Maybe you’re experiencing the winter blues, dealing with an unhealthy relationship or feeling overwhelmed by holiday parties, kids’ activities and nonstop work pressure. But what have you done for you lately?
If you can’t afford to take yoga classes, go out to dinner with friends, buy organic food or meet with a therapist, don’t worry. Self-care doesn’t have to cost a thing — and won’t take that much time out of your day.
In order to stay on top of your mental health game, you must practice continuous self-care. It’s not something you can pay attention to once a month or once a year and expect it to carry over indefinitely.
It’s no different than excelling at work. You can’t work hard on a Monday, take off Tuesday through Sunday, and expect that eight hours of work to propel your career.
A recent study published in The Lancet Psychiatry found that the more circadian rhythm disruptions you have — increased nighttime activity or uneven sleep patterns — the more likely you are to have decreased feelings of well-being, reduced cognitive functioning and more symptoms associated with depression. Sleep is one of the most basic, but also one of the most important, things you can do for self-care.
Obligations often get in the way of our routines, but setting aside a few minutes a day to practice self-love is doable. Trust me.
A lot of us have the responsibility to care for others in our lives, whether that’s a child, an aging parent, or a struggling sibling or friend. But don’t forget about the only person you’re stuck with forever: yourself.
“If you think you need to take care of others, I challenge you to answer, ‘Why should I not take care of myself?’” psychotherapist Laura F. Dabney said.
Spending money on self-care seems like a luxury when you have bills, family obligations, travel expenses and debts to pay, but it can fit into anyone’s budget. Here are some affordable ways to take care of yourself:
1. Use free (or nearly free) resources
Take note of what makes you happy. Keep a journal (even if it’s just in your Notes app) and track what drains you, what stresses you out and what improves your mood.
For Alison Carville, a self-employed public relations professional, music is important.
“I’m a big music fan, so I like to listen when I’m in a rut,” she said.
She sets aside money for one to two new albums a month. If you don’t want to buy music, you can use streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music.
Podcasts are another great option. There are thousands of podcasts out there on every subject you can think of, including self-care and relaxation, and they’re all free.
Phone apps are great too. Here are some recommendations:
2. Make moving around a priority
You don’t have to buy a gym membership or attend a Pilates classes to be physically active. Going for walks around the block or at the mall, running on the treadmill, stretching in front of the TV, baking or getting intimate with your partner can contribute to your daily exercise goals.
Even just one hour of exercise a week can make a difference.
“Exercising can always help give you the boost you may need,” Dabney said.
There are so many health benefits associated with being active, and increased energy and mood levels are certainly among them. You may feel too tired or busy to exercise, but the more you exercise, the more energy you’ll have (and yes, it’s a Catch-22).
3. Get your vitamin D
About 1 billion people worldwide have a vitamin D deficiency. The shorter the days and the colder the weather, the less likely you’re getting the vitamin D you need. That makes you more susceptible to illness, depression and fatigue.
When you don’t see sunlight for days, everything can feel dreary. To ensure you’re getting enough vitamin D, step out into the sunlight (suggestions: ice skating, sledding, walking, snowshoeing, building snow forts), eat vitamin D-rich foods like tuna, salmon, orange juice, mushrooms and egg yolks, or take supplements.
Self-help is available, regardless of your time or budget limitations. You can read a book from the library, take a quiet bath, light a candle, try a new hobby (like quilting or drawing), take a nap, meditate, journal, practice positive affirmations or step away from social media.
Whatever you do, make sure you:
Dabney suggests setting boundaries and saying “no” to social invitations when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
“If you focus on what you need for yourself, you will be happier, and in turn, will be happier for those around you,” she said.