100 Self-Care Ideas That Are Completely Free
I wrote this list of self-care ideas and acts a few weeks ago when I was feeling quite stressed out, overwhelmed with a number of things and frankly, a little lost. My son had been sick for going on five days, I'd had to pause all my work and writing projects to focus on getting him better, we were all sleeping terribly, and I'd been experiencing quite strong Braxton Hicks contractions (at only 20 weeks pregnant), which scared the bejeebus out of me and ended up with me going to an out of hours midwife appointment. Fortunately all was well, I was just a little exhausted, needed some extra vitamins, and apparently I have a very active uterus - lucky me! But at the time I felt VERY flustered, restless and like I was very quickly heading towards another bout of anxiety or depression.
With hindsight, I can see it as a good thing that I know when my mental health is fragile, or needs some extra attention and love, but in truth, it's terrifying feeling like you are heading to a place you really don't want to go back to. It's like being sucked under water, and you're powerless; you just can't swim. I knew once my son was better and able to return to daycare, and I had done the urgent items of work that needed to be done, I needed to spend some time on self-care. To inspire and encourage me to do so, I wrote this list of things you can do to show yourself a little kindness. Self-care is not easy, in that it takes regular practice and you often need to overcome many obstacles to commit to it (time, money, energy, low mood, an already mile-long to do list, the urge to just lie in bed and scroll on your phone...) but it is worth trying. I know that practising many of these small and big self-care activities helped me to keep the anxiety at bay for a little while during that recent testing time. I also hope they help you find some self-love acts you can enjoy doing easily.
That's the main reason why I wanted this list to be for self-care activity ideas that are free, and I've included categories to describe different moods or situations we find ourselves in because self-love and self-care should be something we are mindful of when things are good, bad, stressed, calm, busy and quiet. We all have different means available to us, though I'm assuming because you're reading this online you have a reliable Internet connection or access to the web, so that's why I've included links to other sites or articles, and why I've mentioned Netflix (which you can try for free for 30 days, FYI) or for Spotify, which also has a free version. Forgive me if I've made other assumptions about the resources you have access to, or available in your region.
So, take a moment to read this list, and please do make a note of the ones you feel are manageable or enjoyable for you to try. Not every single self-care ideas on this list is going to work for you, or be practical, relevant, or beneficial, but hopefully there are enough to pick and choose from or to just inspire and remind you that self-love is important, is possible and is effective in many, many ways.
Self-Care Ideas When You're Short on Time
- A long, deep breath... or ten. Or 20. Or as many as the time allows.
- One minute of affirmation. Just repeat the same phrase over and over again. "I am enough", "I am loved", or "I believe in myself" are my favourites when feeling a little insecure or worrisome about whatever is happening. Or one of my WriteNOW Cards writers' affirmations.
- Five minutes of stretching. These are great.
- Put in ear plugs. Block out some of the noise. (Don't have any? Cotton wool or even a bit of tissue should work fine.)
- Close your eyes. Block out some of the visual busy.
- Lie down and put a pillow under your knees and another one on your stomach. Stay there until your breathing slows.
- Smile. By yourself. At yourself. For Yourself.
- Cry. By yourself. With someone else. For Yourself. For someone else. Don't resist the urge. If we weren't supposed to cry, we wouldn't have the ability to do it.
- Do ten press-ups. Or hold a plank for 20 seconds. Horrible? Yes. But it will give your immune system a quick boost and send some endorphins pumping around your body.
- Spray your favourite scent or perfume on your clothes and take time to really inhale it so it stays with you a little longer.
- Stand or sit up a little straighter. Tilt your chin to the sky a little more. Lower your shoulders. Take up space.
- Lie down with your feet up. Literally. Send a little oxygen to your heart and mind.
- Drink a big, glass of water, maybe with a slice of lemon or cucumber in it. Or nothing. Because you are 60% water so your body only really wants that.
