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Why Can’t I Relax? Ten Ways to Relax that Aren’t Meditation

by Deb Powers

Why can’t I relax? If you find yourself stressing about not being able to relax, it’s not just you. When the usual remedies for stress and anxiety don’t seem to work for you, one of these unusual relaxing things to do may be just what you need to take the edge off your stress.

Why can’t I relax? If you’re struggling with stress and anxiety, you’re not alone. We’re living in a connected world where it’s almost impossible to escape a constant stream of daily stressors. From the very personal — that looming deadline or the argument with your boss — to the universal, like the growing threat of climate change, there’s no shortage of things to keep you stressed all day and awake worrying all night. Many people turn to mindfulness, yoga, or meditation, but these strategies are not successful for everyone. If you’re one of those people who can’t relax enough to meditate, here are 10 ideas for relaxing things you can do when you’re trying to beat stress.

Five Relaxing Things to Do at Home

Dealing with stress at home gives you a lot of options that you may not have in other circumstances. You have access to your kitchen, your bathtub, and your bed, for example, and if you’re lucky, you either have solitude or live with people who won’t look at you too strangely if you decide to throw a solitary dance party in the middle of the afternoon. Here are five relaxing things to do at home when you need to reduce stress.

1. Take a Bath or Shower

Water is such a well-documented soother that there are entire sleep and relaxation apps based around the sounds of ocean waves and falling rain. Showers and baths can both help you relax, but a recent Japanese study found that a warm bath — about 104 degrees Fahrenheit — significantly improves stress, anxiety, depression and anger. If you can’t take a bath, though, the very act of taking a shower can reduce stressful thoughts as you focus on the tasks of washing and getting clean. As an added bonus, a warm shower an hour or two before bedtime can help you get to sleep more easily, and a good night’s sleep can help manage stress and anxiety levels the next day, too.

2. Bake a Cake

Or make your grandmother’s famous lasagna, or just try a new recipe. Getting into cooking mode takes the focus off anxiety-producing stimuli and forces you to focus on following a recipe. Baking is a form of mindfulness, according to Julie Ohana, a culinary art therapist. When you’re baking, you’re following the steps in the here and now, as well as thinking about the process as a whole. It’s a good way to develop the balance between the moment and the bigger picture, which can help relieve stress and anxiety. Filling the house with soothing scents like vanilla, chocolate and spices doesn’t hurt, either. 

3. Watch a Movie that Makes You Cry

Tears are more than just water leaking from your eyes. Crying is an important safety valve and tension reliever. Emotional tears flush stress hormones out of your system and trigger the release of oxytocin and endorphins, which help to relieve physical and emotional pain. So bring up Netflix or your favorite streaming service and settle in with a box of tissues.

4. Take a Social Media Break

When your life feels out of control, looking at all those perfectly posed and staged Instagram photos can be like rubbing salt in the wound. While social media apps — and connectedness in general — offer a lot of positive effects, they also can lead people into a spiral of self-doubt, depression, stress and anxiety. In a recent study, undergraduates who limited their social media time to 30 minutes per day showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression over the course of three weeks. Interestingly, even the group that used their social media apps as usual showed significant reductions in anxiety and fear of missing out, leading the investigators to speculate that simply being more mindful of your use may help.

5. Get Moving

Quick bursts of physical activity get your heart rate up and activate a series of neurotransmitters that will help cushion the stress, according to Guillem Gonzalez-Lomas, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone Sports Health. It doesn’t have to be long — as little as 30 seconds of running in place or a set of 20 jumping jacks can be enough to do the trick.

Five Relaxing Things to Do in Public

Being in public, whether at the office or just out and about, limits your options for stress-busting tactics, but there are still things you can do to help center yourself and relax.

6. Do Something Tactile

When you’re feeling stressed, doing something that involves your senses can help get you out of your head and into the moment. It’s one of the reasons for the popularity of fidget spinners — they provide sensory input that can help soothe anxiety. A stress ball, bubble wrap, or a cool desk toy that can absorb you for a few minutes can help bring down the immediate stress levels so you can refocus.

7. Support Your Body’s Stress Response

Sometimes your body needs a little extra help to deal with occasional stress. Cannabidiol, or CBD, may have the potential to affect cortisol secretion from your adrenal glands according to a recent study. As a result, many have started to look to CBD sublingual sprays to help calm the signs of occasional stress.  These sprays are discreet and easy to use just about anywhere.

8. Do a Crossword Puzzle

Or do sudoku, or word searches. Concentrating on a brain puzzle can reduce the “noise” in your brain that contributes to stress. Download your favorite puzzle apps and keep them handy for when you need a couple of minutes to destress.

9. Knit

You can knit at home, of course, but carrying along a small project can help keep stress at bay when you’re waiting in line or commuting. Surprisingly, there’s considerable research pointing to the health benefits of knitting, which include reducing blood pressure, slowing the heart rate and inducing relaxation. 

10. Enjoy a Good Story

Whether you read, download an audiobook, or binge watch an absorbing series, getting lost in a good story is a good way to get out of your own head and anchor your attention somewhere else. Making a conscious choice to disconnect from the source of your stress is a positive step that can help you relax and refresh yourself.

Learning to relax can take time, consistency and practice, but there are things you can do that bring immediate relief. Incorporating one or more of these strategies into your daily routine can help you reduce daily stress and relax so that you can enjoy yourself and live your best life.