Pink blossoms blooming the Arboretum during its renovations on Friday, August 6, 2021. 

While the first week or two of every semester tends to be smooth sailing, the workload always picks up around week three or four.

And as the semester picks up, I notice I tend to neglect myself in exchange for focusing on school work, my internship and all my extracurriculars — and most people I know do the same.

The excuses for neglecting self-care are always the same: “I don’t have the time,” and “I don’t have the money,”— but these are common misconceptions. There are a number of easy ways to treat yourself without spending a dime.

Here are top picks for the best ways to treat yourself for no cost at all.

Experience the outdoors

I’ve said many times we are so lucky to attend a university with such a beautiful campus and countless ways to spend time in nature.

From having a picnic by the duck pond in the Hintz Alumni Garden to checking out the new Pollinator and Bird Garden in The Arboretum at Penn State (highly recommend), it’s easy to take a few minutes to yourself every day to breathe fresh air and watch the bees pollinate flowers.

If you have a car and a little more time to spare, try taking a hike through Walnut Springs Park, the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center or even Mount Nittany, all of which offer trails and wildlife watching just a short drive from campus.

No matter where you choose to go, bring a couple of friends along and enjoy all the nature Happy Valley has to offer.

Purge your social media feed

If you find yourself feeling stressed, angry or jealous when looking through Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat, do yourself a favor and unfollow any accounts that don’t add anything worthwhile to your feed.

I did a social media purge over the summer, and I find that I’m happier now that my feed is full of things that make me happy rather than a constant flow of bad news.

For those daring enough to do it, delete your apps altogether for a day or two — don’t scroll through Instagram during your commute or while you’re waiting in line at the dining hall. Instead, use the time to people-watch or take some deep breaths before your next class.

Try something new

Personally, I find my day-to-day life quickly falls into a routine while I’m at school. An easy way to remedy this is to try something new. After all, variety is the spice of life.

Take a couple of hours to stop by the Palmer Museum of Art and wander its halls, or check out a new book or movie at the library.

For the more adventurous people, go to a club meeting for an organization you’ve never been to before but have always wanted to join — I find that meeting new people and learning new things is a wonderful way to break the routine and enjoy all this university has to offer.

Rearrange your living space

If cabin fever sets in quickly after sitting in your dorm or apartment for a while, it may be time for a change of scenery.

At home, I like to rearrange my room a little every six months or so to spice things up — it can be as simple as hanging up a poster or as drastic as moving my bed, desk and dresser to a different spot in the room.

While you’re at it, keeping your room tidy ensures a stress-free environment to come home to at night.

While it isn’t free, I find that buying a $6 bundle of fresh flowers from the downtown farmer’s market or from Trader Joe’s is an inexpensive way to liven up a room — and make it smell good.

Take a night for yourself

If you’re like me, the vast majority of evenings during the semester are spent with others — friends, group projects, meetings. And if you’re like me, this gets draining after a while.

Every once in a while — every couple weeks or so — I like to take a night just for myself. I’ll watch a movie or play a video game, listen to music and even order food in for myself.

I think of it as kind of a “reset button” for my mental health, and I suggest it to anyone who’s beginning to feel burnt out with the stresses of college life.

Self-care doesn’t have to be about taking spa days or buying yourself expensive gifts. It's simply about taking time to focus on yourself and allowing yourself to live.

It’s also not something that needs to be earned— the “Once I finish this paper, I’ll relax,” trap we all fall victim to. Rather, self-care is something that needs to be done regularly just like taking care of your schoolwork, your relationships or the plant on your windowsill.

And once you take care of your mind and body, the rest will fall into place.

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