How to look after your mental health for free

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The wellness industry turns healthy profits, but you don’t need luxury retreats or a cupboard full of avocado oil to take good care of yourself.

First of all, you need to make sure you’ve got the basics in balance and you’re getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising regularly. You can then think about making time for soul-nourishing activities that will keep you feeling content.

Sleep well

We’ve likely all experienced how we can get irritable, hostile and even depressed when we’re tired. Molehill tasks become mountains to climb, you feel and look increasingly hag-like, and strangers in your way become enemies. But feeling low, anxious or stressed often makes it harder to fall and stay asleep, creating a vicious cycle. Here are some ways to help prevent or combat sleeping problems.

Sleep Cycle is an alarm clock that wakes you up when you’re at the lightest part of your sleep cycle. It might not help you get to sleep easier, but you’ll catch higher quality zzzs and wake up feeling more well-rested. Apple Bedtime works in a similar way, but you tell it when you want to wake up.

The White Noise app has a library of 40 sounds you can listen to for free, from ‘waves crashing’ and ‘train ride’ to the more inexplicable ‘hair dryer’. The sounds are designed to mask outside noises that might disturb your sleep.

If you’ve been suffering from insomnia, you may want to have a chat with your GP to work out what the underlying issues are. Practicing mindfulness can also be really helpful if you’re having sleeping problems more long-term. See our suggestions below on how to start practicing meditation for free.

Eat right

It turns out we really are what we eat, as science increasingly points towards the importance of gut health for a happy mind.

To find out how to have a balanced diet, check out The Eatwell Guide. They’re the government’s food consumption guidelines, which explain what proportion of the different food groups you should eat everyday. If you’re interested to see how different foods affect mood in more detail, the Mental Health Foundation have an interesting study on the subject, including a handy table showing how different vitamins impact the way we feel.

For recipes and ideas, Mindbodygreen and Livestrong are great sites for food with a health focus. Many of the recipes are designed for certain dietary requirements, to optimise gut health or involve mood-boosting ingredients.

Get moving

Even if it’s just gentle exercise, it’s important to move your body regularly and get some endorphins pumping. Luckily, with so many free fitness videos available online, there’s no need to fork out £10 - £20 for an exercise class.

Steffy White

The ancient practice of yoga is designed to prepare the body for meditation. Even in its most modern incarnations (beer yoga is a thing), yoga can help you find inner peace.

Steffy White is a soulful Scottish yogi whose online videos will help your mind unravel with your limbs.

Danielle Peazer

Dancing is a great way to stay in shape and hopefully help you have so much fun that you’ll forget you’re exercising. Checkout YouTuber Danielle Peazer’s channel for dance workout videos.

Joe Wicks

Short but intense HIIT workouts are an efficient way to get ripped. Joe Wicks will get you training hard but is all about building self-esteem and not just bulging muscles.

If you’re too busy for a full workout or jumping around your living room is just not your bag, try getting off the bus a stop or two early to help increase your daily step count.

Make time

Here’s some ideas for activities you can build into your routine that don’t have to cost a penny.

Practice mindfulness

While it’s become much more trendy in recent years, meditation is more than just a fad. It can impact people in all sorts of different ways, but one of the key benefits is how it helps us to create more distance between ourselves, our thoughts and our emotions. With regular practice, you should experience a clearer mind and be able to let life’s struggles wash over you more easily.

Your nearest Buddhist centre will likely offer free meditation classes, and there are plenty of apps and websites offering free guided meditation.

  • Headspace: One of the world’s most popular meditation apps offers a free 10-day course for beginners.

  • Insight Timer: This app has a huge selection of guided meditations to suit different styles or life situations.

  • Calm: This app was Apple’s app of the year in 2017 and includes guided meditations as well as soothing sounds and bedtime stories. You can trial the app for free.

Get outdoors

Studies have shown that spending time in nature helps promote happiness. Try visiting your local park once a week and look for more opportunities to spend time outdoors. You could take a slightly longer walk to work so that you walk through a green area, for example, or meet a pal for a picnic instead of in the pub.

Try journaling

Start writing a diary of your thoughts and feelings to track your mood. Moodnotes is a great app that lets you record your mood with a simple smile interface. It also uses cognitive behavioural therapy techniques so help you keep negative thoughts in check.

Set up SOS support

Create a list of things you can turn to when you’re feeling really low. It might be friends' numbers you can call, a list of books or poems you find comforting, or links to online help. Mind have a resource to help you get through next few hours when you’re in the middle of a rock-bottom moment.