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Expert Tips: The Fundamentals of Self-Care

July 17, 2023

Expert Tips: The Fundamentals of Self-Care
By the Therapy Notebooks Team

We asked our clinical advisors (Diana Hu, PsyD and Brandon Hong, PsyD) what self-care habits they work to address with their clients (outside of the therapeutic work they are already doing!)

These are the top 7 things that help their clients feel better (in addition to therapy).

When these aren’t being addressed, they can wreak havoc on your mood, coping ability, and health. When you are taking care of these essentials, they can be an immensely helpful partner to your internal work as well.

The Build-a-Habit Guide is a great way to incorporate some of these self-care activities into your daily routine.


Maintaining your body’s nutritional needs is essential for regulating your mood. Your ability to think, communicate effectively, and manage your emotions are directly impacted by food, even if you don’t feel it at the moment.

Tip from a therapist:
Try to feed yourself throughout the day (three or more mealtimes is a good reference point), doing your best to include a variety of food groups.

Substance Use

Caffeine, alcohol, cannabis, and other substances can disrupt your ability to experience and regulate your emotions and thoughts, as well as change your capacity to choose your actions wisely. Be aware of excessive or unhelpful use.

Tip from a therapist:
A way to limit substances is to buy less to decrease its availability, and to put it in inconvenient places (e.g. above the fridge, or in the back of a closet) to make it harder to access. 

You can use The Build-a-Habit Guide to make a swap a daily habit


Movement releases endorphins, which in turn relieves stress. Physical activity can also help give your body space to move through feelings, your mind to process thoughts, and your self-esteem a sense of accomplishment. 

Tip from a therapist:
Try stretching while watching tv, having a mini-dance party, or walking around the block when you want to clear your head.

Physical Health

Illnesses, chronic issues, and hormonal imbalances can take a toll on your mental health and sometimes mimic the symptoms of certain disorders. 

Tip from a therapist:
Make regular check-ups a priority, and be sure to speak to your doctor about any mental health symptoms.


Sufficient quantity (7-9 hours for most people) and quality of sleep are both important. Studies continue to show how sufficient sleep directly improves the brain’s ability to regulate emotions and keep mood and anxiety levels from worsening.

Tip from a therapist:
Try to use your bed only for sleep and keep a regular bedtime. Designate a different area for TV, work, and other “daytime” activities. 

The Anti-Insomnia Notebook is a great resource for anyone who struggles to sleep well consistently. Through 6 weeks of sleep logging, you can create healthy habits that support good sleep hygiene and more.


Research has shown that mindfulness practices may physically increase the size of brain regions associated with regulating emotion. The practice of being nonjudgmentally aware of the present moment can help with building insight, feeling calmer, and having the space to react more effectively to a situation.

Tip from a therapist:
Take a moment to name five things you see, four things you touch, three sounds, two smells, and one taste. Finish by taking one really deep breath.

Social Connection

Quality social relationships have been shown to improve lifespan and reduce risk for heart disease among many other physical and mental health benefits. Trusted relationships can provide an outlet for venting, different perspectives, validation, and support for wins.

Tip from a therapist:
Consider who has felt the most supportive for you and what it was that they did. It may be worth asking directly for that kind of support in the future, or expressing gratitude for it.



Our experts are here to help. Submit your questions to and we’ll do our best to answer them.

This article is not therapy or a replacement for therapy with a licensed professional. It is designed to provide information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is not engaged in rendering psychological, financial, legal, or other professional services. If expert assistance or counseling is needed, seek the services of a competent professional.

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