If you’re starting this new year feeling physically, emotionally, and spiritually spent, this 30-day self-care challenge is a great way to reconnect with God, yourself, and your loved ones in an intentional manner. In this article, Sophie Agbonkhese guides you through intentional daily actions as part of a practical and inspirational 30 day self care challenge, encouraging you to turn your heart upward, inward, and outward as you fill your cup.
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When I look at my friend group, which consists mostly of mothers who homeschool multiple children, often in addition to working a part-time job or running a business or a ministry, one characteristic prevails: we are all so tired. Women—whether or not we are wives and mothers—tend to take so much upon ourselves. We look out for the needs of others, stay up late baking, cleaning, writing, and organizing, and volunteer to fill any gap that arises. We make sure those around us feel noticed and loved, and that they receive rest when they need it.
But how often do we do the same for ourselves?
How often do we give ourselves permission to rest, ignore our to-do list, or spend an entire day being unproductive?
For most of us, the answer is probably not often enough.
What Is Self Care?
Now, I know there are some among us who might balk at the term self-care. I can’t say I blame them. It carries with it a certain undertone of self-reliance or even self-indulgence. It might, perhaps, give the impression that we can fill the gaping hole in our hearts with a nice trip to the spa, a CrossFit class, or a French bakery. And though a chocolate croissant goes a long way toward helping us achieve profound feelings of joy, hopefully we can agree that these are not solutions to our deeper spiritual problems.
For the purposes of this article, though, I’d like to ask you to think of self-care in this way: As a woman, there is a good chance that you are regularly pouring yourself out for others, giving generously of your time, your resources, your energy, and your gifts. Eventually, the well from which you pour yourself will run dry if you do not take the time to fill it up.
That is not to say that we can fill it up on our own—we need God for that. But it is our responsibility to make it a priority to come to Him so He can fill us.
As someone who frequently runs the risk of burning herself out, I find deep solace in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
What I would love to encourage us to do this month is to lean into those verses—to come to Jesus, lay our burdens at His feet, and find rest for our souls.
What Does a 30-Day Self-Care Challenge Consist Of?
A 30-day self-care challenge is a great way to reconnect with God, yourself, and your loved ones in an intentional manner. Both your mental health and your physical well-being will benefit from the daily challenges you undertake.
But maybe ‘challenges’ isn’t even the right word. I’d love for you to see each of these self-care ideas as a gift, something you can unwrap over the course of a day and immerse yourself in as much as possible.
While a typical 30-day challenge might focus on you-centric activities, I think we get the most out of this exercise when we put Jesus first. No amount of pampering or indulgence will give us the real rest that a single afternoon spent in His presence can offer.
With that in mind, I propose that we break our 30 days up into three stages—looking up, looking in, and looking out.
The first thing we should do on our self-care journey is look up. We look to Jesus, our Source of sustenance, to fill us up again. Each of our first ten days of self-care has an activity that brings us closer to Him and draws us into communion with Him.
This will give us not only the energy we need for the rest of the challenges but renewed zeal for the work He has called us to.
Secondly, we look in. We, too, have a role to play in our well-being. We get so caught up in our busyness that we ignore our own needs until we are worn out and broken.
This stage is about carving a bit of time for ourselves, to do some of the things we love, to rest our bodies, and to organize our lives in a way that is sustainable in the long run.
Finally, we look outward. That may seem like a funny thing to do in a self-care challenge. Taking the time to connect with and consider the needs of others is a little counterintuitive, no? Shouldn’t self-care be a solo activity?
Not necessarily. Many times, connecting authentically with the people we love is just as life-giving as spending time by ourselves (and much more so if you’re an extrovert!). Therefore, we round out our 30-day self care challenge with several days to pursue these deep connections and care for ourselves as relational beings.
How to Complete this 30-Day Self-Care Challenge
You have options when it comes to how you complete this challenge. You can complete it linearly, spending ten days in each stage and moving through the items one by one. Or, you could approach it in a more Bingo-card-like fashion, choosing randomly from the options depending on the particularities of your schedule. This might feel less structured, but could be an easier way to fit this 30-day challenge into an already overfilled schedule.
Do whatever works best for you. As you approach each activity, ask yourself: Is this likely to be life-giving for me? Am I excited to try it or am I filled with dread? An initial negative reaction doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t try that activity at all, but you might want to build up to it or save it for a day when you have more flexibility.
