When it comes to self-care, we tend to think face masks, massages, or taking a bubble bath with a glass of wine. However, self-care doesn't have to cost you a fortune or involve any fancy pampering, and there are a number of free self-care ideas that can be life changing when used habitually. The word "self-care" can mean so many different things, and although we hear the term and may automatically associate it with treating yourself, anything you do to take care of your physical and mental wellbeing falls into this category.
"I think that it is vital when considering self-care to think about the cultivation of gratitude in one’s life and to find hobbies and interests that you care about, outside of fitness and career," holistic health coach Ashley Boynes-Shuck tells Bustle. "Maybe it is volunteering, writing, birdwatching, or astronomy. Maybe your version of self-care is a hot bubble bath, knitting, or a cup of hot tea every night. Use these opportunities of exploring hobbies or indulging in downtime to get in touch with that spirit of positivity and gratitude — it’s amazing how much better you’ll feel when taking care of yourself mind, body, and spirit."
Here are 21 quick, life-changing, and cheap habits experts say you should try to incorporate into your life to take better care of yourself.
Exercising is a form of a self-care, but sometimes working out isn't seen as the most enjoyable, stress-free activity. However, walking can calm the brain without taxing the body, and it's easy to fit in no matter how busy you are. Walking is free, it can feel meditative, and it can boost your mood, both in the moment and long-term, according to multiple sources.
Try stretching before bed to relax, repair, and rejuvenate the body. "Mobility work is excellent for recovery and injury prevention, plus it can help boost sleep," health and fitness coach Josiah Novak tells Bustle.
3Reading A Book
"When was the last time you lost yourself in a good book? Take 15 minutes before bed to read a chapter out of your favorite book," health and lifestyle strategist Misty Shaheen tells Bustle. Library cards are generally free, which means you have plenty of material at your disposal. Reading can benefit your mental health by reducing stress, making you more empathetic, strengthening your brain, and even helping you sleep better, according to multiple studies.
4Organizing Your Space
It might seem like an annoying task, but once you organize aspects of your life, it's usually followed by serenity and a feeling of relief. "Clearing up old emails, old notes, and straightening up your work area will clear your head and boost productivity," says Shaheen. "Take 15 minutes at the end of each work week, before you leave for the weekend. This is even more important if you work from home."
You don't have to be a hip-hop master to break out some moves and let loose. Whether you're alone in your room or hanging out with friends, put on some music and bust out. Beyond just getting in some physical activity, dancing helps to decrease anxiety, increase self-esteem, and improve our psychological wellbeing, according to research from the journal PLoS One.
6Sipping A Hot Beverage
Enjoy that cup of coffee or tea and take a moment for yourself — or better yet, for the cheapest option, sip on cup of hot water. "Without paying a dime, you can experience many positive benefits from drinking hot water, such as decreased anxiety and improved digestion," wedding Doula Elizabeth Su tells Bustle. "It’s the easiest and cheapest trick in the book."
7Spending A Few Extra Moments In Bed
"Instead of grabbing your phone first thing (which definitely can start your day off with stress), take a few moments while you're still in bed to see how you're feeling," Suzanne Brown of Mompowerment tells Bustle. "Acknowledge how you feel, and make any necessary adjustments. It can also help you be more intentional with your day. It can make a difference with how you deal with those in your household and on your team at work."
8Practicing Positive Self-Talk
It's easy to get caught up in a cycle of negative thoughts, but this leaves us feeling defeated. "Oftentimes, we're not even aware of our negative self-talk and its effect on our behaviors," nutritionist and lifestyle coach Lindsey Joe, RDN, LDN tells Bustle. "Negative thoughts can become habitual, and the only way to stop them is to come back at them with positive thoughts." If you don't know where to start, begin by writing down things you like about yourself or come up with motivating statements encouraging you to take on your goals. Then try repeating those statements every morning to lift your mood.
9Writing Down Your To-Do's Before Bed
Before you go to bed, write down your schedule, to-do's, or goals for the following day. This is another task that might seem like a pain at first, but the results are worth it. "One major benefit is that once you write it down, it goes out of your head and onto the paper, allowing you to sleep like a baby and not worry or dwell on what you have to do tomorrow," personal development coach Casey Moran tells Bustle.
