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50 self-care ideas for when you need a mood boost

Therapists share activities to help you reduce stress and unwind at home.

Feeling anxious? Overwhelmed? Tired? Wired? You’re not alone. In fact, federal data analyzed by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that 32.3% of all adults reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder as of February 2023.

The last few years have been an uphill climb for many of us, and this new level of stress doesn’t show signs of stopping. If you’re feeling a lot more stressed these days and burning the candle at both ends is the new normal, it’s time to make some changes.

Enter: self-care. It’s a buzzword term you’ve likely heard in recent years, but what is it exactly? And does it really help in the grand scheme of things?

“Self-care is the different ways we take care of ourselves that lead to increased well-being, and health — physically, emotionally and spiritually,” Hope Weiss, LCSW, tells And keep in mind that while self-care is incredibly important for those who have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, it’s something that can benefit everyone, whether you’re struggling with a specific condition or not.

Dr. Shaakira Haywood Stewart, PhD, CEO of Dr. Shaakira Haywood Stewart Psychology, P.C., stresses that self-care is an active practice. “There’s no ‘self-care goal’ to be reached,” she says of the opportunity to elevate your emotional, spiritual, physical and mental wellbeing. “It’s a constant journey that accompanies you throughout life and allows you to handle the stress that life is bound to give you,” adds Dr. Haywood Stewart.

Practicing self-care regularly helps us be more resilient. “It provides a strong foundation so that we are not knocked down as easily by the stresses, challenges and experiences that we have in life,” Weiss says.

That’s why it’s key to establish a daily routine that emphasizes self-care so that when challenges inevitably pop up, you’ll feel even more capable to take them on. Self-care is “something that we build into our lives so that it becomes a routine — just like brushing our teeth,” Weiss says.

If you’re looking for some inspiration to be kinder to yourself and embrace TLC for your wonderful, glorious self, here are 50 self-care ideas that can lift your mood and make you feel better — mind, body and soul.

Care for houseplants

If you find yourself in a cheery mood when you're surrounded by houseplants and all-things-green, it’s not just in your head. For example, in one study that focused on participants staying at home at the start of the pandemic, those with indoor plants reported considerably fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. You know what that means: Outfit your home with plants to bring the outdoors in. As a bonus, you’ll feel good every time you care for each plant.

Read a book from your childhood 

Perhaps a warm and fuzzy dose of nostalgia will make you feel better. Think of a few of your favorite books from when you were little, and head to the library or your local bookstore to pick them up. Curl up in a chair with a snack of your choice and read your worries away.

Do some journaling

“Journaling restructures our self-talk, and increases our emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and communication skills,” says Dr. Haywood Stewart. You don’t even need to make a massive time commitment to the practice; simply set a five- or 10-minute timer and write until the alarm goes off.

Listen to a podcast while going on a walk

“We all know that walking is good exercise, but it also can be a moment of stress-reducing ‘me’ time, especially when coupled with a favorite audiobook, or podcast on a topic that interests you,” says Mario Palacios, MA, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist. Palacios recommends the following happy podcasts to give you a self-care boost: “The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos;” “‎Happier with Gretchen Rubin;” and “Feeling Good” from psychiatrist Dr. David D. Burns.

Try a eucalyptus shower mist

Frank Thewes, LCSW, of says that this quick hack can get you started on the right foot every morning. The scent wakes you up and helps you start the day feeling refreshed and ready, he says. These products are readily available online; simply search for “eucalyptus spray” or “aromatherapy spray.” 

Handwrite someone a letter, just because

“This activity requires time and focus, and involves physical, tactile labor that many of us in the world of 2024 may not be used to,” says Dr. Kerry McBroome, PsyD, of Full Focus Therapy.” Expensive stationery or fountain pens may add to the experience but are not necessary; the point is to focus on letting words and sentences flow onto the page, getting them out of your head.” Bonus: You’ll brighten someone’s day on the receiving end when they receive an unexpected piece of mail.