As you embark on your 30-day self-care challenge, I encourage you to keep Jesus at the center and to immerse the experience in prayer. I trust that, in doing so, He will give rest to your soul and relieve the weight of your burdens.
30-Day Self-Care Challenge Stage 1: Look Up
1. Go for a Prayer Walk
To kick off your self-care challenge, take 30 to 60 minutes and go for a prayer walk. This simple practice does a number of positive things for our overall health and sense of well-being. It gives us a period of solitude and silence, which helps clear the tension and anxiety from our minds and puts us in a posture to receive refreshment from the Lord. It gets us out in nature, breathing in fresh air, and exercising our bodies in a gentle way. And it gives us a chance to pray and listen.
Ask the Holy Spirit to be present with you throughout the next 30 days, to meet you where you are, to help you find space and time for rest, and to fill you up. Ask Him to show you any areas of your life that need special attention during the rest of the challenge.
2. Give Yourself an Identity Check
Sometimes we get burned out because we’ve lost sight of our identity. We get caught up in who the world tells us to be or who we think we ought to be. Striving to be something that we are not is exhausting.
Take 30 minutes to read and reflect on the article Finding Hope in Your Identity in Christ. In your journal, write or draw your response to this question, “Who does Jesus say I am?”
3. Try Bible Bullet Journaling
If your Bible reading time has started to feel stagnant—or non-existent—don’t feel guilty. Doing the same thing the same way for a long time can make it feel like a mechanical routine. You’re going through the motions, but you’re not necessarily engaged in the way you once were or the way you’d like to be.
To get more out of your Bible study, or to reignite a dwindled passion for spending time in the Word, why not try a new-to-you Bible study method?
Bible bullet journaling is a hands-on Bible study method that lets you interact with the Bible while your mind and body engage with creativity, increasing comprehension, retention, and, almost certainly, fun. Gather a blank bullet journal, some colored pens and highlighters, stickers, washi tape, and stamps, and create the first one or two spreads in your journal using our Bible Bullet Journaling 101 guide.
4. Practice Praise Over Panic
When life gets chaotic and feels like it’s spinning out of control, the best way to protect your peace is to turn to God. By giving praise, focusing on all the ways He has blessed us, and recognizing that He is still in control over our lives, we find a release from our anxiety. Our circumstances might not change immediately, but our orientation toward them does. We exchange our fear mindset for one of trust and gratitude.
A tangible way to do this is to keep a gratitude journal. If you already started a Bible bullet journal as part of the previous prompt, you could incorporate your gratitude journal into that instead of starting a separate notebook. Each day, take five to ten minutes and try to name five things you are grateful for. If you get stuck, this list of 50 gratitude journal prompts will help spark your memory.
5. Take a Sabbath Day
The definition of a Sabbath Day differs depending on who you ask. While most of us can agree that it’s a day set aside for rest, we’ve argued for millenia over what that rest actually entails (See Matthew 12). Further complicating matters, some of us even wrestle with which day is the right one on which to take this rest.
Perhaps you’ve always set Sundays apart and they are deeply meaningful and restful for you. If so, that’s great! Keep on doing that. But for some of us, taking a full day to rest—on Sunday or otherwise—is a goal that eludes us. Those who work in churches or volunteer in ministries may find that Sunday is their busiest day of the week. For others, who work the other six days or have a different work schedule every week, Sunday may be the only day to catch up on chores or other activities. No matter your situation, cultivating the discipline to truly cease from working for several hours takes time and effort.
Yet Sabbath rest is a gift you don’t want to miss out on. Whether you set aside Fridays or Mondays as your holy day, or learn to incorporate periods of Sabbath rest into your everyday life, take some time today to reflect on and journal about your current experience of Sabbath and the one you’d like to have. What things would you have to give up during your Sabbath time to truly rest in God?
For more help in creating a Sabbath ritual, I highly recommend reading Chapter 4—or ideally, the entirety—of Ken Shigematsu’s book, “God in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God.”
6. Memorize These 10 Truths
Most 30-day self-care challenges include a reference to positive affirmations or a similar concept. While there can be a New Age or self-sufficient connotation to these affirmations, their goal is sound: to challenge and overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts.
As Christians, of course, we replace our negative self-talk through the lens of the Bible. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” How? By replacing those lies (such as: you are not worthy, you are not loved, you are not important) with truths from the Bible, we train our brains to remember who we are in Christ.
