15 Free and Low-Cost Ways to Reduce Stress

April 24, 2014
De-stress by spending time with pets, people you love, and enjoying nature!

You can reduce your stress by spending time with animals, people you love, and enjoying nature!

If left untreated, stress can lead to depression, high blood pressure, or other serious health conditions. But fear not—beating stress doesn’t mean you have to break the bank. In honor of Stress Awareness Month, try these fun, simple, and low-cost ways to reduce your stress level and improve your health:

  1. Get outdoors. Light physical activity can be a mood-booster. Not up for exercising? Go hang out at your favorite beach or park—just getting outside to enjoy nature may take some stress away.
  2. Laugh! Laughing is an easy and enjoyable stress reliever. Invite friends over to watch a comedy movie, or surf the web to enjoy your favorite humor sites.
  3. Connect with friends. Talking or spending time with your favorite people can improve your mood. Host a potluck dinner or tapas party where everyone brings a dish, or call a friend just to see what’s up.
  4. Write it down. Feeling worried about something? Write it down in a journal. Or write a note to your future self, to open at a time you really need some inspiration, reminding yourself of what you find meaningful and that you shouldn’t sweat sweat the small stuff.
  5. Try something new. Try a new hobby or learn a new skill—check out YouTube for instructional videos or look online for how-to websites so that you can learn for free.
  6. Lose yourself in a good book. Reading is a great way to take your mind off your worries—plus, reading can even benefit your health. Need something new to read? Visit your local library, where you can check out books for free.
  7. Be creative. Painting, writing, singing, crocheting, knitting, and dancing are just a few of the many creative activities that can provide great stress relief.
  8. Just breathe. Rhythmic, slow breathing can relieve stress. Get into a comfortable position, close your eyes, and allow yourself to just breathe for a few minutes.
  9. Spend some time with animals. Research indicates that pets can help reduce stress-related increases in blood pressure. Just another great reason to take your dog for a walk or engage in playtime with the cat! Don’t have a pet of your own? Offer to walk your neighbor’s dog, or volunteer at a local animal shelter.
  10. Volunteer. Helping someone else can also help you feel satisfied. Volunteer at a local shelter, soup kitchen, or church. Offer to do a gratis chore (like mowing the lawn, raking leaves, or babysitting) for your neighbor. The possibilities are endless!
  11. Unplug and unwind. Being “always on” can contribute to stress. So put your smartphone down, step away from the TV or computer, and spend some time relaxing.
  12. Declutter your space. A messy home or desk can increase your stress level. Doing a little spring cleaning can distract you from any worries, and the end result—a tidier space—can leave you feeling less stressed, too.
  13. Be grateful. Remind yourself of a few things you’re grateful for—it can help you be optimistic and focus on the positive, non-stressful aspects of your life. Consider keeping a gratitude journal, where every day you write down one thing you’re grateful for.
  14. Cut it out. Are you stressed out because you have too much to do? Take a step back—evaluate the things you must do and the things that are most meaningful to you. For the tasks that aren’t “musts” or meaningful, brainstorm ways to delegate them, shorten the time and energy they take, and become comfortable saying “no, thank you” to requests you can’t accommodate.
  15. Snooze the stress away. Getting proper sleep can reduce stress. Adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep nightly for optimal well-being. If stress is causing you to sleep poorly, read Ten Steps to Better Sleep for some helpful tips!

If you feel that stress is affecting your life, don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional for help. Find out if your company offers an employee assistance program (EAP) as one of your benefits; these programs offer free, confidential counseling. If that isn’t an option for you, click here to learn more about some free and low-cost behavioral health resources you can use.

10 Healthy Reasons to Read a Book

April 11, 2014

The week of April 14 is National Library Week—a wonderful time to talk about the many benefits of reading. Reading can increase your well-being in a variety of ways, and it can also be a free or low-cost activity. Read on to learn how reading can benefit you!

1. Low-cost entertainment. If you want to read books for free, you can do so by visiting your local library, getting a library card, and checking out books. There’s no cost to you—just make sure you bring your books back to the library before the due date to avoid late fees. Don’t live near a library? Go online to find websites that sell discounted books, or borrow a book from (or trade books with) a friend.

2. Learn something new. Are you curious about trying yoga, cooking new meals, or learning to paint? Your local library will likely have books about these hobbies and interests, and many more. Reading a book about a new interest is a great way to get started!

3. Develop your analytical skills. When you read a story, you may find yourself trying to solve a mystery, figure out a plot twist, or better understand a metaphor.

4. Journey to other worlds. Reading is an adventure! Books take you to other places and situations you may not be able to experience in real life.

5. Connect with others. Looking to make some new friends? Consider joining a book club. Check into whether your local library offers one, or join a free website like meetup.com to find a book club in your area.

