20 free ways to practice self-care

By Jackie Lam

Sad but true: in our day and age, we’re stressed out and overworked.

Perhaps you’re working hard to make sure the bills are covered and there’s a roof over your head. Or, maybe you’re keeping a lookout for that next job opportunity, while stacking on side hustles as needed. On top of this, you’re busy maintaining relationships with friends and family.

No joke. It’s a lot.  

This is why “self-care” is important. Yes, it’s a buzzword. And yes, the wellness industry as a whole equates to big bucks. How much money are we talking about here? According to the Global Wellness Institute, in 2017 the global wellness industry market was a staggering 4.2 trillion global economy. To boot, it’s a booming industry that grew 6.4% from 2015 to 2017. 

While you may be eager to throw down dollars on services and products claiming to reduce stress, spending money you don’t have can make your anxiety even worse. 

So, save those dollars. Here are 20 free self-care ideas to increase your overall wellness and help you achieve calm.

1. Spend more time outdoors

Spending time in nature is a great way to alleviate stress. 

That’s why it’s a good idea to carve out some time to go on a hike or visit a nature center in your own neighborhood. Live in the city? A short stroll around the block can help you get your steps in, and calm your nerves. 

2. Journal

There’s good reason why journaling is a self-care classic. It’s cathartic, relaxing, and can lead you to answers within. So, set aside a few minutes each day to journal. To make a habit out of it, take out your notebook and scribble your thoughts and reflections right before bed, or after you wake up. 

Remember: journaling isn’t about the quality of writing, but rather about expressing yourself in a healthy way. It’s also about sorting through your thoughts and emotions.  

3. Clean your house

You know what they say: the state of your home is a sign of your inner state. If your abode is in disarray, you may be struggling with some emotional turmoil.

What’s more, a messy house can make you feel overwhelmed or give you the case of the blues. To keep it manageable, break down cleaning into chunks. Take it one room at a time. Or, organize your clutter into smaller piles, and tackle them one by one. 

4. Do something with your hands, like knitting or macrame

Just like how those fidget cubes can calm the nerves, fill some time with a crafty activity or artistic practice that involves your hands. Think pottery, painting, and knitting scarves. Other projects that involve patience and dexterity also tend to be quite relaxing – like macrame.

Bonus: These crafty endeavors can also double as inexpensive gifts and fill your time with a rewarding pastime. In turn, you can save some beans

5. Get into baking 

There’s something about following instructions and losing yourself in the details of baking that can help lift anxiety.

You don’t have to invest in high-end equipment or a bunch of ingredients. Scour your pantry to see what you already have and concoct something with existing ingredients. You can whip up a yummy cake or some cookies with stuff that’s already in your house. 

6. Make a to-do list 

Feeling overwhelmed from your seemingly endless list of obligations? We feel you. Sit down and create a to-do list of everything you need to tackle. You can order it in a number of ways: from easiest to most difficult, or in order of priority.

Not only will you feel a release by “dumping” your tasks on paper, but it could also help you get to work on crossing off items on your to-do list. 

7. Drum up a gratitude list 

Feeling down? Making a list of things you’re grateful for will help put things in perspective. In turn, it can lead to feel-good vibes and help you think more positively. 

8. Call a friend or family member you haven’t spoken to in a while

Texting an animated gif or meme to the meaningful folks in your life is one thing. But what about a quality catch-up sesh? 

Carving out a few minutes to call or video chat with an old friend or close family member is a solid way to turn your blues around. What’s more, your call will likely make the other person happy, too. 

9. Exercise, exercise, exercise

The benefits of exercise are pretty much instant, well-known and seemingly endless. And the best part is that you don’t have to get a pricey gym membership. To crush your fitness goals without killing your budget, start small. Maybe you can take up yoga, go for a jog or do a set or two of jumping jacks or push-ups in your living room.

