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Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash A person reads a book.

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

A person reads a book.

“You should book some spa days. That always relaxes me,” a well-meaning wealthy friend advised when she learned I had taken up meditation to reduce stress. After taking a few deep breaths (I have been down this road over a thousand times with this friend), I explained that I find free activities more relaxing. She was not the first to suggest an expensive solution to my problem, and I know she will not be the last.

Some people equate self-care with spas, massages, vacations, and hot tubs. In reality, many of us cannot afford these luxuries. This is especially true for those of us with high medical bills and lost time from illness.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with sticking to a budget. You do not need to be rich to practice self-care. Over the past few years, I have worked to make affordable self-care a part of my life.

Find a Hobby

Hobbies are a great way to get your mind off your troubles and focus on something you enjoy. While some hobbies will run up your tab, others are free (or almost free). If you have read some of my other blogs, you probably know that reading is one of my favorite pastimes. Reading allows me to escape bodily pain and stress and view the world through different lenses. This hobby does not cost much more than a dollar or two in late fees at the library. It is that affordable!

Learn more about how reading has helped me with IBD by reading my blog about reading and IBD. 

Of course, some hobbies are going to cost a bit more. Nevertheless, there are ways to reduce this expense. One of the new self-care habits I developed after my IBD diagnosis is music. I always regretted quitting an instrument in elementary school. So, I began shopping around. I managed to get a $50 clarinet at a tag sale. After some intensive cleaning, I was ready to go. I found free resources online (thank you, Youtube!) and began giving myself lessons. Did everything go perfectly? Of course not! I sound like a toddler with a whistle! But, I continually remind myself that perfection was not the goal. Learning this instrument (or trying to learn it in my case) is an act of self-care, not a test of my talent and discipline. It gives me something I could learn and focus on without stressing about an end result.

This being said, it is essential to make sure that you do not push yourself. I do not practice my clarinet when my symptoms are bothering me, and I put it down if I start getting frustrated.

Photo by NordWood on Unsplash A person types on a laptop keyboard.

Photo by NordWood on Unsplash

A person types on a laptop keyboard.

Look for Free Meditation Classes

While meditation is not for everyone, it has been scientifically proven to reduce stress. In fact, during one of my first appointments, my GI doctor advised that I look into mindfulness. I had heard the buzzword before and even tried meditation once or twice. I did not think it was for me.

Then, nine hard months of flare-ups later, my local library advertised a free meditation class. Seeing that I had nothing to lose, I gave meditation a second try. This time, it worked! It was not magic. I was still dealing with the significant pain of an extended flare-up. However, it helped me relax before bed and created a noticeable improvement in my sleep habits.

If you have tried meditation before and gotten little out of it, give it another shot. Each class and instructor is so different. Take a moment to Google free meditation videos and test a few. You may be surprised to find something that works!

Search for Support Groups

Chronic illness is often isolating. This is especially true for diseases like IBD because we are socialized not to talk about many of our symptoms. However, you never need to feel alone with IBD.

There are hundreds of support groups. As with meditation, however, these groups vary greatly depending on their members and leaders. When I first began looking for support groups, I was insistent on sticking with an in-person format. I was concerned about discussing medical information with people I did not know online.

So, one rainy Sunday morning, I took an hour and a half drive in the pouring rain to the closet ostomy support group. My heart sank the second I walked into the room. I was the only person under 65. Now, please don’t get me wrong. I met many beautiful people in this group. However, they were mostly retired, so we could not share much day-to-day advice.

After a few more months of isolation, I stumbled upon a private forum for Girls with Guts. After several weeks of silently observing conversations in this forum, I started joining in some discussions. I have since made life-long connections and fallen in love with this wonderful organization. The moral of this story is not to give up. Keep searching until you find the group that works for you. There is one out there somewhere.

Self-care does not need to be about spas or expensive vacations. There are a range of options available to anyone. What if your favorite free or low-cost self-care activity?

 

• About The Author
Kate Shannon holds an MA in American Studies and a BA in History and American Studies. She is currently working as a high school special education teaching assistant while taking classes towards an MS in Student Disability Services in Higher Education. When she is not working, Kate loves reading, visiting history museums, practicing the clarinet (a new hobby she picked up after her diagnosis), volunteering with children and animals, and doing yoga. Kate was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2018 and had her colon removed in 2019. She is a j-pouch patient who is extremely grateful for the new life her surgeries gave her.
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