6. Increase empathy. Books can help you see other people’s perspectives and open you to feelings you haven’t felt before, both of which can make you more empathetic.

7. Reduce stress. Jumping into a good story can make you forget about factors in your own life that may be stressing you out. Consider carrying a book with you to work so you can do a little reading on your lunch break.

8. Enhance your workout. If you get bored just running on the treadmill, a book may be able to help you keep your interest—bring one with you next time you hit the gym. Be sure to put the book on the holder—don’t hold it while you run.

9. Boost your brainpower. Studies show that regularly participating in brain-stimulating activities, like reading, may help your mind keep functioning smoothly as you age.

10. Catch better zzzzz’s. To promote better sleep, sleep experts often recommend doing relaxing, de-stressing activities before going to bed. If you’re reading in bed or just before bedtime, be sure to read under a dim light—bright light actually signals the brain that it’s time to wake up!

For more free and low-cost tips to increase your health and well-being, check out The Healthcare Survival Guide!

Free and Low-Cost Help for Alcohol Addiction

March 31, 2014

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, sponsored by the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD). The theme of this year’s Alcohol Awareness Month is “Help for Today. Hope for Tomorrow,” which highlights the impact that alcoholism has on young people and their friends, families, and communities. NCADD Alcohol Awareness Month also aims to address underage drinking, an important topic to talk about as prom and graduation season approaches.

Eye-opening statistics from the NCADD:

  • Over 18 million Americans (8.5% of the population) suffer from alcohol-use disorders, with countless others experiencing the effects of another person’s alcohol problem.
  • 25% of children in the United States have been exposed to alcohol-use disorders in their family.
  • Each day, 7,000 kids in the United States under the age of 16 take their first drink.
  • Those who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcoholism than those who begin at age 21.
  • More than 1,700 college students in the U.S. are killed each year—over 4 each day—as a result of alcohol-related injuries.
  • Underage alcohol use costs the nation an estimated $62 billion annually.


Resources for help

Education and prevention are crucial to reducing alcohol-related problems. However, many people mistakenly believe that resources for help are out of their price range. Check into these free and low-cost places and organizations that you or a loved one can turn to for support and help regarding alcohol addiction and recovery.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) resources:

Support groups:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous–For alcoholics and recovering alcoholics who are seeking support.  Includes a meeting finder to locate AA meetings in your area.
  • Al-Anon and Alateen–For those whose lives have been affected by a loved one’s alcoholism.  Learn what to expect at your first meeting, and find meetings in your area.
  • Narcotics Anonymous–For those who are addicted to narcotics.  Includes a meeting finder as well as links to recovery literature.

Other helpful information:

  • The National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence–includes resources for people in recovery, for parents, for youths, and news articles regarding addiction and recovery.
  • The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism–includes articles about how alcohol affects your health, how alcohol affects teens, college drinking prevention, and more.
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse–features addiction and recovery resources for young adults, parents, teachers, and medical professionals.  Also offers information on clinical trials.

For more free and low-cost health resources, visit www.HealthcareSurvivalGuide.com.  Also, check with your employer to see if your employee benefits package includes an advocacy service such as Health Advocate (if not, you can check out Health Advocate’s consumer division, Health Proponent).  An advocacy service can help connect you to medical providers, such as primary care physicians or mental health specialists, who can help with addiction-related issues.

Low-cost tips for better heart health

February 24, 2014

February is American Heart Month, so it’s an ideal time to think about what lifestyle changes you could make to improve your heart health. Exercising regularly and improving your diet are two major ways you can increase your heart health, but what if you’re on a tight budget? Luckily, you don’t have to join a gym or purchase expensive foods to make heart-healthy changes. Read on for our tips to improve heart health without breaking the bank!

Know your numbers. It’s a good idea to establish your baseline numbers, which can help you understand what kinds of healthy changes to make. Visit your family doctor to find out your blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, weight, and body mass index (BMI). You can also get your blood pressure and weight checked for free at many popular pharmacies. Also, keep an eye on the events calendar at work—if your employer is having a health fair, you may be able to find out all those numbers at no cost to you!

Quit tobacco. Tobacco use is a major cause of heart disease. If you use tobacco, consider the many benefits of quitting. Not only will you be healthier for it, you’ll also save a lot of money! Click here to use the American Cancer Society’s Smoking Cost calculator, which will help you see how much money you’re spending on tobacco products.

