How (and Why) to Make Regular Self-Care a Priority

Those who work in the beauty industry or attend cosmetology school are trained to keep the care and comfort of clients foremost in their minds. Their livelihoods rely on giving clients a relaxing experience that makes them feel cared for and special. Indeed, clients often seek beauty treatments as part of their own self-care regimens.

But how do beauty professionals care for themselves? Self-care is critical for overall health, but when providing self-care is also a job, where do cosmetologists turn to ensure they're nurturing their bodies, minds, and spirits? After all, they can only provide the best care for their clients if they truly take care of themselves.

This guide provides information about what self-care is, why it matters, and how to ensure you prioritize self-care while studying or working in the competitive, fast-paced beauty industry.

Why Is Self-Care So Important?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), self-care is "the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider."

In less technical terms, self-care is about taking care of your body, mind, and soul. It's not selfish or overindulgent. Rather, it's caring for your own needs to ensure you have the emotional and mental bandwidth to cope with life, stave off depression and anxiety, manage stress, and avoid burnout. It's about carving out time for the things that make you feel nourished—to increase your happiness and satisfaction, maximize your energy, and, ultimately, give life meaning.

Sounds easy, right? It can be, but few people do enough of it, according to a survey conducted by Birchbox:

  • 51% of Americans feel burned out
  • 67% report prioritizing others' care over their own
  • One-third of people feel guilty about taking time for themselves

Stress, exhaustion, and burnout can have health effects ranging from anxiety and depression to insomnia and even heart disease. However, research shows that self-care promotes healing, reduces stress and anxiety, and enhances coping skills and resiliency.

History of Self-Care

The term "self-care" has become trendy in recent years. But its roots are actually in the medical field, going as far back as the 1950s when doctors used the term to describe activities institutionalized patients might learn to do independently, such as personal grooming or exercise, to help them improve their self-worth. As the years passed, self-care became increasingly important for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In the 1970s, the term entered the popular lexicon thanks to the Black Panther Party, which encouraged Black citizens to practice self-care to promote resiliency as they endured racism and oppression in all facets of their lives. Activists Angela Davis and Ericka Huggins, incarcerated for their activism, even used and promoted mindfulness techniques like yoga and meditation to help them cope while in jail. After being released, both advocated for nutrition and exercise to enhance physical and mental health.

This history of self-care and its connection to civil rights continued into the 1980s when Black female author and activist Audre Lorde emphasized the practice in her book about her experience with cancer.

The fact that civil rights activists, who have historically faced extreme levels of physical and emotional violence and the stress of ongoing aggression, have espoused self-care speaks volumes about its power. Since then, self-care has become a worldwide practice by people of all genders, races, backgrounds, and ages.

Self-care still has strong ties to social activism. Young people, in general, have embraced the concept as critical to preserving mental and emotional health, and for good reason. Research from the American Psychological Association indicates that members of Gen Z face more mental health challenges than previous generations, with more than 70% experiencing symptoms of depression.

The pandemic, ongoing racial and gender injustice, a divisive political and social climate, and increasing use of technology have only exacerbated these challenges in recent years, making self-care more important than ever.

Self-Care During COVID-19

If there ever were a time in modern history when self-care became a priority for a large majority of the population, it's been during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the earliest days of the virus, experts emphasized the importance of caring for physical health by eating right, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep to help the immune system fight off disease.

As the pandemic progressed and entire countries went into lockdown, it became essential to nurture mental and emotional health as well. In those anxious days, people found comfort in spending quality time with loved ones, wearing pajamas all day, baking, and taking long walks—all of which became unexpected silver linings to lockdowns and quarantines. And many realized how important pre-pandemic self-care experiences such as travel, dining out, and spending time with friends were for feeding the soul.

Now, many adults realize that self-care should have been more of a priority all along. In fact, a spring 2021 survey of adults 18 and up found that 80% of respondents plan to be more mindful about self-care practices in the future, and 64% said they are now more focused on their mental health. Forty-four percent wanted more support and guidance for practicing self-care during the pandemic.

What does this mean for those working in the beauty industry? As more people prioritize their self-care, cosmetologists can likely expect to get much busier. In a study from Vagaro, 69% of respondents say they plan to engage in more self-care moving forward, and 55% of adults ages 18 to 23 say that spa visits are their preferred method of self-care. In fact, beauty services are among some of the favorite forms of self-care, with adults claiming spa treatments (41%), manicures and pedicures (36%), and haircuts (34%) as their top picks.

