10 Low-Cost Ways to Spend a Mental Health Day

women in line for the ice cream truck

When summer rolls around, it’s tempting to think the sun showers and beach days will wash away any mental health maintenance struggles. But for many, the warm weather brings new challenges like baring self-harm scars, dealing with body image issues, managing high expectations to have the perfect summer, coping with a lack of structure, and carrying the financial burdens of the heavy travel season.

Luckily, when stressors start accumulating, a mental health day is one of the best tools in your personal wellness kit.

Low-Cost Ways to Boost Your Mental Health

Prior to your time off, check in with your mind and body. Are you feeling depleted? Exhausted? Lonely? Anxious? Based on your assessment, try a few of these low-cost ideas to reset, recharge, and make the most out of summer.

1. Get sweaty

Intimidated by new gyms? There’s no better time of day to try one than early afternoon. Studios commonly offer intro and foundational classes midday when attendance is lower. It’s a great opportunity to try out that trendy new workout at a slower pace, and with only a handful of other people.

If you like to enjoy the outdoors, discovering a new running, biking, or hiking trail close to you is a great gym alternative! Bonus: Find a studio that offers a new student deal and benefit from free or significantly reduced drop-in prices.

Price: Free!

2. Try the “Trash Bag Tango”

It may seem counterintuitive to clean on your day off, but if you are a person who has a hard time relaxing while staring down a big mess, then you already know the benefits of a clean space for stress levels. Physical environments directly impact our psychological health. Research shows that physical clutter contributes to mental clutter, impeding the ability to rest and focus.

Begin with tackling a small space like your computer desktop or a single cabinet and move on to the Trash Bag Tango — 10 minutes spent collecting clutter in a trash bag. Once you’ve started and completed one project, build on that momentum to tackle the next.

Price: Free!

3. Test out horticulture therapy

Did you know that research shows a correlation between 30 minutes of gardening and reduced cortisol levels? Dirt digging and weed pulling are actually good for your health! No yard? No problem — a window box or a kitchen herb garden count, too.

And if you really want to get in the action, but don’t have the means, seek out a community garden. These green havens are designed such that neighbors either rent an individual plot or collectively care for the garden. Hey, you might even make some new friends!

Price: $2.50 for a starter 6-pack of annuals

4. Track down an ice cream truck

Feed a craving for nostalgia and treat yourself to a sweet memory. While nostalgia can evoke all kinds of emotions, there are many ways it also makes us happy. With jobs and responsibilities that take us to faraway places, the psychology of nostalgia can counter feelings of loneliness and help us feel closer to long-distance loved ones. So what’ll it be, kid? Bomb pop, Drumstick, or ice cream sandwich?

Price: $1.25 – $4.50

5. Seek out silence

Whether or not you regularly practice spirituality, taking time for meditation or prayer is a key to general wellness. Unfortunately, in the busyness of an ordinary week, there are not many places we can find complete silence. Finding a spot for solitude and mindfulness is almost guaranteed to start your day off on a good note and reset a day that’s gone poorly.

Use your day off to explore a church or park that you’d ordinarily rush by. Sit with your thoughts, say some prayers, or simply clear your mind and just be present.

Price: Free!

6. Go on an (audio) adventure

Can’t afford a vacation? How about a staycation? For the price of a movie, get lost in a good book or podcast series for an entire day. Take it with you on the train, in the car, to the beach, window shopping, on a walk, or even out to coffee.

You’d be surprised how easily activities that seem made for two feel a lot less lonely in the company of a best-seller or episodes you can’t put down.

Price: Free! (with a library card)

7. Help a neighbor

There’s good reason to use a day off this summer to help a fellow human. Beyond relief or support the recipient experiences, helpers also reap the rewards of their generosity with increased life satisfaction, reduced risk of depression, and improved general wellness.

Download an app like DEED, that matches people with one-time and recurring volunteer opportunities to find an organization in need of your help. Or simply offer a ride, visit with a homebound relative, or drop off a coffee for the new mom next door.

Price: Free!

8. Go on a garden walk

Explore your own neighborhood — or a new-to-you neighborhood. Plan a route or enjoy the rare occasion of not having anywhere to be and wander aimlessly while scoping out the best blooms on the block. While we’ve long known the physical benefits of exercise, a 2018 study confirmed that physical exercise is also “significantly and meaningfully associated with self-reported mental health burden.”

Price: Free!

9. Brew your own iced coffee

You may or may not be even surprised to learn that coffee is proven to positively affect mood and brain function. But you’ll probably be surprised to learn how easy it is to make your own cold brew. For the price of a couple lattes, invest in your own starter kit and wake up to better-than-store-bought coffee for the rest of the week.

Sure you can buy a fancy cold brew maker, or you can simply use any large jar that’s already in your kitchen. Your Monday morning self with thank you!

Price: Free (if you have coffee grounds at home!)

10. Go blue

Close your eyes and imagine yourself safely drifting on a boat. The breeze smells like water and feels cool, but not cold on your face. The lapping of the water is rhythmic against the craft and it’s nothing but blue between you and the horizon. It’s hard to imagine being stressed about deadlines, schedules, and bills in that scene.

Turns out, there’s actually science backing the cognitive and emotional benefits of being near water. So find a river, a lake, a pool, a beach, or even a leisurely shower, and let the water work its magic.

Cost: Free!

The warm weather doesn’t mean your mental health maintenance is on pause. The summer heat can provide different and exciting ways to spend a mental health day — and they don’t have to break the bank!

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