Take some time today to write out these 10 awesome truths in your journal—or print out the download at the bottom of the post and tape or glue it in. Make extra copies and stick them up around your house. Commit to memorizing each of them over the course of this month.
7. Spend Some Time in Solitude
Joni Mitchell famously sang “You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.” While she was referring to nature, I think the same can be said of solitude. It’s hard to appreciate it until you no longer have it.
As a kid, I spent countless hours alone. My only sibling was nine years older than me and we grew up mostly independent of each other. I spent a month every summer fishing with my dad, who was a commercial fisherman, and the vast majority of that time was spent lying in boat reading by myself. Although I loved reading, I hated being away from my friends and the rest of my family.
Once I grew up, got married, and had kids, however; I longed for nothing more than an afternoon spent on the water with a good book and the joy of silence. Unfortunately, carving out ten minutes alone, let alone a few hours, has become a Herculean task.
Nonetheless, it’s one that’s worth the effort. Getting away by yourself to a quiet place for a few hours is essential for experiencing His R.E.S.T. This is an acronym I came up with to help us receive the gift of the real rest Jesus refers to in Matthew 11:28-30. It stands for Retreat (stepping away from the busyness of life), Enter (coming into His presence by getting away by ourselves in a quiet place), Sanctify (setting that time apart as holy), and Trust (letting go of our need to be in control and giving over all our needs to Him).
While this process can certainly happen within the context of a group, there’s something intimate about meeting with Jesus alone. Try setting aside one to three hours to spend some time in solitude.
8. Worship Your Heart Out
When you’re feeling down or overly burdened, there are few things more powerful than music to lift your spirit. Today, put on your favorite worship playlist—or break out the musical instruments if you’re so inclined—and worship the Lord with all your heart.
In Christian meditation, we generally seek the Lord’s presence by focusing on specific words, truths, or images. We meditate on a particular Scripture passage, on a characteristic of Jesus, or on a vision we have of Him. Like some of the other challenges in the Look Up section, meditation is best done in a quiet place on our own. But it doesn’t need to take a long time. Even just five or ten minutes spent meditating on a Psalm or a parable can impact us profoundly.
Fasting is another activity that may not seem like self-care at first. More often, people will recommend having a healthy smoothie or salad to ignite a new healthy habit. But that’s not really what this particular challenge is about. Good self care starts in the spirit, not the stomach, and fasting is a great way to draw closer to God.
Take a half-day or a whole day for your fast and spend the time you would normally dedicate toward cooking and eating communing with Jesus. Even if you are on your own taking care of littles, you can still pray as you prep and serve their meals. Not only will you feel strengthened by your fasting practice, but you’ll also be setting a good example for your children. (And feel free to break your fast with a delicious fruit smoothie!)
30-Day Self-Care Challenge Stage 2: Look In
11. Pick Up a New Book
Kicking back with a good book is almost as good as catching up with an old friend. If you haven’t had a chance to indulge in a wonderful story or non-fiction book lately, here’s your chance. Visit your local library or bookstore to choose something you’ve been looking forward to reading then set aside 30 or 60 minutes today and dive right in. If you lose track of time and find yourself unable to put it down, you know you have a winner.
12. Sleep In (or Take a Nap)
When we’re truly exhausted or burned out, even the simple things on our to-do list feel like too much to take on. It becomes harder to make decisions and our anger flares up more easily than ever. When we reach this stage, our best bet is to focus on restoring our physical body through sleep. Whether that means sleeping in a little later on the weekend or taking a nap in the middle of the day, those extra minutes of slumber can make a huge difference.
13. Have a Crafting Day
Crafting can be therapeutic for our minds and souls. Making something beautiful with our hands is a creative way to release tension and take the focus off the stress of life. If you don’t have a crafting hobby already, don’t worry. Joyful Life has plenty of beautiful crafting projects to try, such as these fruit stamped tea towels, salt dough nature mobile, and clay gift tags.
14. Declutter Your Closet
If you’ve never decluttered your closet, you might be surprised by how much your clothing can weigh you down. Years worth of blouses, jeans, and cardigans pile up and make your daily dressing ritual an overwhelming ordeal. You look around at all that stuff, feeling like you have nothing to wear, and struggle to make any decision at all.
Take a few hours to pull everything out of your closet and go through it carefully. You might not need to pull a complete Marie Kondo, but a thorough decluttering session will leave you feeling freer and lighter. You may even want to cultivate a capsule wardrobe to streamline your closet and make getting ready the easiest thing you do all day.
