Tricks That Will Help You Really, Truly Relax

Don't do these things
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There's a good deal of stress connected just to being alive and surviving. If you let it, stress can come at you from every angle at every second of your waking day. Our bodies can handle small doses of stress, but when not addressed and lessened, stress can cause health problems too.

Some of these problems you might notice on a daily or weekly basis, such as having issues sleeping or more frequent headaches and stomach problems. And then there's the potential of developing serious, chronic health conditions such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes

Chronic stress is also a major risk factor for heart disease in healthy people and can pose a significant threat to people who already have heart issues. In one study published in 2022 in JAMA, researchers who followed 900 people with underlying heart disease for up to nine years found that mental stress took a greater toll on their hearts than physical stress.

So, how do you get rid of that stress? Relaxation. We've compiled some easy ways to help you say so long to your stress.


Rooted in Indian philosophy, yoga is an ancient practice that emphasizes a combination of physical moves with breathing and meditation techniques.

Many people find yoga an easy way to chill out, and some research has even shown that it can have stress-busting potential: In a 2021 study published in JAMA Psychiatry, researchers found that about 100 people with generalized anxiety disorder improved their symptoms after a three-month stint practicing a type of yoga called Kundalini.

There are a couple of ways to get started:

  • Try an in-person class
  • Pick one or two (or more, depending on how much time you have) poses you like and practice at home
  • Follow along with a video that features gentle beginner movements.

Relax Your Muscles

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It's hard to sink into a state of zen if you're one big ball of knots. When you're stressed out, your body releases adrenaline and cortisol to help prepare you to take on the challenge. Your muscles may also tighten, leading to chronic pain if you're in this state for prolonged periods.

To relax those muscles, the American Message Therapy Association recommends a progressive muscle relaxation. Follow these steps:

  1. Make a tight fist with your hand and hold it for a count of three seconds.
  2. While you exhale, think of the word "relax."
  3. Repeat the process for your forehead, eyes, jaw, shoulders, chest, abdomen, arms, and legs.

Downshift During Your Commute

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If you take public transportation home from work, it can be tempting to use the time to catch up on emails and other things you have to do. But "if you walk in the door decompressed, it gives you a jump-start for the rest of the evening," said productivity expert Julie Morgenstern, author of "Time Management from the Inside Out."

Instead of doing more work on your commute, Morgenstern suggested:

  • Trying a meditation app such as Insight Timer or Calm
  • Calling a friend or loved one
  • Listening to music
  • Setting your intentions for how you want to relax at home, such as cooking with your partner

"Any activity that breaks you out of your normal train of thought should help," said Morgenstern.

Log Off Social Media

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The more often people check social media accounts, texts, and email, the higher their level of stress, revealed the American Psychological Association's 2017 Stress in America report.

Other research published in 2022 in Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy found a link between reading about the COVID-19 pandemic on social media and more PTSD and depressive symptoms.

To help yourself know when to log off of social media, consider:

  • Focusing on how you're feeling while you're on social media
  • Using a mood-tracking app or writing in a journal to see what might be triggering your social-media induced stress
  • Practice noticing your feelings throughout the day by regularly asking yourself how you're doing

Get Organized

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If you have your tasks scattered among your calendar, notepads, emails, sticky notes, and memory with no order or organization, you're going to feel stressed out pretty fast. Case in point: A study published in the Journal of Marketing Research in 2015 found that people who want to achieve multiple goals at the same time feel time-constrained and stressed.

Instead, Morgenstern recommended deciding on a single, reliable system for organizing your to-dos. That way you won't constantly have a mental to-do list ramping up your anxiety.

Refocus Your Thoughts

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"When people assume that if they don't get to their to-dos their world will fall apart, that needs to be questioned," said Ellen Langer, PhD, a professor of psychology at Harvard University who studies mindfulness.

Thinking that you're in a worse situation than you actually are is something called catastrophizing. Instead of stressing about organizing the coat closet or running that errand, it might help to be more present—or mindful—about the situation so that you don't spiral. You can do that by:

  • Recognizing your feelings
  • Asking yourself if the worst-case-scenario is actually so bad
  • Saying something kind to yourself

By talking yourself through it, you might realize that the situation isn't as dire as you thought.

