleasure  — even in tiny moments, savor it completely. Let the experience wash over you and memorize it. Let it linger. In the beginning, you may experience tiny moments of peace and satisfaction, which will eventually turn into minutes and then hours and eventually days and weeks of contentment. You are creating a self-care cycle that builds on itself.

10. Enjoy yourself. You deserve it. We all do.

This post originally appeared on Medium.

Anna Lindberg Cedar, MPA, LCSW #64284 is an experienced Licensed Clinical Social Worker providing evidence-based counseling in Oakland and self-care on the Internet. Find out more: www.annacedar.com .

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Thinkstock photo via AndreaObzerova.


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