67 – Nurturing Well-Being: Self-Care Practices with Dr. Katharina Stenger

How much time do you consciously dedicate to looking after yourself each day?

We sometimes get busy with our daily routines and forget to take care of ourselves. Luckily, there are simple self-care techniques we can easily add to our daily schedules to help improve our well-being.

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick talks with Dr. Katharina Stenger about self-care techniques that we can adopt to nurture our well-being and cultivate a stronger sense of ikigai.

Self-care is about how we think of ourselves

“But what is self-care? Really, it's hard to grasp this concept between many scientific studies and the hashtag self-care on Instagram. And what I did, I turned to a dictionary to find answers: the Cambridge dictionary defines self-care as the practice of taking action to improve or preserve one's own health. But what I see as a bit tricky is the commercial use of self-care.

The desire to take better care of our mental well-being and our lifestyle is good and important, but no smoothie can do that for you. That's the thing, you have to be active. So if you follow this hashtag self-care in social media, it doesn't make you more caring about yourself, it can even backfire. There's more to self-care than just one definition, and just one hashtag. It involves our mindset – how we think about the world, and how we think about ourselves.” - Katharina Stenger

Katharina Stenger

Dr. Katharina Stenger is a psychologist and professional photo model. In spring 2019, she started her own online practice where she supports clients from all over the world. She also has a strong connection to Japan that led her to discover ikigai.

Katharina Stenger

Her mission is to include the art of living ikigai in her work as a mental health counsellor. She’s also ambitious to research more about ikigai and teach others about it in her home country of Germany. She was a podcast guest on episode 26, where she discussed the connection of ikigai to mental health.

Podcast Highlights

Work related to ikigai

Rina embarked on her career as a psychologist in 2019. She established an online counselling business and engaged with clients from various countries. She helped individuals who feel abandoned, those coping with the loss of significant relationships, and those struggling to reconnect with their inner selves.

To address these challenges, she has found that integrating the concept of ikigai is immensely beneficial. As a result, she combined humanistic approaches like existential positive psychology, logotherapy, and others with the principles of ikigai within her counselling services. She also collaborated with Zeit Akademie, a German newspaper, to create an online ikigai course.

What is self-care?

Self-care is the practice of taking action to improve or preserve one's own health. However, Rina finds it concerning that some are exploiting the idea of self-care for commercial purposes, as seen in the increase of products promising an enhanced quality of life. Depending too heavily on these products can be ineffective, especially if individuals fail to attain the desired outcomes.

Self-care is not synonymous with toxic positivity or obliging oneself to engage in positive activities to feel better. Rather, it revolves around recognizing the challenges one faces in life, thereby enabling effective coping strategies. Rina emphasises that self-care isn't all about pleasant experiences, and it's also not selfish to prioritise self-care.

“It’s not selfish if you take action to preserve or improve your own health. On the contrary, if you feel healthy and if you feel in touch with yourself and you have a strong mindset, you have even more capacity to support others.” - Katharina Stenger

Support others

Taking time for self-care

Taking care of ourselves is essential. This includes the way we talk to ourselves, how we react when we make a mistake, or how we treat ourselves daily. Taking care of ourselves isn't all about having fancy things – it can be the small actions that we do daily that contribute to our well-being. This resonates with Ken Mogi’s pillar of ikigai: the joy of little things. It highlights that focusing on life’s small joys can lead to a feeling of ikigai.

Practising positive self-talk

Addressing negative self-talk is another way to practise self-care. You must first acknowledge your pain, understand what causes it, and learn to be more compassionate with yourself as you face those struggles. Remind yourself that it’s normal to feel that way – it’s part of being human. Learning to be kinder to yourself can help you realise the positive aspects of your life – from your accomplishments to the small things you encounter daily that motivate you.

Japanese host mother

During her time in Japan, Rina resided with her Japanese host mother, Kasumi. Kasumi is widowed, in her 70s, and lives alone in Tokyo. Nonetheless, she embraces life to the fullest, radiating positivity to those around her. Rina reminisces about her stay, emphasising the lack of dull moments – Kasumi knows precisely which questions to ask at the right time. Through Kasumi, she gained insight into practising self-care the Japanese way.

Self-care techniques

Rina shares self-care techniques and thought-provoking questions inspired by Kasumi's daily routine.

Start your day with a ritual: What brings you joy?

Kasumi begins her day with a small ritual, enjoying a morning tea, preferably matcha, alongside a couple of deep breaths.

“It’s great if we all take time to think about something really small, enjoyable, or relaxing, that we can do right after we wake up.” - Katharina Stenger

Something small

Set a meaningful goal for the day: What are you looking forward to today?

After breakfast, Kasumi dedicates a few minutes to setting a small goal for the day – something meaningful to anticipate.

Do something for others: What can you do for someone else?

Kasumi believes in the importance of social connections. That's why she has made it a habit to perform small acts of kindness for others, such as giving compliments or being an attentive listener. This behaviour aligns with the concept of social rolefulness, where one takes on a role that benefits others.

Connect with nature: How can you bring nature into your day?

Kasumi connects with nature as much as possible. She practises shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, and aims to be mindful of the beauty of the natural world around her.

“You have this kind of reflective moment where your mind's kind of at ease and at peace and it's not stressed. It's like, we need this little gap of ease in our mind. And it just takes a star in the distance, or a cloud, or a bird in the sky to trigger it.” - Nicholas Kemp

Reflective moment

Do a self check-in: Ask yourself ‘What do I need right now/today?’

After returning home from a busy day, Kasumi takes a few minutes to conduct a self-check-in, reflecting on her feelings and how her day went while giving herself a hug – simply spending time with herself.

Learn something new: What can/did you learn today?

Kasumi loves the idea of learning something new. Each day, she takes the time to randomly read a book, continuously seeking to gain fresh knowledge.

Practice gratitude: What did you receive from others today?

Kasumi always concludes her day with an attitude of gratitude. She engages in a gratitude exercise where she writes down the little things she's thankful for: from the people she interacts with to the beauty of nature she experiences – every small detail that brings her joy.

“We have so many things that we receive, and it's not something material all the time, sometimes it's time, sometimes it's trust, and love, and maybe even responsibility that we can be grateful for.” - Katharina Stenger


Plans with ikigai and self-care

Understanding the significance of self-care, Rina intends to delve deeper into this subject and assist more individuals in embracing self-care. She is currently in the process of developing programs to raise greater awareness about mental health, particularly in areas like work-life balance. She has already provided coaching to companies on promoting psychological safety in the workplace, employing the ikigai mindset of discovering purpose and mindfulness techniques.


The self-care techniques shared by Dr. Stenger can act as a guide for us to practise greater self-compassion and raise our awareness of our individual needs. Each of us has distinct needs and may find different techniques that suit us. Nonetheless, we can utilise these thought-provoking questions as a stepping stone towards living a life filled with ikigai.