15. Do Some Gardening
Taking care of plants is beneficial to both physical and mental health. Having plants in your house improves air quality by removing toxins from the air and boosting humidity. They also improve mood and relieve stress and anxiety.
Depending on the weather where you live right now, you could plant something outdoors or you could transplant some house plant seedlings into nice containers. If you’re brand new to gardening and feeling a little hesitant, you might want to start with planting an indoor succulent garden as these are quite easy to take care of.
16. Start a Winter Skincare Routine
In winter, the combination of cold outdoor air and dry indoor heat can cause our skin to feel dehydrated, chapped, and itchy. Extremely dry skin can even crack and bleed, so paying attention to our skin’s needs in this season is paramount.
17. Treat Yourself to a Hot Bath
Few things can help us relax quicker at the end of the day than a hot bath. Bubble baths or baths infused with essential oils or epsom salts are especially therapeutic.
Bathing on a daily basis can improve the quality of your sleep, lower your stress levels, and increase serotonin production, making you feel happier. Baths are also good for the bones, muscles, and joints and can relieve inflammation and pain. Even if you don’t have time in your daily routine for a long soak, you will still experience some benefits by bathing for just ten minutes a day or a couple of times per week.
Elevate your bath by adding bubbles, DIY bath bombs, or essential oils like lavender, eucalyptus, and ylang ylang diluted in a carrier oil. To take the best care of your skin, make sure you don’t run your bath too hot or scrub your skin too vigorously and definitely apply moisturizer after.
18. Commit to a Positive Change in Your Diet
Now comes the part where we talk about eating healthy, because once you’ve realigned your spiritual and mental health, it’s a good idea to spend a little time taking good care of your body. There’s no need to overhaul your diet overnight, and trying to make too many changes all at once may cause a backlash.
Instead, try to commit to making one positive change in your diet this month. For example, you might choose one facet of holistic nutrition to add to your routine or you could add more seasonal produce to your diet.
19. Start a New Morning Routine
If you’re wondering how you’re going to fit all these self-care challenges into your days, you might benefit from a new morning routine. Mornings are a great time to work on a new habit before the day starts to get off-track and you get distracted. When we start the day off as we mean to go on, we have a deeper sense of success and accomplishment to propel us through the rest of our day.
20. Use a Habit Tracker to Help You Create and Stick to New Habits
Another great tool for developing healthy habits is a habit tracker. Keeping track of your habits helps you examine how you’re using your time and spot opportunities to adjust your schedule to better support your personal goals.
I like to print out a monthly circle habit tracker and stick it in my bullet journal so I have easy access to it throughout the day.
30-Day Self-Care Challenge Stage 3: Look Out
21. Connect with a Good Friend
There are few activities as delightful and life-giving as spending an afternoon catching up with a close friend over a cup of tea or coffee (and preferably a generous serving of baked goods). Whether you’re taking on this 30-day self-care challenge during a season of harvest and celebration or a season of grief and struggle, having a good friend by your side is essential.
Friends offer companionship, understanding, and a sense of belonging. After a few hours in their presence, we often feel lighter, happier, and more hopeful.
Think of a friend you haven’t had a good visit with in a while and make plans to connect with her over the phone, a video call, or better yet, in person. Set aside sufficient time for a good talk, and settle in for a restorative experience.
22. Have Coffee with Neighbors
We all know that we’re called to love our neighbors, but this important commandment often goes ignored. Whether we avoid our neighbors by driving straight into our garages, erecting fences, or staying silent during our shared elevator ride, we sometimes assume that minding our own business is synonymous with loving (though, to be sure, it is often appreciated).
But there’s a particular joy that comes from developing relationships with those who live nearby. For one, we don’t have to drive to spend time with them. But on a more serious note, becoming friends with our neighbors makes us feel less isolated, helps our children establish a sense of community and belonging, creates an overall sense of friendliness in the neighborhood, and makes it easier to borrow a cup of sugar.
Consider organizing a neighborhood coffee, block party, or community garage sale.
23. Give Someone a Compliment
It’s always nice to hear that someone has noticed us or that we’ve made an impact on them. Take the time today to tell one or more people something special or noteworthy that you’ve observed about them.
