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Looking after yourself is an important coping strategy. Let’s look at some self-care techniques you can try.

Teen eating noodles, sleeping and tossing a tennis ball

What is self-care?

Self-care is about meeting your basic needs so you can be physically and mentally healthy.

When we feel stressed, overwhelmed or burnt out, we can start to neglect the basics of looking after ourselves.

Our nutrition, movement and sleep health all affect on our brain and mental health, which is why it's so important to self-care – especially if you are starting to struggle with your mental health.

Sometimes, the term ‘self-care’ is misused to describe things you might buy – like a manicure or smoothie. 

These things might be pleasant, but they don’t necessarily add up to self-care.

Let’s look at some important areas where a little self-care goes a long way.

Exercise (or movement)

Did you know that 9 in 10 young people in Australia don’t move enough?

Young people should do at least 60 minutes of vigorous exercise every day for optimal health. 

There are lots of individual differences. Different exercises affect people differently, and every individual body has different capabilities. It’s important to find ways to move your body that work for you and that you enjoy!

You could try…

Playing sport


Swimming or surfing

Using the stairs instead of an elevator

Doing an at-home workout

Walking the dog

Doing chores     

Riding a bike or walking to destinations 

Why is it important to move our bodies?

Exercise has social, emotional and health benefits, including reduced risk of diseases, increased concentration, increased confidence, and reduced aggression.

Lack of exercise is also associated with increased feelings of depression. 

If you are someone who struggles with stress or anxiety, exercise can mimic ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response, which can send your brain a message to calm down. This is because your brain thinks you have fought off or run away from a possible danger!

Studies have even shown that exercise is actually an effective treatment for feelings of anxiety and depression.


Nutrition is very important for brain health and your mental health, and we can only get nutrients from food. Our brain needs a lot of energy to function. In fact, 20% of the nutrients we eat are used by our brain as energy!

There are lots of important reasons why eating healthy is important for your brain. But let’s just take one specific brain chemical as an example:

Nutrition plays a key role in the production of serotonin in your brain

90% of serotonin is made in your digestive system

Serotonin is an important ‘neurotransmitter’ (chemical messenger) for regulating your moods

Eating the right foods plays a key role in preventing and treating mental health issues like depression

“If you are struggling with nutrition, it can be helpful to see a dietitian or nutritionist.

These people hold relevant university degrees in nutrition and specialise in healthy eating.

They aren’t there to judge you or make you deny yourself your favourite foods, but they can help you find a way to eat nutritious foods – while having the occasional treat or indulgence.”

– Amanda, Kids Helpline Counsellor


Lack of sleep can contribute to mental health issues.

You need about 8-10 hours of sleep per night. That amount of sleep is harder to get than it sounds, because the ‘body clocks’ of teens and young adults naturally keep them up late at night and make them want to sleep in until mid-morning.

Having a smartphone, feeling anxious, etc. can all impact on falling asleep and quality of sleep. 

While many things can impact mental health, including lots of things we can’t control – such as genetics – sleep is one thing we can control.

Why should you make sleep a priority?

There are some really good reasons why it's important!

  • The neocortex (your ‘smart brain’) is downgraded when you are tired, which means you are more likely to make risky or emotional decisions. This is one reason why there are increased incidents of cyberbullying, car accidents, drug use, self-harm and suicide at night.
  • People feel more anxious at night. This is because the limbic system fires up late at night, causing heightened emotions. This is meant to happen when you are actually asleep!
  • Sleep is essential for cleaning out toxins that build up in your brain. Accumulation of these toxins can impact on brain and mental health.
  • Being sleep-deprived can raise your overall anxiety levels in your everyday life.

Read our article 'Why sleep is so important' for more info and tips on how to sleep better!

Why is sleep so important for your brain?

Scientist Lee Constable explains how sleep benefits your brain.

Your guide to different types of rest we need

Rest is an important part of self-care. Sleep is only one type of rest we need. Here are some more that can help if you're feeling stressed, burnt out or overwhelmed.

Physical rest
Mental rest
Sensory rest
Creative rest
Emotional rest
Social rest
Spiritual rest

Not sure how to look after yourself?

If you’re having trouble taking care of yourself, talking with someone can really help

Kids Helpline is available 24/7.

If you want to learn more coping strategies or figure out what coping strategies might work best for you, give us a call, start a WebChat or send us an email today.

"You want to look after your brain and meet your basic needs to stay mentally and physically healthy."

This content was last reviewed 11/08/2021

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