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  1. Blog
  2. Mental Health

How to Create a Self-Care Plan That Actually Works

Everything but the bubble baths

woman smiling under a blanket
Photo courtesy of Taisiia Stupak

Self-care is essential. In May 2019, the World Health Organization deemed burnout an official medical diagnosis. And while burnout doesn’t solely affect women and it’s definitely not the only reason to develop a self-care plan, it is more common among women than men, and its prevalence is indicative of how taxing work, both paid and unpaid, can be.

So before you’re clouded by lethargy, feel helpless, and join the 69 percent of women who dread going to work Monday morning, set aside time right now to develop a self-care plan to guide your personal health.

What is a self-care plan?

A self-care plan is a roadmap to dealing with times when your life feels like it’s getting off-track. Having a written plan in place helps you visualize how your personal and professional lives can be integrated and encourages you to take a step back when you’re overwhelmed—or about to be.

A good term to use here is holistic because effective self-care tactics treat aspects of mental, physical, emotional, and social health in order to protect your whole self.

How to create a self-care plan

Everyone’s self-care needs are different, so while your coworker swears by meditating every morning before work, you might not be as keen to wake before the sun. In fact, it might make you even more miserable. Step one in self-care is to stop measuring yourself by other people’s yardsticks.

Now let’s get started.

Make a list of what makes you happy

Start with four categories—mental, physical, emotional, and social—and in each one, write down the things you do that contribute to your wellbeing in that area. You can indicate “work” or “life” to clarify how those self-care activities play out. That might look something like this:


  • Work: I don’t keep my work email on my personal phone, so I can’t check it if I’m away from my computer.

  • Life: I do activities that keep me engaged but aren’t related to my job, like reading or listening to podcasts and music.


  • Work: I work at a desk, so I take breaks to stretch my legs in the middle of the workday, even if it’s just a lap around the building.

  • Life: I go to the gym three or four times a week.


  • Work: I take personal days when I don’t feel up to snuff.

  • Work: I spend time with people who enjoy what they do and don’t fly off the handle when something at work goes wrong.

  • Life: I find ways to disengage completely—I turn off my phone or go to a movie.


  • Work: I take lunch or walking breaks with coworkers to make sure I build strong relationships with the people I see every day.

  • Life: I make time to call or spend time with the people I care about.

  • Life: I plan activities I know I’ll enjoy, and I’m not afraid to turn down something I know will make me unhappy.

Now make a list of the barriers to that happiness

Once you’ve written down what you do to care for yourself, write down for each example something that could or does get in the way of you following through with that item. Then explain how you can shift that roadblock to keep your plan on track. For example:


  • Work: I don’t keep my work email on my personal phone, so I can’t check it if I’m away from my computer.

    • BLOCK: I do have the Slack app on my phone, so when someone references an email they sent, I’m tempted to check it to see what’s happening.

    • SHIFT: Either delete the app or put notifications on silent after a certain hour so you won’t see them until the workday begins.

  • Life: I do activities that keep me engaged but aren’t related to my job, like reading or listening to podcasts and music.

    • BLOCK: Sometimes I’m tired after work, or when I’m really stressed, these activities aren’t distracting enough.

    • SHIFT: When this is the case, go for a walk or call a friend. Grab a drink. Go to a movie.

Share your plan

Self-care is personal, but it doesn’t have to be done alone! Creating a self-care plan is an excellent bonding activity for coworkers or teams, and sharing the experience helps to hold you accountable. If you’re not comfortable with discussing your plan with your team, share it with a friend or family member. Ask them to check up on your progress and help you evaluate areas where you’ve struggled. Your self-care plan should ebb and flow as your needs change over time.

How to know if your self-care plan is working

Effective self-care takes practice and consistent evaluation. You’ll know your self-care plan is working in that moment when you feel one or many of your solutions help you navigate the stress of your life and work. When nothing seems to be fixing the issue at hand? Your priorities might have shifted, or the problem might be a bigger one than you were prepared for when you wrote the plan.

Take another stab at creating a revised self-care plan that makes you feel more fulfilled. Try to fill those self-care buckets in other ways— instead of getting drinks with a friend once a month, invite your crew to a weekly dinner. Instead of coming into the office bright and early, ask your boss if you can change your work hours slightly so you can make it to the gym in the morning.

And finally, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. Even if your self-care plan is working, talking your worries through with someone who deals with worries for a living is a healthy way to manage stress.

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