Having a bad day, a bad week or what looks to turn into a bad decade? So was Susan Gregory Thomas: Five years ago, her marriage imploded, leaving her with two young kids and barely enough money to pay the mortgage.

The advice her mother offered? "Get a treat, now." Never mind that you're in a financial quagmire — find something that makes you "feel special, sparkling with delight."

Thomas did, and it didn't cost a thing. Not at first, anyway.

She wandered the beauty section of a major department store, "inhaling the glittery splendour," Thomas recalls on the Daily Worth, a personal-finance website. She began saving change in a jar and eventually had enough for a few makeup items. And she never missed a mortgage payment either.

To which I say: Good for her! Letting a bad day stay that way just means that tomorrow you'll wake up into a bad morning.

I'm not suggesting that all problems can be solved with a positive attitude or a new lipstick. But small diversions can take you out of the stress for a while.

A single hour's R&R can make a huge difference, even if it's a situation with no clear end in sight: illness, say, or long-term unemployment. That hour doesn't have to cost a lot — and it might even be free.

Inexpensive diversions
1. Have a picnic
. Eat your sandwich in a shady spot near the workplace or, on a weekend, carry your lunch to the nearest park.

2. Attend an open-mike evening. Look for music or poetry readings at a coffeehouse, bookstore or bar. You might have to pay a cover charge or buy a coffee, but it's pretty cheap entertainment.

3. Go to school. Colleges and universities have fewer activities during summer semester but you will still likely encounter art shows, lectures, music and other activities. Some might even be free.

4. Visit a dollar store. Buy a kite or a generic Frisbee, then fly it/throw it. Take home sidewalk chalk and have an art contest with the neighbours. Get some bubble bath and take a long, long soak.

5. See a pay-what-you-can show. Comedy, theatre, music — all sorts of things might be available for whatever you can afford to spend.

6. Get a massage. Watch for a daily deal; I've seen massages going for as little as $29. You won't believe the difference, especially if you carry stress in your shoulders and jaw. (Can't afford it? Trade shoulder or neck rubs with a friend.)