How I Take Care of Myself Every Day (Mental Illness Self-Care for Cheap)

Here are the ways I take care of myself and work to reduce my stress every day, as someone who is in recovery with several mental illness diagnoses. Unlike many self-care ideas, most of these are completely free and the rest are cheap.

Note: This post is heavily “YMMV” (Your Mileage May Vary). Please continue to do the self-care that works for you— these are just some ideas if you’re struggling and don’t know where to start.

Wake up with time to spare.

I wake up at least two hours before I am scheduled to be anywhere. I drink coffee leisurely for at least an hour while texting friends and scrolling social media, and then do the rest of my morning tasks, like eating (see below), taking my pills (also see below), and getting dressed. I try to perform most of these tasks in the quiet of my bedroom, which has a couch to hang out on so I am not tempted to go back to sleep. The ritualized nature of my morning routine helps me immensely because:

  • The tasty coffee gives me something to look forward to when I get out of bed.
  • I do not feel rushed, frazzled, or stressed in the process of getting where I need to be.
  • I have a basic need for routine and to know in general what my day will look like when I start it, so having a morning ritual brings me a sense of comfort.

$: Coffee costs money. Alarms that help you get up on time might have a subscription fee. (I used to use one that wouldn’t stop playing the alarm unless you took a certain picture with your phone camera. Mine was set to the top of my coffee machine, so I had to get out of bed and make it to the kitchen before the alarm would shut off, but then I was all set to make my morning cup of coffee!)

Take your pills on time.

When you don’t take your pills on time, you don’t get the benefits your medications are supposed to give you— and you also invite some pretty shitty withdrawal symptoms. The severity depends on which medication you are on and how long you go without taking them, but it’s definitely noticeable. Last weekend I procrastinated getting out of bed and ended up taking my medications three hours late. I didn’t expect in that moment to spend the next eight hours back in bed with withdrawal symptoms. And to think— I used to procrastinate on taking my pills and do this to myself all the time!

$: Meds may cost money, but taking them on time does not. Set an alarm if you need to!

Go to work.

This sounds like a weird one. Going to work is self care? Yes! When the alternative is freelancing, which was terrible for my mental health, having a regular job at a regular workplace with mostly regular hours has done wonders for my stress.

Note: Not everyone is capable of working a traditional job, or at all. I am merely writing about what works for me. Absolutely no shame if your situation is different!

For me, this involves:

Getting dressed.

Leaving the house.

Taking a walk.

I walk 15 minutes to work and back on most days. (Sometimes I get a ride if the weather is awful.) If you get bored walking but you know you need the exercise, try downloading Pokemon Go. $: Free.


I am lucky to have a really good work environment, and my coworkers are my friends.

NOT constantly self-motivating.

When I freelanced from home, everything was up to me. I had to find my own clients on a regular basis as well as motivate myself to start and finish tasks. This resulted in me never getting anything done, losing promising clients, and having no money to take care of myself with.

Working in a more traditional workplace removes much of that stress. I show up, do my job, and then go home. I don’t think about it much when I’m not there. There’s also an element of body doubling with my coworkers that helps me a lot.

Making enough money that I don’t have to spend every second in a state of dread over my finances.

I now have enough money to pay rent and bills and also order Grubhub every once in a while, which is really all I need to survive (besides health insurance).

Write a little blurb about how you’re feeling.

This is how I do symptom tracking, because rating my mental health on a numerical scale doesn’t work for me.

I find that this helps me feel more in control of my life because not only am I noticing patterns that may emerge in my moods, I am tracking my long-term recovery progress.

If you’d like to know exactly what I track, check out this blog post.

$: This tip is not completely free, as I pay about $4 a month for the app I use.

Eat both protein and carbs.

Maybe you don’t struggle with eating enough calories like I do. Often, I will eat three carrots or a handful of raspberries and wonder why I’m hungry (and quickly wilting) half an hour later. Protein and carbs help you feel full longer and give you the calories your brain needs to work. Not every SINGLE meal or snack has to have both, but it’s proven to be a good thing for me to strive towards.

$: Obviously, food costs money, but peanut butter sandwiches are pretty cheap.

Get a good night’s sleep.

I won’t pretend to be an expert on sleep hygiene— I am aided at night by an antidepressant that makes me sleep super well. If you’re not getting the rest you need, I recommend having a sleep study done if that is available to you.

$: Depends on how you relax best before bed. Experiment!

Making Good Choices on the Regular!

Recovery/reclamation (my preferred term for improving your brain) is about making good choices consistently.

Maybe don’t worry about making the perfect choice because, unfortunately, then you might get stuck.

When you are confronted with a crossroads, make it a habit to take a breath (easier said than done) and make a good choice instead of a bad one.

You cannot magically stop yourself from being mentally ill. It’s just not gonna happen. But you can minimize your symptoms by, for example:

  • eating consistently and in reasonably healthy ways
  • prioritizing healthy relationships over unhealthy ones
  • going for a walk when it’s nice out
  • meditating or doing stretches when it’s nice out
  • avoiding self-sabotage in general

Taking that pause definitely takes practice, but you can always do baby steps! Start with making a good choice when it’s easy and move on to when it’s harder!

I have made a lot of bad choices. Just in general. But they were the best choices I knew how to make at the time and I am still truckin’ and makin’ good choices as much as possible, just like I always have been. I’m just better at it now!

Addendum: Sometimes bad choices feel like good choices. You can be on the lookout for this if something feels too good to be true. Real happiness and healthiness (in the brain and in relationships) feels steady-good and sometimes hard but ultimately worth it.