- Dance. Seriously. Put on a song that can't help but make you move and wiggle that body of yours. Even chair dancing counts. Also dancing is exercise so your ticking that box for the day too.
Self-Care Ideas When You Do Have Some Time
- Be creative. Whether it's writing something (for fun, not a shopping list!) or doing some painting or baking, take time to MAKE something just for no other reason than to create.
- Practice affirmation. If you're a writer, go find ten affirmations you love here. If you're not a writer, this is my favourite Instagram account for beautiful affirmations.
- Go for a walk. Or a run. Or a hop, skip and a jump.
- Or if getting outside is not possible right now, try the 7 Minute Workout.
- Take a bubble bath. Or a long, hot, shower.
- Take a nap. Healthy sleep habits are the ultimate gift to yourself.
- Moisturise, just because, and take a little extra time to massage all of your body.
- Or make yourself a cup of tea that you cradle in your hands and don't let go cold because you get distracted doing something else.
- Listen to your favourite album from start to finish. Remember how tapes and CDs and vinyl were meant to be listened this way. Go on the journey of a whole album.
- Put your phone in a drawer for an hour and read a book or an interesting article you've been saving for a while. Need a book and got a Kindle - this one should make you smile and is available for 99p right now.
- Start writing a journal, or a bucket list, or a novel. Anything that makes you lose yourself in words on a page, and not negative thoughts in your head.
- Do something you loved doing as a kid. Finger painting? Dressing up? Making forts out of sofa cushions? Eating cake batter (though come on, who stopped doing this as an adult?) Just do it.
- Read ten pages (or more!) of the book you have on the go, or a book you've read before and loved.
- Don't have a book on the go? Head to your local library. Libraries are a retreat for us all. You can just find a corner and read. Or people-watch. I also enjoy that.
- Try meditation. It's not something that will come easy to begin with for many, but it is something that can help everybody. The Headspace App has 10 free sessions to try before you buy. Or if you have an iPhone you can try this Forest app where you can earn coins through meditation for certain amounts of time, and then you can spend them planting trees in real life. Alternatively, if you are a sweary type of person, you will love this.
Self-Care Ideas For Fighting Overwhelm
- Look in the mirror and tell yourself that everybody gets overwhelmed sometimes. You are not alone. And it will pass. Say the words out loud. Your brain needs to hear them.
- Commit to trying Inbox Zero with your email, your WhatsApp messages, your social media, everything. It's okay to make people wait for replies.
- Turn off notifications on your phone. Delete some apps. Mute it or put it on airplane mode when you have to focus.
- Have a daily digital curfew where your phone goes on airplane mode and the laptop gets shut for the evening.
- Leave your phone downstairs or in another room when you get to work or spend time with loved ones/friends or go to bed. Your phone does not own you.
- If you're really busy and overwhelmed right now, take a moment to look ahead to the next time you will have some time for yourself. Look in your diary or calendar if you have to, then block it out and don't let anybody or any appointment invade it. Then spend a little time thinking about what you're going to do with this time.
- If this isn't looking possible, be brave and cancel three upcoming appointments or commitments (even if they are six months in the future) so you can block out some time for you.
- Write a Done list not a To Do list celebrating all the things you've done today. Even if it's just Get out of bed or Cleaned my teeth. These are big things on hard days. Alternatively do it for yesterday, or last week. Take a moment to realise just how much you get done in your life.
- Listen to a focus playlist on Spotify. A lot of them are instrumental only, which isn't everyone's cup of tea (not mine) but there are some really lovely soothing songs to be found. Save your favourites to a playlist you can return to on another overwhelmed day. If you're a writer, you may like my writing playlist and writing music recommendations.
- Take out the rubbish. A crappy job but one that always feels good to get done.
- Or get rid of five things you don't need any more. Create some space in your life.
Self-Care Ideas For Future You
- Change the sheets on your bed. Clean sheets and clean pyjamas can't help but make you smile when you get into bed tonight (or in five minutes!).