If you are having a tough time quitting, seek help. Check with your employer to see if a free smoking cessation program is offered at your workplace. If not, there are several organizations that can help you quit smoking. Some resources include:

American Cancer Society:

Toll-free hotline: 1-800-ACS-2345


 National Cancer Institute:

Toll-free hotline: 1-877-44U-QUIT


Eat heart-healthy noshes. Instead of snacking on kettle chips, cheese curls, or other processed, fattening treats, reach for nuts, raw veggies, or fresh fruit. According to the Cleveland Clinic, snacking on a few walnuts before a meal can help decrease inflammation in the arteries surrounding your heart, plus help you stay fuller so that you don’t overeat. And the plant sterols in peanuts, macadamia nuts, and almonds can help lower LDL (often known as “bad”) cholesterol. Just make sure to watch your serving sizes when you eat nuts—although they’re often heart-healthy, they are not a low-calorie food. To save money, consider buying nuts and other healthy snacks in bulk.

Swap out the salt. Too much salt can damage blood vessels and increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. Try flavoring your food with herbs and spices instead of salt. Spices add healthy flavor to your meals without adding salt or fat. Experiment with different spices—buy small containers of garlic, ginger, rosemary, paprika, or any other spice or herb that interests you. Try them out in recipes and see which ones you enjoy most.

Go for a walk. According to the American Heart Association, you can reduce your risk of heart disease by engaging in as little as 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 5 times a week. This includes walking! There are so many great places to walk—in your neighborhood, a local park, your favorite mall or shopping center, outside your office at lunchtime…the possibilities are endless. And better yet, walking around any of these places won’t cost you a cent!

Unplug and unwind. Stress can raise your heart rate and blood pressure. To combat stress, take some time each day to unwind at home. Step away from your laptop, turn off your smartphone, and do something that relaxes you, such as read a book, do a workout, have dinner with a friend, or take a soothing soak in the bathtub.

Get your ZZZs. People who don’t get enough sleep are at a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and heart attack, according to the Mayo Clinic. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Make sleep a priority by setting a schedule for yourself. Get up at the same time each day and go to bed at the same time each day—even on weekends. Plus, keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet to promote better sleep.

For more healthy, low-cost ideas, check out The Healthcare Survival Guide!

Preventive dental care can stave off painful problems

February 14, 2014

In general, you should only visit the emergency room (ER) if you’re having a true medical emergency, such as chest pain or pressure, difficulty breathing, uncontrolled bleeding, persistent vomiting, or a severe allergic reaction. But sometimes people show up at the ER for another reason: dental problems. According to a recent National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, in 2010 more than 2.1 million people (most of whom were adults) went to the ER because of dental pain.

It’s never a good idea to visit the emergency room for dental problems. Very few hospitals are equipped to handle dental issues—they may be able to prescribe an antibiotic to treat an infection or pain medication to help you feel a little better, but the underlying issue causing the discomfort won’t be fixed. Plus, emergency room visits can be very costly. And finally, remember that when ER staff is trying to treat people who come in with preventable problems like cavity pain, it takes medical staff and resources away from patients who truly need immediate medical care.

Instead of waiting until a dental issue becomes incredibly painful, focus on making sure you and your family regularly get proper preventive dental care. Many routine problems like cavities and abscesses can be prevented by regular dental checkups and cleanings. If you don’t have dental insurance, there are still ways you can get preventive dental care. These free and low-cost resources can help.

Need dental care?

  • National Association of Free Clinics: The National Association of Free Clinics is the only national non-profit that provides a range of medical, dental, pharmacy, and/or behavioral health services to economically disadvantaged individuals who are predominately uninsured. Their website allows you to search by state to find free clinics in your area. Click here to check out The National Association of Free Clinics.
  • Bureau of Primary Healthcare: This is a searchable database of clinics that provide low-cost or free care (including dental care) to people without health insurance. Users can enter an address or zip code, or state and county for a list of clinics in their area. Click here to check out The Bureau of Primary Healthcare.
  • Local dental schools: Dental schools have clinics that allow students to gain experience by providing treatment at reduced costs to the patients. Licensed dentists closely supervise students as they treat patients. Additionally, post-graduate clinics are also available at most schools and offer services for people who are seeking an endodontist, orthodontist, periodontist, oral surgeon, etc. The American Dental Association (ADA) offers a complete list of dental schools in your area.

Need a prescription for a dental issue?

  • CVS. Some pharmacies offer prescription memberships which provide the benefit of discounted prescription medications. Some may require a small annual fee. Call 888-616-2273 or visit http://www.cvs.com/healthsavingspass.
  • PatientAssistance.com, Inc. PatientAssistance.com is a free resource designed to help connect patients who can’t afford their prescription medications with patient assistance programs. We believe that medication should be affordable for all Americans, including low-income families and the uninsured, and our database features over 1000 programs that help make that possible. Call (888) 788-7921 or visit  http://www.patientassistance.com/
  • Rite Aid.  Some pharmacies offer prescription memberships which provide the benefit of discounted prescription medications. Some may require a small annual fee. Call 800-748-3243 or visit  http://www.riteaid.com/pharmacy/rx_savings.jsf
  • Walgreens. Some pharmacies offer prescription memberships which provide the benefit of discounted prescription medications. Some may require a small annual fee. Call 866-922-7312 or visit http://www.walgreens.com/pharmacy

For more tips on locating free or low-cost dental or medical care, visit www.HealthcareSurvivalGuide.com.

