“The core of the earth speaks to us of belonging, security, and stability.” ~Susan McConnell
At this point we are 18 months into a global pandemic, and I don’t know about you but… it’s getting to me. The isolation, the stress, the fear, the powerlessness, the sense of disconnection, all the unknowns…they are getting to me. And it is now, more than ever, that I find myself turning to basic self-care, and basic health-supporting practices. They bring me back to myself, to my body, and to what I have some power over. Simply, they help me return to sense of belonging, stability, and security. And all of this improves my quality of life!
While I have invested in a few amazing tools at this point on my own journey, a lot of what I routinely do is pretty much free. I wanted to write a post about those free/very low cost practices and tools in particular, because for a long time I didn’t realize just how much I could do for myself for basically no money. And maybe you don’t realize either. I want to share resources that are as accessible as possible, especially right now during these unprecedented and supremely difficult times.
So without further ado, here are some of my favorite free or super cheap health-supporting, self-care practices:
Grounding: It’s basically just what it sounds like–connecting with the earth’s natural electromagnetic field. It is as simple as walking barefoot on the ground. My favorite way to do this is to walk around my yard without shoes on. I can kill two birds with one stone by taking my morning tea outside for 10-15 min to walk barefoot on the lawn and get early morning sunlight too (more on the importance of this in a bit). I am fortunate to live in a place with a big yard but, you really don’t need much space to do this at all. Even if you just have a tiny little square of grass or dirt at your disposal you can take off your shoes and connect to the earth. And yes, just 5-10 min in the morning really does help me feel calmer and more centered for the rest of the day. Don’t even have a little square of earth where you live? Check out a local park in your area, most likely you can find a spot there to take your shoes off for a few minutes. You can read more about grounding here: https://chopra.com/articles/grounding-the-human-body-the-healing-benefits-of-earthing.
Morning Sunlight: Getting morning light on your skin and in your eyes is amazing for helping to balance and reset the body’s natural circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is what is responsible for our sleep-wake cycles, and a whole lot more. When our circadian rhythms are out of whack it can cause a whole cascade of things in our bodies to end up out of balance. And guess what, all the artificial light exposure we get from our computers, smartphones, televisions, and lightbulbs, takes a toll on our circadian rhythms. Morning sunshine can really help. And yep, it’s as simple as going outside in the morning. Expose as much of your skin as possible, and try not to wear sunglasses if you can. Better yet, combine your morning and evening sunshine with a little walk to incorporate some movement too. You can read more about the benefits of regular early morning sun exposure here: https://primalherb.com/the-importance-of-early-morning-sunlight-you-need-to-know/.
Movement: The importance of moving the body daily probably goes without saying, especially if you have found your way to reading my blog. But it’s worth repeating anyway. Moving our bodies matters! And notice I said movement, and not exercise. Why? Because movement doesn’t have to be strenuous to be beneficial. I know that in my case I had a lot of psychological hang-ups around the concepts of “exercising” and “working out” that got in my way, and later I had physical limitations in how much I was capable of doing because of the (S)SRI injury. I think of movement differently though… it isn’t necessarily strenuous or regimented or results-driven. It’s literally just moving the body in any way that feels good. These days for me, that looks like taking regular walks or light hikes. I also enjoy doing more gentle yoga practices too, and light rebounding on a mini-trampoline. Walking is free. Yoga can be free too, thanks to YouTube. Mini trampolines are relatively inexpensive, especially if you look for a gently used one at a yard sale or on the Facebook marketplace or somewhere like that. Remember, there is no “right way” to move your body. Just do whatever feels good for you, and do it often! Read more about incorporating movement into your daily life here: https://anschutzwellness.com/just-move-benefits-everyday-movement/.
