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Health & Relationships

19 top self-care ideas

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Self-care is important for a lot of reasons. It helps you to unwind and look after your physical and mental health. Here, we've put together a list of our favourite self-care ideas.

Woman hugging herself with candles in the background

Credit: WAYHOME studio, Syda Productions – Shutterstock

Every now and then, we all feel a bit overwhelmed with our work and schedules. When life gets busy, it can sometimes feel like there's barely time to think, let alone unwind. However, working without any downtime will only make you less productive and could even lead to burnout.

And it doesn't need to be expensive. In fact, a lot of the self-care ideas in the list below are free.

No matter how busy you are, always make time to switch off and do things that make you happy. Read on for some lovely self-care activities to help you breathe, de-stress and feel like yourself again.

Uni can be a really stressful time. Make sure to look after your mental health and talk to someone if you ever need to.

Best self-care tips

Here are some easy, relaxing and affordable self-care ideas:

  1. Start journaling

    notebooks and pencil against blue background

    Credit: Alexxndr – Shutterstock

    Journaling is a brilliant self-care activity. Writing about your thoughts, worries and feelings can help you to make sense of whatever's on your mind.

    Having a journal for your general thoughts is a great first step. And it's also a good idea to start a gratitude journal. In there, you can focus on the things you're thankful for and the achievements you're proud of. This is a great way to boost your mood, giving you the chance to appreciate the good parts of each day.

    If you haven't already got an empty notebook, it helps to get one that you only use as a journal. This way, you can keep it completely separate from your uni work. It will become a dedicated space for you and how you're feeling.

    There are loads of self-care journals on sites like Etsy that include questions on each page. For example, they could ask you how you felt that day, what you were happy with and what challenges you faced. These can give you a clear direction of what to write about.

    Having these prompts can help, but some may find that plain notebooks suit them better. If you'd like plenty of space, a blank journal will give you the option to write over several pages.

    To get into a good self-care routine, try to write in a journal every day. You can start by trying to write for 10 minutes each night. This will allow you to process how you've been feeling that day, and help you switch off before bed.

  2. Go for a long walk

    Breaking up the day with a long walk will do wonders for your mental well-being. It's one of the best free things you can do to boost your mood.

    Staying in your room too long (especially if you're working from home a lot) can leave you feeling drained and cooped up.

    Try to schedule some time for a walk around your local area every day. The fresh air will help to clear your head and the change of scene lets you return home feeling refreshed.

    Struggling to motivate yourself to go out for walks? One good self-care technique is to set yourself a challenge to look out for a certain colour during your walk.

    For example, you might look for yellow things. This can lead you to notice the golden leaves on the trees, a mustard-coloured jumper, or a dog with a yellow lead. Then, the next day you could look for blue things, then pink things, and so on.

  3. Call friends or family

    Sometimes, a call with your nearest and dearest is exactly what you need.

    Catch up on what you've been up to, talk about whatever's on your mind and have a good old gossip.

    If you have friends you haven't spoken to in a while, give them a call and see how they're doing. We're sure they'll appreciate the chat, and it can be such a great feeling to revive an old friendship.

  4. Try a free meditation or mindfulness app

    There are loads of free apps that offer guided meditation and mindfulness tips.

    They can talk you through breathing exercises and help you take some time out of your day to have a break and ground yourself.

    Calm and Headspace are a couple of good meditation apps. Students with Spotify Premium have previously been able to get full access to Headspace for free – keep an eye out to see if this deal returns.

  5. Have a bath or shower

    There's something about a long soak in the bath or a hot shower that is so relaxing.

    It's a part of the day when you don't need to study. You don't need to do anything, in fact. You can just chill.

    Having a bath before bed has the added benefit of helping you to fall asleep quickly.

    If you have any scented toiletries, a self-care bath or shower is the perfect time to use them. You'll get out feeling (and smelling) lovely.

  6. Turn off your phone's notifications for an hour

    For many of us, our phone practically lives in our hand. Without even thinking about it, we look and respond as soon as it buzzes and lights up. Being so connected all the time can be great, but it can also be exhausting.