Healthy Super Bowl Noshes

January 30, 2014

If you’re hosting a Super Bowl gathering or going to a friend’s place to watch the big game, you’ll probably want to prepare an appetizer or two to share with others during the event. Foods that are typically served at sporting events are often high in calories, sodium, and fat, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Read on for low-cost, healthy versions of popular Super Bowl noshes.

Make your own popcorn. Did you know that popcorn is a whole grain? Popcorn can be a healthy choice if it is prepared the right way. Try preparing your own stove top popcorn. Avoid adding extra fat (butter) and salt; instead, add your own spices for flavor.

Lighten up your buffalo wings. Bake your buffalo wings instead of frying them to cut calories and fat. Serve this Baked Buffalo Wings recipe with blue cheese dip and see if your friends notice the difference. If you want to try a delicious vegetarian option, try this Healthy Buffalo Cauliflower Bites recipe!

Make your own guacamole. It’s actually quite easy to make guacamole at home. This homemade guacamole recipe is simple and won’t break the bank. If you want to be extra adventurous, make your own tortilla chips to go with it!

Serve mini taco meatballs. Imagine the best part of a taco in appetizer form. This mini taco meatballs recipe takes less than 30 minutes to make. This healthy app is packed with flavor!

Make your own healthy pizzas. Pizza is a wonderful low-cost meal that can feed many people without costing a lot of money. Whip up Pesto Pizza with Sliced Tomatoes and a Barbecue Chicken Pizza. If these two options aren’t your style, pick your favorite pizza toppings and create your own recipe!

There are many different ways to re-create your favorite dishes in a healthy way without sacrificing taste. Make one or two of these low-cost Super Bowl snacks and you’re sure to receive compliments from your guests!

“Kick butt” in 2014!

January 15, 2014

It’s still early in the new year, which means it’s a great time to start creating some new, healthy habits. Quitting tobacco is one of the best things you can do for your health. Some benefits happen quickly, such as your blood pressure improving, and other benefits occur over time, such as lowering your risk for lung cancer, your teeth and nails being whiter, and more.

Quitting tobacco may seem like a daunting goal, especially if you have been smoking for a long time. Luckily, you don’t have to go through the quitting process alone. There are many free and low-cost resources that can help you quit. Check out our comprehensive list of resources, including written information about quitting tobacco, online resources for help, smartphone apps, how to obtain individualized counseling, in-depth information about smoking cessation medications, and more.

Your employer
Your employer may be a great resource to help you quit smoking. Many employers offer free tobacco cessation programs as part of the employee benefits package. Talk to your benefits or human resources team to find out what’s offered at your workplace.  Also, ask your employer if they subsidize nicotine replacement therapies like nicotine gum or the nicotine patch (if they don’t, check online–you may be able to find coupons to use on these products).

Your doctor
Mention to your doctor that you’re interested in quitting smoking.  Your doctor can provide you with recommendations and resources that can help you quit.
Click here for a ton of really cool resources, including a cigarette cost calculator (you may be shocked at how much money you’re spending on cigarettes over time), “desktop helpers” that can help you plan your quit day and deal with cravings, and more.

National Cancer Institute resources:
NCI Smoking Quitline at 1–877–44U–QUIT (1–877–448–7848) provides individualized counseling, printed information, and referrals to other sources.
View this NCI fact sheet, “Where To Get Help When You Decide To Quit Smoking”: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/tobacco/help-quitting

http://www.smokefree.gov/ is a Web site created by NCI’s Tobacco Control Research Branch; check out their Step-by-Step Quit Guide.
Get the Smokefree QuitGuide app for your smartphone: http://www.smokefree.gov/apps/

American Cancer Society
Their website includes a guide to quitting smoking.
You can also call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.

American Heart Association

This website features a free, online plan to help you quit smoking.

American Lung Association

Other resources:
“Help for Smokers and Other Tobacco Users” is a free booklet created by the US Department of Health and Human Services packed with tips on how to quit:

“FDA 101: Smoking Cessation Products” is an article put out by the Food and Drug Administration that discusses the variety of approved products, both over-the-counter and prescription, that can help you quit smoking.

For more help finding free and/or low-cost resources, read the Healthcare Survival Guide!