Updated on 08.25.17

10 Simple Ways to Feel Better for Free

Trent Hamm

Some days, when you wake up, you just don’t feel so hot. Maybe you haven’t been eating so well as of late. Maybe you got a terrible night of sleep. Maybe stress has been weighing down on you. Maybe you’ve just been overstretched for a while.

The result is that you wake up and start going through your day, but you just don’t have any gas in the tank. Even worse, this often seems to happen on days when you have a lot on your plate.

Sure, you can temporarily fix it by throwing money at the problem. You can buy some super-caffeinated beverage to give you a quick pick-me-up. You can go get a massage or go to the gym for a physical pick-me-up.

However, each of those cost money and some of them have additional problems, like the crash after falling off a caffeine cliff when you’re already not feeling 100%.

My solution to this problem is to have a series of “power ups” that I turn to when I have a day like this, when I’m not feeling so hot and I can’t afford to just lay in bed and read a book all day long. These “power ups” are all free – or close enough to free that the cost is truly negligible – and almost always help in lifting my mood and physical well-being. I find that if I take a little time to incorporate these into my day, particularly right at the start, I end up feeling a lot better physically and mentally and

(In case you’re wondering, today is one of those days for me. I just got back from some travel where I didn’t get much sleep, I have the vaguest beginnings of a cold, and my seven year old woke me up in the middle of the night. I don’t feel the best, but I have a list of things I need to get done.)

Here are my ten “power ups” for a day like this. (I’m borrowing the term “power up” from a similar usage by Jane McGonigal in her wonderful book SuperBetter.)

Drink a tall glass of water. Water helps with mild dehydration, which often sets in overnight or in a dry environment or when you simply haven’t had enough water to drink lately. Mild dehydration can make you feel tired and lower your mood, according to this study, and simply drinking some water can alleviate that.

Whenever I wake up in the morning and don’t feel great pretty quickly, I turn to a tall glass of water rather than a dose of caffeine. Typically, the “blahs” first thing in the morning are somewhat due to dehydration, and a caffeinated beverage rarely solves that problem.

Take a longer-than-usual shower. The warmth and humidity of a shower has a lot of positive impact on how we feel. The biggest impact is the simple warmth on our body, which reduces pain signals from nerves all over our body and encourages muscle relaxation. The humidity of a shower also feels quite good on the skin.

Lingering in the shower – rather than taking a power shower – is a great way to encourage feeling good.

Take a “power nap.” If you’re feeling tired, don’t push through it. You’ll do terrible work while you’re tired. Instead, simply go take a nap. Find a comfortable spot to lie down and allow yourself to sleep for a while. Set an alarm if you must, but if you allow yourself to wake up naturally from a power nap, you’ll get far more value out of it.

Power naps are incredibly useful if you find yourself without something incredibly urgent on your plate, but you are facing important tasks by the end of the day. It can eliminate an overall feeling of tiredness with surprising effectiveness.

Do one minute (or more) of vigorous exercise. Do push-ups rapidly until you can’t do any more. Do a one minute elbow plank. Jog up several flights of stairs. Do something for a minute or two that gets your heart beating rapidly and gets you out of breath quickly. This causes tons of biochemical changes to your body, almost all of which result in you feeling better, both in the short term and in the long term if you do it frequently.

My preferred quick exercise these days is a bicycle sprint. I hop on my bike and pedal as fast as I can for a few minutes. My goal is to complete a two mile ride as fast as I can, as I have a pretty safe and usually pedestrian-free two mile ride near my house.

Meditate for five or 10 minutes. This one’s easy. Just pick one single thing to focus on within your body and mind and then focus on that one thing for five minutes. I tend to choose my breathing; others might choose a prayer or a repeated word or something. Whenever you notice your attention drifting from that point of focus, bring it back gently.

Meditation tends to bring about a calm, peaceful, and focused state in most people, which helps them to tackle the challenges in their life. The better positive effects tend to build over time through repeated meditation on a daily basis, as it can help reduce the negative effects of stress and anxiety.

Give someone a genuine compliment or thank you. This might seem unusual, but give it a try. Think of someone in your life who has done something meaningful for you to help you out, then take the time to thank them for it. Give that person a call, or write them an email, or a Facebook message, or perhaps best of all, a handwritten note. Tell that person what they did to help you and how it affected your life. Alternately, you can simply look for a great positive trait in someone you know and give them a sincere compliment.

Almost without fail, this simple act makes you feel good. It provides a quick burst of happiness that fades, but doing these kinds of things consistently leads to a higher state of life contentment.

Go for a walk, particularly through a wooded area. Simply taking a walk in the woods can lead to decreased stress, mood elevation, and even a stronger immune system. The effect is called shinrin-yoku, a Japanese term that means “forest bathing,” and it’s incredibly easy to feel the subtle effects.

Just go for a walk – ideally in an area that’s forested. Go at your own pace. Breathe the fresh air around you. Look at your environment and see what little things you can notice. You’ll feel better having done so, especially in a park setting.

Eat a really healthy meal. A healthy meal is generally one consisting of mostly plants and mostly ingredients that haven’t been heavily processed – something like a grilled chicken breast, baby potatoes, and baby carrots, for example. Eat until your body isn’t telling you that it’s hungry any more, then stop (rather than eating until you feel “full”).

Meals like this tend to fill you with a lot of energy rather than with lethargy, and that energy tends to last for a while – a couple of hours is typical.

When I do this for breakfast, I usually eat steel-cut oatmeal with just a bit of honey along with a couple of hard-boiled eggs and a piece of fruit. It adds up to about 350 calories and leaves me feeling great in the morning.

Do something purely fun with someone I love. If I’m feeling down emotionally, one of the best things I can do is simply do something fun with someone whose company I truly enjoy. I play a board game with my wife. I go on a jog with my son. I draw something with my daughter. I play disc golf with my best friend. I typically do this without distraction, meaning that I turn my cell phone off.

Doing this makes me feel much more connected to the person I’m with and reminds me that there is great joy in life. It’s perhaps the single most effective mood-lifter I’ve found that can be quickly deployed.

Delete distracting games and social media from my computer and phone and take a big break from screen time. If you have games or social media apps on your phone, delete them. Delete them all.

Having fewer distractions on your phone means you’ll be more focused on the world around you. In addition, social media, when used heavily, has a known negative impact on your mood. So dump the social media and the games. You’ll be better off.

And, with that, I’m going to go complete some of those “power ups” right now.

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