4 Absolutely-Free Things I Religiously Do To De-Stress

By | Tuesday, August 29, 2017

I spent a good deal of time last year during the months leading up to my college graduation feeling super stressed. It was the type of stress that you are so acutely aware of every day, rather than the type that keeps you up at night for no reason. I knew every second of every day exactly what was making me feel weighed down, and I also knew there was hardly anything I could do except wait for it to be over. I exited the arena where my commencement ceremony was held happily, and started immediately trying to figure out what habits I needed to implement in my life to keep myself feeling more balanced and relaxed before I started a new job, or did something else in the “real world” that might send me on a stress spiral.

I can say with confidence that right now, I am probably the happiest and most comfortable I’ve ever been in life. I feel like I could keep living days like the ones I’ve been having for years to come, and that is a feeling I’ve never had — I was always waiting for the end of a semester, or the end of a job I didn’t like, or to move into a new place, etc.

I think that this newfound comfort and happiness is due largely in part to a few things that I do pretty routinely and religiously that keep me feeling happy, regardless of what kind of stress I might be feeling on that particular day. These may not all work for everyone, but here are the four things I have found most effective when it comes to keeping stress at bay.

Bonus: they are not ~self-care~ tips that cost any money. These things are essentially free, and some of them even save money. Which is perfect for someone like me, who prefers to be relaxed and not-broke.

1. Spend time with my parents.

The older I get (I know I’m only 23, but I’m aging, too!), the more I realize how fleeting and fragile life is. This post is getting deep really quickly, but stay with me.

Last year, my Nana (whom I lived with, along with my Pop and my parents and my brother) died pretty unexpectedly. She had been sick for a while, but was always improving, and the sudden decline of her health was something no one saw coming. Shortly after that, I moved out of my family home to an apartment about 25 minutes away with Drew. Considering how quickly I saw my daily life — and the people who were a part of it — change, I realized something important about myself: my family is much more important than I had previously thought. Of course, I knew I loved them, and had always spent a great deal of time with them — but I also prioritized socializing with friends over spending time with my grandparents, and chose my boyfriends over my parents often. Something shifted in me recently, and I realized that the people I want to spend the most time with are the ones I’d spend 20 years living with, and always took for granted.

It is an instant stress-reliever to pull in front of my parents’ house and hear the familiar sound of my dogs barking to greet me. I stop by at least three times a week, and often make weekend plans to have breakfast with Pop or go out for drinks with my parents. This habit works wonders for my stress levels — I find myself much happier, more relaxed, more comfortable, and generally better in every aspect of life during the weeks when I get my fill of family.

2. Cook (or learn about cooking, or think about cooking.)

Honestly, there is nothing I love more or get more pleasure out of than setting my laptop on the counter, putting on my YouTube “Watch Later” playlist, and spending solo time listening to videos while cooking an elaborate meal. Since moving to this new apartment in May, I’ve found myself cooking much more frequently (and subsequently dining out much less frequently) than I used to. I do this in part for health reasons, and of course for financial reasons, but truly mostly because it makes me feel so warm and happy and whole inside. Every day that we have dinner plans out is a gentle bummer for me because I want so badly to be in the kitchen zoning out and chopping up vegetables. (Well, not zoning completely out, because that is an activity that involves a sharp knife. But you get the idea.) Overall, this relaxing activity is free, productive, and delicious as heck.

3. Take leisurely walks.

I’m not going to sit here and preach to you all how going to the gym is my favorite way to de-stress. That may work for some people, but it so doesn’t work for me. In fact, I think the nights before I know Drew and I will be going to the gym in the morning are the worst nights of sleep I ever get, because I’m totally dreading the gym. It is just not my favorite place. (Mostly because I feel like the treadmills are too germ-infested to touch.) I’ve always been partial to yoga for exercise, and I’ve been someone who goes on a once-daily (or thrice-weekly, depending on my ~mood~) run in the morning, weather-permitting.

But recently, Drew and I have started swapping some of our dreadful early-morning gym sessions for evening walks on a nearby trail. The trail is close enough for us to walk to, so we get an extra bit of exercise walking a few streets over to it, and we usually go for a few miles before walking back home. It is beautiful, peaceful, and it honestly feels like a special little (totally-free!) date for us when we get to hold hands and walk around taking in the scenery (and shit-ton of geese) for a few hours in the evening. The days when we plan to go on an evening walk are my favorite days — I’m happier all day knowing I have that to look forward to at the end, we get to spend quality time together without spending a dime, and we burn calories in the process. Triple win!

4. Drink a glass of wine alone.

Specifying that I do this “alone” sounds borderline Wine-Mom-ish, but hear me out before you judge: I don’t drink a glass every day (so what if I did?), it is never a huge glass that impairs me or knocks me out, and I hardly even do it for alcohol. To be honest, I just do it because I can. I like wine, but I’m not obsessed with it (I much prefer beer/bubbly things), and definitely don’t come home dying for a glass at the end of the day.

But sitting in silence (or with an episode of delicious reality TV on) and pouring a glass of red wine to enjoy alone makes it feel so intentional that I am doing something special for myself. I often hardly drink more than a few sips (Drew whined just this morning about the half-full red wine glass I left out from last night), and definitely don’t get near tipsy, but it is just a small indulgence that I like to offer myself on my nights alone to remind me that I am a grown ass woman who works and can sip what she wants, when she wants, while watching whatever she wants on Hulu. Let me live.

Mary writes every day for TFD, and tweets every day for her own personal fulfillment. Talk to her about money and life at!

Image via Unsplash

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