Cook a new recipe

Dr. Caroline Fenkel, LCSW, DSW, chief clinical officer and co-founder at Charlie Health says cooking a new recipe is a wonderful form of self-care that involves mindfulness, creativity, and a tangible sense of achievement. “The act of selecting ingredients, following a step-by-step process, and savoring the final dish engages your senses, and promotes relaxation and mental well-being,” she says. “Additionally, making a delicious homemade meal and nourishing your body makes cooking a holistic and rewarding self-care practice.”

Make an after-care plan

This one from Katherine Morgan Schafler, LMHC, psychotherapist and author of The Perfectionist’s Guide to Losing Control was a new concept to us, but an excellent idea:

“When you know a future event is going to be a big deal to you, after-care plans are a way to make sure that after that event is done, you connect to something salutary,” she says. “To make an after-care plan, consider what ‘future you’ will most likely need to restore after a stressful event, even if it’s the good kind of stress (like a wedding, for example),” she elaborates, adding that big deal events can include job interviews, first dates, elections, birthday parties or a presentation. It could also be something you arrange post-travel or after the end of a particularly stressful work week.

Whatever situation calls for an after-care plan, “you might tell a friend about the event and ask them to be ‘on call’ in case you want to talk. Or you might set out an empty mug with a tea bag, comfy clothes, and a pre-selected show to watch so that when you get home, your self-care is automated,” suggests Morgan Schafler. Or, have a favorite online yoga video ready to stream upon arrival to your digs with a bubble bath on deck. 

Spend 15 minutes decluttering

Rome wasn’t built in a day; you don’t need to declutter your home in an afternoon. How about spending just 15 minutes tidying up when you need a mood lift? “When our environment is clean, free of clutter and unnecessary objects, and has the things that we enjoy or need in place, we feel better,” says Dr. Hannah Yang, PsyD, founder and licensed psychologist at Balanced Awakening. “Anything that we can do to tend to our immediate environment is a form of self-care.”

Volunteer for a meaningful cause

“Keeping perspective on our lives is essential to self-care,” says Thewes. “Take stock of your blessings and take the focus off of your own issues by devoting time to make someone else’s life a little better. A selfless task allows us to step out of our self-focused routine and come back with a fresh set of eyes.” Whether you decide to volunteer at a soup kitchen or offer to teach a sport or crafts class at a local youth center, there are countless ways to get involved with those in need throughout your community. 

Increase self-compassion

“Self-compassion is an internal way to practice self-care,” Weiss says. Start by talking with kindness, understanding and warmth, just like you would a good friend.

Over time, you'll become more in tune with your own thoughts and feelings. "You can then put a hand on your heart and say to yourself things like, ‘This is really hard for me right now,’ ‘I am dealing with a lot,’ ‘May I be happy’ or ‘May I be free from pain,’” Weiss says.

Have an at-home spa day

One classic way to practice self-care is by pampering yourself, and for good reason. If you haven’t had a free minute to yourself lately, an avocado mask, bubble bath and pedicure can feel amazing right in the comfort of your home. Not to mention you can do it all on a budget if heading to an actual spa isn’t in the cards for you right now.

Don't have enough time for a full spa day? Take a hot shower with a lavender or peppermint-scented shower steamer instead for a quick pick-me-up.

Spend time by water 

“If you are in a body of water, your internal state just becomes calm,” Dr. Natalie Azar, NBC News medical contributor, said on the 3rd Hour of TODAY.

Simply being near water can drastically improve mental health, whether it’s a walk next to a lake, looking at a creek in your backyard or even watching YouTube videos full of seaside views. Make some time in your day for an H2O boost, even if it’s just watching a two-minute video of the ocean during your lunch break.

Eat something whole and fresh 

Feeling stressed and eating every processed food in sight? No judgement from us, but your body and mind might feel a bit better if you reach for something whole and nutritious. Even if it’s an apple that you eat in between bites of cookie dough, it’s a step toward practicing good self-care.

Do this quick shoulder exercise

Dr. McBroome walks us through this simple movement: “Lift up your shoulders to your ears, tense them as tight as you can, and then release and let them drop,” she says, adding that you should repeat this motion several times. “This is an example of paired muscle relaxation, which comes from DBT [dialectical behavior therapy], a type of behavioral therapy. It is designed to be paired with your breathing, such that you inhale as your shoulders rise and exhale as they release,” adds Dr. McBroome.  