- Go to bed early. You deserve it. (Here are more reasons and tips for going to bed a little earlier.)
- Do some meal prep be it making your dinner for that evening or making something you can put in the freezer, nourishing yourself is a huge act of self-care.
- Do a load of washing. Let the machine do all the hard work and you reap the benefits of clean clothes. Add a little extra fabric softener to make the drying clothes fill your house or garden or balcony (in our case!) with a little fragrance.
- Do something you've been putting off for a long time. It will be hard, you will feel resistance, but you will rightly feel fantastic afterwards.
- Make yourself a playlist on Spotify of ten sings that calm you down/make you smile/remind you of a happy time.
- Write 10 post-it notes with quotes or affirmations that move you. You can find some great ideas here, plus some more information about why and how affirmation works.
- Schedule at least one hour a week of uninterrupted you-time doing something you love. Write it in your diary or on your calendar, and stick to it. For me that would be writing, or crocheting (yes, really!), or reading. What would your activity be?
- Google some quick and easy recipes or meal ideas so you can switch up what you eat. You don't have to make them all today or even in the next week, but having some ideas of what to eat stored up on a list somewhere, ready for when you don't have time or can't be bothered to do some research, is a great way to support Future You.
- Think about where in the world you want to travel. If you feel confident enough that you can avoid Pinterest-comparison-itis, create a board for these places and use it to remind yourself that there is beauty and goodness in the world, and to remind yourself that you have no idea just how far Future You is going to go and that is EXACTLY how it needs to be right now.
Self-Care Ideas For When You're Feeling Brave
- Ask yourself what's really upsetting you right now or recently. Self-care isn't just about easing or deflecting from your worries and anxieties, it's also about getting to know them better so they're less suprising and upsetting. Then repeat numbers Affirmation and/or Forgive Yourself.
- If you're feeling good about things, write about it. Whether it's a list of stuff you're proud of, or some future things you have to look forward to, keep this list or letter to yourself safe for a rainy day when you're feeling a little lower than usual.
- Think about starting a morning pages ritual every day. I've not yet started this but heard very good things from those who are doing it regularly.
- Listen to a podcast about inspiring people doing inspiring things. Or get some productivity tips. These are my current favourites for this: What She Said, There Are Other Ways, and Hashtag Authentic.
- Got an idea that just won't quit you? Take some time to explore it. That could mean brainstorming on a big piece of paper, or it could even mean writing a draft business plan. Either way, you deserve to give your ideas space and time and energy to grow.
- Do some cleaning. This could be just wiping down a few surfaces, finally cleaning your oven, or maybe cleaning your windows so you can see outside clearer - something that always sharpens the mind! - but you will feel proud of the result, and you will take your mind of a few things in the process.
- Reach out and do something nice or kind for someone else. Make dinner for a friend having a hard time. Buy some flowers for a parent or loved one. Send a card to somebody you haven't heard from in a while. These acts of kindness are karmaic, believe it.
- Reach out and help a bigger cause. We all love to be useful and have a purpose. This is self-love in itself. This can be hard when you don't have good energy or mood, but if you're feeling brave and believe in a cause strongly, do something to nurture your knowledge of it or share the vision. This can start with reading and improving your understanding, or it could be as bold a move as volunteering with an organisation. Judge your energy and commitment levels wisely before you take on a lot.
- Write a list of things you want to do in your lifetime - or if that's too overwhelming - things you want to do this year or this season, and then think about what's stopping you. Is it money? Time? Knowledge? Then think about what you can do to bridge that gap. There won't be obvious answers to everything, but use your bravery to face up to some of the challenges you're experiencing. Furthermore, hopefully them down will also help the obstacle shrink a little or feel more manageable.
- Learn or try something completely new. Take up a new hobby. Teach yourself a new skill using YouTube videos or an online course. If possible, try to make it separate from work or ongoing projects you already spend time on. Invest in yourself just for the sake of it.
