6 self-care habits that have nothing to do with bath bombs or scented candles

It’s Self-Care Awareness Month, and whether you think these faux holidays are cute or whack, we can all do a better job at taking care of ourselves. So I’m here to offer you some self-care tips, or rather habits, as I like to think of them, that will make your life better in some extremely practical—if not Instagrammable—ways.

The truth is, you’ve heard all of this advice before—we’re certainly not the first to tell you to sleep more or pay your bills. But I’m guessing you haven’t thought of these habits as self-care so much as chores, and I’m here to tell you that’s not the case. Self-care isn’t all bubble baths and expensive spa days, it’s doing things for yourself on a regular basis that keep your body functioning, your mind sharp, and your shit handled. And even if these things don’t seem like self-care, it’s nice to have a bunch of reminders like this in one place. Right?

1Speak up if something is bothering you

Holding onto frustration and resentment will do nothing to improve your situation. In fact, research has shown that bitterness and resentment can have negative effects on your health, potentially causing sleeplessness, anxiety, and even heart disease. So the next time someone makes you mad, hurts your feelings, or belittles you in some way, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself or speak up and say, “Hey, that comment made me feel awful and we need to talk about it.”

Of course, racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and other social evils can make this hard in certain situations. You might fear losing your job if you talk back to your boss, or fear for your life if you stand up to an abusive partner. This advice doesn’t apply in cases like that—I’m talking about situations where you have some agency and aren’t putting yourself at risk.If you are in a risky situation, know that part of self-care is acknowledging—even just to yourself—that you’ve been hurt or wronged, and seeking out the support you deserve.

2Meal prep at least one week out of the month

You know that eating well is important for your overall health and well-being. I don’t need to tell you that. But it can be so. goddamn. hard. to eat right when you have a job, school, kids, friends, family responsibilities, and oh yeah, personal interests. For me, devoting a chunk of time to making big-batch meals that I can take to work for lunch helps to ensure that, for at least one meal of the day, I will 1) eat—period—even if I’m crazy busy, and 2) eat something that’s healthy and that I made with my own hands, so I know what the ingredients are and how they’ll make my body feel. Bonus: Cooking your own food is way cheaper than ordering takeout, which will help you with habit #3.

I know that finding a chunk of time to meal prep can feel impossible, but I promise you won’t need more than an hour or two. You’re only making enough food for 5-7 meals, and if you make something in a Crock Pot or on a single sheet pan in the oven, you can set it to cook and forget it. Another option is to make a mega batch of whatever you’re cooking for dinner on Sunday night and pack that up for the rest of the week. There are a ton of great resources out there, too, so start small and then climb towards your goal. Even if you start with just a couple of lunches per week, that’ll get you in the habit of meal prepping.

3Set up a system for paying your bills on time

You might think you’re bad with money, but you don’t have to be a financial planner to pay your bills on time. In fact, this is Adulting 101, and you need to ace this class if you want to survive. One way to make sure your bills are always paid on time is to set up a system that works for you and then stick with it.

First, look at your last couple of months of bills (whether that’s by printing out your bank statements and highlighting the bills you paid or printing out copies of all your recent bills) and note on a calendar when each one is due.

Then, decide on a system for how to pay them that makes sense for you. If you get a steady paycheck, you might want to set up auto-pay with each of your creditors or through online banking so that you don’t even have to think about your recurring expenses. Or, you could get your bills delivered via email or snail mail and then pay them as soon as they come in. That gives you a bit more control. Setting up calendar reminders right before each bill’s due date is an option, too, especially if you think you’ll need some flexibility every month with your payment date.

If you miss a payment, don’t freak out—there are remedies. The most important thing to not do right now is bury your head in the sand and ignore the issue. If you don’t have the money to pay a bill, call your creditor and see if you can set up a payment arrangement. In most cases, the creditor would rather make a deal with you than send your account to collections.

You can do this—I believe in you, and I want you to get your money right.

4Drink more water

Water is life, and a huge number of us aren’t drinking nearly enough of it. According to a 2013 report from the CDC, 43% of Americans drink just four cups of water per day—and that’s far from ideal. The CDC doesn’t set a specific minimum, since we all have different needs, but at least four 8-ounce cups per day is a good benchmark.

The effects of dehydration are serious—fatigue, constipation, and muscle cramps are just a few—so for the overall betterment of your body (and life) I’m urging you to get up from your desk throughout the day and drink more (plain!) water.

5Force yourself to go to bed on time

I know the new season of Great British Bake-Off just hit Netflix, and fall TV season is here to steal your zzz’s, but getting 7-9 hours of sleep every night is essential for your well-being. When you don’t sleep enough, your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes goes up, your metabolism slows down, your moods swing wildly, your brain becomes foggy, you’re more likely to get sick…okay, you get it. Getting proper rest matters. We’ve published a ton of guides for how to fall asleep faster and get a better night’s rest, so take a look—and not on your phone as you’re trying to fall asleep, please!—and sleep well.

6Find a type of exercise you like and do it at least once a week

This could be anything: listening to music or a podcast while going for a brisk walk; taking a jazzercise class at your local community center; enrolling in fancy-pants boxing lessons; or swinging on the monkey bars at the park. Prefer to exercise with a friend? Great! Find a coworker who will meet you at the gym before work, or go to the playground with your BFF once a week and chase her kid around the playground for an hour. Exercise doesn’t have to cost money, but it does require a commitment. The best way to keep that commitment is to find an activity you actually enjoy so that you don’t lose your motivation.

I’m rooting for you.

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