Self-care is a pretty popular concept. But it wasn't invented by millennials, and today's young adults certainly haven't yet discovered all the ways generations of people have taken care of themselves and their wellbeing. And while going back in time won't solve any modern problems, tapping into some old-fashioned self-care tips might.
A lot of these activities that people before you did may not seem that foreign on the surface, but there are some habits of daily life that have dissipated in the information age. And bringing them back can be be healthy and healing without seeming too anachronistic. "Many old-fashioned self-care activities that [people] did many years ago, we still do but do not think of them as self-care or as old-fashioned," speaker and spiritual counselor Davida Rappaport tells Bustle. "Everything old is new again — as long as you put a contemporary twist on it." So take a little peek into the past, you might enjoy it.
Self-care is limitless, and different forms of it work for different people. Whether it's something productive or relaxing, social or self-reflecting, it's good as long as it makes you feel better and more in-touch with yourself. And people in the past had a few tricks up their sleeves to make this easier.
Here are 15 old-fashioned self-care activities we should bring back.
While it's no longer the age of the requisite high-maintenance hairdo, it can still be a nice thing to pamper yourself with a little trip to the salon.
"In the 1950s and early 1960s, women used to go to the beauty salon to get their hair done — once a week," Rappaport says. "This was when hairspray was a necessity to make sure their hairstyle was set ... While this was [done frequently] back then, it was a form of self-care ... Today, there are blow dry bars so you can just go take a break, get a blowout and feel sexy." Maybe you don't need a Drybar Membership, but it could be really relaxing and self-loving to get your hair done every once and a while between cuts and color treatments.
It's a world of busy schedules and meal prep these days, so the idea of cooking as a self-care act can seem a bit foreign. But people of previous generations were more in touch with this great habit.
“Although the modern world may view cooking as a chore, it can be a rewarding form of self-care when you're able to cook for enjoyment rather than necessity," Katie Moseman, author of Fixin' to Eat: Southern Cooking for the Southern at Heart, tells Bustle. "Think of it as therapy for the senses. Your sense of sight is engaged by the color and shape of the ingredients, your sense of touch by the process of creation, and your sense of smell by the aroma of cooking. Not to mention the best part, which is when you get to taste your creation.” So find a fun recipe, take an evening to yourself, and cook something special. It can feel really good.
Conjuring up imagery of a person in a bath is for sure a bit old-timey. And although bath bombs and other products are all the rage right now, taking a bath as a form of self-care is something that people of the past really mastered.
"Taking baths for relaxation and health is a tried and true self-care method that has been around for centuries," Dr. Marissa Long, Reproductive Health Psychologist and founder of Thrive WISE, tells Bustle. "If you've ever been to Bath, England, you may have seen the proof with the Roman baths that date all the way back to 300 A.D. Two major benefits reaped from taking baths include muscle relaxation and a calm stop to the hustle and bustle of the day." Since tense muscles and stressed minds are a problem humans will have for generations to come, staying in-touch with the goodness that is bath time is a very good idea.
Traffic is stressful. It's only natural if you haven't thought of "taking a drive" as an act of self-care, but it might be a good bet if you want to change things up.
"Everyone is always rushing around — to get to work, home and meet deadlines," Rappaport says. "What people used to do, a long time ago, was to plan a getaway — and get away ... Families piled into their car and drove out to the country for a weekend to visit relatives or friends who lived far away ... Why not schedule a relaxing time away from your life and provide yourself with a little bit of self-care. Toss the agenda, do a road trip and play tourist or go camping." If you can't do a full weekend trip out into the country, at least take a drive one day to a nice outdoorsy spot near you. Plan a good driving playlist, and enjoy the road.
It seems that everyone is talking about beauty rituals these days, but maybe not everyone is following through. One blast-from-the-past skincare routine that can translate to modern self-care is cold cream: a little beauty product that's been around for a while.
"Women used to take off their makeup with cold cream, and in some instances, they used to go to bed with it on their faces," Rappaport says, "... If you have a skincare ritual, take a moment and realize that you are doing self-care on a daily basis." So whether it's trying cold cream, or just adding a bit of skincare to your bedtime routine, you can get in touch with your grandma and take care of yourself.
It's totally valid to consider Netflix a hobby, but it might be a bit more self-loving to take some time out of your schedule to learn a hobby that will get you to a more mentally-focused place. In the old days, a lot of these hobbies involved crafts.
