Renew’s happiness challenge: Rethink self-care

As the Feel Happier & Healthier in 7 Days challenge winds down, we’re helping you find activities that redefine what it means to put yourself first

Erin Jungmeyer
Woman on couch with headphones

The Feel Happier & Healthier in 7 Days challenge is the newest challenge from Renew by UnitedHealthcare® to help inspire you to take charge of your well-being every day. All week, we’re sharing fun and easy activities to help you strengthen your body, refresh your spirit and connect with the things you love. After all, when you make your own happiness a priority, it’s a win for your overall health.


Self-care. Self. Care.

The meaning should be plain: After all, there’s hardly a more succinct way to describe taking care of yourself.

Somewhere along the way, though, the idea of self-care came to be viewed as something special or even a little selfish. Think bubble baths, day trips and evenings out with friends. But making your mental health a priority isn’t selfish — it’s smart. And it shouldn’t be a rare treat.

“We often confuse self-care with self-indulgence,” says Cindy Glovinsky, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and author based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “Instead, think of it as being kind to your future self.”

Collectively, American adults seem to need a refresher course in self-care to help better manage stress. Consider a few of the takeaways from the 2021 American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in America surveys:

  • 84% of adults reported feeling stress-based emotions, including anxiety, sadness and anger
  • 67% of adults said they are sleeping more or less than they want to
  • 61% of adults experienced undesired weight changes in the past year — weight change is common among people having difficulty coping with stress, according to the APA

These numbers reflect an ongoing trend: In the APA’s 2019 survey, nearly 60% of adults said they could have used more emotional support that year.

Making time for self-care is a powerful mood booster and stress buster, according to the APA. One 2020 study in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies showed that self-care helps with depression and anxiety. And when paired with other treatments, self-care can play an important role in helping to manage most chronic conditions, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In short, self-care is pretty important. The trick is not buying into another person’s definition of what it means. After all, one person’s bubble bath is another person’s afternoon spent weeding a garden.

Take advantage of Renew’s emotional health resources

Your overall well-being is closely tied to your emotional health. With Renew by UnitedHealthcare, you’ll find dozens of activities, tools and articles to help find inspiration to live your life to the fullest. Best of all, it’s included with most plans. Sign in to your plan website and click on Health & Wellness to get started. Not a member? Learn more here.  

Why self-care shouldn’t be one size fits all

Caring for your physical health is straightforward. Eat healthy foods. Be active. Take needed medications. Keep up with your annual wellness visits and other checkups. And so on.

But when it comes to caring for your emotional, psychological, spiritual and relationship needs, the strategies that work will be unique to you, says Lisa Butler, Ph.D. She’s an associate professor at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, who studies the benefits of self-care.

At its core, a self-care routine should help you build resilience and promote well-being, says Butler. And everyone must figure out what works for them personally.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know how to do this. There’s a lot of advice out there telling people what to do — the classic examples are treating yourself to a bubble bath or massage, or pouring a cup of tea. But Butler says most of the advice falls into the category of being a short-term fix.

“Don’t get me wrong. It’s okay to suggest bubble baths for stress relief,” Butler says. “But a bubble bath won’t solve your problem long-term. It’s short-term relief.”

Coming up with long-term relief strategies isn’t easy, Butler admits. She says many people believe they don’t have enough time for adding new things to their daily or weekly routine. But she says it helps to think about prioritizing and substituting instead of adding. Make time for the things you need to do to care for yourself and let go of other things.

For example, most people recognize the importance of habits that maintain health and well-being, such as brushing your teeth every day, she says. “You could take care of your teeth only when they’re falling out,” Butler says. “Or you could brush them every day to avoid a crisis. Most people will take the time to brush every day.”

Taking time to care for your emotional and psychological health is no different. If having a regular call or visit with a friend or family member is something you want as part of your routine, prioritize it. And then make it part of your self-care plan.

Today: Define self-care on your terms

The first step in creating a workable self-care plan is to look at your current stress-reducing strategies to see what’s working — and what isn’t. DePaul University psychology professor Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., recommends using the rose as an analogy: “What has been your rose? What has been your thorn?”

A rose might be going for a walk, while a thorn may be binge-watching a TV show. The TV show might bring you short-term relief, but exercise will have longer-lasting benefits.

Once you’ve looked at your current coping strategies, today’s challenge activity can help you decide if they’re worth keeping or rethinking.

Begin by thinking of 3 buckets labeled:

  • Nourishing
  • Routine
  • Comforting

Here’s why these categories matter:

Nourishing. Self-care activities should help relieve tension in your mind and your body, says Glovinsky. You might decide to clear clutter from a kitchen counter, schedule some overdue health appointments, go for a swim or take a walk through town.

Routine. Remember, self-care isn’t a rare treat. Is there something healing you do occasionally that you could commit to making a regular habit?

Maybe you turn your once-in-a-while swim into a weekly commitment. Or perhaps you decide to enjoy your favorite herbal tea with the fancy honey every evening instead of only on special occasions.

Comforting. Self-care also needs to make you feel good — and feel satisfying. After all, an outing with a friend won’t do you any good if they spend the entire time complaining, says Glovinsky. A better use of that time may have been sorting junk mail, working on a hobby or even watching goofy cat videos.

The point is this: How you take care of your emotional health is unique to you. To get started, brainstorm 3 things you can do today to fill those buckets. You can use the chart on day 7 in your Feel Happier & Healthier in 7 Days Activity Guide, which you can download here, to help complete this activity.

Build a self-care habit

With your list in hand, the last step is to act on it. Do one nice thing for yourself today — then do it again tomorrow, says Ferrari.

In order to solidify a new self-care habit, Butler suggests tying your self-care activities to another daily routine. For example, if doing a workout was something you added to your list, you can commit to following a 30-minute exercise video before you watch a favorite TV show.

“Self-care needs to include daily habits and practices that help you cope with stress in healthy ways,” says Butler. “But they should also add to your life in positive ways.”

Whatever you do, don’t feel guilty about carving time for self-care. “View your decision to do one small thing for yourself as a win,” says Ferrari. “But don’t just sit on that win. You need to keep that motion going.”





Keep up with the challenge: 

Download your Feel Happier & Healthier in 7 Days Activity Guide  

Day 1: Commit to your mental well-being 

Day 2: Silence your inner critic 

Day 3: Rediscover the joy of nature 

Day 4: Give tai chi a try 

Day 5: Flex your brain power 

Day 6: Get connected