Attend to basic needs

Sometimes, it's best just to back to the basics.

“Are you taking care of your basic needs?” Weiss asks. “I see this so often get neglected when people are dealing with stress. Are you taking time to eat? If this is a challenge, perhaps set an alarm to remind yourself to get something to eat. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you drinking enough water? Are you moving your body during the day? These are all things that provide us with fuel to move through our days.”

Cuddle a pet

According to a 2020 study from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, 74 percent of all participating pet owners said that they’ve experienced mental health improvements from having a pet. If you’re in need of a little self-care, cuddle with your cat or dog and feel the stress lift with each pat — which, by the way, is beneficial for you and your furry friend. If you don’t have a pet, volunteer at an animal shelter or pet sit for a friend.

Implement good sleep hygiene

“Make quality sleep a priority, and focus on creating good sleep hygiene, including going to bed at the same time each night, especially during the work week,” says Palacios. To obtain quality sleep, you’ll want to make some regular routines, which can be as simple as brushing your teeth and changing into pajamas, he continues, noting that “these routines signal to your brain that it’s time to wind down,” importantly.  Palacios also advises you keep electronics out of the bedroom, and make the space nice and dark.

Move your body 

Get those endorphins going with a workout, even if you don’t feel like it at first. You’ll feel better as soon as your blood starts pumping, whether you’re going for an all-out run or lifting some light weights. If you’re having a tough mental health day, know that even five minutes of marching in place can have an uplifting effect.

Take a mindful walk

Indeed, you don’t need to do a full-fledged workout to reap the benefits of mindful movement. As Dr. Haywood Stewart explains, simply walking reduces cortisol, increases endorphins, strengthens neurological connections and reduces the risk of cognitive declines and neurodegenerative diseases. “Adding a mindful aspect to the walk grounds you and brings you to the present moment, allowing your stress to decrease,” she says.

Snuggle up in a “nest”

When in doubt, put yourself in your very own “nest.” Pile on tons of blankets, wear a hooded sweatshirt and cozy up on the couch.

Throw on a weighted blanket to mimic the feeling of being hugged. "Many people like the feeling of pressure against their body and do find this pressure to be quite relaxing,” behavioral sleep psychologist Lynelle Schneeberg tells

Go on a solo vacation

Even if you’re overwhelmed at the thought of traveling solo, it can be good for your spirit to get some grounding and perspective on your own. Book a “self-care vacation” to a place you’ve always wanted to go. While there, spend some time in nature, make a couple spa appointments and bring a journal along to get your thoughts down on paper.

Take time off from social media 

Social media can, at times, be a real drain on one’s mental health, especially when you’re comparing your life to others, reading negative comments or getting involved in less-than-nice political debates. Commit to one week or month off from social media when you really need a break. Or practice social media self-care by controlling the types of posts you see, muting certain people or stepping away from scrolling for prolonged periods of time.

Have a movie marathon 

Thank goodness for Netflix and Hulu, right? Hunker down for an evening of self-care with a couple of your favorite movies, ones that make you feel good right down to your toes. Don’t forget the weighted blankets and comfort snacks, too.

Listen to records 

While music is certainly therapeutic in general, there’s something about listening to records that can make you lose all sense of time in the best way possible. Take yourself back to another era (or imagine what it was like to live during that time) by playing some old-school albums, with the sounds of pops and crackles for extra ambiance.

Sip a hot beverage as slowly as you can

“This self-care skill is rooted in mindfulness, in that it requires intentional focus on the taste of the beverage or the warm feel of the mug,” says Dr. McBroome. “If you feel yourself getting pulled into distracting thoughts, forgive your tired brain and try to come back to the taste and the feel.” Extra brownie points if you savor a cup of tea, which has many health benefits

Book time with a therapist

Therapy is absolutely a form of self-care, whether you’ve already been diagnosed with a mental health condition or simply need some extra support these days. Ask for recommendations from friends, receive a referral from your primary care doctor, or turn to virtual therapy if staying at home rather than going out is your form of self-care. 

