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If you're under stress, self-care is essential. Here are 5 ways to do it on a budget.

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Cigna 2017

Self-care has become a trend across internet media in the past few years. But here's the problem: It's inaccessible for a lot of people.

Yes, self-care is a super-important and essential part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It’s backed up by science, doctors recommend it (in fact, doctors themselves should do it!), and, frankly, it's hard to fault taking care of yourself.

So what's the hang-up? Most resources on the topic are targeted toward people who have time and money to spend on self-care. For people in lower income brackets, it’s understandably very frustrating to feel like self-care relies on your ability to pick up a glittery bath bomb at the mall.


We can't all be you, my friend. Image via iStock.

It’s doubly upsetting because self-care is even more important for people who experience high stress levels for long periods of time. People who are most at risk for burnout are the ones who need self-care and preventive health care the most. Research shows that family caregivers are at a much higher risk for depression, alcoholism, and chronic illness when they attend to the needs of others at the expense of their own.

The good news is that self-care — real self-care, not the superficial trend — isn't about money. It's about prioritizing and setting boundaries.

Self-care isn't a specific set of activities like massages, manicures, or other seemingly luxurious expenses. It's about doing what's necessary in order to prioritize your needs above others' wants.

Audre Lorde said it best: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation."

So it may not be feasible to come home from work and spend loads of time and cash on setting up an at-home spa. But taking a little time to do what makes you feel good and keeping an eye on indicators of your health such as blood pressure, Body Mass Index (BMI), cholesterol, and blood sugar is essential to keeping you healthy and, in turn, keeping everyone that you care for healthy, too.

You can do plenty of self-care at the dollar store: pick up some bubble bath, light a cheap candle, or treat yourself to a new nail color. Image via iStock.

Here are five ways to prioritize self-care on a low salary:

1. Work in teams.

When you work full time (or even more than that) and are supporting a family, it can be nearly impossible to get even a moment alone. So work in teams — coordinate with your spouse, siblings, coworkers, friends, and community to help you arrange some free time. Offer to watch another mom's kids in exchange for a night off next week. Even as little as an hour can rejuvenate you.

2. Focus on intention, not luxury.

The thing that makes self-care valuable isn't how much it costs — it's about making a plan to do something for you and following through. Pick something that you do already and find a way to make it a mini-event. Take a walk alone in the sun during lunch. Plan to make your favorite dinner next week. Stop at the library and rent a movie you've been wanting to see.

Public libraries are an awesome resource for free stuff. In addition to books and movies, some also offer classes and events for adults and kids alike. Image via iStock.

3. Don't let others guilt you out of it (or into doing something else!).

There will always, always be something that someone else is asking of you, but it's important not to feel selfish for putting aside time to take care of yourself. Giving all of yourself to others isn't a sustainable lifestyle for anyone, and you'll be useless to yourself and others once you're all burned out.

Plan a walk during lunch, and don't let anyone persuade you to cancel on yourself. Image via iStock.

Self-care can include saying "no" to things, too! You may feel obligated to take care of your family's basic needs, but beyond that, you have every right to refuse to do something that gets in the way of doing you.

4. Remember to make time for doctor appointments too.

Self-care isn't just about stress — it's also about keeping your body and mind healthy. Make time to see your doctors regularly (before a health issue arises!) and be sure to check your four health numbers so that you can take steps to prevent disease early. Make your hygiene a habit that you refuse to break. See a mental health professional when you're having a hard time. You, your mind, and your body deserve basic care and respect. So remember: Go. Know. Take control.

Making time for your medical and mental health is essential. Image via iStock.

If you don't have health care coverage, research free medical and dental clinic options in your area. You can also find resources for locating affordable mental health services in your area.

5. Keep it simple.

Don't get overwhelmed by the idea of having to plan yet another item into your routine. Self-care is about what makes you feel good — not what others say you should do.

It's not selfish to make self-care a priority. You can't keep others healthy if you aren't healthy yourself.

Learn more about how to take control of your health at Cigna.com/TakeControl.

This story first appeared on the author's Medium and is reprinted here with permission.

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