Being busier means that you will need to really prioritize your own self-care to give yourself enough time to relax, recharge, cope with added stress, and keep yourself healthy physically and mentally. It's easy to let self-care slide, especially when you're taking care of others all day long. Fortunately, designing your self-care checklist can help you prioritize caring for yourself.

How to Create a Personalized Self-Care Checklist

It's impossible to stay physically healthy without taking mental and emotional health into account as well. The International Self-Care Foundation (ISF) describes the Seven Pillars of Self-Care that can help people create a well-rounded self-care plan that touches on all aspects of health:

  1. Knowledge and Health Literacy
  2. Mental Wellbeing
  3. Physical Activity
  4. Healthy Eating
  5. Risk Avoidance
  6. Good Hygiene
  7. Rational Use of Products and Services

To ensure you're keeping all facets of self-care in mind and not over or underemphasizing any single one, it's a good idea to think of self-care activities as falling into "buckets" for physical, mental, social, spiritual, and emotional health. Self-care is different for everyone, but here's how such a list might look:

Sample Self-Care Checklist


  • Sign up for a weekly yoga class
  • Eat healthy, home-cooked dinner three days a week


  • Read for pleasure two hours per week
  • Learn how to knit


  • Meditate for 10 minutes in the morning
  • Play board games with kids

These are just hypothetical examples of how you might organize your own checklist, but following the below steps can help you turn your self-care brainstorming into reality.

Assess Your Self-Care Needs

The best place to start is assessing where you need more attention and care in your life. For example, did a doctor recently tell you to start exercising more or lay off sugar? Have you been feeling overwhelmed? Are you feeling lonely and missing out on connections with loved ones? The answers to these questions can help you determine where to focus your self-care activities.

If you’re a cosmetology student, you may feel mentally drained from your training. In this case, you may want to prioritize your emotional and mental health by choosing self-care activities that help you relax and unwind, like yoga or meditation. On the other hand, a full-time beauty professional with years of experience may crave more mental stimulation and want to learn new skills through a workshop or class.

Schedule Your Self-Care

Ideally, pick at least one self-care activity from each bucket every week and schedule it! It's so easy to address tasks and take care of others' needs before your own. But by putting self-care time on your calendar, as you would any other priority, you are saying, "I am important and deserving of this time."

However, don't fall into the trap of overscheduling and thinking of self-care as just another to-do list you have to accomplish! Take small steps at first, perhaps by scheduling one appointment or lunch date. Once you realize the benefits of self-care, you'll look forward to putting yourself first.

Stay Flexible With Self-Care

As your life shifts, your self-care list should change to address those areas where you need more focus. For instance, a cosmetology student or early-career cosmetologist might find daily exercise the best self-care practice to keep up with the job's physical demands. However, a professional hairstylist or massage therapist with years of tough physical work under their belt may need a weekly massage to take care of themselves.

Keep your mind open to shifting priorities and adjust your self-care practices as necessary to be as beneficial as possible—your body and mind will thank you!

Top Self-Care Ideas to Keep You Well

If you're out of the self-care habit or need ideas to help you address your physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual buckets, here are some suggestions:

Physical Self-Care

  • Go on a walk or run.
  • Sign up for a gym membership or exercise class.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Make it a priority to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Schedule a massage or facial—you can trade services with colleagues to keep costs down.
  • Treat yourself to a home facial, manicure, conditioning treatment, or pedicure.
  • Schedule a hair appointment so that you look and feel your best.
  • Dance.

Mental/Intellectual Self-Care

  • Start establishing professional boundaries. Practice saying no and avoid the temptation to work during off days.
  • Take up a new hobby or learn a language.
  • Eat something you've never tried.
  • Take breaks during the workday to recharge.
  • Start a journal to help you process moments of stress or work through challenges.
  • Read a book (or listen to an audiobook or podcast).
  • Spend time with people who stimulate your mind, whether a professional mentor or a thoughtful friend or family member.
  • Take a nap.
  • Watch a funny movie or TV show when you feel overwhelmed.
  • Do a crossword or jigsaw puzzle.
  • Play solitaire or a video game.
  • Create or update your website or blog to stimulate your intellect and improve your business.
  • Take a class on a subject that interests you.
  • Write a story, song, or poem.
  • Draw or paint a picture.
  • Disconnect from technology one day a week, or even half a day. In particular, step back from social media, which can negatively impact mental health.

