The 8 Pillars of Self-Care and How They Can Help Reduce ASWB Exam Stress

The 8 Pillars of Self-Care and How They Can Help Reduce ASWB Exam Stress

When thinking of self-care, popular media and cultural messaging have made it easy to automatically think of only bubble baths, chocolate, and luxuriating spa days. However, that’s not what we mean by self-care here at Agents of Change! In fact, self-care goes much deeper than that – it’s a critical piece of your well-being, both in your personal and professional life.

Self-care is defined by Oxford dictionary as “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health” as well as “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.”

In short, it is the act of engaging in various, intentional activities to optimize your health and well-being. And rather than being a luxury, self-care is a necessity!

While self-care is a simple concept, it can be an easy one to overlook or ignore in our busy day-to-day lives. We’re so often “too busy” with our work, our families, or our personal goals. It’s easy to forget to nourish ourselves, and we can often put self-care on the back burner.

However, self-care is the backbone on which all other long-term success lies. We cannot thrive if we are not listening to our internal needs. And as care providers, we cannot adequately care for others in the long term without also caring for ourselves. When we don’t practice adequate self-care, we leave ourselves at risk of burnout and chronic stress. This, in turn, can negatively impact our health, our relationships with others, and even our productivity. (3)

Thus, the old adage “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others” rings true here. Self-care is our proverbial oxygen mask, and it’s crucially important to help us thrive in our personal and professional lives.

What Are The 8 Pillars of Self-Care?

At Agents of Change, we think of self-care as it relates to our holistic health. The term “holistic health” refers to looking at health from a whole person lens. This means looking at not just your physical and mental health, but also other factors you may not immediately think of when it comes to your healthcare – including your emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual health.

Each one of these pillars is important when it comes to your overall wellness and self-care.

Source: Santa Clara Law

Physical: This includes taking care of our physical body, which is important to nourish and protect. Self-care in this realm looks like eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, and moving your body. Other examples of physical self-care include: 

  • Spending time in nature, or sitting in the sun 
  • Reducing screen time before bed to improve the quality of sleep 
  • Taking vitamins, supplements, or probiotics for wellness

Social: Social self-care refers to our ability to form and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships. Connecting with others actually improves your health; in fact, those with stronger social support are better able to weather stress and have less anxious and depressive symptoms (4), Examples of social self-care include: 

  • Spending time with trusted friends and family
  • Calling a loved one for a catch-up, or meeting a friend for coffee or tea
  • Setting healthy boundaries within relationships

Emotional: Emotional self-care looks at how we acknowledge, honor, and process our emotions, as well as how we recognize and influence the emotions of those around us. This is also known as emotional intelligence and has been shown to correlate with better relationships, better leadership abilities, and more (6). Examples of emotional self-care include: 

  • “Name it to tame it”: learning to identify what emotions we are feeling in a given moment, which helps us process said emotions more easily in turn
  • Allowing ourselves to feel strong emotions: for example, having a good cry or journaling our feelings

Spiritual: Spirituality, defined generally, refers to a belief in something beyond ourselves and is a broad concept that asks basic questions about the ultimate meaning of life. A spiritual practice can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and research has shown that spirituality can enhance psychological well-being, promote positive feelings, and even lower high blood pressure (7). Spiritual self-care can include:  

  • Meditation, breath work, or yoga practice
  • Prayer or involvement in religious activities/community
  • Dedicating time to self-reflection, core values, and purpose

Environmental: Our environment is made up of where we live, work, and spend our leisure time. It also includes our digital environment, or how we interface with technology in our day-to-day life. Our environment has a strong effect on our mood and wellness. The hallmark of good self-care in this realm is a feeling of safety, comfort, and harmony with the surrounding environment. Some examples of environmental self-care include: 

  • Keeping a tidy environment, including making your bed, doing the dishes, etc.
  • Minimizing clutter 
  • Spending adequate time outdoors in nature/sunlight 

Intellectual: Intellectual self-care focuses on keeping our brains active and engaged, as well as broadening our perspectives and learning about new concepts or ideas. Intellectual self-care can look like: 

  • Learning a new skill or a new language
  • Reading books on self-development, growth, or something new & unknown
  • Doing “brain-training” activities such as puzzles, crosswords, or chess
  • Continuing education through work or independently 

Occupational: This type of self-care involves our workplace, our career, and our ambitions – and how they relate to our values, beliefs, and accomplishments. As we often spend up to a third of our lives at work, this fact of our lives shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to self-care. A few examples of occupational self-care include: 

  • Reflecting on our values and beliefs to ensure our day-to-day work aligns with them
  • Ensuring a healthy balance between our work life and home life
  • Updating a resume or online career search engine (e.g. LinkedIn)
  • Continuing education, growth, and advancement in our career of choice (note: if you’re an Agents of Change member, you’re already doing this!)

