Therapy is often an essential part of treatment for mental health concerns like depression or anxiety. What are you supposed to do if you can’t afford it? Even with sliding scale payments, therapy can be expensive. Online therapy services like BetterHelp and Talkspace make it more affordable, at around $60 to $90 per session, but that’s still not in the budget for many people. Not to mention, therapists aren’t always taking new patients.
Therapy will always be the gold standard for mental health treatment, but circumstances can make it temporarily impossible. These four strategies improve your mental health without spending any money.
1. Use mental health apps to track daily progress
Mental health apps offer resources to people who otherwise couldn’t get them. While they’re not a substitute for therapy and can’t diagnose conditions, mental health apps like Moodfit and Sanvello are great tools to use on your mental wellness journey. The best mental health apps will help you relieve stress and anxiety and teach you how to manage symptoms in the future.
There’s a lot of variety in what these apps offer and the features that are built in. Many offer a great catalog of educational resources to help you learn about conditions and adapt coping strategies to manage them daily.
Mental health apps can also be a reminder to check in on yourself. Most send push notifications throughout the day, which can be used as an indicator to stop and assess how you’re feeling.
2. Implement cognitive behavioral therapy strategies on your own
It’s called self-directed therapy. Again, it isn’t a replacement for traditional therapy with a professional, but it can supplement your mental health efforts when you don’t have access to talk therapy. This self-help strategy is best reserved for those with moderate symptoms that don’t affect daily tasks.
A systematic review of 33 studies found that self-help treatments can decrease anxiety and depression. Self-directed therapy results were “moderate,” according to the review. So people didn’t feel 100% better, but they reported feeling less anxious or depressed. If you’re interested in self-directed therapy strategies to improve your mental well-being, we recommend checking out the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies’ list of books. The books on the list have received a “seal of merit.”
Common self-directed therapy techniques:
- Journaling: Writing down your thoughts and feelings and reflecting on them can help you identify negative thoughts and behavior patterns. Once you’re aware, you can take meaningful steps toward making changes.
- Guided courses: With self-directed therapy, you have to start somewhere. Guided courses can help you learn methods and tactics for daily management. You can consult the National Alliance on Mental Illness for its mental health education directory.
- Mental health apps: Many mental health apps use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to reduce anxiety and help manage symptoms.
3. Stay connected to others
It’s important to connect with other people, especially those experiencing similar things. Studies show that connecting to others can provide a sense of meaning and purpose and decrease loneliness. Group therapy or support groups are typically led by a mental health professional or group leader and can be low-cost or free. Whether it be friends, family or strangers, sharing your feelings and experiences is essential.
You also can use the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website to locate community resources near you.
Connections with people aren’t the only ones that can help improve your mental health. Pets and animals can reduce stress and anxiety levels. Take some intentional time to hang out with your pet — play with your dog, hug your cat. If you don’t have a pet, you can volunteer at a local animal shelter or humane society. Fostering or pet-sitting animals is also an option.
4. Practice mindfulness and meditation
Meditation has a history that stretches back thousands of years, but it’s become an extremely popular stress-relieving practice in the last few. Mindfulness helps you become more attuned to what you’re feeling and thinking, which helps you manage your thoughts and emotions more effectively, rather than becoming overwhelmed by them. Mindfulness uses techniques like meditation and breathwork to improve your mental health.
Mindfulness can help you manage symptoms of anxiety and other mental health disorders by helping you understand and cope with what you’re feeling. Studies show that meditation can help reduce stress, alleviate symptoms of depression or anxiety and help you sleep. The focus is on mind and body integration, which can help you enhance your mental well-being.
You can also use meditation apps to reduce stress and help maintain your mindfulness regimen. These free or low-cost apps are great for beginners.
Other practical tips to improve your mental health without therapy
- Exercise: Several mental health benefits are associated with exercise, like relieving anxiety or improving your mood. Exercise also can boost your confidence and release endorphins. You don’t have to jump straight into heavy lifting; any exercise can help.
- Go outside and soak up the sun: Sunlight boosts serotonin in the brain, which can improve your mood. When you don’t get enough sun, your serotonin levels drop, leading to seasonal affective disorder.
- Prioritize your sleep: Poor sleep is linked to a greater risk of anxiety or depression, poor mood and higher stress levels. Prioritize your sleep by sticking to your bedtime routine — get ready for bed by doing something relaxing, aim for the same bedtime each night and turn off your screens.
- Take a step back from social media: Constant social media use can increase symptoms of anxiety and depression. A digital detox may be warranted if you compare yourself to others online or notice a dip in your mental health. Start by limiting your time on social media. Then, try to fill that time with things you enjoy or people you like spending time with.
When should I see a therapist?
Self-directed therapy and well-being tactics are extremely useful, but they’re not the be-all and end-all of mental health. Face-to-face time with a licensed therapist is essential for those with severe conditions and symptoms.
The first thing you should do is check your insurance. Employer-provided insurance and Medicaid may cover screenings, psychotherapy and counseling. Your insurance coverage will depend on your state and your health plan, but many plans include mental health coverage for in-network therapists.
Read more: How to Find the Best Therapist Near You
Your finances shouldn’t stop you from getting the help you need. It may take some research into therapists and programs, but there are low-cost options.
- Sliding scale payments: Some therapists offer sliding scale fees — you pay what you can afford. The cost will be based on your income. Not all therapists offer this, but many do.
- Low-cost or free services: Some therapists offer low-cost or free counseling for individual and group sessions. If you live near a college or university, the graduate department may offer free or discounted therapy sessions.
- Community health centers: Community mental health centers assist those in surrounding areas.
- Local and online support groups: Local organizations and volunteers in many areas offer support groups for things like grief and addiction. Use Mental Health America’s list of support groups to find one that best fits your needs. You can participate in a peer-led support group through the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI).