18 FREE ways to relax, feel good & look after yourself during lockdown (and beyond)

18 FREE ways to relax, feel good & look after yourself during lockdown (and beyond)

Including meditation, virtual yoga and a live stream of puppies

There's no doubt about it  these are trying times. As we're all having to adapt, you may find it a struggle to keep on top of your wellbeing, so I'd like to share a few perks that I've discovered. I’m not a doctor or a guru (although you could vouch I'm a MoneySaving guru), just a lady 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...

Here at MSE, we've been working hard to help save you money whilst safely sat at home on our laptops. As with many people, the current situation has been a struggle at times and we shouldn’t forget that TLC should be an act of self-care and not just a band on our '90s nostalgia playlist. 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.

In this blog I explore:

Lockdown MSE-nspiration ideas
🧘 Paying attention to the present moment
💪 Being physically active for free
📚 Learning new free skills
🗣️ Connecting with people for free

✨Lockdown MSE-nspiration ideas

These MSE-nspiration ideas are some quick tips I wanted to share from the MSE team that's lifted their spirits during lockdown.

Watch a live stream of service dog puppies 🐶🐾

If you've been feeling a bit ruff, why not pup over to this paw-some live video stream of East Coast Assistance Dogs, where you can watch puppies playing, sleeping, eating and cuddling. It's part of the Explore network, which is a site filled with live streams of animals, oceans and sanctuaries across the world for your mind to escape to. See more puppy love with its YouTube channel Explore Dogs... Go on, you mutt as well!

It's tiring work being a mother of nine

I’ve absolutely loved watching a litter of service dog puppies grow up over the past two weeks. This charity that raises assistance dogs has had a live stream of this litter of future assistance dog puppies  streaming since they were born a few weeks ago, and I frequently have been putting it up on a second monitor or even casting it to my SmartTV.

It’s been extremely relaxing for someone who loves dogs but can’t have them in a small flat.

MSE Duane

Look forward to the future by saving up a 'Fun fund' 🏦

Close your eyes and picture a beautiful sea of people dancing on a field, Mexican waving, shaking hands and hugging until their hearts’ content. That's what MSE Laura F is gearing up for with this fabulous idea of a ‘fun fund’ for the future – the idea is that during these restricted times, you save a bit of money each week or month that you’ll use to enjoy some of the things you’ve missed out on in recent months when it’s safe and allowed. It's even inspired me to pop away a fiver a week and to watch it grow into something I can later use to reward myself once this moment has passed.

I have set up a savings pot on my Starling app entitled Post-Lockdown shenanigans which will be my funds for fun times as soon as festivals/theatre/pubs start up. I’ve been adding £20 a month, but you can easily suit it to your budget.

MSE Laura F

Set fitness challenges for you and your friends 🏃🏼‍♀️🏃🏾‍♂️

MSE Katie recently discovered a feature on her Fitbit that allows you to challenge your fellow friends and foes to step up (and run) to the occasion. If you find challenges to be a bit intense, MSE Kit has a more gentle idea you can use to keep a fresh spring in your step.

Don't have a Fitbit? Why not download the free Strava app which has similar features.

I only found out this week that I wasn’t using my Fitbit to its full motivational potential! So if you sign up to challenges on the Fitbit app you can challenge your friends/contacts and try to beat each other. Eg, weekend warrior or workweek hustle, which are step challenges. It helps to give me a reason to go out or even just walk and move around the house.

MSE Katie

Seek out new walking routes. I find that getting fresh air and stretching your legs on long walks really helps clear my head. Picking a new route offers that stimulation which we don’t get as much now that we’re stuck in the same home or area every day because of lockdown. It’s amazing what you can find around the corner!

MSE Kit

Ignite old memories with sounds and smells 👂👃

MSE Rhiannon's scentimental suggestions should be music to your ears and is sure to bring back the good times. As I type this, I'm listening to my 'Your Summer Rewind' playlist on Spotify (it's a playlist Spotify creates of all the tracks I listened to last summer) and I've got to say it's certainly sending me back to a sunnier season. 

Blast from the past – play music you liked in your teen years (bet you still remember the words), and take yourself on a nostalgia trip back to a hopefully simpler time. It’s easy these days to track down older songs on YouTube, or free versions of music streamers, eg, Spotify.

Smells like teen spirit – scent is the most powerful trigger of memory, so if there’s a perfume you liked to wear that you gave up on during lockdown, bring it back on days you need a pick-me-up (yes, the song was apparently named after a deodorant!)

MSE Rhiannon

And it's not just sound and smells that can trigger our senses. I've been taking a trip down memory lane watching YouTube channel We Like Old Adverts as a nostalgic way of remembering the good (and bad) TV adverts we all grew up with.You can catch comedians such as Joe Lycett, Lucy Porter, Bec Hill and more reminiscing on their favourite TV ads.

And finally, a couple extra thoughts I couldn't resist including if you find yourself a bit stuck around the house:

Live alone? I've been acting surprised when I catch myself in a mirror and waving with a friendly smile. It’s usually reciprocated! 

😁 MSE Anonymous

I’ve set myself the task of reading all the books I already own that I’ve not read yet.

📚 MSE Katie

🧘 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

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.

Normally Calm has slightly limited free options, but last year it opened up a curated selection of free mindfulness resources and meditations via its website, including a section for kids, sleep and body exercises. It's also available as an app for Apple or Android.

Mindfulness

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 and is offering a free collection called Weathering the Storm, to help those who may be struggling during this current situation. It's also available as an app for Apple or Android

Mindfulness for kids

If you’ve got kids, why not try some mindfulness with them? After all, I’m thinking calmer little ones probably means calmer parents? If you've an iPhone or iPad, the App Store has a few free mindfulness apps for children, including Zen Studio mindfulness for kids where kids can colour geometric shapes while listening to calming music, and Wellbeyond Kids Mindfulness Meditation which guides children in focusing on sleep, kindness, feelings, focus and centering. If you've an Android device, try New Horizon: Kids Meditation & Sleep Stories which features sleep stories and guided meditations.

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.

💪 Be physically active for free

I'm going to focus more on the fitness that is good for the mind as well as the body. Remember to stick to Government guidelines if you're going to incorporate these tips into your daily exercise.

Yoga, Pilates and Slowing down

I think yoga has been one of the biggest positive changes to my mindset, and I like to use YouTube as my free yogi buddy.

Walking, Running or Cycling

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 for Apple or Android.

 Strava is an app many MSE staff use to track their journeys when walking, running or even cycling. Here's what MSE Kelvin had to say about it: "I'm no running or cycling expert, as my competence at both indicates, but Strava's pretty simple to use even if like me you don't know your splits from your average elapsed pace. The social side of it works well too – a lot of friends and fellow MSE-ers use it, and it's easy to check out one another's activities and to offer each other encouragement/friendly banter."

MSE Kelvin braving the snow with a beardy glow

Another great MoneySaving tip from MSE Rhiannon about Strava:

You can participate in challenges, most of which aim to get you active for a certain number of hours/days a week/distance and if you complete them you can get money off codes for big brands.

MSE Rhiannon
                                            

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.

📚 Learn new skills

If you want to brush up on your Spanish, or learn a new musical instrument, our 12 free easy ways to learn new skills rounds up what MSE staff have been doing to learn a new skillset whilst at home. Here are some examples of what you can learn for free:

Learn a language

This 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 AppleAndroid, 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.

Get a free qualification

The World Wide Web really has everything. You can gain an industry-recognised qualification from the comfort of your own home, using resources such as Open University’s ‘Open Learn’ which has almost 1,000 totally free online courses including the MSE Academy of Money. MoneySaver Beverley let us know she’s started a meteorology course on watching the weather

I’m currently doing a free Open University course on the weather! Really enjoying it and can do it at my own pace!

Other places you can pick up some free knowledge include:

Do some gardening

Be at one with nature and get yourself some green fingers. The University of Cambridge has released a blog on Gardening and Wellness: Connect to nature during lockdown. In it you can explore a virtual tour of it's botanical gardens, as well as join its weekly garden club with its Horticultural Learning Coordinator Sandie Cain showing you how to grow your own veg. 

There's also an app called Candide Gardening, that lets you discover plants and pictures from the community, tips on how to make the most of your garden during lockdown and gives audio tours of famous gardens.

Create and cook new recipes

I think discovering cooking again has been the most enjoyable part of my wellness regime. It's also fun to discover what meals you can make out of all the tinned cans of food you've found at the back of the cupboard.

My best discovery during this lockdown was that mint sauce was the secret ingredient to kebab shop chilli sauce (it makes so much sense as it normally goes with lamb!).

A few suggestions on where to find free recipes are BBC FoodMiguel BarclayJamie Oliver and popular video tutorials at Tasty.

My flatmate Lucy and I baked a
'Quarantine Florentine' in the first lockdown (aww memories)

🗣️ Connecting with people for free

If you're out of touch with the ways to stay in touch, I've rounded-up these useful free video applications to help you stay connected with the outside world.

  • Houseparty - Good for a 'house party-like' environment. It's useful if a few of you want to get together and play games. Be warned though, once you're 'online', anyone can join your conversation, like gate-crashing, so make sure to lock the room (select the key lock icon in the menu bar so it turns from unlocked to locked).

  • Zoom - Normally used for business meetings, Zoom is reliable for having a large group of people in one chat so you'll often see it used in webinars and classes. It has a feature which switches the main video to whoever is talking which is handy for pub quizzes and having group discussions.

  • Skype - This is best for one-to-one conversations where you can video or voice call between computers, tablets, mobile devices, the Xbox One console and compatible smartwatches. You can instant message within it too.

  • Facetime - Only works if you both have Apple devices, but otherwise a popular choice for video and will already be installed as an application. Other free alternatives that you may already have on your device to connect via video are Whatsapp, or Google Duo.

Virtually meet with people in your area

Meetup is a free website and app (get it on Apple or Android) normally known for getting people to meet up at cultural, social and networking events – but since that currently isn't an option, many of its events are turning into online seminars and sessions. The beautiful thing about it now is that you can tune in from anywhere and I find having something scheduled in the diary gives me something to look forward to throughout the week.

What I enjoy 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.

Some examples of free online events I've seen are 'Online laughter club', 'Understanding English', 'Coffee and conversation', 'Free daily online self isolation meditation support' and plenty more.

Go to online events

Eventbrite is a popular ticketing website now turning it's hand to hosting online events. There's a section on free online events you can search to find all types of courses, festival and webinars. You can also download its free app for Apple or Android.

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.

You can also use podcasts as a measurement for your daily exercise, eg, a half an hour podcast can be a half an hour walk outside. If you're looking for some inspiration, my recommendations are:

  • The Happy Place by Fearne Cotton, who interviews some top stars to discuss vulnerable topics such as 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).

I'd like to dedicate this blog to two very special people, Jacqui Mott and Tom McCarthaigh. Creative, kind and taken too soon. If you are in need of support, please get in touch with your local Samaritans or Mind charity.

Do you know any MoneySaving ways to help look after your wellbeing? Please feel free to share in the comments below or on Twitter @MSE_Deals.