When you feel overwhelmed or exhausted, it can be hard to shift gears into relaxing. These tips will help you to find your Zen.

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Relaxing sounds easy, but in practice, that’s not always the case.

There are a lot of reasons why you might find it hard to unwind: Maybe you feel guilty about taking time for yourself, or your daily life is so busy that downtime just feels impossible. Perhaps you live with an anxiety disorder, or another condition that creates a lot of tension.

Sometimes, you might turn to an activity that seems relaxing but leaves you feeling more depleted afterward — for example, recreational substance use, or scrolling on social media. But there are lots of stress reduction techniques out there that you may find more restorative.

Below are 20 tips and techniques for how to:

  • relax your mind
  • release stress from your body
  • find more balance

For starters, keep in mind that relaxation is an incredibly individual thing. It’s totally OK if you find many of these tips don’t work for you — the key is noticing what does.

If you have trouble identifying what makes you feel relaxed, don’t worry. That’s quite a common feeling, and might be an indication of just how burnt out you are. Try to take note of what happens in your body when you try a new technique, and use that as your barometer.

Deep breathing is one of the fastest and most scientifically reliable ways to relax. Research shows that breathing techniques can help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows the body to:

  • relax
  • rest
  • digest

It’s the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the fight-or-flight stress response.

There are lots of different deep breathing techniques, but an easy one to start with is 4-7-8 breathing.

You can:

  1. close your eyes
  2. inhale for four counts
  3. hold that breath for seven counts
  4. exhale for eight counts

Try taking a moment to gently massage your jaw, focusing on the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) just below your ears. You might be surprised by how much tension you find there.

Even if you don’t grind your teeth or have a TMJ disorder, it’s very common to clench your jaw unconsciously in response to stress. Over time, this can build up and create a lot of tension.

To release it, try resting your tongue gently on the roof of your mouth, and then allow your teeth to part a little. You can find more jaw-release exercises here.

Sometimes, it’s hard to relax if you know your to-do list is out of control. If you’re juggling lots of different tasks at once, try taking a few minutes at the start of the day (or whenever makes the most sense) to prioritize what’s most important.

Make sure that you’re realistic about how much you can get done in a day, and try not to overload yourself.

By the same token, it’s vital to keep track of the things you get accomplished, instead of always focusing on the tasks you didn’t manage to get to. One way to do this is by keeping a “ta-da list” – once you finish a chore, move it here from your to-do list.

By the end of the day, you’ll have a satisfying record of your triumphs, which can help you to feel like you’ve earned a break.

Spending time outdoors and in nature has been shown to improve mental health, and mitigate the symptoms of many conditions like depression and anxiety.

Consider some gentle exercise in a park, forest, or any outdoor space you have access to. Alternatively, you could volunteer at a community garden or farm, or explore a new hobby like bird-watching or foraging.

If it’s a challenge for you to spend time physically in nature, there’s another option – visualize yourself there. Research from 2018 suggests this can have a surprisingly powerful effect on mood.

Visualization is a meditation technique that involves focusing on a particular mental image or scenario, as a way to relax or to feel more confident. Guided visualization meditation can be a wonderful way to start a practice.

Iceland hosts this joyscrolling site, of visual and auditory ASMR.

Exercise is a powerful tool for relaxation, possibly because it triggers the release of feel-good neurotransmitters like endorphins while reducing stress hormones like cortisol.

But you don’t necessarily need an intense workout to reap the benefits. Try starting with gentle and meditative movements like:

  • yoga
  • stretching
  • a walk outdoors

Here’s a list of 8 exercises (mostly) outdoors that don’t feel taxing.

Grounding yourself in the here and now can help you to relax both physically and psychologically. Especially if you’re prone to rumination.

You can do this by:

Smell is an incredibly powerful sense that’s also easy to overlook. Research indicates that our olfactory system has a direct link to the regions of our brain that process memory and emotion. And essential oils have been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Here’s a complete guide to which essential oils work best for stress.

Getting enough sleep is a key part of keeping stress managed. And if you’re not able to get enough at night, you can seize the opportunity to catch up during the day. Just be sure to set an alarm.

A catnap of around 20 minutes should get you some much-needed stage 2 sleep, which enhances alertness and boost your mood.

A lot of people are much harder on themselves than they ever would be on someone else. If that sounds like you, try to take a step back, and imagine that you’re speaking to a friend who’s stressed out.

What would you suggest they do? You could even try writing it down if it makes it easier to externalize your situation.

We tend to think of playtime as being solely for children, but it can be just as valuable for adults. Play can be just about any activity that is both pleasurable and done without purpose — in other words, just for the fun of it.

If you’re having trouble imagining what play might look like for you, start by thinking about how you played as a child. If you loved climbing trees, maybe you could go to a climbing gym. If you loved arts and crafts, consider getting yourself some paints.

If it was (or is!) dancing, then you know what to do!

The key is to find something you enjoy without any end goal in mind.

By offering help to a loved one, or even to a stranger, you could be doing yourself a favor too. According to research, helping other people can actually dampen the impact of everyday stress, and make you feel more relaxed and in control.

There’s a caveat to the above tip, though — always make sure you’re prioritizing your own well-being first. Think of the announcement on an airplane where you’re told to put your own oxygen mask on before helping anyone else.

By the same token, you can’t give help and support to others if you’re not already giving those things to yourself. Stress management starts with self-care.

If you or a loved one has ever been in a 12-step group for recovery from substance use, you may be familiar with the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

This is a valuable message for anyone to learn. It’s natural to worry about things you can’t change, whether it’s something close to home like the behavior of a loved one, or something more global like the environment.

But if you focus on things that are within your control, you may find yourself feeling less stressed and overwhelmed.

If you’re in a stressful situation and can feel the tension overtaking you, don’t be afraid to give yourself some literal space.

You can excuse yourself to the restroom, and use that time out to do a breathing exercise, a visualization, or any other brief activity that helps you to relax physically.

This is another option for that bathroom break. For most people, activities like brushing your teeth and washing your face call to mind either the beginning of the day or the beginning of the night.

By going through these rituals in the middle of the day — or whenever you feel stressed — you can physically signal to your brain that you’re starting afresh.

If you want to take this a step further, immersing your face in cold water may reduce your heart rate and make you feel less stressed.

Journaling can be a very powerful way to express whatever emotions are causing you stress, and has been shown to help with:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • trauma
  • among other mental health conditions

You don’t need to write very much — consider starting with just a sentence or two, and see where the process takes you.

It’s all too easy for the workday to blend into the evening, particularly if you work from home or frequently have to answer emails after hours. This can mean you never get a chance to really unwind, which, in turn, can impact your sleep.

Developing a simple bedtime routine can help to signal to your brain that it’s time to start winding down. Your routine could include some of the tips above, like journaling and deep breathing.

Many people find it helpful to designate some tech-free time before bed. Whatever you choose, the main thing is to be consistent, so that over time you begin to associate these activities with bedtime.