Financial: Cultivating a healthy relationship with money is an important part of our self-care. In financial self-care, we focus on understanding our current financial status, as well as ensuring a good understanding of our resources. Some examples of financial self-care are: 

  • Reflecting on current finances, including whether our career or job supports our financial goals
  • Reviewing checking, savings, and retirement accounts regularly 
  • Coming up with a plan to manage/pay down debts

Phew! That might sound like a lot, but the name of the game in any self-care practice is to make small, manageable changes. It might be helpful to incorporate new self-care practices into your existing routine via habit stacking (for more information on habit stacking, check out this Agents of Change blog post!). 

Practicing Self-Care As You Study for Your ASWB Exam

In regards to self-care as you study for your exam, below are some important examples of self-care. While you’re preparing for your ASWB exams, it might be helpful to try out one – or a few – of these practices. 

  1. Physical: Studying outside in the sunshine; getting an extra hour of sleep on the night before your exam; taking a 10-minute walk break during a study session; making an appointment for your annual physical or wellness check-up,
  2. Social: Studying with friends or other Agents of Change members; calling a loved one to catch up on a study break; reconnecting with an old friend.
  3. Emotional: Practicing present moment awareness when it comes to how you’re feeling about the ASWB exams;  journaling your emotions/feelings out; practicing stress-management techniques like deep breathing and mindful movement.
  4. Spiritual: Engaging in meditation or quiet reflection; praying or other religious worship; connecting with Mother Nature by spending time outside.
  5. Environmental: Cleaning your study area/workspace and keeping it free of clutter; ensuring you enjoy your study space and adding pleasing fabrics, lighting, or decorations; upping your recycling or composting game and giving back to the environment.
  6. Intellectual: Signing up for a Continuing Education course for CE credits (Earn 1.5 Free CEUs from Agents of Change here); joining Agents of Change; keeping your brain sharp by taking study breaks to do brainteasers like puzzles or chess.
  7. Occupational: Reflecting on if your career aligns with your values and beliefs; celebrating your professional accomplishments; ensuring a healthy work/life balance by setting a hard stop time on your workday.
  8. Financial: Reviewing your checking and savings account; meeting with a financial advisor; incorporating space on your budget for future self-care.

What other self-care examples come to mind when you think of studying for your ASWB exams (and beyond)? Comment below!

And for more reflection on the 8 Pillars of Self-Care, check out this helpful worksheet from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Association.

Managing Your ASWB Exam Stress with Self-Care

Managing stress effectively is crucial for students studying for their ASWB exams, and the 8 Pillars of Self-Care provide a great way to achieve that balance. By incorporating these practices into your routine, you can help reduce test anxiety, increase your focus, and improve your overall well-being. The journey toward licensure can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

The Agents of Change program recognizes the importance of addressing test anxiety and has curated a range of resources to support students in managing stress and optimizing their performance. By utilizing these tools, you’ll be better equipped to tackle the ASWB exam with confidence. To learn more about the program and access resources tailored to your needs, visit

Happy studying, and may your journey toward licensure be fulfilling and empowering!


  1. 8 pillars of Wellness. Santa Clara Law. (2022, September 28). Retrieved March 28, 2023, from
  2. Eight areas of self care and how to practice them. Rocky Vista Health Center. (n.d.). Retrieved March 28, 2023, from,environmental%2C%20spiritual%2C%20and%20financial.
  3. Dewa, C. S., Loong, D., Bonato, S., Thanh, N. X., & Jacobs, P. (2014). How does burnout affect physician productivity? A systematic literature review. BMC Health Services Research, 14(1).
  4. Harandi TF, Taghinasab MM, Nayeri TD. The correlation of social support with mental health: A meta-analysis. Electron Physician. 2017 Sep 25;9(9):5212-5222. doi: 10.19082/5212. PMID: 29038699; PMCID: PMC5633215.
  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Association (2023). Creating a healthier life: a step-by-step guide to wellness (n.d.). Retrieved April 4, 2023, from
  6. Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). Emotional intelligence. Psychology Today. Retrieved April 4, 2023, from
  7. Scott, E. How spirituality can benefit mental and physical health. Very Well Mind. 2022. 


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About the Instructor, Meagan Mitchell: Meagan is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has been providing individualized and group test prep for the ASWB for over five years. From all of this experience helping others pass their exams, she created the Agents of Change course to help you prepare for and pass the ASWB exam!

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