    Sometimes, the best thing you can do to help yourself feel better is to pause your phone's notifications. Even if it's only for an hour or so, it can really help.

    In that period, it won't matter who's said what on social media, what meme your friend has sent you or who you've matched with on Tinder. All of these things can wait. What matters is that you have time to rest.

    If you struggle to ignore your phone, try an app like Hold. On the app, you can earn rewards for not holding your phone for certain periods of time.

  7. Do a yoga challenge

    Yoga is an amazing way to chill out after a long day. And the best part? You can do it at home for free.

    YouTube is full of great yoga tutorials.

    We recommend 'Yoga With Adriene'. The channel is hosted by someone called Adriene (as you may have guessed) who is full of energy and enthusiasm. Her yoga classes are good for beginners and more experienced yogis alike.

    Her 30-day challenges are worth trying. They'll help you get into the habit of doing yoga each day. But be warned, they're harder than they look.

  8. Watch your favourite film

    Is there a film you come back to time and again when you're in need of a pick-me-up? This would be perfect for a self-care film night.

    And luckily, watching a movie doesn't need to be expensive. We have guides to help you save money on Netflix and find cheaper ways to stream TV shows and films.

    Get curled up on the sofa, grab your blanket or duvet and treat yourself to a quiet night in. You deserve it.

    If you find alcohol leaves you feeling anxious (while hungover, for example), you might find it helpful to stick to non-alcoholic drinks instead.
  9. Start drawing or painting

    Paint on a palette

    Credit: Elena Efimova – Shutterstock

    If you've ever felt like 'you can't draw' in the past, don't let this stop you from trying again! You might just find it takes some practice and patience, but you could find art becomes your new favourite hobby.

    It's so worth it when you give it a go. When you have a free evening, put on some chilled music and get started on your drawing or painting. Try not to overthink what you're making. You'll soon find yourself fully absorbed in it.

    Remember that you don't need to create a masterpiece. Nobody even needs to see your art unless you want them to. You can draw or paint whatever you wish, and let yourself enjoy it.

    Unsure how to begin? Have a look online for some art tutorials or join an online drawing class. There are some great ones on Meetup.

  10. Make your own facemask

    If you're looking for a low-cost self-care idea, try making your own facemask. Once you know how to make them, they're so easy.

    Check out our guide to homemade beauty treatments. It includes some lovely facemasks, like a strawberry and honey mask, as well as an avocado and pineapple one.

    Cut up a couple of slices of cucumber for your eyes and put on some ambient tunes. It'll basically be a full spa experience from the comfort of your own home.

  11. Eat good food

    Food really is good for the soul.

    Warming dishes like homemade soup are ideal for self-care. They're comforting, tasty, cheap and easy.

    You could try to make a meal that reminds you of home. This would be perfect if you're feeling a bit homesick and missing home-cooked food.

    Or you could bake something sweet. The process of baking will be fun, and you can eat freshly made cakes, brownies or whatever else you fancy afterwards!

    Alternatively, if you want good food but you're not in the mood to cook, you could always treat yourself to a takeaway. But read our tips on how to save money on them first.

  12. Get lost in a good book

    At uni, you might feel like you spend your life reading. But how often do you read purely for the joy of it?

    Sometimes, it can make a big difference to put down the academic essays and journals and pick up a book that you can really get lost in.

    This would be a free self-care activity if you already have a book that you'd like to read. You could also see if any of your friends are interested in doing a book swap if you both have similar reading tastes.

    If you do decide to buy a book, have a look for second-hand ones on sites like AbeBooks.

    Keen to make some extra cash? Find out how to earn money from reading books.
  13. Do a home workout

    General exercise has been found to be great for mental health and well-being.

    As we mentioned earlier, going for walks and doing yoga is a good place to start. But you could also try a home workout that's a little more intensive.

    There are loads of videos on YouTube with HIIT workouts (High-Intensity Interval Training).

    As the name suggests, HIIT workouts can be pretty intense. But doing them at home means you can pause or stop the workout at any time.

