How to practise self-care that costs next to nothing

In the age of Instagram, ‘self-care’ has become synonymous with indulgences like massages, facials, fancy products, boutique workout classes and lavish vacations. That all sounds great if you have tons of disposable income but, for most of us, spending serious cash on self-care just isn’t realistic

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Huffington Post

“The whole concept of self-care has really strayed from the original intent, and become a meme unto itself,” says Kathleen Dahlen deVos, a psychotherapist. “When I talk with my clients about self-care, rarely am I encouraging practices and habits that cost money. In fact, spending excessive money, or funds we don’t have, in the name of ‘self-care’ can actually be distressing, destructive and work against our mental and emotional wellbeing.”

So, we asked experts in the wellness space to share some of the best ways to practice self-care that are basically free. 

Spend some time outside

Take a walk around the block, sit on the grass, hike a local trail or just let the sun shine on your face for a few minutes. “No matter where you live, you’re likely to have access to an outside space,” says Dr Tiffany Lester. “If it’s not in your neighbourhood, think of a close space you can get to within 10 to 30 minutes; getting outside and away from our devices calms our nervous system after the negative effects of everyday stressors.”

Clean and organise your living space

When your house or office is a mess, it can take a toll on your mental state, making you feel more stressed, anxious and overwhelmed. “For some, a messy or disorganised space can activate their nervous systems and impact mental health wellness,” therapist Jesse Kahn, director of the Gender and Sexuality Therapy Centre explains. “If that’s you, taking time to clean up your space can be an act of self-care and self-love, and may feel healing rather than like a chore you don’t want to do.”

Reduce the amount of time you spend on social media

Mindlessly scrolling through your social media feeds for hours on end is not only a drain on your time, but is also linked to lower self-esteem, sleep issues and an increased ‘fear of missing out, or FOMO.

“Social media and the internet are great resources, enabling us to connect, cultivate support and develop communities, but it can also be a place of overconsumption, distraction and numbing out to what we truly may need in our lives,” says McKel Hill Kooienga, a registered dietitian in Nashville, Tennessee, and founder of the site Nutrition Stripped.

The iPhone’s screen time feature or Android’s digital wellbeing tools or apps can monitor your social media usage and help you cut back. Other tricks that may be useful include disabling certain push notifications, switching to grayscale mode or hiding your most enticing apps in a folder that’s not on your home screen.

Do some writing

All you need is a pen and some paper to get started. Keeping a diary or journal can be a therapeutic practice that helps you understand thought patterns, work through difficult emotions, reflect on certain events or cultivate more gratitude in your everyday life.

“Sometimes I find it just as helpful as therapy — and I’m very pro-therapy; I’m studying to be a therapist,” Lauren Donelson, a writer and yoga teacher based in Seattle, explains. “Journaling helps us externalise what’s going on inside our heads, and it helps us to look at our thoughts more objectively.”

Get better sleep

Making an effort to get the recommended seven to nine hours of quality shuteye can make a huge difference when it comes to your overall wellbeing. Getting a good night’s sleep, on a consistent basis, offers benefits such as better immune function, improved mood and better performance at work. If you need some tips on how to make it happen, we’ve got you covered.

“Maybe the self-care practice here is getting a certain number of hours a night, not exceeding a certain number of hours, getting to sleep by a certain time so you’re able to wake up by a certain time, or creating a ritual to help you calm your body, relax and go to sleep,” Jesse says.

Check in with yourself

At least once a day, if not more, take some time to check in with yourself. Pause to assess how hungry or full you are, any emotions you may be feeling or to scan your body for areas of tightness. “Simply asking yourself the question, ‘How am I doing right now?’ is a gentle reminder to take care of yourself,” McKell advises.

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Connect with loved ones offline

Texting and email are convenient forms of communication, but they don’t satisfy our deep need for connection in the way more personal interactions do. “Call a friend, take a walk with a colleague or cook dinner with a family member,“ Kathleen suggests. “Connecting with others we care for helps to shift us out of our heads, regulates our nervous systems and elevates our moods.”

Invest time in a hobby

The demands of work, family and other obligations take up most of our time and energy, leaving barely any room in our schedules for activities we truly enjoy. But carving out some time for our hobbies — even when we have a lot on our plate — matters.

“Most of us are too busy to make time for activities that are joy-filled and feel nurturing. Find a time each week to shut off your electronics and engage in a hobby that rejuvenates your spirit. Play music, write in a journal, take a cooking class; while electronics deplete us, our favourite activities nourish us.”

Take some deep breaths

During high-stress periods we may go hours, or even a whole day, without taking a full, grounding breath if we’re not intentional about it. “I like to take a few deep breaths in the morning, and also throughout the day, because it helps me to re-center and connect more with the present moment,” Jessica Jones, a registered dietitian and co-founder of Food Heaven, tells us. “One strategy I use to remind myself to do this is to take three deep breaths every time I go to the bathroom and wash my hands. It’s easy, free and makes a huge difference to my daily stress levels.”

Volunteer your time with an organisation you care about

Choose your cause, whatever it may be, and then figure out how you can pitch in. “Engaging in altruistic acts, and seeing our actions make a direct and positive impact in the lives of others, is a sure fire way to shift your mood and feel part of something bigger than yourself,” Kathleen says. “This can help put our problems in context, or at least give us a break from stressors.”

Eat more vegetables

Aim to put more of your food budget toward veggies, and less towards ultra-processed snack foods. Then, to up your intake, cut up some vegetables at the beginning of the week and store them in your fridge — that way you can easily grab them when you need a snack, or throw in a handful or two to spruce up your meals.

“Most of us are not consuming near enough whole foods, let alone vegetables, which keep us nice and full because of prolonged satiety from the fibre,” says McKell. “Vegetables nourish our physical bodies on a cellular level with fibre, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, and they can taste really delicious too.”

Cuddle up with someone you love

Snuggle up next to your partner, your child or even your BFF. “Cuddling releases oxytocin, a feel good hormone that also helps with reducing stress,” explains Lynsie Seely, a marriage and family therapist.

Pets make great cuddle buddies, too – plus, spending time with our furry friends has been shown to alleviate anxiety, depression and feelings of loneliness. “If you don’t have access to a pet, go and visit adoptable animals at the local shelter, sign up to walk dogs for a service such as WAG or sip tea at a cat café,” Kathleen suggests.

Say ‘No’ more often

We often think of self-care as doing something extra for ourselves on top of our normal day-to-day activities, but self-care can also be about what you choose not to do, Lynsie says. One way to give a healthy ‘No’ is to start setting boundaries with the people in your life.

“So many of us are people pleasers and spend a lot of time doing things out of feelings of guilt and obligation, causing us to feel energetically drained and lacking the ability to focus on ourselves and what we truly want,” Sara Groton, a nutrition and eating psychology coach says. “Any time I find myself thinking ’I should do that’ or ‘I have to do that,′ I take a moment to question and challenge that thought.”

Self-care doesn’t need to cost the earth. Practising these simple ideas won’t dent your wallet, but they could make you feel like a millionaire.  

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