24. Streamline Your Family Calendar
One thing that leads to overwhelm and chaos (and thus the need for more intentional self-care) is a lack of organization and structure in your schedule. Of course, even the most organized calendar will not save us from overwhelm if we insist on packing too much into the schedule, but at least if we have a clear system for managing our time, we’ll be able to see where we’ve overcommitted and make plans to readjust our expectations of how we’ve spent our time.
This guide to creating a family calendar is a great starting point if you want to start reclaiming your time and being more intentional about how your family uses time.
25. Forgive Someone
Holding on to past hurts does more harm to us than it usually does to those who hurt us. While they might not even be aware of our resentment, we allow it to fester inside us, growing rampantly like weeds in a garden and obstructing the ability of Christ’s light to shine through us. Forgiveness is a bit like a garden cleanup—it removes the dead, diseased, and unwanted parts of the plant (our hearts) so the healthy part of the plan (Christ in us) can thrive and flourish.
Whether you verbalize it to the other person or not, make a choice to forgive someone today. If you don’t feel you can, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to soften your heart toward that person. Even when it seems impossible, the Spirit is able to completely change how we view someone and their actions in ways that we could never dream of on our own.
26. Send Handwritten Cards
It’s easy to underestimate the significance of giving someone a heartfelt note or card. Even when we write our most encouraging words in a card for a friend, we hope at best to bless them for a day or two, but we rarely think about the long-lasting implications for the recipient or for ourselves.
I have kept almost every thoughtful card or note I have received in my life. I have two large binders and one small box full of them. (I’ve had to get pickier about what I keep over the years so as to contain my collection). I don’t take these treasures out frequently, but they’re always there for me when I need them.
During my darkest days, when I have felt unloved, unneeded, unwanted, I have pulled out these precious gifts and read through them. Each one reminds me of the people throughout my life who have blessed me and whom, I hope, I have blessed too. They are a tangible expression of love.
Expressing our appreciation to someone in a card not only strengthens that individual friendship, it also improves your own mental and emotional well-being as well as that of your friend.
So grab a set of beautiful cards and start writing today.
27. Find an Accountability Partner
Whatever your goals are, you’re more likely to achieve them if you have a friend or family member to keep you accountable. Your friend might have the same goal as you (e.g. train to run a 10K) or their goals might differ. As long as you are both willing to get together regularly, update each other on your progress, pray for each other, and urge each other on toward completion, an accountability partner can be instrumental in helping you achieve your new goals.
28. Unplug from Social Media
Social media can give us the illusion that we’re connecting with people, when really we’re just reading about a few select highlights from their life. For the most part, this is not connection. We know more tidbits about people than we used to (or want to), but we’re not doing life together.
A young man I know in his early twenties has recently decided to eschew social media. Before closing his Facebook account, he made an announcement saying he was choosing to prioritize deep, authentic, in-person connections over shallow, impersonal, online ones. I was moved and inspired by his decision and his statement.
Although I use social media for work and cannot get rid of it altogether, I find my cup is most filled up when I’m regularly taking the time to reconnect with God, myself, and my friends without the impedance of technology or social media. If you too are feeling burned out by the intrusion of social media on your personal relationships, consider a social media hiatus.
29. Organize a Girls’ Night
If what’s missing from your life right now is a sprinkle of lighthearted fun, consider hosting a girls’ night for your friends. Whether you do a cookie exchange, a movie night, or a chocolate tasting party, getting a group of friends together for good conversation, food, and a few laughs is the kind of self-care we could all use a bit more of right now.
Check out these 25 ideas for girl time to spark your inspiration.
30. Pay It Forward
As you round out your own self-care challenge, you are hopefully starting to feel refreshed and renewed. Though your self-care journey shouldn’t end here—the best way to keep your well replenished is to make self-care a permanent aspect of your life—you can come full circle by ending your self-care challenge on a final note of gratitude and giving.
Paying it forward means doing a random good deed for someone without expecting anything in exchange. The hope is that the recipients of your good deeds will also pay it forward and choose to be a blessing to others, but even if that doesn’t happen, you can still know you’ve made a small, positive impact on someone’s day by offering your random act of kindness.
Ideas for paying it forward include: paying for the coffee of the person behind you in a line-up, offering your services for free to someone who needs them, shoveling the snow from a neighbor’s driveway, or offering to help carry someone’s groceries.
Ready to get started with your own 30-day self-care challenge? Which of these activities are you most excited to try? Which scare you? I wish you the best of luck as you turn your heart upward, inward, and outward and fill up your cup.
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