Low-cost Solutions That Can Improve Your Mental Health

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The wellness industry, which grew 12.8% from 2015-2017 to a $4.2 trillion global market, has done an amazing job at convincing us that self-care is a luxury.

I fell straight into the trap of thinking exotic yoga retreats, expensive green juices, and fancy trips to the spa were the only ways to practice self-care. Over the years I’ve learned (as has my wallet) that self-care doesn’t need to be so elaborate. Rather, the best forms of self-care are those everyday practices that help you feel more balanced, more present, and more intentional on a regular basis.

Here are five simple self-care practices that don’t cost a dime:

1. Meditate For 10 Minutes Per Day

Meditation, which has its roots in Buddhism, is about:

1) paying attention to present momentary experiences (i.e. not trying to change or get rid of them).

2) cultivating non-judgemental awareness so you learn to accept things as they are.

According to Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D. LPCC-S, and Ohio-based Talkspace therapist who specializes in the use of mindfulness-based approaches to counseling, “Just about everyone can benefit from regular meditation practice.”

“Research consistently tells us that daily mediation can have both physical and mental health benefits,” O’Neill explained. “For those who do experience anxiety, worry, or fear, meditation can be an especially helpful tool as they begin to learn how to adopt a more present-focused mindset.”

For anyone who is worried about the time commitment, take comfort in the fact that a recent 2018 study on mindfulness meditation suggests 10 minutes is all people need to reap the benefits of meditation. Study results found that even people who were new to meditation experienced reduced stress, increased focus, and lower levels of anxiety by just practicing meditation for 10 minutes per day.

2. Go For A Mindful Walk

While I am a huge fan of seated meditation, I prefer to go for walks to clear my head if I’m feeling particularly anxious. One study found that engaging in 8 sessions of 60-minute mindful walking training over 4 weeks was linked to reduced stress and improved quality of life. Sometimes I deliberately leave my headphones at home so I am forced to be present and notice my surroundings. It truly feels like a breath of fresh air!

According to Dr. O’Neill, “Both [seated and active meditation practices] can be meaningful and could potentially be helpful at different times.”

Just like I find in my experience, O’Neill says that, “For those who are feeling the need to slow down and find space for themselves, then perhaps a more independent and seated meditation practice could be beneficial.” She explained, “For those who would like to involve the sense of physical connection and connection with others, then activities like yoga or mindful dance might be helpful.”

3. Set A Weekly Intention

The simple ritual of setting a weekly intention can help your week start off on a high note. Instead of dwelling on what you didn’t accomplish from the previous week or feeling overwhelmed about what you need to accomplish for the week ahead, setting an intention can help focus your energy on what’s most important in the present moment.

I like to simplify my intentions down to one word such as “nourishment,” “acceptance,” “vitality,” “ease,” “fun,” or “clarity.” This way, it’s easy for me to remember whenever I need a little recentering throughout the week. What will your weekly intention be?

4. Don’t Book Back-To-Back Meetings

It’s hard to feel mindful when you are rushing from one meeting to the next. When I can, I try to schedule 25-minute and 50-minute meetings to give myself time to run to the bathroom, get a sip of water, or take a few deep breaths before my next meeting. That extra 5 or ten minutes before the top or bottom of the hour can make the day feel less frantic.

Research shows that taking breaks is vital to our mental health and the prevention of burnout. In fact, some burnout scholars argue that daily breaks to boost energy such as physical exercise, meditation, “power naps,” and reflective thinking may be more beneficial to preventing burnout than taking one long vacation.

5. Set A Nightly Alarm To Wind Down

I have a bad habit of overworking so it’s important for me to establish boundaries with myself around when it’s time to shut my computer down and get ready for bed. Setting a nightly alarm is one way that I hold myself accountable.

There have been countless studies that suggest using electronics before bed can impact quality of sleep. In a study that surveyed 237 parents of children ages 8-17 about their children’s sleep and technology habits, children who were exposed to television, cell phones, video games, or computers before bed showed decreased sleep duration and quality and increased BMI.

Whatever You Do, Keep It Simple!

“Self-care doesn’t have to be a detailed or long process,” O’Neill shared. “1-2 minutes of mindful breathing, a quick gratitude practice (for example, listing 3 things you’re grateful for each day), or giving yourself a defined bedtime ritual can be a great place to start.”

Self-care doesn’t need to feel like another item on your to-do list or something additional to budget for. It can be as simple as being more mindful about how you are spending your precious time and energy or remembering to take a deep breath.

“It can also be helpful to explore times when you are free to engage in self-care,” O’Neill added. “For example, instead of beginning your day by scrolling your social media feeds, start with a daily affirmation and breathing exercise.”

Learning how to weave in little moments of self-care throughout my day as been vital to my mental health and well-being. Otherwise, I can get consumed by my thoughts. I ruminate about the past, worry about the future, and miss out on the good stuff.

Simply being present is the most valuable form of self-care there is. And lucky enough, it’s 100% free.

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