Self-Care Ideas For When You're Feeling Really Low
- Forgive yourself. If you're feeling crappy, if you just lost your cool with someone, if you haven't done half of the things you wanted to, look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself it's okay, and you forgive yourself. Say it out loud. Make sure you get the message.
- If you're really struggling with depression right now remember this from Matt Haig's Reasons to Stay Alive: "Depression is a cloud. You are the Sky."
- Watch something new on Netflix. Give yourself the gift of distraction and absorption in someone else's story for a little while.
- Change into something a bit more comfortable... so then you'll be a bit more, err, comfortable.
- Or change into something you always feel good in regardless of what other people will think. Your clothes are for you.
- If it's cold, put on an extra pair of socks, or get yourself a hot water bottle to sit with.
- If it's warm, wear loose clothing and if you don't have to leave the house, then forget about underwear.
- Watch, read, listen to something that makes you laugh. Maybe it's My Dad Wrote a Porno podcast, or a comedy show on Netflix, or you can just Google "good jokes" but exercise your laughing muscles to remind yourself that they still exist even when life feels hard.
- Take your time doing anything and everything. Move slowly. Take up space. Be kind to yourself and your body.
- Don't apologise for more than you should. When our brains hear us saying sorry they assume we've done something wrong, and this can feed your negative thought spiral about yourself.
- Take time away from people who use up a lot of your energy, or who are in a very different place to you right now. You don't have to explain yourself. You don't need to tell them what you're doing (though you can, this is completely fine too!). Just put them and their messages or emails on the back burner for a while until you feel more ready to communicate again. This doesn't mean you are cutting them out. You're just looking after yourself.
- Massage your temples. You see people do it in movies when they're concentrating or thinking, but massaging certain pressure points in your body can help boost your blood flow, which could then improve your mood or at the very least make you feel you have a bit more energy to try some of the other self-love ideas in this list.
Self-Care Ideas For Boosting Your Energy
- Eat a piece of fruit. Or two. Or three.
- Or some nuts. They are a good source of protein, calories and slow-releasing energy.
- Avoid sugar. I know, sugar is THE BEST and yes, it will give you an energy boost, but it will also bring you down afterwards, and frankly, while there is always a time and place for cake in my life, it is arguably a more loving and caring act to yourself if you give yourself days off sugar. Healthy eating for good energy is a real act of self-love. And no I'm not an expert at this, but I try.
- Breathe deeper for two minutes. More oxygen, more energy.
- Get outside and walk quickly. Get the endorphins pumping. Really don't want to? Then try the ten minute rule!
- Wherever possible in your daily life, always take the stairs. This habit will burn calories and build stamina, and will give you a little energy rush of blood moving around the body.
- Take a micro nap. It sounds counter-intuitive but sometimes sleeping for just ten - twenty minutes is enough to restart your brain and give you a new lease of energy.
- Be strategic about your caffeine intake. Know that a coffee just before a workout or sitting down to do some work will give you a little rush of energy and boost your metabolism. But having too much caffeine too late in the day will stop you from sleeping which will then affect your energy levels the next day.
- Listen to some high energy music, but make sure it's something you actually like. Don't put yourself through half an hour of Berlin techno if you're more of a Motown kinda guy.
Self-Care Ideas When You're a Busy Parent
- Give that kid a screen for 30 minutes or so. They'll be happy. You'll have some space and time, and hopefully quiet (though this is not always guaranteed!). There are also many reasons why regular screen time is actually a good thing.
- Dance with your babies. They'll love it. You'll love it, but because this is your act of self-care, you get to choose the song!
- If you're kids are somewhere safe, stay on the loo an extra five minutes once you've finished doing what you need to do. If possible, don't take your phone in with you, and just breathe and rest and let your mind wander. Or take your phone in and indulge in some much deserved scrolling.