10. Try out guided meditation

Take it from someone who has been practicing Zen Buddhism for nearly a decade. Meditating, even for a minute, is no easy task. Most people have a super tough time with sit-in-silence type of meditation. Instead, try out guided meditation. There’s a handful of free meditation apps. And let’s not forget how-to videos on YouTube. 

11. Take a power nap

Per the National Sleep Foundation, a short nap of say 20 to 30 minutes can help uplift your mood, and increase your alertness and performance. 

In lieu of picking up a coffee during your afternoon break, try opting for a quick nap if possible. You just may wake up with a clear head and renewed energy. 

12. Look for an opportunity to say no

If you’re like me, you jump at every opportunity and have a hard time saying ‘no.’ Yet, being over-obligated leads to stress and anxiety. 

Instead, practice saying ‘no.’ This could mean declining a meeting at work (if possible) or passing up a social obligation.

Remember: every ‘no’ could turn into a ‘yes’ to something you really want to do. For you, that may mean you can spend an afternoon taking a solo walk or working on a passion project. Saying ‘no’ is a type of discipline, and the more you exercise that muscle, the stronger it gets. 

13. Go for an aimless, scenic drive

Imagine this: you’re driving down a road, alone with your thoughts, with no destination in mind. When it’s just you on a drive, you have time to make sense of any muddled thoughts. 

So, create a special playlist and see where you end up. You could also commit to hopping out of your car after a designated amount of time. For instance, after an hour of driving, get out of the car and explore the area.

14. Declutter & donate your things

There are two benefits to this one. You’ll tidy up and organize your digs, and you’ll also get rid of unwanted items. You can then donate your stuff, sell it, or give it to a friend. 

Better yet: if you sell gently used items, you’ll earn money you can put into your savings account

15. Start that book you’ve been meaning to crack open

Most people will admit that they don’t read enough. In fact, a recent Harris Poll reveals that 81% of respondents felt that they aren’t reading as much as they’d like.

Be the change here. Dig up your reading list or pull the to-read queue from your Goodreads account. Pick up a book you’ve been putting off reading. Bonus points if you can manage to put your phone away while you do it. 

16. Pick up an instrument 

Playing an instrument can make you happier. This also doesn’t have to cost a lot of dough. 

A couple of ideas: see if you can borrow a friend’s guitar or search online marketplaces to swoop in on a good deal. When you commit to practicing an instrument, it may help you chill. And, you’ll also save money if you practice your guitar instead of going out all the time. 

17. Go on a bike ride 

Hop on your two-wheel ride and amble through your neighborhood on your bike. You’ll get a whiff of fresh air, clear your mind, and enjoy some scenery. 

If you don’t have a bike, you might be able to rent one through a city-sponsored bike share program. Otherwise, you can find one cheap at a local bike kitchen or online marketplace.


18. Go on a social media detox 

Social media can make you feel like you’re not doing enough, or that you don’t have everything you need to be happy. It may also make you feel unsuccessful. And this can lead you to push yourself too hard. 

A social media detox may be just what you need to destress. I went on a month-long break from social media last year. It did indeed help reduce my stress.

19. Be more mindful 

Living in the present and developing greater awareness of the here and now can help you attain calm. To start, do a quick body scan and monitor your breath. Then, focus on an object in the room – like a vase filled with flowers or a framed painting hanging on the wall. 

20. Practice the art of doing nothing 

Note: there’s a difference between relaxing and truly doing nothing. When you devote some time to doing nothing and chill out on your couch, you can truly slow down and rest. In turn, you’ll be able to fully recharge. Yes, that means putting your phone away, getting off social media, and turning off other distractions. 

Give Self-Care a Try

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to practice self-care without spending a dime. By putting these 20 self-care tips to use, you can boost your calm and overall sense of wellness without draining your bank account. 

One more pro tip that will help you stay calm: If you’re not a Chime member yet, try joining today and save money without even thinking about it. 

Jackie Lam is an L.A.-based financial writer whose clients include Fortune 500 companies and FinTech startups. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Business Insider, and GOOD.

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