Here's What to Do If You Can't Afford Therapy

Yes, you can be your own personal therapist.

Anyone who's ever sat on a cozy couch across from a therapist can attest to the fact that talking about your feelings really does work. The only problem is that afterward, you're stuck with a hefty bill—and if you want to continue seeing your new therapist, you're going to have to shell out thousands of dollars to do so.

While the effectiveness of therapy has been proven time and time again, there are also ways to save money and find happiness all from the comfort of your own home. Here are more than two dozen exercises that will improve your mental health without costing you a thing.

Make yourself laugh.

woman laughing to herself exercises for mental health

Tell yourself a bad joke, watch some funny videos on YouTube, or check out the latest comedy flick at the movie theater. Something as simple as getting yourself to laugh will help improve your mood, not to mention decrease your anxiety and depression over time, according to the Mayo Clinic. And the majority of the time, it doesn't even cost a dime!

Write in a journal.

man journalling exercises for mental health

All you have to do to reap the benefits of therapeutic writing is jot down anything and everything that's on your mind without hiding or being ashamed of what hits the paper. "Writing down how you feel provides an opportunity for you to be honest with yourself," says Bridgitte Jackson-Buckley, a spiritual writer and author of The Gift of Crisis: How I Used Meditation to Go From Financial Failure to a Life of Purpose. "It provides a safe and private space to reveal something to yourself that you may not be ready to reveal to someone else."

Do some coloring.

Crayons exercises for mental health

The relaxation that comes from grabbing some crayons and making a blank page go from bare to rainbow-colored might be just what you and your mental health need. A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that creative art, like coloring, is deeply therapeutic for adults and works wonders when it comes to banishing feelings of stress and anxiety.

Take a digital detox.

older couple ignoring each other on couch using smartphone and tablet, etiquette mistakes

Countless studies have shown that excess social media use is linked to depression and anxiety—plus spending too much time in front of a screen can disrupt your sleep schedule and make you more prone to moodiness.

But if an all-out digital detox sounds too daunting, begin with minor changes. "Establish boundaries between yourself and your cellphone and computer," says Melissa Fino, a woman's transformational life coach in San Diego, California, and CEO of the Love Your Life Community. "Set certain times when you are allowed to use them—and don't allow them into your bedroom!"

Or remove negativity from your social media feeds.

Facebook friend request, reach a customer service rep

When your digital detox is over and you're back on social media, make sure that you're curating your feeds and removing any and all negativity from them. "Social media can be wonderful, but it can also be damaging to someone's self-esteem," says Briana Hollis, a social worker and life coach in Cleveland, Ohio. "If there are people that, no matter what they post, make you feel like you're not enough in some way, delete, block, or unfollow them."

Listen to soothing sounds.

woman listening to music with headphones on exercises for mental health

Listening to some soothing sounds—whether that's ocean waves or an uplifting ballad—is the perfect exercise for mental relaxation. "Create a playlist of your favorite inspiring songs and play them when you're feeling down and need an extra boost," suggests Hollis. After five minutes listening with your eyes closed, you'll feel recharged and ready to take on the day.

Join a support group.

people involved in a support group exercises for mental health

Support groups aren't just for people who have survived major trauma or are battling addiction. At their core, these groups exist to help everyone go through daily life with just a little bit more ease.

"There are thousands of support groups out there that anyone can join if they want to talk with and learn from people who have been in similar situations or have similar mental illnesses," says Hollis. "Many of these support groups are run by organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)."

Use positive affirmations.

woman looking super positive exercises for mental health

Daily affirmations help you create a positive self-image and combat negative thoughts, and they're easy to incorporate into your daily routine. "When you get caught with negative tapes running through you head, it can sometimes be challenging to stop them. If you write down a few affirmations that feel good to you, you can repeat those to focus your mind on positive things instead of the 'tapes,'" says S. Ryanne Stellingwerf, a clinical professional counselor at the Solutions Counseling and Wellness Center in Great Falls, Montana.