Hot Baths: This one is accessible to anyone with a bathtub. I love a hot bath in the evening to help my wind down and get a good night’s sleep. I like adding epsom salts or magnesium flakes, and baking soda, to help encourage natural detoxification. I also like to add some kind of strong herbal tea brewed from lavender or chamomile to my baths which further adds to the relaxing and calming effects. Strong herbal teas in the bath water also make for a pleasing aromatherapy experience as well. All of these additions can be purchased inexpensively if they are appealing, however none of them are necessary. A regular old bath with just hot water can still work wonders. If you don’t have a bathtub you can use a large pot, or bucket, or container of some kind and do a foot soak instead. I have found foot soaks can have a very similar relaxing effect. You can read more about the benefits of hot baths here: https://www.byrdie.com/benefits-of-hot-baths-4778411.
Cold Showers: A cold exposure practice is accessible to anyone with access to a shower. It sounds awful, and in truth it feels pretty awful sometimes too. Cold plunging/a cold exposure practice is newer for me and one that I am still getting used to incorporating into my life. It is absolutely amazing for the nervous system, and for toning the vagus nerve in particular. I loathe being cold, and I typically run cold and have a hard time getting warm, and I don’t like to go in swimming pools or the ocean unless they feel like bath water so… needless to say I resisted a cold exposure practice for a long time. However I read too many accounts and heard too many stories of people who struggled with symptoms of anxiety or post traumatic stress talk about how cultivating a cold exposure practice was one of the single most beneficial things they have ever done. So reluctantly I have hopped on the bandwagon. What this practice looks like for me is turning the shower as cold as I can tolerate for as long as I can tolerate (usually only a minute or two for me at this point). The body instinctively responds to this exposure as it would to any sudden shock or threat, and the idea is that you work to regain control of your breath before you warm the water back up again or get out. It’s hard, and I never look forward to it, and it’s a work in progress for me for sure, but I tell you… I do feel somehow different–and better–afterwards. So it’s something I plan to keep going with. Read more about the potential benefits of cold exposure here: https://dralexisshields.com/cold-exposure.
Limiting Screen Time: All our exposure to screens of various kinds–computers, tablets, smart phones, televisions, etc–and the endless doom-scrolling on social media and news sites is terrible for us without the right boundaries in place. (The legitimate addiction to all our devices is also very real). This has been one of the biggest lessons for me since the start of the pandemic and more recently I have really been working to set limits for myself. This can be tough to do especially with so much of our work and social activities being virtual these days. But it is possible to take steps in a healthier direction. For me it has looked like setting firm limits around how much time I spend on sites like Facebook and Instagram, and it also looks like working towards not staring at a screen in the couple of hours before bed. The latter is especially challenging for me because the evenings are when I most want to sit down and watch a show of some kind. Ever since I was old enough to have any control over the television, I have always used it as a way to try to soothe myself and wind down at night. So… I am shifting my relationship with my devices and screens incrementally because that’s what is manageable, starting with putting my phone “to bed” in another room a couple of hours before I go to bed. I also have taken to reading not-too-dense novels some evenings instead of watching television. Every day I manage to do one or both of these things is progress, and it is worth noting that I have definitely seen positive effects on my mood and stress levels in particular with these imperfectly-executed screen time limits. And of course seeing and feeling positive effects encourages me to keep at it. As with everything else I have shared in this post, setting limits with screens is free. Books can be free too with a library card, or if you have access to one of the little free library “take-a book-share-a-book” boxes that are often found in parks or supermarket entrances (at least in my area). For more about the benefits of setting limits with screen time, see the following: https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/featured-topic/5-ways-slimming-screen-time-is-good-for-your-health and https://medium.com/the-mission/4-amazing-benefits-of-reducing-your-screen-time-a2c69fa0cce6. You can locate a little free library box here: https://littlefreelibrary.org/ourmap/.
As a reminder, none of what I share here is medical advice and I cannot guarantee any specific results. I am just offering practices–many of which have long histories–that I have found to be beneficial. Take what resonates for you and leave the rest. I hope you will find some of these simple daily practices to be helpful on your journey. And as always, don’t just take my word for it… I encourage you to do your own research about the self-care and health-supporting practices that speak to you. We get the most benefit when we are empowered to dive in and learn for ourselves.
Any other free or very low-cost health-supporting, self-care practices I didn’t discuss that you benefit from? I’d love to hear from you!