When Your Therapist Prescribes Self Care

Last month, I had a really interesting and insightful interview with my friend Daniella about her experiences in therapy, and I mentioned there how much I support going to therapy. Here's the thing, though. As moms, very often we put ourselves last, and when we're living a frugal lifestyle, either by choice or by necessity, it is hard to convince ourselves that we're worth spending money on. If there's any money available, we feel guilty spending it on ourselves. We have an easier time justifying spending money on our kids, but for ourselves? This is probably one of the hardest things for us to do, because when it comes to parenthood, there's so much guilting involved, both from society, and from ourselves. (Just look at my last post, and see how someone commented, trying to guilt me for parenting badly because my children can be destructive....)

Fortunately, I've had some mentors over the years who have convinced me that I'm worth spending money on, but that took a while for me to be able to make it to that place that would let me feel comfortable spending money on something I really wanted, a home birth. But even with that big thing, in the day to day, when we have so many errands on our to-do list (take care of the kids, take care of the house, cook meals, work, run errands, etc...) that its hard to justify doing anything for ourselves, because that seems like an "extra", especially when it feels like there are more things to do than hours in the day in which to accomplish them. I am not kidding when I say that I have discussions with my friends that include questions like "Does a shower count as self care?" "Does an OB appointment count as self care?" I mean, it's a bit ridiculous that we generally do so little for ourselves that we try to consider things on our to do list as self care.

When someone starts going to therapy, especially therapy styles that are more goal oriented, one of the first things that many therapists will talk about is the importance of self care. While we think that our needs as human beings are food, shelter, water, and clothing, our actual needs are much more complex than that. Our psyche needs certain things to be able to continue functioning, and those include relationships, love, and honestly, happiness. When we constantly put ourselves last, and never stop to consider what we want, or what will make us happy, this takes a huge toll on us, and can lead to depression and many other issues. Someone wise I know once told me that while we like to differentiate wants and needs, when we constantly negate our wants, and tell ourselves (consciously or not) that what we want doesn't matter, those wants actually end up becoming emotional needs, without which we cannot function.

It therefore is important to include self care into our daily lives, those things that we do that are "extras" but actually make life worth living. Of course, when money is tight and time is short, it's hard to figure out what type of self care you can even manage to do, but hopefully this post will give you some ideas. These are types of self care that I or people that I know regularly use, and don't cost much money, and they make a big difference to your overall mental health.

Therapy. I'm going to put this first on the list, because it is probably the best type of self care out there. Someone to help you reach your potential as a human being by bringing out the best in you and improving your perspective and consequently your life. This is the type of self care probably most neglected because of stigmas against therapy, thinking that there has to be something "really wrong" with you for you to go to therapy, but the fact is that we all don't emerge from our childhood (and life in general) unscathed and we all have negative coping mechanisms and outlooks that therapy can help improve, even without anything being officially "wrong" with you. If cost is an issue, many times therapy can be covered by health insurance, or you can go to a student who works with you while being supervised by someone more experienced, or you can even do some online therapy.

Food. Bottom line when it comes to food, its important that we eat well rounded healthy meals at regular intervals. Not eating regular healthy meals is very harmful to yourself, and its essential to start eating well if you aren't yet. I originally didn't include this under self care, the same way I don't consider a shower self care; these are basic necessities, and we deserve to have extras beyond just the "bare minimum" of care, and eating, sleeping, showering, and going to doctors appointments are all bare minimum that we should be doing, and if we don't, we need to start doing that. On top of that, in terms of doing extra things, the self care that we especially neglect, is also important. Here's some food related examples for that. Taking care of yourself and making or buying nice food for yourself can be a form of self care. We have to eat anyhow, but if you take a little bit extra time to plate your food so it is more appealing to eat, or you make an effort to make meals that taste delicious and then take the time to savor them, or just by yourself a treat while at the grocery store, these can go far to make yourself feel pampered. (The treats I regularly buy for myself are fancy cheeses, alcoholic drinks, and chocolate.)

Music. This is a very important part of self care for me because music makes such a huge difference to my mood and therefore my life. I have music playing now as I write this, some nice relaxing "concentration" music, and have made different playlists with different types of music depending on my mood or my goal. Some of my playlists specifically are with music that I find to be motivational, so when I need a pick me up, that's my go to. Other music is stuff that makes me want to dance, and I sometimes will just stop what I'm doing and start dancing, something that makes me feel good, and is yet another type of self care. The best part about music as self care is that it can be done while you're doing other things, whether while commuting to work, doing housework, or just relaxing.

Friends. When life is busy, its often hard to fit socializing into it, but if you're an extrovert, or an ambivert (like myself) or even an introvert, spending time with friends can be a great way to do self care. This is when it pays to befriend similarly frugal minded friends, so that way social events don't need to be expensive. Sometimes my friends and I do meet up at low cost restaurants for get togethers, but other times we have pot luck get togethers at friends' houses. Having friends over for meals or going over to them is another way to do this low cost, or simply meeting up to talk or window shop without spending money, or minimal money like at a Starbucks or similar. If you're a phone person, a good conversation on the phone with a good friend can be a form of self care as well.

Books. If you're a bookworm like I am, reading can be a terrific type of self care; there's nothing like getting lost in a good book. If you have a good library system nearby, this can be a completely free, but if, like myself, you don't have any, this can get pretty pricey, even if you buy books second hand. Book swaps or borrowing books from friends is the way I keep down my costs of this type of self care.