Make a Joy List

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Oh, the irony: Even when free time falls into your lap, you may have no idea what to do with it. "We often get stuck during leisure time because we try to choose the exact perfect thing to do," said Brigid Schulte, director of the Better Life Lab at the Washington, D.C., think tank New America and author of "Overwhelmed."

One key way to reduce stress is by doing things you want—not have—to do. So it's important not to squander those precious free moments when you have them. To avoid this, Schulte recommended preparing in advance by:

  • Thinking about what mellows you out
  • Creating a list of options for leisure time

"So if one thing on your list doesn't appeal, pick something else," Schulte said.

Do a Walking Meditation

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Not the sit-and-zen-out type? Here's an exercise from Morgenstern that still gets you in the moment and out of your head: As you stroll, engage your senses.

Note what you see (buildings with interesting shapes), what you hear (the rustling of leaves), and what you feel (the breeze on your face). Bonus points if you're out in nature; it's more likely to decrease rumination than being in an urban area, per a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Get Creative

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Doing something creative can help you become so immersed in what you're doing that all else recedes into the background—including your stresses.

Try your hand at knitting or check out one of those ubiquitous adult coloring books—and resist the urge to simultaneously rewatch Big Little Lies.

Wonder and Wander

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As kids, we'd lose ourselves for hours poking around in our backyards. As adults, we get stuck in routines and miss out on how captivating discovery can be. "Exploring is the opposite of making to-do lists, where you know exactly where things are headed," says Hall.

Hit a fresh hiking trail (check ratings at or visit a new town.

Don’t Give Yourself an Out

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Commit to regular enjoyable activities, like a monthly racquetball game or cooking class, with your partner or friends. "You're more likely to follow through on a commitment to someone else than to yourself," notes Schulte. "It leaves you no choice but to relax!"

One of the rare times when I truly unwind: is my bimonthly girls' game night, where we play Scattergories, snack extensively, and laugh our heads off. But thanks to all this inspiration, I no longer have to wait weeks to relax for real.

Don’t Do These Things

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One person's nirvana is another person's noooo. If you don't enjoy these supposedly blissful activities, take heart—you're not alone.

  1. Gardening: Weeds! Bugs! Heat! Ugh!
  2. Breakfast in bed: Not so chill when we have to worry about spilling OJ all over the comforter.
  3. Taking a bath: Lovely in theory, but in reality, the water gets cold fast, we get distracted by mold on the tile, and the book always falls in.
  4. Messages: Kneading tense muscles? Pleasant to some, painful to the rest of us.
  5. Shopping: Enjoyable only until we hit the overly-lit dressing rooms.
  6. Reading the paper on Sunday morning: Thanks, politics, for the blood pressure spike.
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  1. Medline Plus. Stress.

  2. Vaccarino V, Almuwaqqat Z, Kim JH, et al. Association of mental stress–induced myocardial ischemia with cardiovascular events in patients with coronary heart disease. JAMA. 2021;326(18):1818-1828. doi: 10.1001/jama.2021.17649

  3. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Yoga: What you need to know.

  4. American Pyschological Association. Stress effects on the body.

  5. American Massage Therapy Association. Progressive muscle relaxation.

  6. American Psychological Association. Stress in America.

  7. Price, M., Legrand, A. C., Brier, Z. M. F., van Stolk-Cooke, K., Peck, K., Dodds, P. S., Danforth, C. M., & Adams, Z. W. (2022). Doomscrolling during COVID-19: The negative association between daily social and traditional media consumption and mental health symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic.Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. doi: 10.1037/tra0001202

  8. Etkin J, Evangelidis I, Aaker J. Pressed for time? Goal conflict shapes how time is perceived, spent, and valued. Journal of Marketing Research. 2015;52(3):394-406. doi: 10.1509/jmr.14.0130

  9. American Pyschological Association. APA dictionary of psychology.

  10. American Pyschological Association. Give me a break.

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