    It's cheaper than going to a gym (our guide to home gym ideas can help you do it on a budget). There's also less pressure when you exercise at home compared to in a gym. You don't need to worry about what anyone else thinks.

    If HIIT workouts aren't for you, look through YouTube and try different exercise tutorials. There are so many videos out there, so the chances are you'll be able to find one that's perfect for you.

  14. Listen to a relaxing playlist

    Music streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music have loads of pre-made playlists to suit just about any mood. For a laid-back playlist, you could try acoustic songs. Or, maybe you can find some classical music if you'd like to listen to something more delicate and instrumental.

    Alternatively, making your own playlist can be a relaxing thing to do. Go through your favourite songs and add them to a feel-good playlist.

    Then, as your self-care activity, take it easy while listening to your chosen playlist. Maybe get some snacks, make a hot drink and snuggle up in a blanket. It's the perfect time to unwind and think about little else other than the music.

  15. Have a clearout

    When you're stressed, tidying your room can initially feel like the last thing you want to do. But it can actually be super therapeutic to have a clearout.

    Try to turn your bedroom into a place where you can fully de-stress and feel calm. If it's filled with clutter, it may be impacting your mood. It's hard to switch off when you're surrounded by stuff.

    Take inspiration from Marie Kondo and identify which things no longer bring you joy. Get rid of whatever you don't need or want. This will leave more space for the things that you genuinely do care about.

    Once you've picked out items to get rid of, you could consider donating them to a charity shop or selling them online.

  16. Learn a new craft or hobby

    If you're looking for something to take your mind off uni work, start a new craft or hobby.

    You might discover a self-care activity that's fun, productive and great for your mental wellbeing.

    Try things that are challenging enough to keep your mind engaged, while easy enough to not feel like work. Perhaps get a cross-stitching kit, an adult colouring book or maybe even a soap-making set.

    For more ideas, see our list of the best free things to do.

    To make your bedroom feel homely, try these tips on how to decorate your room on a budget.
  17. Try a new podcast

    Man on laptop listening to music

    Credit: Mooshny – Shutterstock

    There are so many podcasts to choose from. It's such a treat when you find a new one that you can get stuck into.

    Lots of podcasts are focused on self-care and self-love. A couple of examples include Happy Place by Fearne Cotton and How to Fail with Elizabeth Day.

    Podcasts like these are aimed at helping you feel better, calmer and happier with yourself. Maybe listen to them while cleaning, travelling or even just in bed with a cup of tea.

    Or, if you love to chat, you could even consider starting your own podcast!

  18. Do something kind for others

    How about a self-care idea that helps you and someone else? Doing a kind act is good for a lot of reasons.

    You have no idea what others are going through. Even if you do something that seems small to you, it might mean the world to them. Sometimes, just showing someone that you care and you're there for them is enough.

    For example, if you know someone at uni who is very shy, you could open up a conversation with them and see how they're doing. They'll no doubt appreciate you making the effort. It could even be the start of a beautiful friendship.

    Helping others has the added benefit of giving you a little boost too. Doing so will improve your self-esteem and general mood. It feels good to be kind to others. And be sure to keep the next point in mind too...

  19. Be kind to yourself

    One of the most important self-care tips on this list is an easy one to forget: be kind to yourself.

    We can all be hard on ourselves at times. It can feel like there's a lot of pressure to do well at uni and always say the right thing and do the right thing. But the truth is we all make mistakes – and that's okay.

    To help yourself feel happier and better about yourself, try not to compare yourself to other people who you think have it all sorted out.

    As we mentioned earlier, it's impossible to know what others are going through. They may even be comparing themselves to you and feeling the same way!

    Just try to be as kind and forgiving to yourself as you would to those around you, and you won't go far wrong.

Did you know that spending time with dogs can actually improve your mood and your uni work? What wonderful animals.

Laura Brown

WRITTEN BY Laura Brown

Laura Brown, Head of Editorial at Save the Student, is an award-winning writer with expertise in student money. She project manages influential national student surveys and has presented findings to MPs in Westminster. As an expert on student issues, Laura has been quoted by the BBC, the Guardian, Metro and more.
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