"Just remember to keep them in the present," Stellingwerf notes. In other words, say things like "I have an amazing life" rather than "I will have an amazing life."

Talk yourself up.

woman looking in mirror, long marriage tips

Instead of bringing yourself down, talk yourself up throughout the day. Don't be afraid to note all the things you love about yourself and even pat yourself on the back when you do something well at work. People compliment each other all the time, so why shouldn't you compliment yourself every now and again?

Step outside.

man walking dog on city sidewalk, relationship white lies

It's easy to get stressed out about what could be. But in doing so, you're preventing yourself from being able to relax and enjoy the moment. So, to better focus on the here and now, try getting some fresh air.

"A relatively easy mindfulness skill is to take yourself outside for a walk or to sit out on your stoop," suggests Angela Ficken, a Boston-based psychotherapist. "Being out in the elements can be an easy visual and sensational cue to bring yourself into the present moment. Look around and describe what you see. Take deep breaths and notice the temperature. Notice what the air feels like going into your nose, down to your lungs, and then out through your mouth."

Create structure at home.

to-do list on refrigerator exercises for mental health

Every evening, make sure that you know who's doing what. Who's taking out the trash? Who's cooking dinner? Who's walking the dog? According to Ficken, "less confusion means less stress. When we can delegate tasks to others and ask for help, it alleviates stress, builds a sense of togetherness, and creates more time for our own self-care."

Start saying "no."

woman saying no exercises for mental health

It's impossible to please everyone. So, rather than trying to make everyone happy, why not redirect that effort toward your own wellbeing?

"Saying 'yes' to everyone will only add to the pot of anxiety. It really is okay to say 'no,'" says Ficken. "Plus, you're really doing others a service. It's a good way to model setting limits for friends and family."


man meditating outside exercises for mental health

Many people who meditate on the daily say it is their therapy; that time spent sitting quietly and taking deep breaths can help calm your mind and even prevent any stressors in your life from taking a toll on you physically, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It's one of the easiest ways to improve your mental wellbeing, and you only need to do it for 10 minutes a day to see results.

Find your mantra.

Man relaxing and dealing with negative thoughts exercises for mental health

Repeating a word or phrase over and over again—whether out loud or silently—might seem a little silly, but mantras can tangibly improve your mental health by fighting off stress and decreasing negative thoughts, according to the Exploration of Consciousness Research Institute. While you're meditating, repeating a mantra can also ensure your mind stays on track, no matter how many times it tries to wander off.

Take deep breaths.

Meditating Adults Taking Deep Breaths exercises for mental health

"This may sound silly because we're breathing all the time, but when you get overwhelmed, you stress out and shallow breathe," says Allen Klein, a therapeutic humor expert and author of You Can't Ruin My Day: 52 Wake-Up Calls to Turn Any Situation Around. The solution is to take a minute to "deep breathe."

Here's how to do it: Sit or lay down with one hand on your belly and breathe in through your nose and out through pursed lips. According to the University of Michigan, after a handful of breaths, you'll feel more relaxed, have less tension in your body, and notice your stress slowly drift away.


Man and Woman Volunteering at a Soup Kitchen exercises for mental health

"Volunteering can help combat depression, reduce feelings of isolation by widening social circles, increase your skills and confidence, and give a sense of purpose and meaning," says Sarah Hamilton, head of the social impact consultancy group Benefactions. According to a 2013 study published in Hormones and Behavior, volunteering can even help intensify how the brain receives oxytocin, better known as the "feel-good" hormone.

Give yourself a timeout.

man relaxing outside exercises for mental health

Ornery toddlers aren't the only ones who need a timeout every so often. When you're feeling overwhelmed about something, whether it's work or your personal life, giving yourself a five-minute timeout could be just the thing that helps you calm down.

