My Self-Care Guide

Just as you would not expect a plant to grow if you stop watering it, how can you expect to heal and flourish if you are not nourishing yourself mentally, physically and spiritually? Self-care is not about candles and bubble baths – it is about empowering and protecting your dignity, honour and freedom, no matter who you are. 

“Be kind. For whenever kindness is added to something, it beautifies it. Whenever it is taken from something it tarnishes it.” – Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

It’s time to be kinder to yourself, much kinder. 

When you’re struggling with your emotions, feeling down, stuck, lost, or out of control, the way you treat yourself matters even more than usual. Pay attention to the small things that lift you up and bring you joy. These little sparks contain clues to what we need more of and where we need to focus our attention to start feeling better. 

Image credit @youngmindsuk

Remember, self-care isn’t about fancy holidays, luxury items and spending money. It’s about doing what we need to do to feel empowered, dignified human-beings with healthy self-esteem. Good self-care equips us with confidence and resilience so that we can walk firmly along our path, whatever life throws at us. 

“To me self-care is about doing what I need to do in order to fulfil the potential God gave me and not waste it.”

“By the passing of time, mankind is in a state of loss. Except those who have faith, and do good deeds, and urge each other to the truth, and urge each other to patience.” — Qur’an 103

“I see self-care as part of my faith because, as someone pointed out to me, in the Qur’an, ‘belief’ is almost always mentioned along with ‘good deeds’ – like they’re twins… So if I believe I’m worthy of being treated well and looked after, I also have to act in a way that aligns with my belief.”

Looking after yourself is not selfish 

Most of us enjoy giving – and that’s beautiful.

“What actions are most excellent? Gladden the hearts of human beings, to feed the hungry, help the afflicted, lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful, and to remove the suffering of the oppressed.”  – Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

We might think nothing of exhausting ourselves for people and causes we care about. But sometimes we can feel drained and overburdened with responsibilities. This can make us feel resentful, used, depressed, stressed, trapped or hopeless. 

Self-care is not a betrayal of others.

They say you can’t pour from an empty cup. And it’s true. Think about it this way, the more mentally and physically energised you feel, the better you can support others as well as yourself.

When you radiate like the sun, the whole world will feel your warmth. 

Give yourself the chance to shine – stop holding yourself back. 

“Slowly I realised that the ‘selflessness’ I prided myself on was in fact me having very poor boundaries, and being very unwise about who and what I gave my energy to. I’m still a ‘giver’, that hasn’t changed, but I am so much more discerning now I know myself better.”

“I feel so responsible for my family, especially my little sisters. My mum is always depressed and I feel like it’s my job to keep her happy. I don’t think I realised how much I needed a break until I finally took a holiday without them. It took me years to justify spending money on myself and leaving my mum on her own. But after I let go of the guilt, I was able to recharge – I felt a huge weight lifting. It was the start of everything changing.”

Set your intention 

“Whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it.” — Quran 99:7

Taking care of yourself is a good thing. If you have a tendency to be hard on yourself, making time for self-care can feel difficult. But remember, Allah judges us by our intentions.  

“Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim [In the Name of God, The Merciful the Compassionate]. I intend to complete this act of [insert activity] so please bless it for me and accept it from me. If another action is better, guide me to that instead. Ameen.”

“Someone said to me once: if you’re fighting with yourself, let yourself win. It floored me. I suddenly realised; the only person out to get me, was me.”

Now take a deep breath.

Let go of any kind of guilt, or any doubt about your worthiness, and say bismillah... Let’s explore nine things you can start doing to look after yourself from now: 

1. Nourish yourself

Your body is the vehicle through which you experience life. Your body needs fuel, rest, cleanliness, and love so that you can do what you need to do. 

Remember, emotions happen in the body. 

This means our mood is affected by what we put into our body and how we treat it. Nourishing our bodies means thinking about all of our senses and making sure we attend to each of them properly. 

Take a moment to ask yourself the questions on this list that apply to you: 

  • Are you feeling clean and fresh? 
  • Are you eating a balanced diet?
  • Are you staying hydrated?
  • Are you consuming too much caffeine – or any other kind of drug/stimulant?
  • Can you make your environment any more comfortable, or more cosy?
  • Do you have a favourite fragrance or room spray?
  • Do the things around you have good or bad memories attached to them?
  • Is the music you listen to happy or sad? Is it keeping you in a depressed, heartbroken state, or is it snapping you out of it? Do the lyrics empower you?
  • Have you stretched recently?
  • Are you exercising regularly?
  • Are you laughing much these days? Have you tried watching something light-hearted, or listening to a funny podcast? 
  • Are you getting mental stimulation? You could watch a documentary or a video about a topic that interests you, take time for a hobby, learn a craft… 

“I noticed that when my negative thoughts start spiralling, getting up and moving helps me disrupt them. I vacuum my house, do star jumps, take a quick shower – for me the key thing is to move.”