Focusing on what you are grateful for might seem simple, but many studies show it can have a big impact. Regularly expressing gratitude is linked with better physical and psychological health, improved relationships, and even better sleep. "I recommend keeping a weekly journal that you write in once or twice a week," life coach Zakiyya Rosebelle tells Bustle. "You can also write it in at random times when you experience a feeling of joy or gratitude for something that occurs. It can be something as simple as 'I am grateful for waking up another day to enjoy the wonders of this world' to something more intricate like 'I am grateful for the quality time I spent with my family watching the new Disney movie.'"
Sit outside and bask in nature. "In Japan they call this Shinrin Yoku, or 'Forest Bathing,' and there's a growing body of evidence that this practice can help reduce stress, lift your mood, and boost immunity," holistic health coach Katerina Pozzi Baratta, LAc, MSOM tells Bustle.
12Drinking More Water
Sure, there are plenty of fancy herbs and natural foods that can boost your energy, and improve your wellbeing, but there's an alternative to these products that won't cost you a penny: water. Even just mild dehydration can cause fatigue, issues focusing, and irritability, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, so load up on that water to feel better all around.
Meditation seems to a buzzword recently, and for good reason. It can not only reduce stress with issues such as anxiety and depression — but it can also help manage physical conditions such as chronic pain, headaches, and even sleep issues, according to Mayo Clinic. "One free way to learn mindfulness is to simply type "Mindful Meditation" into YouTube, and you'll be flooded with videos," yoga health coach Elise Marie Collins tells Bustle. "I recommend starting with short breathing exercises or guided visualizations and working your way up to longer meditations."
14Repeating Positive Self-Talk In The Mirror
Get in the habit of thinking positive thoughts, and repeating uplifting phrases when you look at yourself in the mirror. "Train your eyes to focus on your [favorite] features, your goodness, and your talent," says Rosebelle. "Instead of bringing yourself down with thoughts and worries about how others will judge you, shift your attention to all of the wonderful things about yourself."
Writing down your thoughts can do wonders for your wellbeing. Multiple studies show that journaling can help you cope with negative feelings, reduce stress, improve your relationships with others, and even boost your immune system.
16Celebrating The Little Things
It's not everyday that we get a promotion or win the lottery, which means we can look for joy in the little things instead. "No achievement is too small," says Joe. "What you can do keeps you motivated, and giving yourself little rewards along the way is an effective catalyst for change."
17Doing Something Creative
"Creativity is self-care," health and wellness coach Camaron Brooks tells Bustle. "We can get so busy taking care of business (and others), we totally forget to nurture our passions. Whether it's writing, painting, or potato carving, these are all free and a better choices than bingeing on the next big Netflix series. Feeling connected to our creativity feeds our souls." Brooks thinking about what you did for fun in the fourth grade, and revisiting that passion.
Can't afford a massage? No worries! Try some acupressure at home instead. "By pressing down on certain points on your body, your mood can lift and help you get back to your day," Dr. Nada Milosavljevic tells Bustle. Acupressure, which many people consider acupuncture without the needles, is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that involves putting pressure on certain points of the body to help promote relaxation and wellness.
19Listening To Relaxing Music
Music can be very therapeutic, but you don't have to go to a concert to reap its benefits. Put on some relaxing music at home, whether it's classical or another genre that you find soothing. "Sound can improve concentration, decrease headache pain, lift your mood, and promote relaxation through the use of music sound therapy," says Milosavljevic "Smooth sounds with gentle transitions often help with relaxation and to ease tensions."
20Watching A Funny Movie
They say laughter is the best medicine — and it's true! Laughing helps to cool down your body's stress response while stimulating circulation and aiding muscle relaxation, according to Mayo Clinic. It also releases endorphins, so go ahead and turn out your favorite comedy or watch a funny video on YouTube — it's good for you.
21Waking Up A Little Earlier
"Get up early and seize the day — it's free, and it's what people did before electricity and digital devices," says Collins. It might seem difficult at first, but even just 15 minutes of free time in your day can feel like a luxury.
Everyone has different schedules and different activities they enjoy, but these habits prove that taking care of yourself doesn't have to cost a fortune.