- Ask for help. Whether it's telling your partner you feel overwhelmed and could they handle bedtime alone tonight, or getting extra childcare for your little ones, or simply calling a friend and telling them you are absolutely shattered and letting yourself moan about that for a while, don't bury your burdens, they will come back and bite your on your bottom.
- Think back to anyone who has ever offered to babysit for your kid/s. Take them up on this offer. It doesn't have to be for long. Even if it's just enough time for you to go for a walk, a run or to enjoy a coffee by yourself.
- And don't immediately dismiss future offers of help. Leave those doors open. You will make it harder to accept help if you don't. And remember you can always return the favour or say thank you in 100 ways.
- Get in the bath with your kids. Let the bubbles soothe you, and be a new toy for them. And put your towels on the radiator for afterwards so there all warm and soft and welcoming.
- Get into your PJs in the middle of the day, and then climb into bed with your kid/s and read book after book after book, until they or you get bored. Reading is arguably one of the most bonding and educational things you can do with your kids, but it doesn't have to demand a ton of energy from you. When they get bored but you still want to get in bed, go to #80.
- Watch a movie together. Preferably one you don't hate or haven't seen a million times.
- Lie on the floor and watch your kid play. You can relax your muscles, maybe even your mind, and they feel they are getting close to one-on-one attention.
- Try doing yoga with your little one. This is a great YouTube account to start this with. But don't go into it expecting maximum om. Go into it hoping for a good laugh and maybe a bit of stretching.
Self-Care Ideas When You Just Don't Want to Adult
- Then don't adult. For as long as you can be it ten minutes or a whole day, be a kid. Throw out your usual routine and revert to some of your best childhood memories. Eat cake for breakfast. Paint with your finger tips. Ride a bike and stick your feet out and say "wheeeeeeee!" as you go down a hill. Why should kids have all the fun?
- If you really have to get some adult type stuff done, write a list of the most urgent (time-wise) items and attack those first. Remember important and urgent are not the same thing. But you can still make this list fun with crayons or stickers or doodles. And reward your efforts and hard work with a few self-care treats off this list.
- Wear clothes that clash, or odd socks, or messy hair. Even as you sit down to do something semi-serious you are still celebrating your playful side.
- Go somewhere safe, alone, and force yourself to laugh out loud. The more ridiculous the better. Just like you would do as a kid. This random act of silliness will wake up something in your brain and will remind you that laughing feels good.
- Remind yourself that having fun and being happy are two very different things. Yes, children are good at having fun, but they're also good at finding value and meaning in all acts not just those done for maximum fun. Take a moment to remember this, or read this article to lodge it a little firmer in your mind.
- Do a puzzle. Puzzles rock. (If you don't have one ask around your friends and family, or see if your library has them to borrow. This is a list of free self-care activities after all!)
- Think about all the things you wanted to do as a child, but were never allowed. And do some of them. Eat cereal for dinner (my favourite!). Stay up late watching movies when it's a good time for you to do so. Plan a trip to a theme park. Paint your nails all the colours of the rainbow. (I know, I know, I wasn't very ambitious or adventurous as a child!)
- Write a letter to your younger self. Give that child some love, reassurance and perspective. The kind that will then help you in the present and moving forward in the future.
- Remind yourself that you are still the same person you were when you were a child. You have probably walked a million miles since then, but your heart is the same strong vessel, and it is still pumping. You are still everything that kid was, and now you are more.
- Print off this list and highlight or annotate the ones that you most relate to so your eyes can immediately go to them the next time you need some self-love or self-care inspiration. Again, doodles are optional but always encouraged.
So there you have it, my list of 100 self-care ideas, activities and suggestions that are all completely free. As I mention above, not all will work for you. Not all of them are to be tried or added to your list - keeping any kind of To Do List short and manageable is in itself an act of self-love! - instead take inspiration from the list and know that it exists here, always waiting for you, for when you may need it.
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Frances M. Thompson
Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before putting down some roots with her Australian partner and having a baby boy in July 2015. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her son around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.