Set boundaries

Setting boundaries, even with those you love most, is an underrated form of self-care. Saying “yes” to too many things might make you feel like a superhero who’s come to save the day, but you’ll be stretched thin before you know it. Practice saying “no” in a way that feels kind and right to you to make sure you have plenty of time for self-care in your schedule.

Luxuriate in a “Sunday bumday”

“Ever heard of ‘Sunday funday?’ Try having a ‘Sunday bumday’ where you plan to do nothing,” says Dr. Courtney Conley, Ed.D, NCC, LCPC-S (Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor- Supervisor), founder and therapist for Expanding Horizons Counseling and Wellness. On days that you designate as such, Conley says to try things like watching as much TV as you want, eating quick and easy foods and taking the pressure off yourself as much as possible. “If Sunday doesn’t work for your schedule, then choose another day or evening,” she says.

Put on your warmest socks and stretch your hamstrings

Because why not take a break for your hammies? “Sitting bent over a desk or hunched over a phone can make these muscles in our legs tighten over time. Stretching them out again is self-care in the most direct, physical sense,” says Dr. McBroome. “Bend at the waist and reach towards your toes. Feel the floor underneath your feet, feel the comfortable fabric of your clothing, and focus on the sensation of these muscles as you move.”

Call in the troops

Sometimes, we’re tempted to keep our emotions and needs bottled up to ourselves, even when we could use a listening ear or assistance from others. “It’s OK and beneficial to ask for help and support. Take a look at the tasks and daily things that need to be completed. How can these be divided up? Who can help you? We often feel bad asking for help,” states Conley. “We don’t want to inconvenience those around us. However, I think it’s a beautiful gift if I can step in and support a friend or family member so they can get a restorative moment for themselves.” You can also think beyond people in your circle, says Conley, and see what you can outsource, such as laundry or cleaning services or meal kits.  

Learn something new

“As humans, we all enjoy learning and growing, as long as it’s an area of interest. One of the biggest things that nourishes us is growth,” offers Dr. Yang. “So spend some time on an adult learning platform like Mindvalley. Or read a few pages of a book on a topic you’re interested in that helps to expand your mind.” You could also search a skill you’re curious to pick up on YouTube and watch a tutorial or two. 

Turn on some music and dance

You don’t need to be a talented dancer, you just have to be open to having fun and being a little silly. “Dancing can quickly shift us into a more joyful state,” says Dr. Yang. “You can even use headphones for the music if you don’t want to disturb anyone,” she continues, noting that five minutes of moving and grooving can drastically shift your mood.

Book a massage

This doesn’t need to be a once-a-year on vacation thing; if your budget allows, massages are something you can incorporate into your regular routine every few weeks. “Take 60–90 minutes and get the tension and stress worked out of your body,” with a therapeutic massage, suggests Thewes. “Many of us store emotional tension in our bodies, and massage can be a great way to reset that,” he elaborates, noting that it’s a good idea to consider making a professional massage a monthly ritual.

Phone a friend 

Even if you’re not a chatty person, you might be surprised by the boost you get from catching up with a loved one for 20 minutes or so on the phone. “Connecting with friends and family is a wonderful way to prioritize self-care and enhance your well-being,” she says. Better yet, pair that phone call with a walk outside so you can get some fresh air and movement into your day.  

Take your shoes off and step on the grass or sand

“This is called earthing,” explains Dr. Yang, sharing that our bodies can benefit from having that direct connection with the earth. “If you live in a warm climate where this is possible, give it a try,” she says. Plus, it gets you outside, which is always a good thing for your state of mind.

Play in the snow

Too cold in your area to go earthing? If you’ve got snow near you, try this similar exercise and head outdoors to frolic in the snow. “Build a snowman. Play with childlike wonder,” Dr. Yang says. “See if you can identify individual snowflakes. Make a snowball and throw it against a building,” says Dr.Yang of engaging with nature in this playful way.

Lose track of time

“Have you ever had an experience where you don’t know where the time went?” Weiss says. “A wonderful way to provide self-care is to participate in an activity where you get so focused that you lose track of the time."

Of course, this differs from person to person, but Weiss recommends "being out in nature or doing some kind of creative pursuit, such as art, baking or writing."

"These activities often feel bigger than ourselves. They fuel us and can help us feel both peaceful and inspired," she adds.

