Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on November 13, 2021
Try Your Hand at Massage
A quick self-massage can take your stress down a notch or two. (It may also give your immune system a boost.) Stand against a wall and place a tennis ball between your shoulder blades. Gently bend your knees to give yourself a back rub. For a neck massage, clasp your hands behind your head and make small, deep circles with your thumbs. To release tension in your face, try rubbing your forehead and jaw with your fingers.
Go for Flower Power
Fresh-cut blooms, whether from the store or your yard, can instantly put you at ease. This may be because of their beauty or because flowers often share a strong link with happy events. Choose flowers that are a color and scent you enjoy, and place them somewhere in your home where you’ll see them often.
Get Your Hands Dirty
If you feel tense, it might be time to invest in a houseplant. When you plant and take care of one, you’ll probably feel more relaxed than if you spent the same time on your computer or phone. Houseplants offer a calming connection that even has the power to soothe your nervous system and help lower your blood pressure.
Take a Tech Time-Out
It’s great to connect to others, but smartphones, tablets, and laptops make it hard to ever get a break. If you find yourself online a lot, you may start to feel stressed and like you don’t have enough time. To relax and recharge, unplug, even for a short while. Put all screens away, even for an hour. Use that time to be present IRL instead.
Tap Into Tea
Sip a cup of black or green tea to relax. It sounds too simple to be true, but studies show that doing so can help reduce tension and improve your outlook. Exactly why isn’t clear, although tea’s smell, taste, warmth, and active ingredients seem to play a part. Some herb teas, like chamomile, can also help reduce your anxiety.
Dip Into a Warm Bath
The warmth of the water gently widens your blood vessels and improves blood flow throughout your body, which helps you relax. One study found that people who bathe on a regular basis feel less stressed and tired and even smile more. Tip: Bathe right before bed and the rise and fall of your body temperature can also help you fall asleep. Moisturize when you get out of the tub.
Focus on What Matters Most
Sometimes, you don’t need to do more to relax; you need to do less. If you feel pushed and pulled many different ways, make a list of the things you care about the most. Then, simply say “No, thanks” to events and activities you don’t have time or interest in. If you’re not used to turning down requests, this may feel hard at first. But you’ll likely find that you can unwind in the extra time and mental space it gives you.
It’s one of the fastest ways to start to unwind. As little as 20 minutes in nature (even your yard or a city park) can help distract you from negative thoughts. The calming sounds you hear may also lower your blood pressure. You don’t need to climb a mountain to feel more relaxed. Sit or stroll in any outdoor setting you enjoy. If that can’t happen right now, look at nature photos you love.
De-Stress With Music
Relaxing music has a direct effect on your nervous system. It slows your heart rate and breathing, lowers your blood pressure, and signals your muscles to soften. When you need to mentally let go, your best bet is to choose music you love. Can’t decide? Opt for classical, folk, or jazz songs. They have a rhythm between 60 to 80 beats per minute that helps your body calm down.
Soothe Yourself With Scent
Lavender, vanilla, and jasmine are a few options to send a smell-based “Chill out” message to your body’s nervous system. Put a few drops of a scented oil into a diffuser or a spray bottle filled with water. (If you have pets, check with your vet first, since some oils are toxic to animals.) You can also look for lotions and candles made with a scent you like.
Connect With Your People
A support system of friends and family is proven to help you better handle stress and lift your mood. Make time to call, text, or email someone who makes you feel good. You can fill them in on how you’re doing and also get out of your head by listening to what’s going on in their life.
Indulge in a Nap
A short midday snooze can help lower tension and boost your mood. If you often sleep less than 7 hours at night or your energy lags right after lunch, a good nap may be just what you need. Find a quiet, dark place to close your eyes for 20 minutes and you’ll wake refreshed and more alert. (Nap longer than that and you may wake up groggy.)
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
Mayo Clinic: “Social support: Tap this tool to beat stress,” “Stress relief: when and how to say no,” “What are the benefits of aromatherapy?”
Sleep.org: “Health Benefits of Napping,” “9 Ways to Relax Before Bedtime,” “The Best Scents for Relaxation and Sleep.”
American Heart Association: “Take a Nap: The Benefits of Napping and How to Make It Work For You.”
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Acute effects of tea consumption on attention and mood.”
Evolutionary Psychology: “An Environmental Approach to Positive Emotion: Flowers.”
Journal of Physiological Anthropology: “Interaction with indoor plants may reduce psychological and physiological stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity in young adults: a randomized crossover study.”
Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: “Physical and Mental Effects of Bathing: A Randomized Intervention Study.”
National Sleep Foundation: “Can Music Help You Calm Down and Sleep Better?”
Harvard Health Publishing: “Sour mood getting you down? Get back to nature.”
Mind.org.uk: “How could relaxation help me?”
ASPCA: “Is the Latest Home Trend Harmful to Your Pets? What You Need to Know!”
American Psychological Association: “Get the Massage!”
Piedmont Healthcare: “How To: Give Yourself a Massage.”