The idea of affordable self-care was born late one night when I was brainstorming post ideas for my professional Instagram page. It was a reaction to all of the posts you see when scrolling through #selfcare.

If you just had those posts to go by, then you would be under the impression that self-care was a synonym for spa treatments. There were candles, massages, fancy nails, and a lot of bubble baths.

I found myself having a strong reaction to seeing self-care marketed as a “treat yo’self” indulgence. In that marketing is a message suggesting we need to pamper ourselves in order to get the care we deserve.

Can it be indulgent? Sure. Does it need to be? No.

I decided to flip the script on this commercialized version of self-care. My budget for affordable self-care posts has always been $0. And, all ideas must be relatively accessible for most people following my page.

Rather than feeling limited by my budget, I find it fuels my creativity. I’m better able to spot the free things I do that help me function at my best. If it helps me, then it just might help someone else.

Many of the posts I’ve written on this topic involve getting back to the basics of healthy living. Take these examples:

1. Go to Bed Earlier.

We all know we are supposed to do this. Sleep is critical for functioning in a healthy way.

Why post about something we already know? Many of us also know we aren’t so good at paying attention to the little things.

An early bedtime isn’t glamorous, but it can be a real game-changer when life is busy and exhausting.

2. Mute Your Group Chats. Turn off All Phone Notifications.

Few of us need yet another reason to go check our phones. The constant pinging of a new message or alert interrupts our concentration. It makes us less efficient. Our phone takes us away from a more mindful, focused way of living.

Perhaps you don’t have this issue (or, you already mute notifications as a practice). That’s great. I find it to be a useful check-in with my anxious clients. Hearing their phone chiming in therapy appointments is a tip-off that it is interrupting them in other parts of their lives when it shouldn’t be.

3. Set More Realistic Expectations About How Long Things Take to Get Done.

A lot of us have overly optimistic timeframes for getting projects finished. It creates a set-up, leaving us frustrated, impatient, and disappointed when things don’t meet our unrealistic deadlines.

It reminds me of the old research rule of thumb: set a conservative timeline for your empirical study…and then double it.

Whether we are thinking about clients or ourselves, it’s important to be honest about the ways we are or aren’t living a healthy life. Some of us know we have really poor self-care. We may neglect or even act abusively toward ourselves.

We need to stop pretending this poor treatment doesn’t impact us physically, emotionally, and mentally. It does.

Another trap around our conceptualization of self-care is the assumption that it must involve some long-term plan with multi-step goals. Again, it could be something that complex, but it doesn’t need to be.

Any small step in a healthier direction is a useful one. There is nothing too small to be helpful.

And honestly, as a grad student, these small steps may be the only ones you can realistically take on until your life slows down. That’s okay. The irony here is that setting attainable goals is another act of good care.

Here Are a Few More Affordable Self-Care Ideas:

4. Let Them Win the “Not Worth It” Arguments.

For better or worse, my Instagram account has helped me decipher between people who want dialogue and those who want the last word.

All of us have people in our lives who will fight to the death in order to be right. These are not people worth arguing with if you also want to prioritize your emotional health.

You save a lot of tension both during and after the conversation by walking away early from arguments that are more about winning than anything more meaningful.

5. Take 15 Minutes to Unsubscribe from Some Mail.

We all seem to get too much email. It clutters our inbox in ways that can end up cluttering our minds.

This idea may be one of the least glamorous posts I’ve thought of…well, or maybe this one…

6. Don’t Wait Hours to Pee. Go When You Need to Go.

Helpers can fall into traps of thinking they can’t take care of themselves until everyone else’s needs have been met. Essentially, this means they never get to focus on themselves.

Listening to our bodies is an act of respect. Letting others know when we need to attend to some basic needs is an act of assertiveness. Both have a positive impact on our well-being.

Several teachers commented about struggling with this one because of being stuck in a classroom full of students. Another teacher offered her solution. She said she finally got over her embarrassment one day, asked her teaching assistant to cover her class, and then went to use the bathroom. Instead of the annoyance she feared, her TA thanked her. They both now feel empowered to take a short break when needed.

This story is such a good example of using creative problem-solving and assertiveness well. I think one of our roles as a therapist is to help our clients get unstuck by thinking through problems in divergent ways. A perfect solution may not always be possible, but we can help our clients learn self-advocacy and problem-solving skills that can transfer to other areas of their lives.

When I first posted about affordable self-care, I wasn’t so sure people would really be drawn to these posts. As you’ve probably noticed, none of these ideas are exactly profound or new. And yet, these ideas have been some of my most popular posts to date.

Relationship Self-Care Ideas:

1. When Someone Gives You a Compliment, Thank Them. Don’t Explain it Away.

If we are going to learn how to treat ourselves better, then we need to get in the practice of allowing others to treat us well.

Plus, it’s annoying to give someone a compliment only to have them tell us all the ways we are wrong.

2. Take a Break from Solving Other People’s Problems.

You aren’t in control of their choices. The energy you are putting into their issues could be spent working through your own.

3. Don’t Gossip.

If we are saying negative things behind someone else’s back, then it’s only natural to assume that other people are saying negative things about us, too. It erodes our sense of trust and fuels social anxiety.

Instead, invest in relationships with people who have other things to talk about besides their negative take on the ways other people are living their lives.

I think there are a few reasons these posts have resonated with so many people. First, they capture the very normal struggles of being a busy human. Most everyone can relate to them.

Second, simply paying attention to how we treat ourselves can help us move things in the right direction. We are better able to notice the areas where we have control and choice. We may be better able to identify the times we have forfeited choice and power, because we just didn’t see them there in the first place.

Third, I think many of us struggle with taking theoretical concepts down to day-to-day practice. It’s been a big reminder for me when working with clients. I frame abstract concepts differently now.

It helps clients when their therapist can offer assertive phrases that can be used to help get needs met. It also helps to offer examples of what big concepts like self-care, self-compassion, and mindfulness look like in the everyday ups and downs of life. The result is a set of ideas that feel attainable.

Let’s end with a few more suggestions. Which of these ideas do you already practice well?  Which ones will you be trying over the next couple of weeks?

  1. Wear your favorite pajamas.
  2. Take a few deep breaths.
  3. Spend 5-10 minutes each day allowing your mind to wander.
  4. Keep a to-do list.
  5. Reread a favorite book from childhood.
  6. Play some good music.
  7. Watch a sitcom. Take a break from crime and reality TV.
  8. Cook enough food for leftovers.
  9. Ask for a hug when you need one.
  10. Follow more therapists on Instagram. ; )

Jenn Hardy, PhD

Jenn Hardy, PhD, is a licensed counseling psychologist in private practice. She completed her doctoral degree at Penn State University in 2010 with specialized training in psychodynamic therapy, attachment theory and career/vocational issues. Wanting to help a larger audience than could ever fit on a clinical caseload, she also writes on Instagram (@drjennhardy) about relationships, career-related issues, resilience and other psychoeducational topics. In addition to her social media writing, she has been interviewed by various media outlets and loves to be a guest on podcasts developed by other mental health professionals. To see more of what she’s been writing and talking about, check out her website, and consider subscribing to her quarterly newsletter (www.drjennhardy.com). She lives with her two children and husband in Maryville, TN.
Jenn Hardy, PhD

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