Social Self-Care

  • Plan a meetup with friends or family.
  • Reach out to an old friend you haven't spoken to in a while, by phone or other means.
  • Volunteer in your community.
  • Be selective about who you spend time with. Spend less time with people who drain your energy or make you feel bad.
  • Take a class or join a club to meet people with similar interests.
  • Play a game with a friend or loved one.
  • Join an online dating site.
  • Write a letter to someone.
  • Join a local theater group.

Emotional/Spiritual Self-Care

  • Practice gratitude. Research shows it actually makes you, and the people around you, happier! Make lists or keep a journal of the things and people you're grateful for.
  • Engage in mindfulness practices such as meditation, yoga, or even a long walk.
  • Keep a journal—writing down the thoughts that keep you stressed, anxious, or depressed helps release them.
  • Attend a religious service or pray on your own at home.
  • Explore the benefits of therapy and consider an appointment with a therapist.
  • Take a bubble bath or spend a day at the spa to unwind.
  • Travel—the perspective it provides is beneficial for our minds and souls.
  • Write a song or poem to share your thoughts and feelings.
  • Write a loving letter to yourself to remind you of your great qualities when you're feeling low.
  • Escape into a movie or book.
  • Call or spend time with a good friend.
  • Visit a museum, gallery, or another cultural site.

Self-Care on a Budget

"Treat yourself!" is often the mantra used to endorse self-care. Unfortunately, some use this as an excuse to buy expensive goods or services or overindulge in sweets or alcohol. While shopping, spa visits, and dining out may be on your self-care list, treating yourself doesn't have to be about spending money. It's about prioritizing your health and wellbeing.

The good news is that cosmetologists have more opportunities to engage in some of the most sought-after self-care practices than most. Employee discounts, trading services with other cosmetologists, and easy access to other professionals can make traditionally expensive spa and salon services well within budget.

If you're a student concerned about the costs involved in self-care (or of taking time out of work to engage in it), there are plenty of activities you can do that cost very little or nothing at all. In fact, they may even save you some money.

This chart offers examples of some low- or no-cost alternatives to self-care activities:

Instead of… Cost Try this… Cost
Gym membership Anywhere from $10-$100 a month Walking, running, hiking, cycling, or doing in-home online workouts Free or up to $27/month
Trip to the coffee shop Approximately $3.50/day, or $105/month Enjoying your coffee ritual at home, on your own comfy couch After equipment purchases, roughly 27 cents/cup
Buying a book $13.95-$17.95 for paperback Library book Print books, ebooks, and audiobooks available for free
Facial at a spa $65-$90 At-home facial Free if using products you already have (coconut oil, honey, etc.) or starting at about $11 for a good facial product.

Activities that get you out into nature, connecting with friends, and unplugging from technology don't cost a thing and can do wonders for your sense of wellbeing. You might even consider volunteering. Research shows that it increases happiness and self-esteem.

Remember that saving money is also caring for yourself; it will make you feel good, mentally and emotionally.

Keeping Self-Care Real

Finally, it's important to understand that self-care is about stepping back, setting boundaries, taking time off, unplugging from the constant demands of technology, and replenishing fuel tanks. Here's what it's not: constant self-improvement, nonstop obligations to spend time with friends and families, and spending a lot of money to try to stay on-trend.

It's great that self-care is having a moment and being recognized as essential for wellbeing. However, like anything that becomes popular, it can be taken too far and feel like a list of further demands on people's energy, time, and wallets. Unfortunately, this has become the case for many, causing deepening debt and rising anxiety to exacerbate the mental health crisis further.

Bottom line: Self-care is crucial to nourishing your mind, body, and spirit. But when self-care becomes another burden, you're doing it wrong. Here are a few ways to keep it real with self-care:

Do: Plan lunch with a friend you haven't seen in a while.

Don't: Spend money on dining out if you can't afford it. Suggest lower-priced alternatives, pack a picnic lunch to enjoy together at the park, take a walk together instead of eating, or host your friend at home. The time is what's important, not the place.

Do: Make time for exercise by visiting your gym, walking or running around your neighborhood, or hitting a nearby trail for a hike.

Don't: Spend thousands of dollars on fitness equipment or pay for expensive gym memberships if they'll strap your budget.

Do: Schedule a haircut so you'll look your best for work or that important interview.

Don't: Feel pressured to pay for frequent trendy salon treatments in the name of "treating yourself."

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