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Treat Yourself
10 Fun Self-Care Activities That Are Actually Affordable
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I’ll bet that this is not the first article you’ve read about the importance of self care. Just in case it is, I’ll repeat the standard spiel (but I’ll keep it snappy). “Engaging in self-care” is psychology speak for, “Making time in your life for doing stuff you enjoy.” There’s solid research evidence that people who engage in more self care activities feel happier and experience less stress, contributing beneficially to their mental health. They also tend to have better physical health, including lower blood pressure and weight. People who feel relaxed at the end of the weekend even perform better at work the next week.

Now that I’ve told you everything you already knew about self-care and self care activities, I’m going to confess something. Making time for leisure activities is a struggle for me. I have a full-time job and a toddler, so some days I don’t even sit still until 9:30 PM. Self-care has also gotten a lot more expensive since my son was born (Babysitters are not cheap!). Yet, even though finding time for myself is challenging, it’s necessary. Without some kind of regularly scheduled relaxation in my life, I’m a frazzled mess. This means that I have had to become more creative about my self-care management and the kinds of self-care activities I do.

Below is a list of 10 self-care activities and that I find actually affordable, both in terms of time and money. Not every activity on this list is for everyone, but I hope you’ll find at least one worth trying. Most importantly, I hope you have fun experimenting with embracing new behaviors and finding more time for relaxation in your life!

1. Walk

Walking is a fantastic self-care activity for many reasons. It requires no special equipment (although I do love it when my Fitbit starts buzzing at the 12,000 step mark). You can walk almost anywhere, and, now that it’s spring, the scenery can be quite enjoyable. It’s also a much cheaper way to spend time with friends than brunch or drinks.

The best part is that walking is one of the easiest types of exercise and has enormous health and emotional benefits. Just one, fast-paced, 30 minute walk a day can help you lose weight and lower your blood pressure. Walking can even help reduce symptoms of depression. My daily walk at lunch clears my head and helps me focus during the second half of the workday. I also love walking with my little guy to the park on Saturday mornings. Our pit stop for croissants on the way is an added bonus.

2. Practice Mindfulness

I first started practicing mindfulness when I was working as a clinical psychologist. At that time, I was getting trained in dialectical behavior therapy. One of the training program requirements is to develop a regular mindfulness practice. To be frank, it’s unlikely I would have taken up mindfulness if it hadn’t been a condition of my employment. However, I learned that mindfulness can be both a very practical and very beneficial addition to your personal care repetoire.

I had always imagined that practicing mindfulness meant contorting myself awkwardly in yoga class or going to a silent retreat. These are absolutely legitimate ways of practicing mindfulness but a very poor fit for my talkative and uncoordinated self. I was relieved to learn that practicing mindfulness for a few minutes daily has mental health, physical health, and even work payoffs.

I was also excited to learn that there are literally thousands of ways to practice mindfulness. The most basic mindfulness exercise is to simply observe your breathing for a few minutes. If like me, this is something you are not used to doing, there are free apps to help. Two of my favorites are Stop, Breathe & Think and Calm. If it feels too ironic to use your phone to unplug, I’ll recommend two books on this topic: Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg. Both are accessible, readable, and written by world-renowned experts in this field.

3. Read

Reading has been my favorite self-care activity since I was four. It always saddens me when friends or co-workers tell me they hate reading or no longer have time for it. My sense is that most people dislike reading for two reasons. First, they mistakenly believe that all reading has to be as painful as it was in ninth grade English class. Second, no one ever taught them to find books they actually enjoy. If either of those applies to you, this article has some tips on how to make reading a fun activity. Trust me when I say it’s worth the effort!

If you’re ready to start (or continue!) reading as one of your self-care behaviors, I highly recommend using your local library. Not only will you save money, but you will be supporting a community resource that provides books for everyone—all while contributing to your own personal care. Libraries are also a great place to meet other bookworms and participate in local groups and events.

4. Spend Time with Your Pets

I have two rescue chihuahuas (Starsky and Hutch) who can occasionally induce more stress than relieve it. They can also be expensive (I have the $250 vet emergency bill to prove it!). However, research and my personal experience continue to demonstrate the multiple health and emotional benefits of having pets.

If you already have pets, spending time with them won’t cost extra money and doesn’t have to take much time; taking care of them is just one of your routine activities of daily living. In fact, I am rubbing Hutch’s belly while writing this blog. Starsky is snuggling my knee. With the exception of Hutch, who cowers whenever he sees his leash, most dogs will also encourage you to walk. It’s like two-for-one self care!

Having a pet is not a realistic option for everyone. However, there are ways to get animal companionship without having one in your home. There is a 100% chance that your local humane society or animal shelter could use extra volunteers. This gives you a chance to help animals in need, meet other animal lovers, and get fur kisses.