“I thought eight glasses of water a day was ridiculous. I probably only drank about one. A doctor friend insisted I up my intake, and also take vitamins. Genuinely, it has transformed my mood, my skin, and constant headaches.” 

“I’ve struggled with food and I had very disordered eating. With a lot of effort my eating habits have changed. I feel so different now and glad I made the effort.” 

“Exercise changed my life. I’m not gym-obsessed. I don’t have abs. You wouldn’t necessarily know I work out. But it relieves so much stress. I feel stronger mentally as well as physically.”

“You get out what you put in. That applies to you too.” 

2. Set small goals and celebrate your successes

Sometimes we’re really hard on ourselves, and we really don’t have to be. 

Think about your week ahead, or even the next 24 hours. Try making a list of small things you can do that will make your life a tiny bit easier. What do you want to achieve? It could be getting out of bed at a certain time, or tidying your room – goals don’t have to be ‘big’ or ground-breaking to be worth your effort – they just have to be meaningful to you.    

So when you achieve a goal, or do something well, give yourself permission to smile and tell yourself well done, mashallah! Who cares if it’s small, or others might think it’s insignificant – a victory is a victory! Taking a moment to feel grateful, give thanks to Allah, and pat ourselves on the back, can remind us that we’re making progress all the time and increase our feelings of self-love.

And if you don’t reach all your goals in a week, it’s ok, each day is a fresh start and a chance to try again.  

3. Learn to set healthy boundaries

Deciding how you want other people to treat you is not just an option, it’s your right to do so!  Having high standards when it comes to being treated with respect, kindness and consideration, does not make you ‘high maintenance’, ‘too fussy’ or ‘stuck up’ so don’t let anyone make you feel bad for telling people what makes you feel safe, loved and respected.  

  • It’s ok to say ‘no’ when you need to
  • It’s ok to cancel plans
  • It’s ok to rest
  • It’s ok to speak up for yourself
  • It’s ok to remove yourself from a situation where you feel uncomfortable or disrespected

“Allah commands justice, the doing of good, and giving to relatives…” — Qur’an 16:90 

Setting boundaries is about doing yourself justice, not settling for less than you deserve. But not everyone finds setting boundaries easy – that’s ok, it takes practice. And thankfully, you can learn. 

Remember, when you started out in life, making your boundaries known came to you as easy as breathing. Just watch how toddlers assert what they do want and how they scream and shout to let you know what they don’t want. 

“Once you learn how to recharge your batteries, you realise it’s not actually being busy that drains you. It’s channelling your energy into things that don’t align with your values or purpose. When you’re busy with things you love, you feel more energised. That’s your sign to look out for.” 

“I spent my whole life doing what other people needed, being everyone’s support system – it sounds silly but I didn’t even know what ‘time for myself’ meant until my 30s.” 

Find out more about what boundaries are and how to set them by downloading really helpful free booklets on setting boundaries from helloleena.com and check out the resources page too.

4. Make space for new opportunities

When you treat yourself as worthy, and keep pouring love into yourself, you will start to notice a difference in your attitude and emotions. It will become easier and easier to let go of things that don’t match up to your standard or your sense of purpose. 

Sometimes we need to let go in order to make space for better things. 

This could mean choosing to see past experiences as learning opportunities, forgiving those who have wronged you, or letting go of old habits that no longer serve you. Thank you, next! 

“And say: ‘My Lord, forgive and have mercy, for Thou art the best of the merciful.’” — Qur’an 23:118

5. Own your spirituality

Having faith, or being ‘spiritually inclined’, is nothing to be ashamed of. Suppressing or ignoring this part of ourselves can affect our mental health without us even realising. 

Spirituality is about strengthening your personal connection with Allah and illuminating the soul through: love, charity, pursuing your talents, seeking knowledge, worship and good deeds. It’s about conquering our demons so that our path in life is goodness and contentment no matter the challenges. An essential part of self-care includes finding practices that tap into the powerful connection you have with your Lord, and doing the things that beautify your character.

Remember – if your concept of spiritual or religious practice is filling you with shame, guilt, anxiety, or emotional unrest, it’s probably time to shake things up, be bold, and practise some radical self-love.   

Read more about exploring your spirituality to support your mental wellbeing and sense of fulfilment.

Learn how to increase your self-love

6. Clean up your social media

Love it or hate it, we live a lot of our life online these days. So it’s important to think about how our online habits might be affecting us. If you find yourself comparing your life negatively, or feel depressed after scrolling, it’s probably time to change things up. Try these tips and see what difference they make to your general mood and energy levels:

  • Find finding accounts that inspire and motivate you
  • unfollow or mute accounts which bring you down. (Remember there’s no need to feel guilty or justify why you’ve unfollowed an account. And you can always unmute/re-follow later when you’re in a better headspace!)
  • mute words and phrases that trigger you
  • set up daily time limits through your phone settings  
  • delete the social media apps from your phone for one month for a mental reset 
  • take a news break – it’s great to be informed but constant exposure to bad news might be affecting your stress levels way more than you realise

Check these inspiring Muslim accounts to inspire and motivate you.  

