Charlotte Kyle suggests ways in which we can stay happy and healthy during a cost of living crisis winter, and how to shake those Blue Monday blues in easy and affordable ways.
Coming into this winter, I think a lot of us have found ourselves in a position where most of our normal routines and habits are becoming a lot more financially strenuous. For me, my self-care routines typically involve long baths, cooking a special meal, maybe some retail therapy or even a trip home.
Baths are of course a bit of a no-go with current energy prices (unless you have bills included, in which case I have to say I hate you a little bit), cooking is still a huge hobby of mine but now requires some thought on cheaper ingredients and shorter cooking times, retail therapy is much more limited, and don’t even get me started on train prices! (However, it must be said that the 16-24 railcard has really come into its own with recent price surges – it’s definitely worth it if, like me, you don’t drive).
The other side of the cost of living crisis is that many of us have had to take up poorly-paid hospitality jobs, where we’re often poorly treated, to balance out rising costs. I think it’s super important to remember how draining this can be – we really need to take care of ourselves, especially with the mental drain of working and studying simultaneously. I’ve found that agency work is a lot less strenuous for me as a student – there is no weekly hourly commitment and you can cancel shifts with very little repercussions which removes a lot of pressure that part-time jobs bring. Apps such as Limber or Host can be a great alternative to, say, working with a contract in a pub or restaurant.
As cliché as it is, the first port of call when I’m feeling a bit of a mental health wobble coming on is prioritising some time in nature – Bristol is a relatively small city but it can still get overwhelming, and we often forget how even an hour’s walk in nature can give us so much perspective. If you have a good few hours free I’d suggest Ashton Court – although it’s pretty much still in Bristol, you really get the feeling that you’re in the middle of the countryside, and I find it the most peaceful part of the city. It can be accessed by the X4 bus from the city centre (or you can get the 8 to Clifton Village and walk about half an hour). Other options are Brandon Hill (great views), a wander by the harbourside, or even spending time in Royal Fort Gardens (such an underrated uni space!). Another thing which has really been great for me this year has been the Wild Swimming Society, a free society which organises trips to wild swim spots that are accessible by public transport every Sunday. You can follow their instagram, @bristoluniwildswim to keep up to date with plans, and even into winter you’ll find mad people in bikinis swimming in lakes and rivers around Bristol! There’s also a really great sense of community, fuelled by the cosy pub trips after every swim, and regular socials.
As I said, cooking remains one of my favourite hobbies and self-care activities, but I’ve just had to make some slight adjustments to keep everything a bit cheaper. I love cooking for friends and I’ve found that sharing meals and splitting costs can actually really keep you within your weekly budget – anything that’s veg or carb-heavy tends to be the cheapest option – think lentil spaghetti bolognese or cottage pie made with frozen quorn. Accompany that with some boxed red wine or plentiful cups of tea and for only a few pounds each you’ve got a pretty perfect night in. Other ways of keeping cooking cheap are investing in air fryers (or borrowing one from someone’s mum like we did) to keep energy costs down, buying in bulk, and freezing portions to heat up during the week. Using apps like Too Good To Go to get discounted food that’s nearing its sell-by date is also a really great option.
Another great place to get cheap food is the uni’s new budget lunch options, including the £1 soup and roll (available at all Source Cafés and the Balloon Bar Monday to Friday) and the £2 hot lunch which is available from the Source-on-the-Go ‘Cater pod’, outside the Balloon Bar from 11 am – 2 pm, Monday to Friday. Other fun places on-campus are the Global Lounge and the Senate House Living Room, which offer lovely, cosy vibes and have tea, coffee, and often snacks available. The Global Lounge actually has an amazing selection of loose-leaf teas for any tea fanatics like me and you can also find games and books in these rooms too.
In terms of taking care of your physical health, a big part of staving off winter colds is staying warm in a student house, so I think certain investments are really worth making. Electric blankets can be bought off Amazon for around £30 and cost next to nothing to run (about 5p an hour according to online sources). I recently invested in one and it has made a huge difference – it makes getting into and out of bed so much less painful. Also think about investing in a nice dressing gown and slippers (probably under £10 for both from Primark) as again, having cosy, warm clothing will improve your day beyond belief.
Other self-care purchases which have great value for money in my experience are; nice teas, (rooibos or earl grey are about £1 for 50 tea bags from Lidl), a new book from the £4 book shop on Park Street (previously £3 – another victim of the cost of living crisis), and even spending a day perusing charity shops down Gloucester Road or in Clifton Village can be a cheaper retail therapy option.
Finally, drinking is of course not the healthiest form of self-care, but I know that for a lot of students a cheap pint with friends is a great way of relaxing and even a good excuse to explore new parts of Bristol. In terms of typical student-y pubs, the Anchor on Gloucester road (£2 pints on Thursdays) and the White Harte on the triangle (£2.50 pints on Mondays) are both great! The Balloon Bar in the SU is also an underrated option, with £1.20 pints on Wednesdays and a cosy atmosphere – it even has a bean bag corner! The Mardyke in Hotwells has £2.70 pints and, if you’re prepared to travel even further, the Coronation in Bedminster is known as the cheapest pub in Bristol, with the most expensive pint being less than £4. My personal favourite is the Coronation Tap (affectionately known as the Cori Tap) in Clifton Village, which brews its own 8% cider and charges around £2.50 for half a pint, but trust me, you only need a few!
Hopefully these little tips can give you some self-care inspiration for this winter and I hope this reminds you to make your physical and mental health your priority over the next few months!