Summer is slowly coming to an end in many places of the United States and we’re moving into fall and even closer to winter. This is a good time to start slowing down and thinking about the things that we really need to take care of ourselves. Self-care is talked about a lot on social media and it’s often discussed as if it is simply taking a bath or buying something cute for yourself. In fact, self-care is more complicated than that. It has to be more consistent and deliberate in order for it to have a long-term impact. But self-care can also be cost-prohibitive, depending on your circumstances, so here are some ways that you can take care of yourself while living within your means.
1. Go to sleep
I know so many people who don’t make sleep a priority. Everything suffers when you don’t get enough sleep: your mood, immune system, concentration, skin, etc. The optimum hours of sleep differs depending on the person, but try to figure out when you feel the best in the morning. Then, make it part of your schedule to go to bed in time to get that many hours of sleep. Do you have trouble falling asleep? Turn off your TV or cell phone an hour before you go to bed, read a book, spritz some lavender near your pillow, or do some deep breathing.
BONUS: Sleep is free!
2. Drink lots of water
Being adequately hydrated is key to many physical and mental benefits. To name a few: it can improve your mood, it can aid your digestive system, it helps you think more clearly, and more! Don’t know how much water to drink everyday? Try this cool app called iHydrate, which allows you to input your gender, weight, and level of daily activity.
From there, it calculates how much water you should be drinking each day to be hydrated enough. I really like how personalized it is, rather than the 60oz a day that is often touted. And don’t forget to carry around a reusable water bottle with you. Plastic bottles are terrible for the environment and a waste of money.
3. Eat well
Yes, eating healthy food is not exactly easy when you’re on a tight budget. But it is still possible. Try to plan your meals ahead of time so that you aren’t tempted to go buy fried food; this will help your wallet and your overall health. For the past couple of months, my husband and I have been sitting down together to plan out our meals for the following week. It takes away the decision making after a long day of work and it also makes sure that we always have leftovers to each for lunch. Perhaps you can cook a huge, healthy crockpot meal on Sundays so that you have delicious ready-made lunches all week.
4. Take a break
I know plenty of people, especially women, who feel like they need to be productive all. the. time. Yes, there is a lot to do and many changes to make (especially now), but you’re no good to anyone if you burn out. Make time to let yourself recharge. Set boundaries so that you have that time for yourself. For example, choose at least one night a week when you can go home after work and just relax. I like to do this on Mondays because they are also one of the worst days of the week. Block off that day on your calendar and don’t schedule anything over it. You don’t have to be productive 24/7. Do it for your health and sanity over the long term.
5. Do things that make you happy
When we are busy or stressed, we tend to forego the things that are best for us. This can be eating well or exercising, but it also can be the things we love most. Have you been ignoring your friends’ texts? Perhaps putting your romantic partner on the back burner? Do you love working out but haven’t been making the time for it? Are your books gathering dust? Deliberately make time to do the things that bring you joy. If you have to, schedule it on your calendar. From 10:30pm-11pm each night, read that book you’ve been dying to read. Put a date night (for friends or your sweetheart) on the calendar for once a week. If you need to save money, make it an at-home date night: cook a simple (but healthy and delicious) dinner, and watch a movie on Netflix together.
6. Take a deep breath
We hear a lot about meditation and mindfulness as a way to calm our anxiety and feel better overall. But these concepts don’t resonate with a lot of people. I know that I personally have always had a hard time with the idea of meditation, because my brain moves way too fast. However, if you think about it purely as stopping to take a deep breath or two, that might be easier to manage. Rather than putting “meditate” on your to-do list and then skipping over it everyday, like I do, just take a few deep breaths when you wake up in the morning. It might help you to shake off some of your anxiety so that you can ease into your day a little bit better.
7. Prioritize your physical health
Sometimes, self-care is simply going to the doctor when you need to. You’ll always live inside of your body, so taking care of that body is an important part of living a good life. At the very least, make sure to get a physical each year to make sure that things are in general working order. If you have health insurance, your annual physical is 100% covered under preventative care. This applies to your twice-annual dental appointments if you have dental insurance. These exams can either prevent potential health issues or catch them early, which can make them easier to treat.
Another way to prioritize your health this year is to make sure that you get the flu shot! Not only is it good for you, but it’s good for everyone around you. Find out where to get a cheap or free flu shot.
If you don’t have health or dental insurance yet, make sure that you enroll in the marketplace when open enrollment comes around later this year. You might be surprised at how low your monthly premiums will be if your income qualifies.
8. Take care of your mental health
Mental health issues are still cloaked in taboo in our society, but it’s slowly getting better. Talking about mental health is becoming somewhat more common, at least in my own social circles. I talk about my therapist all the time! But just talking about it doesn’t necessarily do the trick. You have to take action. If you’re struggling with mental health issues, like anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, or other issues, get help where you can find it.
If you have health insurance, find out what your coverage is for mental health services. Sometimes, you only have to pay a small co-pay in order to see a therapist or psychiatrist. If you don’t have health insurance, or if your co-pay is still too high to afford, look into the local graduate programs for therapists. You might be able to find low-cost mental health services offered by therapists in training. If that still isn’t an option, look into services like TalkSpace or BetterHelp. They are online platforms that give you access to a licensed therapist for a lower monthly cost.
9. Get moving
I worked with a health coach for the last few months and one of the biggest takeaways I got was this: moving your body doesn’t have to look like high-intensity exercise. Movement can vary depending on the person and the day. If going for a long, slow walk around your neighborhood is the extent of your exercise, that’s okay! I’ve been trying to get back into an exercise routine and my first step was making sure that I took my puppy for a long walk at least every morning. Not only did it get him some exercise and tired him out for the day, but it also meant that I was making sure to move every day. From there, I added yoga once or twice a week. Last week, I went to a body pump class for the first time in over a year. Whatever your movement looks like, do something to move your body. You’ll be surprised how much better you’ll feel afterward.
10. Don’t forget your financial health
Taking care of your finances is another important way to take care of yourself. It might not always feel very fun, but the more that you ignore your money, the worse off you’ll eventually be. Practicing regular financial maintenance can keep you on track with your bills and your financial goals. To make this easier and relatively painless, schedule a time once a week to sit down and look at your money. Call it your “money minute” and set aside 10 or 15 minutes to review your bank statements so that you are aware of how much you’ve spent so far. This will keep you ahead of the game as the month goes by.
These aren’t the only ways to take care of yourself; not even close. Do you feel really good after you give yourself a manicure or pedicure? Do that more often! Is regular exercise a major part of what makes you feel healthy? Do that too. Only you know what steps are needed to make you the best that you can be.