Self-Care on a budget – mental health and the cost of living

Mental wellness takes work. It takes time and effort to care for our mental wellbeing. However, it doesn’t always have to cost money. And during a cost of living crisis, it’s important to remind ourselves of what we can do to look after our mental health without it costing us unnecessary stress as well as money.

Our Cost of Living Report includes insights into what we can do in all sectors of society to help our own and others’ mental health. But what can we do when we’re all concerned about day to day mental health to prevent pre-existing conditions from getting worse, when stress is heightened or to prevent development of mental illness?

We’ve complied some budget-friendly reminders of things we can all do to look after our mental health. Perhaps you have your own ideas? If so, we’d love to include them. Get in touch via our social media channels or via email.

Basic Needs

At times when budgets are tighter, it’s important to remember what needs are the most important to address first. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs says that before addressing other needs we must ensure we’re meeting our basic needs – food, water, warmth, rest.

So, it’s important to make sure even during stressful times we’re drinking water, wearing jumpers and wrapping up in blankets if the British weather is taking a chilly period and investing care in a good bedtime routine. Research suggests sleeping well and drinking good quality water can help our mental health as well as body temperature having an impact too.

When it comes to food, that of course can be a trickier thing to budget easily, but research does suggest the quality of food we eat has an impact on our mental health. There are some hacks to try to eat healthily on a budget. In some areas there will be options to get food deals, farm shops sometimes do a pay-what-you-want option for certain products.

There’s also in some cities the option of using the app Too-Good-To-Go where shops offer produce at a very reduced price if collected on the day.

Taking time to plan out meals and prepare meals in advance can also help reduce costs of excess spending and can help you feel more comfortable and empowered when it comes to nutritional choices.

Active body, calm mind

Staying active can really help our mental health, studies tend to show. If you’re used to paying for a gym but want to save costs there are options to take your physical health into your own hands.

Running is great fun, cheaper than some other options to stay fit and research shows it’s great for our wellbeing both physically and mentally. The Couch to 5K app was responsible for many people getting into running in recent years and is like having a free Personal Trainer with you on every run. As long as you have appropriate clothing and headphones to connect with your phone, you can start your running journey. Maybe you need motivation? Take a look at all the challenge events you could train to run and raise money for MQ Mental Health Research in the process!

Walking is much more accessible for many of us instead of running. Often depression, lack of motivation or mobility issues can come between us and an active lifestyle, but it’s important to remember even a simple daily routine of walking can have terrific benefits for physical and mental health, and studies support this. In fact, more studies are being called for to increase understanding of the benefits of walking on mental health.

Remaining calm can be helped by attending meditation classes, yoga or other mindful practices in groups. However if you need to find a more budget friendly way to stay mindful many meditation apps have helped a lot of people including Calm, Headspace and many online yoga classes you can access for free.

Budget Bougie Socialising

Research shows that socialising is an important element of having good mental health. It is undeniable that a lot of social activities often include spending money. However, spending time with friends is more important than spending money and research shows quality of friendships count for a lot. And there are lots of ways to keep your social life fun and varied while keeping an eye on costs.

Money-friendly meals out don’t have to stop if you’re saving money. If you want a fun time out, consider revisiting those outdoor picnics of recent years. Bring the thermals or the blankets and keep the spending to a limit or all bring leftovers for a leftovers party – everyone gets to try tapas style selections and compliment each other’s cooking techniques. Alternatively, visiting a food market and tasting your way around is a great way to fill up and learn more about your palates and preferences. When you have the money to come back and buy from the lovely traders, your support will be important, but until then traders will want to form strong bonds with potential customers no matter their spending budget.

Cheap rounds can still be had too. For a drinks steal, consider the Dusk App which operates in some cities to show special offers at certain bars.

Dine in with a theme instead of going out for a meal. Invite friends for a ‘pot luck dinner’ where everyone brings a dish. You could combine that with a BYOBG – Bring Your Own Boardgame – theme or continue the money-saving by combining it with a book swap or a clothes swap. The enjoyment of seeing friends trying on pre-loved clothes and keeping favourite items in ‘the family’ is a real joy. If friends bring friends then the diversity of sizes and styles can be extended.

Theatre and comedy can still be a vital part of your life. In fact, research shows laughter is great for our mental health. But going to the theatre or comedy nights can feel like an extravagance when money is tight. However, a great many theatres have free or pay what you want events and many new material comedy nights being free or pay what you want.  A quick internet search will help find your nights in your local area. In London alone there’s many free comedy nights, although some can be better than others. If you’re prepared for comedians to perhaps not have the fully polished product for you to enjoy, you’ll have a great time. Take a look in your local area for a new material night and not only could you have a fun and cheap night out you’ll also be heroes to the organisers and acts for joining in the spirit of the evening.

