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Taking Care of Yourself Doesn't Have to Be Expensive

by Sarah Sheppard
January 14, 2019 | Health

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.

Self-care needs to be constant

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.

Illustration of man and woman doing light exercise. Taking Care of Yourself pbs rewire
There are so many health benefits associated with being active, and increased energy and mood levels are certainly among them.

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.

Routines are important

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.

Focus on your wellbeing first

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:

  • Calm was chosen as Apple’s App of the Year in 2017. It features meditation classes from experts, music for relaxing and sleeping, bedtime stories for adults and guided videos for yoga and stretching.
  • Moodpath helps you evaluate your mental health. This is a great precursor to seeking professional help. Answer daily questions, get evaluated and utilize more than 150 videos of psychological exercises meant to improve your mood.
  • Happify uses scientific innovations to help you get happier. This app can help you establish better routines and increase your happiness. According to Happify's website, 86 percent of users reported increased happiness after two months of using the app.

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.

Don’t skimp on taking care of yourself

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:

  • Don’t apologize for needing time to yourself.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  • Don’t forget the importance of caring for yourself before caring for others.
  • Don’t feel guilty for saying “no.”

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.

Sarah Sheppard
Sarah Sheppard is a freelance writer, editor and writing instructor. She earned an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University and is working on her first novel. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter or contact her at
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