"The five-minute rule ensures that you have five quiet minutes every day," says Adina Mahalli, a mental health consultant at Maple Holistics. "All it takes is a five-minute timeout on your life, once a day, to breathe, embrace mindfulness, or just sit in silence and be. It's a short, daily reminder to slow down and evaluate."

Try martial arts.

boost your confidence

Martial arts training can help you transform into an emotional fortress. How? "Teaching your mind to maintain calm when under stress is at the core of many martial arts techniques," says Mahalli.

Delight your senses.

woman shampooing hair in shower

A long shower, an arduous hike, or a trip to the florist—"the options are endless when you think of how you can comfort your body," says Alena Gerst, a psychotherapist based in New York City. "Gain a sense of calm from watching fish in a pond!" Whatever your sensory activity of choice is, just be sure to do it often.

Call your loved ones.

mother receiving phone call, etiquette mistakes

Who's a better (and cheaper) therapist than your own mom, sibling, or best friend? Whoever it is that you trust, give them a call whenever you need to talk. Even just a 10-minute chat venting about your frustrations and getting guidance from someone you love and respect will make you feel some relief and help you work through your problems.

Or chat up a stranger.

Worst Things to Say to a Cashier exercises for mental health

Sure, chatting up a stranger may sound crazy, but their objective advice might be exactly what you need to see things in a new light.

Focus on your happy place.

walking is the best exercise exercises for mental health

To give your brain a rest, close your eyes and focus on one thing: your happy place. Whether it's a white sand beach, your favorite bench on your usual hiking trail, or the reading nook in your go-to bookstore, escaping from a stressful situation—in your mind, at least—can help you take a much-needed mental break and remind yourself that things can and will get better. After spending a few minutes visualizing yourself in a more relaxing atmosphere, you'll be a lot more at ease.

Turn negatives into positives.

older woman smiling outside, make yourself more attractive

One way to improve your mental health without a therapist is by reframing any less-than-stellar thoughts into more positive ones. When you catch yourself thinking, "I'm never going to get out of this rut I'm in," come up with actionable ways you can and will get out of it. It's easier to pull yourself out of that negative space than you think.

Forget the worst-case scenario.

Woman Telling Man to Relax exercises for mental health

When you're feeling down, it's not uncommon to "catastrophize," or focus on the worst-case scenario. However, if and when this happens, you should try to focus on the positives. The mind tends to make things out to be much worse than they actually are. Thinking about the upsides instead will help banish any negative thoughts and allow room for you take action.

Take yourself out on a date.

woman watching movie in movie theater alone exercises for mental health

Think you need someone else to join you on a date? Think again. According to Michelle Croyle, a counselor, psychotherapist, and owner of Abundant Freedom Counseling in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, some of the best date ideas are solo adventures.

Interested in a movie that no one else would want to see? Go see it! Want to try a new restaurant that's a bit out there? Chow down! Some time alone could be just what the doctor ordered (or at least, what we assume they would order).

Take a nap.

middle-aged man napping on yellow couch, ways to be a healthier man

"Irritability, impatience, impulsiveness, low concentration, and tiredness are just a few things that stem from lack of sleep," says Damon Nailer, a life coach and motivational speaker in Monroe, Louisiana. So, if you feel yourself starting to slip mid-day, try to sneak in an hour of nap time. It could turn your whole day around!

Hit the reset button.

hitting the reset button exercises for mental health

It would be pretty nice to have an actual "reset" button in life that could give you a clean slate whenever you needed it. The good news is that while this "reset" button might not be something physical you can press, you absolutely can have a mental reset button. Whether you're sad, upset, overwhelmed, or annoyed, just picture that button, press it, take a few deep breaths, and move on. And for more ideas on keeping your mental wellbeing in check, here are 12 Genius Tricks for Turning Anxiety into Excitement.

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Tehrene Firman
Tehrene Firman is a freelance health and wellness writer. Read more
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