How to Create a Self-Care Action Plan That Works

We all want to feel happy, to lead happy, fulfilling lives.  The pursuit of happiness is enshrined in our constitution! And yet, many of us feel depleted, burnt out, overwhelmed. That’s where a self-care action plan can help!

My Story

I’ve spent years trying to figure out how to find some measure of happiness in this wonderful, wounded world.  I ricocheted out of a chaotic, lonely childhood into a world of high pressure achievement, getting a job with Price Waterhouse, earning a graduate degree from Harvard and working on Capitol Hill in the 1990s. 

Then I pivoted to motherhood, and all the exquisite joys and challenges of parenting three children with life threatening food allergies, and one with special needs.  I home schooled for a few years.  And at one point my husband was downsized out of a job and I started a photography business too.  I managed all of this with frantic energy fueled by anxiety, but about 4 or 5 years ago I just ran out of fuel.  

I was depleted.

I felt like a stranger to my own life.  

Then I stumbled across this quote: “You, as much as anyone on earth, deserve your love and affection.”  It seemed so revolutionary to me. I only had 24 hours in a day and I spent all of that time taking care of my family and my home and my photography clients and volunteering, etc… — how on earth was I supposed to add myself to the list?  And wasn’t that selfish to even try to do that?  I certainly never thought that I deserved it. But the quote really struck a chord inside of me, a deep longing to experience the world differently.

self-care action plan

And it started me on a multi-year quest for a new paradigm of how to be in the world, where instead of spending ALL of my time and energy taking care of other people and catering to external “shoulds”, I would spend some of my time and energy on myself.  I devoured self-help books, podcasts, instagram accounts, online courses, online therapy, and blog posts and began implementing some of the strategies and tips I was discovering. 

As I grew to know and understand myself and to accept my humanity, ie. “fundamentally flawed nature”, I began to understand what I really needed and I learned how to give that to myself. 

And over time self awareness, self acceptance (which is 💖 befriending), and self-care (which is 🌱tending) really changed my life.  I am so much happier and content in my own skin.

The Issue with Most Self-Care Action Plans

One problem with trying to lead a better life is that we are often persuaded to put time and energy into the wrong things, into areas where we are already doing quite well and don’t actually have any needs, or into areas that aren’t actually important to us.

Matching what we do for ourselves under the banner of self care to what we actually NEED is so important to improving our quality of life.

And so I created a comprehensive framework for assessing your area of needs so that you can focus your energy on the right thing.  With limited time, we want to get the biggest bang for our buck.

Befriend and Tend Self-Care Action Plan Framework

Without further ado, here is my Befriend and Tend framework.   Scroll down to download a worksheet to work through the framework.  

Befriend and Tend has five main areas, the three traditional ones of mind, body, and spirit, as well as sanctuary and connection. 


Sanctuary is especially important.  It refers to a felt sense of safety where your limbic system is not activated, where you aren’t operating from a fight-flight-freeze-fawn response.  When your limbic system is activated, your prefrontal cortex — the seat of logic and wisdom — is off-line.  Which means the decisions you make about your life are probably not going to be the optimal ones. There are five aspects to Sanctuary:  

1-Self– your beliefs about yourself.  Are you your own worst enemy?  How do you talk to yourself?  What do you think about yourself? (Related article: Self Love Beats Tough Love , The Problem with Perfectionism, How to Manage the Burnout Blues)

2-Support – having people in your corner who are rooting for you.

3-Space — having a little corner or room of one’s own, where you feel nourished and refreshed. (Related article: The Konmari Method for Sentimental Creative Types)

4-Time — managing your time and calendar in ways that support you and work with your energy.  Does your calendar support you or overwhelm you? (Related articles: How to Use the Pomodoro Method, 10K Work Versus $10 Work – How to Leverage Your Efforts)

5-Money —  having a little breathing room in your finances, feeling secure i.


Connection refers to your relationships with yourself and with others, and whether they are satisfying and enriching.  There are 5 types of connection:

1-To your self – do you understand yourself or are you mystified by yourself? (Related article: Journaling to Improve Your Life | Journaling 101 )

2-To your family – do you have a good relationship with and/or good boundaries with your family?

3-To your significant other – do you have a healthy relationship with your significant other?

4-To your friends – do you have friends you can be yourself around 

5-To the community – do you belong to groups and associations, support causes, feel connected to others


Mind refers to having healthy mental processes so you can navigate and manage life’s ups and downs.  Mind has 4 components:

1-Agency – the belief that you can effectively influence your own life, that the choices you make matter. (Related article: How to Create a Morning Routine)

2-Resilience – an ability to recover from life’s inevitable setbacks (Related article: Perspectives in Problem Solving)

3-Growth — an ability and desire to learn and grow (Related Article: Why Curiosity Matters – And How to Get More of It, Build a Second Brain to Conquer Information Overload)

4-Presence – the ability to center yourself in the present moment (Related Article: How to Take a Forest Bath (and Why It’s a Good Idea))


The fourth element is BODY, and it has four components:

1-Nutrition – Do you make smart and nourishing food choices?

2-Movement – Do you move your body regularly, stretching your muscles and exercising your heart? (Related article: What Yoga Taught Me)

3-Senses – Do you make an effort to surround yourself with things that delight and please your senses?

4-Rest – Do you meet your daily sleep requirements? Do you give yourself mental breaks during the day? Do you allow yourself to slow down the pace of life with vacations and days of rest? (Related articles: How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep, Why are We So Busy? How to Ditch the Fast Lane)


And the final element is SPIRIT, and it has six components:

1-Purpose – Do you have motivating goals to guide you on your life’s journey?

2-Wonder – Do you regularly experience a sense of awe at the vastness and beauty of life?

3-Thankfulness – To you notice and appreciate large and small blessings in your life? (Related article: Grace Notes and the Value of “Regular Old Living”)

4-Joy – Do you seek out and experience moments of happiness and joy? (Related articles: 5 Minute Joy Breaks, 5 Reasons to Bring Flowers Into Your Home)

5-Values – Do you make choices and take action that align with your values?

6-Creativity – Do you make time for creativity? (Related article: 5 Reasons to Make Time for Creativity)

It took me a long time to figure things out so I created the guidebook and planner I wish I had had years ago. You can purchase it here on Amazon.

self-care action plan

The basic idea is that you assess yourself in the areas above, and once you’ve identified your top needs, you brainstorm ways to meet those needs.

Then you put it in your calendar and try things out. You experiment. Does an activity or action move you forward or not? Rinse and repeat. And over time, you’ll gain a sense for the strategies that are most effective for you.

When I first did this assessment, I was a 2-3 in most areas with a 5 as my highest score.  A year later, 6-7 with a 9 as my highest score. 

What you pay attention to grows.  


Each and every one of us is worthy of our own love, care, and affection.  Whether we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God, or are a glorious miracle of time and space and matter made manifest on this tiny blue dot in an infinite universe, there is a part of you that knows the truth of this.

And you have the power right now to begin. 

Download your FREE 11 page Befriend and Tend Workbook!

Don’t want to buy the book? Get a taste of what’s in it with this free workbook!