Wear your coziest outfit

Even if you’re going out, devise a way to put together the coziest outfit possible so you can feel good from top to bottom. Wear jeans that feel like velvety leggings, rock your softest oversized sweater and put on flats, preferably ones with cushioned lining. Or if you’re staying at home, spend the day in your favorite sweats and don’t feel bad about it — even if you're expecting guests.


Study after study shows that meditation has been proven to do wonders for mental health. The good news: You don’t have to be the Dalai Lama to harness its benefits.

Have a meditative self-care session with a meditation app, practice some yoga, or simply sit quietly in a room and take in everything around you, noting the sights, sounds and smells to help you live in the moment.

Practice 4-5-4 breathing

Meditation is wonderful, but even a quick breathing exercise can work wonders for how you feel. Palacios recommends this 4-5-4 breathing technique: “Breathe in through your nose to a count of four; hold for a count of five; breathe out for four counts through your mouth,” he says. “It’s a proven stress-reducer and a relaxing break you can do anywhere, anytime.”

Take a nap

If all else fails? Close the curtains and take a nap. Whether it’s 15 minutes or a couple hours, don’t feel guilty for attending to your needs when your body is telling you to rest. In fact, never feel guilty for any type of self-care activity. The world can wait, but your well-being can’t.

Take a mental health day

From time to time, you deserve a break from it all — and it’s okay to give yourself one. “So many people don’t hesitate to take a sick day off from work when they are physically ill, but it’s often more difficult to take a mental health day when you aren’t feeling well mentally,” says Tatiana Garcia, LPC, a licensed professional counselor and coach behind Be Calm With Tati. “Even if it’s only a half-day or an hour, taking time for yourself when you are feeling down, anxious, or overwhelmed, can help you recharge and de-stress, so you will feel better able to tackle the work on your plate when you return.”

Create a vision board 

“Craft a visual representation of your goals, dreams, or even your perfect relaxation plan,” says Jennifer Gray, LPC, Jennifer Gray Counseling, founder of Therapy for Entrepreneurs. “It’s a motivating and inspiring way to focus on yourself.” Here’s how to make a vision board and help bring your dreams to life.

Go stargazing

“Spend time gazing at the stars for a peaceful, awe-inspiring experience. It’s a simple way to connect with the universe, nature, and the world around you,” says Gray. “Use a stargazing app to identify constellations and planets,” adds Gray, and you can also check out astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s tips on how to stargaze for more ideas.

Indulge in a solo “photowalk”

What’s this, you ask? Exactly what it sounds like: “Take a walk with the intent to capture interesting sights and moments that stimulate your joy. It’s a creative exercise in mindfulness, observation, and learning more about what strikes your heart,” says Gray, who advises choosing a different theme for each walk, like capturing emotions or nature, to keep it engaging.

Play an instrument

Thewes advises grabbing that guitar, piano, or any instrument you prefer out of storage and getting to playing. “Take a lesson online or in person, because playing a musical instrument can get us into a mindful space and help to reduce stress and channel out negative emotions,” he says. 

Do something crafty

It’s time to get crafting, ladies and gents. Fenkel says that crafting is a great way to get in touch with your inner child, and we agree. “Whether it be drawing, painting or collaging, getting creative is a wonderful way to treat your mind well,” she says. Fenkel emphasizes the importance of crafting for the process, not the product — “it doesn’t matter if your final product isn’t beautiful, as long as you have fun creating it,” she says. 

Explore your city like a tourist

“Rediscover your city by visiting new places, eating at lesser-known restaurants, or viewing familiar spots with fresh eyes,” offers Gray of having “an adventure close to home.” Whatever you decide to do, Gray says to act like a true tourist by taking photos, visiting major landmarks, and asking for recommendations from the “locals.”

Treat yourself like royalty

“Prepare something special for yourself,” says Conley. “Create a dessert or charcuterie board and use your best dinner and stemware. These small, simple acts of kindness towards yourself signify just how special and worthy you are.” To make it a routine, pick a time every week when you do one tiny, thoughtful act for yourself, whether it’s buying yourself fresh flowers or drawing a hot bath.