“Block, mute, report, unfollow. I cannot stress how much you don’t have to justify using these tools to anyone. Do what feels good. You don’t owe anyone your attention.”

“I struggle with loneliness and generally social media makes it worse. Now I use it more as a space to express myself, rather than to silently watch other people live out loud, and it surprised me how much that has changed my feeling towards it.”

“When I see something Islamophobic online I don’t read the comments. I don’t need the hurt and the anger I know I will feel. I don’t want to let some ignorant strangers ruin my day.”

“Curating my feed has been a long process. I started off following accounts that I thought would make me a better person, but they put too much pressure on me and made things worse.”

“Reading about racism, genocide, war and every crisis in the world was getting too heavy – what are you supposed to do about it from your bed at 3am? Now Twitter is the only account I have that follows news/cause-based accounts and I never open it when I’m winding down for bed.”

7. Keep good company

We are social beings and we need different types of human interaction. When we’re struggling with our mental health or life feels difficult, it can be easy to switch off from the people whose support we need the most. But this can only make us feel worse in the long-term. Self-care might mean reflecting on the relationships in your life and asking yourself how they could be better?  

Different people bring out different sides to us. This should not be overlooked when it comes to thinking about your self-care. Do the people around you hype you up, look out for your interests and encourage you? Or bring you down, drain you and push you towards unhealthy habits?

It might be a good time to start having a few honest conversations if any of your relationships don’t feel as healthy as they should, and think of any boundaries you could establish in order to improve those relationships to protect your peace and progress. 

If there’s no one in your life who you feel you can spend time with, life can feel very lonely. If you’re feeling this way, please know this phase in your life will pass. Often working on self-love and exploring your spirituality can make a big difference in strengthening existing bonds with people and inviting new friendships. 

“I always build myself up about talking to someone, worrying about oversharing or being a burden. But it always feels like a relief in the end. The words just come out. The pressure releases and I feel lighter afterwards.”

“Venting helps me deal with stuff going on. Sometimes you need someone to remind you you’re not crazy for feeling this way, or to tell you a different perspective.”

8. Freshen up your living space

Freshening up your living space with deep clean or a lick of paint can really make a difference to your mood and sense of wellbeing. It can also help mentally signal a fresh start. This doesn’t have to be expensive, you could rearrange your furniture, print some posters, add some cheap pot plants, or maybe some colourful cushions or a cosy throw for your sofa. 

You may have things in your living space that have difficult memories attached to them – perhaps it’s time to make space for new memories by having a clear out? It’s always good to get rid of unnecessary clutter. 

Organise your things so that you have easy access to the things that make you feel better.

“If you can see your yoga mat you’re so much more likely to use it. Visual reminders are very helpful for me, as well as an organised space.” 

9. Go deeper within

Sometimes the way we are feeling or behaving has a lot to do with the events that formed us when we were growing up and shaped our view of ourselves and the world. It’s not always easy to figure out why we struggle with certain things that other people don’t; like relationships, controlling our anger, keeping an exercise routine, getting out of bed in the morning…

We’re not all wired the same and sometimes a walk in the park and 20mins of yoga is simply not going to be enough to make you feel better. Knowing even a little bit more about yourself can be empowering and make a big difference to knowing how to care for yourself better. 

The best way to figure out what’s going on in your mind is often with the help of a therapist. You can speak to your doctor to find out what services are locally available to you. But if you are unable to access therapy right now, don’t worry, there are loads of very helpful psychology and self-help books/podcasts/videos that you might find helpful. Check out these Muslim-friendly suggestions.

“I felt like as a guy it was not ok to be emotional or get affected by things that have happened to me. But I needed help. I didn’t know where to start so I just started with my school counsellor and she helped me take it from there.” 

“I wish I had reached out for help sooner. I wish I’d told someone how I was feeling and the things I’d gone through. I wasted nearly 10 years in misery and suffering. Talking saved my life. Therapy changed my life. Self-care made me connect to life again. I’m begging you, please don’t make my mistake and suffer in silence. Feeling better was a long process, but it was so worth it.”  

10. Let yourself recharge properly

You are allowed to rest. And you should.

When we haven’t eaten or slept properly or had any time to attend to our own needs, even when nothing significant is going on in our lives it can cause low mood, conflict in relationships, increased stress, health problems and feelings of resentment and anger. This doesn’t feel great, and it doesn’t always make us the easiest to be around.

Rest doesn’t necessarily meaning lying in bed all day, but it can mean doing things just for you – simply for the purposes of unwinding, de-stressing and giving yourself a break from the daily grind.

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