Sometimes when I’m talking about my state of well-being, I refer to myself in the third person as a Delicate Petunia. My body and mind are quick to wilt when left untended. Feeling crushed by a volley of life events this year — a sick parent, a tough breakup, a tumultuous cross-country move — I started sacrificing the routine maintenance I need to keep going, instead focusing all of my energy on the problems at hand. I shriveled. A week sans stretching left my neck so stiff I couldn’t turn my head. Multiple nights without popping my night guard over clean teeth had me constantly fretting about my next dental checkup. My mind circled back on itself before bed, and I couldn’t sleep. Once I realized these troubles had put me at a loss, I then tried to make up the deficit with expensive, indulgent remedies like massages and green tonics, in hopes of reviving myself.
But in recent months, I’ve queued up a routine with a few simple, inexpensive ways to nurture myself in as little as 15 minutes a day, so that I can feel steady even during life’s inevitable droughts and downpours. (I also started going to therapy, because although I find these tools helpful, they can’t replace professional medical help. Here’s some advice on finding a therapist, if you’re looking.) In collaboration with picks from Wirecutter, a New York Times company that reviews and recommends products, here are five cheap(ish) things I use to take care of myself in 15 minutes or less.
Sunscreen as skin care
Applying face sunscreen is an easy way to stall wrinkles and skin cancer. It’s also a budget-friendly way to make me feel as if I’m doing something nice for my skin without splurging on lotions and potions that I don’t know will work. I prefer the lightweight EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 sunscreen for my sensitive skin, and I find that a bottle lasts for months. Wirecutter has several affordable, great options too.
I sometimes yearn to skip this step in my nightly routine so I can just get to bed already. Since getting an electric toothbrush, though, I’ve found that persuading myself to brush is easier. Wirecutter’s pick, the Oral-B Pro 1000, does most of the work for me. The Oral-B is a cinch to use, and it makes my teeth feel scrubbed clean (I just turn it on and attempt to follow the American Dental Association’s guidelines for two solid minutes). Every time I go to Costco, I treat myself to replacement heads alongside a giant bag of snap pea crisps. Balance!
A bright water bottle you won’t be able to ignore
As the United States Geological Survey says, a whopping 60 percent of the human body is water, so you need to replenish the supply to, you know, function. Besides keeping my mucosal membranes moist and lubricating my joints, I notice that drinking water throughout the day just helps me feel better and more alert. To keep up my reserves, I bring a water bottle everywhere I go. Wirecutter recommends the Hydro Flask 21oz Standard Mouth water bottle, which is leakproof, durable and available in fun, eye-catching colors. I recommend sipping while commuting, while at your desk, and even when you go out to the bar. If you struggle with remembering to drink water, the delightful Twitter account @tinycarebot can prompt you to hydrate as well as take other small breaks.
A soothing meditation app
Although meditation apps can’t replace help from a medical or mental health professional, they’re handy tools that can help calm you. If you’re just starting out, if you’re looking for structured meditations, or if you’re the type of person who uses Google Maps because you like being told what to do (guilty), consider Headspace, Wirecutter’s favorite meditation tool. With multiple recommendations from friends, my therapist, and even a family I babysat for, I bought Headspace after trying out a few free meditations. Headspace offers options based on time limits — even for one minute — or for processing emotions like anxiety or stress. I’ve graduated to mostly meditating on my own, but when I’m feeling extra frazzled I still pop on my headphones for a guided session to give my buzzing mind a break.
Yoga from anywhere
When I’m traveling or too squeezed for time — or, let’s be real, lacking the funds to get to a yoga studio — I turn to YouTube’s free exercise videos. I do Yoga With Adriene’s videos regularly to stretch my tense muscles. (Make sure you’re in good health before starting an unsupervised exercise routine.) Adriene’s videos have great sound quality, sometimes her cute dog pops into view, and her prompts are never judgmental. And you can choose from tons of videos that vary in length and focus. I’ve even done a seven-minute stretch in a hotel room after a long day of walking a trade-show floor. If you want to make at-home workouts a regular thing, check out ClassPass’s audio classes or apps like The Underbelly from the yoga teacher, New York Times contributor and body-positivity activist Jessamyn Stanley.
P.S. The expert bargain hunters at Wirecutter, The New York Times’s product review site, are scouring thousands of discounts to find the best deals on products that are actually worth it to upgrade your life. Subscribe the daily Deals newsletter here.