Skills exchange can be a great way to socialise and save money. When trying to cut costs we might overlook the possibilities of swapping skills with friends. Whatever skills we have, offering it to a friendship circle and pooling collective resources of expertise is a great way to save money, strengthen bonds and firm up friendships. Whether it’s sewing in exchange for baking, plumbing help in exchange for DIY support, gardening in exchange for crafting, it can be remarkable what we can offer each other and what others might be grateful to receive when we open up to our friends.

Therapy Space

There is no real substitute for proper psychiatric care, or a trusted therapeutic rapport with a therapist. However, there are other things we can do to support our mental wellbeing which could sit alongside therapy and help us through times we can’t access one-to-one care immediately.

Book swaps are a great way to continue therapeutic work on yourself using self-development books. However, book swaps can be done with just regular books! If you know friends who are also on a self-development journey, consider meeting up regularly to swap books and coach each other through the exercises you find in them. This could be a group or in a pair, the point would be encouragement, communication, and collaboration all of which can aid our mental health. Mental health charity Mind also run a book club where members can share thoughts on books they’ve been reading to explore their mental health journey.

Social Media can be a budget-friendly tool to aid mental health if used with consideration. While social media can be complicated when it comes to mental health, many studies have shown there is a benefit to curation of a feed that inspires good habits and new ideas for mental health improvement. Many therapists are now Instagram-renowned or TikTok famous and with discernment you can curate a social media feed that encourages healthy habits personally and interpersonally too.

Podcasts are a modern phenomenon of popularity. There are many wonderful podcasts that can help us in our therapy journey. And the best thing is you can dip in and out of them to find one that resonates with where you’re at in your current progression. Why not try out our MQ Many Questions or MQ Open Minds podcast to begin with?

Get creative. Art as a creative practice and music are shown by research to be good for mental health. And they can be relatively simple to do. If you’d rather get creative with a group, mental health charity Mind run local art groups in some areas. Get in touch with your local Mind group to find out more. Making time to express your feelings whether alone or with others and whether through visual mediums with paints and pencils or whether that’s through listening to music, singing or playing or something else, getting creative needn’t take much money yet can have a positive impact on your mental health. Read our article for more.

Self-development meet ups and accountability buddies can do wonders for our motivation. Group therapy can be fantastic for our mental health, and often there are many in your local area that could be free to attend or pay what you can. At these groups, whether it’s for addiction, for eating disorder recovery or something else, you can find a group of people similarly on a mental wellness journey looking to connect. It might be worth looking at your local area to see what groups are available to you and relevant to your needs. Check out the Hub of Hope where you can use your location settings on your phone to find groups and other services in your area. You can also use filters to help you find groups related to your situation and needs.

Daily practices, whether gratitude lists, affirmations, meditation or being active, can help clear our minds. We all need to spend a bit of time focusing on ourselves. A simple list of 10 things we’re grateful for can help train our mind to notice our gratitiude more. Similarly a list of 5 things we’re proud of can help us celebrate our achievements whether big or small. And focusing on one word to help us get through the day can help transform our outlook. It may seem small but doing small actions like this can add up to change the way we think and see the world and ourselves. Small acts can have big cumulative effects.

Journaling is simple but effective. Taking time to journal your thoughts and feelings can be helpful to many people experiencing psychological challenges on all levels. Some might want to keep a diary whereas others might want to be more creative or free-flowing with their journaling, perhaps including pictures or colours or perhaps using journal prompts which can be found online or in many journalling books or meditation apps. The practice of putting pen to paper has been found to help many of us with our mental health, according to researchers and is a relatively budget friendly way to help ourselves.

Facing Finances

Financial fears are very real and can add to a lot of stress which can impact mental health. Ignoring these fears might seem tempting but denial can hold us back from living our healthiest and happiest lives. If you can, spend a day a week really facing up to your finances and budgets could help you feel more empowered, less in the dark. If the idea of that causes more anxiety, perhaps consider doing so with a supportive and constructively helpful friend. Alternatively, the citizen’s advice bureau can help lend an ear and some space to work through some of these more pressing issues.

Remember: When trying to budget wisely yet look after our mental health, remind yourself that spending money is not the same as spending time. Spending time on our mental well-being takes consideration and effort, neither of which cost money but show arguably more care and intent. Investment in mental health need not be, on an individual basis at least, entirely financial to see clear benefits.

If you want to learn more about the Cost of Living Report and what we can do as individuals, as well as what other sectors of society can do, click here.


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