5. Get Crafty

Crafts are not just for kids, although they can be a fun self-care activity to do with them. I’ve recently been experimenting with making homemade play dough, which my toddler promptly tries to feed to our dogs. We have also tried playing with crayons. Unfortunately, he is more interested in throwing them at the walls than in coloring with them.

If you also have an uncooperative toddler (or no kids at all), there are many adult crafts to try. You don’t even have to make Etsy-quality artwork to reap the benefits of being creative. A great activity for craft beginners is coloring. This is another two-for-one self-care activity because it doubles as mindfulness. Just like other forms of mindfulness, mindful coloring has some well-documented emotional and health benefits and can easily fit into daily living routine.

6. Bake

Baking makes your house smell amazing and provides you with something yummy to eat. Baked goods also make personalized and very affordable gifts. There are now so many healthy recipes on the web that you can even bake things that are reasonably nutritious. Of course, adding self-care to your life is about occasionally splurging, so making a batch of chocolate-chip cookies is also completely acceptable.

At my house, baking doubles as meal prep. On Sundays, I’ll make a quiche or batch of muffins that then becomes my breakfast for the week. That way, I start Monday morning with a warm, delicious treat at my desk (and jealous glances from my co-workers). My toddler is also less likely to fling the zucchini on the floor if it has been baked into a muffin. For the parenting win!

7. Play Board Games

This is another self-care activity that is not just for kids, although you can certainly include them in many board games. In the last decade, the board game industry has exploded, and there is a large market for adult board games. If you and your friends are tired of the brunch/coffee/drinks routine, board games can be a fun alternative for the next time you want to get together. Regularly playing board games has plenty of other benefits as well; it may even prevent dementia.

If you’re open to trying this self-care activity but don’t know where to start, check out TableTop. This is a YouTube show where Wil Wheaton (of Wesley Crusher fame) plays board games with other celebrities. The episodes are pretty funny, and you will get some great ideas for different games to play, as well as directions for how to play them!).

8. Get Musical

Listening to music is another self-care activity with multiple physical and mental health benefits. It is also completely free and can be done in the middle of other activities and obligations. Want an added self-care boost? Try singing along to your favorite tunes. I promise you can still reap the benefits, even if you’re off-key. I have also found that singing makes diaper changes and car rides significantly less painful experiences.

9. Journal

Developing a regular journaling practice can help people get through difficult life transitions, increase happiness, and even improve immune functioning. Many people start experiencing the benefits of journaling after trying it for just 15 minutes for three days.

James W. Pennebaker is the professor who has pioneered much of the work on the benefits of journaling. Here is what to do if you want to try his journaling method. First, pick an event to write about. This should generally be an incident that was difficult for you and had a significant emotional impact on you. Second, write down all your thoughts and feelings about this emotionally-impactful event. Don’t hold back and do not stop writing, even if you get stuck. Just write, “I’m stuck” over and over until a new thought comes to you. Third, make sure to focus on what this event means to you. How has the event impacted your life, relationships, and values? Fourth, don’t worry if your writing is good or grammatical; it's not for anyone else to read or judge—it's just for you.

If this method sounds too intense for you, there are other journaling methods that also have emotional and physical benefits. In Option B, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant describe different types of gratitude journals. In this proess, you can write down three things that made you happy, three things for which you are grateful, or three things you have accomplished. Keeping a gratitude journal can take less than five minutes a day. You don’t even have to have a physical journal; you can use your phone’s memo pad or another phone app.

10. Volunteer

It may seem paradoxical, but it's true: helping others can be an excellent way of helping yourself, too. Volunteering can be a fun way to get out of the house and meet people with similar interests, values, and beliefs. Volunteering can also remind you that, as bad as things are for you at a given time, someone may be having an even harder time. This, of course, builds gratitude for your own experiences, along with all the attendant health benefits I discussed in the previous sections. The best part of volunteering is you get to go home feeling like you made the world a better place and helped many individuals as well. There are very few ways for you to top that kind of mood boost.

There are literally thousands of ways to volunteer your time and countless organizations that would like your help! Your local food bank, hospital, humane society, and library are great places to start. You can also research opportunities to volunteer online. Many communities have databases of local volunteering opportunities and resources for identifying places that host volunteers and would benefit from your help.

Now that you have finished reading about self-care activities and opportunities, I challenge you to find 15 extra minutes this week for some personal self care. Now you have plenty of new ideas that won’t break the bank and are actually fun to do.

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Rebecca Fraynt has a PhD in Clinical Psychology and is an all-around healthcare nerd. She lives near Seattle with her husband, toddler, and two rescue chihuahuas. When she's not working or chasing her dogs or child around the house, she's guzzling coffee, reading, or binge watching Star Trek.

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Rebecca Fraynt has a PhD in Clinical Psychology and is an all-around healthcare nerd. She lives near Seattle with her husband, toddler, and two rescue chihuahuas. When she's not working or chasing her dogs or child around the house, she's guzzling coffee, reading, or binge watching Star Trek.

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