13 FREE ways to relax, feel good & look after yourself
Incl meditation apps, fitness podcasts & colouring pages
January can feel like the horrible hangover from Christmas – the weather’s drab and we’ve often less money in our pockets. We shouldn’t forget TLC should be an act of self-care and not just a band on our 90s nostalgia playlist. While I’m not a doctor or a guru, just a gal who learnt to appreciate life's simple pleasures, which we can easily forget, here are some of the ways I look after me for free...
To explain how all this came about, two years ago I found myself stuck in a rut. I'd been made redundant, which meant my life had very little structure and my wellbeing was, well, rather not-so-wellbeing.
So, what did I do? Well nothing to start with. Self-care to me meant a Groupon deal for a foot spa at the back of a nail salon, a glass of red wine costing £7 (because hey, it's London) and midnight impulse buys on every Oliver Bonas dress on eBay. At this point I had to switch my mentality to saving money, to save myself. I had to pay attention to some of the simpler things in life, and find new ways to feel good that don't cost anything.
I've based my suggestions on the NHS five steps to look after your wellbeing. You may not feel you want to try all of these, but hopefully you can find something that works for you. All of these apps or sites below are free, but some have paid-for features, so do check to make sure you don’t pay for something you don’t want.
Step 1: Connecting with other people
What would life be without connecting with others? These are some of the things I tried out to get myself into the social swing of things.
Meet up with people in your area
Meetup is a website and app (get it on Apple or Android) which gets people meeting up in-person at cultural, social and networking events, I went along to a few free painting classes, walks and improv groups to give me something to look forward to throughout the week.
What I loved about this app is it's all about community and finding new people to connect with. For example, you get weekly pub quizzers, filmmakers, comedy fans and even shy clubs, arranging to meet over these shared interests or connections, so at least you'll know you have something in common with everyone there.
Go to local events
Eventbrite is a popular ticketing website. If you download its app (get it on Apple or Android), there's a filter setting which allows you to view 'Free stuff only' in and around your local area. I attended a free podcasting event (which included free drinks and nibbles - score) and chatted to like-minded others. This is where I ended up meeting someone who has been a close friend of mine ever since!
Listen to a podcast
Although not exactly socialising... for tackling that lonely feeling, especially in the middle of the night, I would often listen to uplifting podcasts. My recommendations are:
- The Happy Place by Fearne Cotton, who interviews some top stars to discuss vulnerable topics like anxiety, depression and how to overcome it.
- Reasons To Be Cheerful by Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd - a podcast about big ideas for the future.
- Cariad Lloyd's Griefcast, where funny comedians discuss grief and shine a new light on the matter (not the most uplifting subject, but something to tickle your funny bones nonetheless).
Step 2: Be physically active
If you're looking for ways to get fit, turn to our cheap fitness guide where you can nab 1-5 day free gym passes. I'm going to focus more on the fitness that is good for the mind as well as the body.
Walking or Running
People often recommend going for a walk or run to lift your spirits. A podcast by the NHS called 'Couch to 5k' is a nine-week programme which gradually lets you work towards a 5k run. If the fastest you've run is a jog to the newsagents in your finest Asda George slippers, then this is the podcast for you. It's also available as an app on Apple or Android.
If you want to run with other people, you can sign up to take part in Parkrun - completely free weekly timed 5K runs at selected parks across the country (find your nearest), usually at 9am on Saturday mornings and all abilities are welcome.
For more interactive fun, there's a fitness tracker game called 'The Walk'. It is an interactive story game where every step you make counts, so the more you walk, the more of the story you unlock. Only the first five episodes are free, but it's a great starting point for you to put on those walking boots and get out in the fresh air. Available on Apple or Android.
I think yoga has been one of the biggest positive changes to my mindset. When I don't have the money to be sweating like a can of sardines, I like to use YouTube as my yogi buddy.
- Yoga with Adriene is a popular channel for all kinds of levels. Currently she's running a 30-day yoga challenge you can follow each day and set yourself the challenge to commit yourself for a month.
- Lululemon has a 20-min, 45-min and 75-minute Vinyasa flow yoga class.
- Some useful workouts are on Adidas Women's channel, such as Yoga for runners, Gentle pilates flow and a nice Guided meditation you can finish your practice with.
Step 3: Learn new skills
If you want to brush up on your Spanish, or learn a new musical instrument, our 10+ easy ways to learn new skills rounds up what MSE staff have been doing to learn a new skillset. Here are some examples of what you can learn for free.
Learn a language
Learning a new language can often take up a lot of time and money, but you can use the free learning tool Duolingo in your spare time to pick up and practice phrases from a mix of learning methods. It can be used online or via an app for Apple, Android, or Windows. MSE Oli's currently learning Spanish and here's what he had to say about it:
I wanted to expand my Spanish vocabulary beyond tapas, sangria and churros so I thought I’d give Duolingo a go – for a free site/app it’s excellent/excelente! I use the app when I have a spare 15-20 mins, usually in the evening while I’m waiting for dinner to cook, or when I’m commuting on the train (you can temporarily turn off the sections where it gets you to speak the language aloud if you don’t want others to hear your dodgy accent).
Get a free qualification
Step 4: Give to others
Here are some ways you can help someone in need.
Feed the hungry for free
Foster a pet
Giving to others doesn't just mean humans. MSE Sarah fostered a cat and her wonderful story is an inspiration to any considering helping out a homeless animal. Here's her experience:
It feels like a win-win situation for me, as I'm providing a cosy home (and a lot of love) to an animal in need - plus I get all the benefits of feline company. It's been great for my wellbeing, so if you can make the commitment, I would definitely recommend fostering.
Give leftover food
Step 5: Pay attention to the present moment
Remember, an empty tank will take you nowhere, so make sure you refuel. Meditation has proven to help reduce stress, improve sleep and clear the mind. Of course there are many places you can turn to for meditation, but these were some of the apps that I got the most out of.
Meditation site Insight Timer has some wonderful features for something that's completely free. It has over 30,000 guided meditations (there's even meditation for kids!), 5,000 teachers, and includes a meditation timer where you can adapt which sounds to play and how long you want to meditate. It's also available as an app for Apple or Android.
Another alternative is Calm (also available as an app for Apple or Android). It has slightly limited free options, but is popular for its breathing exercises and includes a 24-minute sleep story narrated by Stephen Fry himself.
If you're looking for something with a little more structure that can monitor your progression, you may want to choose Headspace, created by former monk Andy Puddicomb. Known as a 'gym membership for the mind', it has a free 'Basics' course that'll teach you all the essentials of mindfulness. It's also available as an app for Apple or Android.
Adult colouring drawings
Mellow out with some simple adult colouring to help you block out all that's going on and truly focus on the present. JustColor.net has over 1,500 free adult colouring drawings you can print off and colour in between the lines. There's also some great uploads on Pinterest you can follow and download for your own personal use.
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