Crafts. Crafting is one of the best types of self care, in my opinion, because it hits two birds with one stone; you also have fun while doing it, and you end up with something nice for your house. The problem is that crafting can get expensive because of materials, but there are ways to keep down the costs. I suggest buying materials from dollar stores or aliexpress.com or similar to make the materials cheaper. Yes, its sometimes lower quality materials, but if the point is enjoyment, does it matter if you have name brand crayons and markers and high quality paints, if you are just having fun? Suggestions of low cost crafting that work great as self care are as follows:

  • Adult coloring books or coloring pages. Not adult as in rated R, but with more complicated pictures and not little kid themes. You can buy these cheaply, or you can print them from online (here's a few free ones from "The Bloggess" who writes about her mental health struggles, and more sites with many free pictures to download and color). What I like is that many adult coloring pages come with motivational messages.
  • Crocheting or knitting. This can definitely be an expensive hobby if you buy expensive yarns, but aliexpress and ebay sell lots of decent yarn for very little cost, and many people find these on sale at second hand stores or yard sales. Alternatively, you can make t-shirt yarn from old shirts, or even from old plastic bags, and then the only cost is the hooks/needles. 
  • Sewing, quilting, and other fabric crafts. This can get expensive if you buy new fabrics, but if you upcycle old clothing, sheets, or other fabric things, either that you have already, dumpster dive, buy from thrift shops, or at yard sales, it can cost next to nothing beyond the negligible cost of needle and thread.
  • Woodwork. This can be super cheap if you use reclaimed wood such as pallet wood, and use only hand tools or tools you already have at home.
  • Sculpting/Modeling. You can use reusable plastecine/modeling clay for this, or you can use a variety of homemade materials, whether it is clay you dug out of your backyard (I did this as a kid), paper mache based, egg carton clay, salt dough, white clay, etc... 

Physical Pampering. Think long luxurious baths with the addition of essential oils and/or bath bombs and music playing and a good book. Or massages; switch off giving and receiving them with a friend or a spouse. Do your hair fancy. Give yourself a makeover. Give yourself a manicure or pedicure. Wear nice clothing. When you feel good about yourself physically, it helps a lot emotionally as well.

Movies or Television. For this one you have to be careful, because what starts off as self care can become a time suck and be a waste of time and/or an escape. According to mental health professionals that I spoke to, the way to know the difference whether this is self care or an escape is that self care would have a predetermined time limit, whereas escapes continue on and on. So if you plan to watch one or three episodes of a show, that's fine, but if you start and never stop, that turned from self care into something more damaging. To keep this cheap, you can have just basic channels, or watch free movies on Youtube (many oldies are there), etc... To be honest, though, we do have a Netflix subscription and I do find it a worthwhile investment for my mental health.

Puzzles or Games. These are great, and there are some one person games that are terrific if you're alone, or you can do them together with a spouse, child, or friend. To keep down the cost of these, try hitting up thrift shops or garage sales, borrow from friends, or buy online cheaply from aliexpress.com or wish.com.

Cheap Shopping. If you have expensive tastes shopping would not exactly count as a frugal option for self care, but if you have simpler tastes, and like costume jewelry like myself, or other cheap clothing styles, going shopping and picking up something cute and low cost can definitely work as self care. I look for jewelry or earrings at under $5, bring a smile to my face, and don't blow the budget.

Exercise. For some people this is not self care, but just a chore. It really depends on how you feel about exercise. To keep down the costs, you can go for a run, do at home workouts, like aerobics or yoga, use exercise equipments at the parks, bike ride, etc...

Going into nature. Walking in nature, sitting in nature, or just experiencing nature in any ways can be a great way of self care. This is one of the reasons I enjoy foraging, because going out into the wild brings joy into my life.  You can also just do something like lying on grass in your backyard and stargaze.

Classes online or in person. Learning a skill or learning information that interests you can be another form of self care. For example, there are online music lessons, drawing lessons, sewing lessons, etc... In my town we have some free religious classes and I find they're also a good way to socialize, because at the end everyone ends up talking and hanging out for a while after.

Writing. If you enjoy writing, creative writing, journal writing, poetry writing, etc... are all good self care ideas. There are many free creative writing prompts online if you're looking for ideas.

The list goes on and on and on, because what works for self care for one person may not work for another. What self care really means, at the end of the day, is that you are telling yourself "I am important" and then taking actions to show that you really do care about yourself.
Doing this is imperative.
Please don't neglect yourself.
Even if you're super busy, try to find some time for self care.
You matter.
And if you don't take care of yourself, no one else will.

Do you have a hard time doing self care? What do you find to be the benefits of self care for yourself? What types of things do you find work for you for self care, especially if they're low cost?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. love love love this post! self care is so important and there are so many great ideas here!

  2. Penny, this is unrelated but how is it possible that all four of your kids have some form of special needs? I'm sorry if it sounds ignorant on my part but I thought the odds of having a special needs child was rare - is there a chance this is simply over diagnosing?

    1. Depends what you call special needs. They're really by far not rare. There is just more awareness about them lately. But in terms of the likelihood of it happening goes up when there is a genetic component, which in my case there are. I have 3 siblings out of five on the autism spectrum as well as a father, so that already makes the likelihood of my kids ending up on the spectrum quite high. One sibling diagnosed with ODD like my son has been. And I myself have ADHD as do all my siblings. So I'm not talking about extreme extreme extreme disabilities, but enough that it really takes a toll on me and makes it hard to parent them and get them to behave like perfect angels.

    2. Thank you so much for sharing, Penny. It really helped me gain more knowledge and understanding. You are doing your best and now I see that the way you parent your children also comes from a place of wisdom and experience. I'm sure it is difficult so please continue to take care of yourself first. Thank you for the article and for being so open.

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