It can be tough to quiet your mind and relax when stressed. These science-backed relaxation techniques might help.

a man sitting with his dog while looking at the lakeShare on Pinterest
Tim Kitchen/Getty Images

Relaxation is like brushing your teeth or drinking water: creating a consistent routine is important to maintaining your health.

Chronic stress can contribute to various mental and physical health problems, from depression to cardiovascular disease.

Your doctor might have advised you to “reduce stress,” but relaxing on demand isn’t always easy.

The good news is that there are many relaxation methods out there. Even if one doesn’t work for you, you might find that another does the trick.

If you’re finding it difficult to relax, here are seven techniques to consider.

Deep breathing exercises often feel a little more doable than meditation. Even if you can’t “quiet your mind,” you can focus on your breath.

These exercises can also be done fairly quickly, making them a convenient way to relax at work or on a busy day.

Research from 2018 has shown that deep breathing can benefit your mental and physical wellness. In particular, it can promote a sense of calm and relaxation.

Exercise can reduce stress as well as the symptoms of depression.

Exercise naturally boosts your mood by improving your levels of feel-good hormones, such as:

Exercise also lowers your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Remember that you’re trying to relax — so it’s best to do whatever exercise feels good for you. Walking and yoga can be calming.

But if you’re feeling restless, you might want to release energy with a fast-paced exercise.

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) involves tightening and relaxing one muscle group at a time, usually working your way from your toes to your face.

Typically, you’ll start by lying down in a comfortable position. Starting with your toes, tense each muscle group and hold for 5 seconds. Exhale and relax your muscles. After 10 or 20 seconds, repeat with the next muscle group.

Several studies have suggested that PMR can aid relaxation and stress relief. A 2019 study of 50 people concluded that PMR:

  • improved feelings of well-being
  • reduced symptoms of depression
  • reduced anxiety symptoms
  • decreased stress

A 2020 study looked at the effects of PMR on 80 burn patients and found that it improved sleep quality and reduced anxiety.

Your imagination is a powerful tool. Visualizing a relaxing or calming scene can be a great way to relieve stress. The beach, forests, and other natural spaces are common visualizations.

When you visualize the scene, pay attention not only to what you’ll see but also to what you’ll:

  • hear
  • smell
  • feel
  • taste

Imagine how relaxed you would feel if you were there in person.

Are you feeling stuck? These visualization exercises might be helpful.

It’s helpful to learn to cope with what you can’t change. But sometimes, the issue that’s keeping us from relaxing is something we can address.

If you’re feeling stressed, you might tune in to your thoughts and realize that you’re bothered by something you can change.

Perhaps you’re dreading writing an email you’ve been putting off, your kitchen is cluttered, or you need to run an errand you dislike.

Although it’s tempting to put the thing off in the name of self-care, you might feel better if you grit your teeth and get it done. Afterward, you might want to reward yourself with a treat.

Putting pen to paper can be powerful. If your head’s abuzz with tomorrow’s to-do list, writing it down might help you feel better. Many people use journaling to relieve stress.

You might want to try a “brain dump,” where you dump all your thoughts on a piece of paper.

A brain dump can help you work through overwhelm, as it’s a space to process your thoughts. Often, our stressors feel more manageable when we see them written down.

It can be therapeutic to talk about the issue that’s bothering you. Venting to a loved one might help you feel supported. It can also be a good way to ask for advice if that’s what you want.

If you often find it difficult to relax, you might benefit from talking with a therapist. Talk therapy can be a space to discuss and process stressful feelings and events. Therapy can also help you learn healthy ways to cope with stress.

You don’t need a diagnosed mental health condition to see a therapist — almost anyone can benefit from therapy. We have a guide to finding therapy and mental health resources.

A healthy lifestyle should include relaxing frequently. Although relaxing can sometimes be difficult, the above suggestions might help you relieve stress.

If you’re still finding it difficult to relax, consider finding a therapist. Local or online support groups might also be useful.