"Knitting, crocheting, scrapbooking and other fun hobbies have made a comeback; many people find crafts relaxing, fun and stimulating at the same time," Rappaport says. "If you make time to be creative, no matter what form that takes, this is also a form of self-care." It may seem intimidating to walk into a yarn store, or try to pick up a new skill from scratch, but there are actually a lot of ways to begin these activities. "Buy a pre-made sewing kit, sign up for a class or plan a night with a crafty friend and enjoy the slow and gratifying process of creating with cloth and thread or yarn," Jessica N. Turner, blogger of The Mom Creative and author of Stretched Too Thintell Bustle. It'll feel good to find a new way to unwind.
This may sound obvious, but picking up a bound book, not a tablet, can be a really great way to practice self-care. And it was definitely one of the primary ways people cleared their heads before technology was as omnipresent as it is now.
"A great form of self-care used to be sitting down at night before bedtime or in the evening and reading a book," Rappaport says. Flipping through a real book can be calming because of the sensory elements, like the smell of the paper and the sensation of flipping pages, and because it will also help you cut down on screen time. Plus, getting lost in a story is healing in a way that little else is.
While consumerism isn't the answer to your problems, there can be something quite relaxing about shopping the old-fashioned way.
"[People] used to go shopping as a form of self-care and feeling good about themselves ... By [visiting] brick and mortar stores, before many more disappear, you can experience the joy of shopping with a friend and finding some treasure on a rack or shelf," Rappaport says. You don't have to wait, you can try things on, and you can be around friends or other people. So, while you shouldn't buy things you don't need, you can switch up your next online shopping evening for a real-life shopping afternoon. It may feel really good.
Simply hanging out outside instead of inside can be an act of self-care, and it's definitely something that people used to do more.
"As early as one to two generations ago in nearly every neighborhood you could find children playing outside all day and all night, but unfortunately, we can't say the same for most neighborhoods today," Dr. Long says. "Despite this, we all know that getting outside has many natural health benefits not the least of which is vitamin D delivered directly from the sun ... As long as there has been nature there has been natural benefits of partaking in it." So maybe try a picnic instead of a happy hour, or take your morning coffee on the porch.
It may sound annoying, but making your bed in the morning can be a really nice act of self-care. And it's definitely something that used to be done more.
"Not only is it visually pleasing, but there is an emotional and mental benefit of giving one a sense that everything is in order," Stephen Henriques, founder of The Parallax Solution, tells Bustle. "[...] There's an instant harmony that it's going to be a better day when a bed is made." Plus, it will start you off on your day feeling good because you've already accomplished something positive before even leaving your room.
People are eating sit-down breakfast less these days. But getting 15 minutes less sleep in order to clear your head with this morning ritual might actually be beneficial.
"Our bodies need fuel, but our minds and emotions are fed when we have sustenance," Henriques says. While it's one thing to just eat something for the sake of having energy for the day, it's another to spend time nourishing your mind too. It may be difficult to change up your mornings, but it's a habit of previous generations that is really worth copying.
A coffee break at work may feel like a caffeine-fueled necessity, and that alone, but if you look back at what people in the past did, it can actually be a time of reflection and enjoyment to break up the day.
"Today, [many people are] working, so making time to go have coffee with a friend for an hour or more is a form of self-care," Rappaport says. While it can be hard to get this long of a break during working hours, if you schedule at least one of these moments a month, you can feel your usual pattern start to break up, all while supporting a friendship.
A morning prayer may not exactly be up your alley, but this daily routine can be used as inspiration for a variety of more mindful morning rituals.
"Instead of reaching for your phone to check email or social media in the morning, begin your morning slowly with a prayer or a meditation practice," Turner says. Whatever your spiritual or religious inclination, starting your morning with a moment of peace and calm can totally change the way you approach your day.
Going to the gym is incredibly convenient. But sometimes, with all of the people around you and the TVs blasting, it can be the opposite of a mindful experience. Instead, try taking a hint from previous generations, and take your workout outside.
"Enjoy your workout outside instead of at a gym. While outdoors, you’ll appreciate the beauty it has to offer, save money, and maybe even meet some new-to-you neighbors," Turner says. Whether this workout is a jog, hike, bike ride, or brisk walk, it can really change the energy of your day — all while keeping your activity levels up.
This activity can combine a lot of other old-fashioned self-care faves, like cooking, going outside, and spending quality time with friends.
"Invite your friends over for a dinner party and leave your phone at the door," Turner says. "Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is to be with other people." It may feel daunting to have to invite friends over, plan, and clean, but throwing a dinner party will reward you with meaningful connections, good food, and the feeling of having done something good for someone else.
Although not everything about life in the old days is worth looking at with nostalgia, there are a few things we can learn from the ways people used to look after themselves and their wellbeing. Whatever your self-care inclination is, you can likely find inspiration in the habits of the generations that came before you.