Self-care Toolkit

10 ways to look after yourself better in 2018. By Suzy Reading

 look after yourself

We all know what we need to do to feel fit, healthy and happy, but it’s another thing to actually make it happen! Self-care needs to be simple, accessible and sustainable for it to be effective. Here are my top 10 tips for nourishing yourself: head, heart and body.

  1. Wellbeing audit: before you make any behaviour change it helps to become aware of your current lifestyle habits and the effects they’re having on your health. Use a journal (I refer to mine as my Vitality Journal) and take an audit of your current choices – record your nutrition, movement, sleep, downtime and anything else you feel is relevant to your health, and how these choices affect your mood, energy levels and mental clarity. Look for patterns and ask yourself, what’s working (remember to give yourself a pat on the back!) and what needs to change?
  2. Get specific: once you’re certain of what you need to do, set some clear goals. Sustainable change is best achieved via small increments so if you want to clean up your eating, instead of a broad sweeping goal that’s hard to maintain, focus on one meal of the day first and get that healthy behaviour on autopilot before tackling the next wave of change.
  3. Acknowledge that willpower is not enough… the part of the brain responsible for willpower is just not strong enough to cope with the volume of temptation we face in modern life. Reducing the number of decisions you have to make will compensate for this willpower deficit. Make an appointment with yourself in the diary for your exercise and plan your meals in advance, taking it with you if healthy options are hard to come by. Simplifying life and getting organised are key to carving out healthy habits. I love a good primer statement too: ‘If I am going out for dinner, then I will choose the veggie option’. ‘If I am going to indulge in dessert, then I will share one and savour it’. These psychological contracts reduce self-sabotaging behaviour by priming your brain for a more life-giving choice.
  4. It’s not enough to know what you want, you need to know why you want it. Knowing your ‘why’ is the thing that really galvanises you to keep going when life gets tough. So think about what this lifestyle change facilitates…committing to healthy cooking might be the goal, but the purpose behind it is to better nourish you and your family, to reclaim the zest required to be the person you want to be. This is the true motivating factor. Get clear on your ‘why’ and reflect on that when you are in the midst of making choices. Which choice takes you away from your best future self, and which choice is in keeping with what matters most to you – choose that!
  5. Who’s on your team? In your Vitality Journal, make a list of the people who will support you in your intentions. Let them know of your goals and share the journey with them. Maybe some of your friends share the same goal – work on it together and keep each other honest and accountable. Maybe the goal is different but you can still draw on each other for encouragement and a kind ear in your pursuits. There is great vigour to be mined in the feeling that ‘we’re in it together’.
  6. Find your ‘micro-moments’ of nourishment. Self-care needn’t be grand or elaborate – the cumulative effect of little moments of replenishment will have stress bouncing off your shoulders with greater ease. Write out your toolkit so you can be reminded of something life-giving when you need it the most. It can be as simple as hearing some bird song, taking a warrior pose to invigorate, savouring a cup of hot tea, spritzing scent you love or listening to a favourite piece of music.
  7. Breathe better, feel better. Try this mudra and feel how it opens you up to a more complete breath. Sit tall with the back of your hands resting on your thighs. As you breathe in, open your palms and fingertips wide like a flower blossoming and pause at the end of the inhalation. As you breathe out, gently close your hand, making a fist and pause for a moment at the end of your exhalation. Keep moving your hands with your breath, feeling how this is mirrored by the expansion and gentle retraction of your whole ribcage and abdomen. This is both soothing and energising and you can do it anywhere.
  8. Use a mantra. Ask yourself, how do you want to feel in this moment? Create a mantra affirming that quality. It can be as simple as ‘I am calm’. If the monkey mind gets in the way, saying ‘No you’re not?!’ simply use the mantra ‘I Am’. That is irrefutable! Breathe in and say ‘I’, breathe out and say ‘Am’, repeat to distract yourself from unhelpful thoughts.
  9. Mental skills training: develop the 3 C’s — cultivate compassion, curiosity and comedy and you will have a mood alchemist in any situation.
  10. Revere sleep. Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Life-giving choices are tough when you’re sleep-deprived. It’s bigger than that: my mantra is ‘sleep for sanity’ for good reason! Give sleep the priority it deserves, allows yourself the time in bed that you know you need to function well and watch those dividends ripple out – head, heart and body.

Suzy Reading is a chartered psychologist and yoga teacher and the author of The Self-Care Revolution published by Aster, £12.99 (
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