Relaxation isn’t just a fun thing to do, it’s necessary to your overall health and wellbeing, says Lisa S. Larsen, PsyD, a licensed psychologist in private practice in Lancaster, California. Yet despite this basic need, many of us are really bad at relaxing.
You can thank our modern go-go-go society, she says. “A high-stress lifestyle, which many people lead, puts you constantly in ‘fight or flight’ mode, which can be damaging to your health if there is nothing to actually fight or flee from,” she explains. “But when you employ the relaxation response, your parasympathetic nervous system takes over and helps you rest, digest, and repair yourself.” It’s a proven fact that stress can make you sick.
Relaxation is different for every person—one person’s relaxing day at the beach is another person’s sunburned, sand-in-their-shorts nightmare—so Larsen recommends trying out a variety of things to figure out what gets you into prime relaxation mode. And contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take an expensive spa day or a trip to another country to make you relax. Try these soothing ideas for relaxation that don’t cost a cent:
Go to the free day at the botanical gardens
Every city offers many local attractions free to the public on certain days each year. And what’s more relaxing than a stroll through a beautifully curated and expertly maintained garden? You get to enjoy all the flowers, trees, and shrub animals without ever having to pull a weed. Start with the best free tourist attraction in every state then go to your city’s website to find more fun freebies near you.
Build a fort and take a nap in it
Forts are a childhood staple, and for good reason: They’re fun! There’s just something so relaxing about snuggling up in a cozy little spot. (Perhaps that’s why the Tiny House trend has taken off so much?) Make an adult version with a nest of soft blankets, your favorite book, and decadent snacks. For extra magic, string fairy lights across the top.
Soak your tired tootsies
Foot baths are one of life’s best little luxuries, allowing you to relax in body and spirit. Your feet do all the heavy lifting in your day to day life so don’t you think they deserve a little extra love? You can use a bubbly foot bath if you already own one or simply sit on the edge of a bathtub filled with a few inches of relaxing hot water. Finish off with a little foot massage with scented lotion. (Bonus relaxation points if you can talk someone else into massaging your feet!)
Take a swing at your local park
Nothing soothes and relaxes a baby like a swinging sensation and, contrary to popular belief, you don’t just grow out of that. Give yourself a gentle rock by heading to the park and swinging under the stars. Or try one of these 10 proven relaxation techniques.
Go forest bathing
“Forest bathing” is one of the hottest new wellness trends as simply being outdoors, in nature, offers a host of health benefits, including a deep state of relaxation. Take advantage of this all-natural remedy by walking or hiking through a scenic spot near you.
Admire the sunset
Sure, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west every day of your life—but this doesn’t mean it isn’t a glorious experience. It’s all too easy to overlook the daily aerial light show, especially as it normally happens during the busiest times of day. So make an effort to sit down, take a deep breath of fresh air, relax, and just watch the sun set on another day.
Look through old photo albums
Nostalgia can bring back some powerful feelings. Looking through old family pictures or photos can remind you of the comforting sound of your mother’s voice, the safety of your father’s hug, the laughter of your friends, or the peace you found on that island you discovered on that amazing vacation you took years ago. Remembering how quickly life really goes by can help put your daily struggles into perspective, allowing you to relax and go with the flow more.
Have some milk and cookies
Milk and cookies are a tried-and-true relaxation method and it turns out there’s a scientific reason for that. The carbohydrates in the cookies combine with tryptophan, a calming amino acid found in dairy foods, to induce a powerful feeling of relaxation, according to a study published in Nutritional Health. Not a milk and cookies fan? Try one of these 10 foods that will help you relax.
Tell a favorite childhood story
Sharing a favorite memory with a cherished friend or loved one is a great way to relive happy moments while creating new ones. Not only will this bring a smile to your face and help you relax but it’s a great way to help children relax before bedtime. Keep track of your best stories with a laughter journal.
Call a friend
Hearing your mom or best friend’s voice has a way of instantly relaxing you in a way a text message or an email just can’t. So if you need a quick moment of zen, take a moment to call and say hi to a loved one. They’ll appreciate that you’re thinking of them and you’ll get a quick reminder of why you adore them.
Sing some YouTube karaoke
Happy music triggers happy memories, instantly boosting your mood and relaxing you, according to a study published in Memory & Cognition. Double the effect by singing along to your favorite tunes. You don’t even need a fancy karaoke machine these days, thanks to the millions of free sing-a-long videos on YouTube.
Meditation is one of the most powerful relaxation methods we have, according to a growing body of research. And the best part is that all you need is a quiet place and your mind (and once you get good at it you don’t even necessarily need quiet). Start with these 12 breathing exercises to help you relax in mere minutes.
Walk your dog
Owning a pet has many health benefits, including stress relief and increased relaxation. Simply sitting and petting your furry friend can help you unwind but for the biggest relaxation benefits—for you and for them—take your pup on a walk outdoors.
Head to the library
Libraries are a free and incredibly useful resource—yet so many of us don’t even have a library card. Going to a quiet, clean library is calming on its own but add in a good book and you’ve got a recipe for hours of relaxation.
Fold your laundry
Clutter increases anxiety, according to a study published in Current Psychology. So while chores may not be your go-to strategy to relax, doing some light cleaning will allow you to better relax. Plus some repetitive chores, like folding laundry, can induce a relaxing “flow state” that leads to less stress and greater creativity.
Sketch a doodle
You don’t have to be an artist to enjoy sketching, doodling, painting, or some other artistic endeavor. One of the main reasons people enjoy it so much is that creating art is innately relaxing, according to a study published in The American Journal of Public Health.
Play a sport
Relaxation is one of the science-backed benefits of aerobic exercise. While some people prefer a solitary run or hike, many people love to relax with others. Playing a group sport, like an office kickball team or a neighborhood basketball game, can be a great way to get some happy endorphins flowing and have some fun social time.
Take a bubble bath
Warm water combined with bubbles and perhaps some candles and music are a go-to way to relax after a hard day for a good reason: It works! A bubble bath is the perfect way to shut out the world and let your body and mind unwind. And that’s just one of the benefits of baths for adults.
Make some music
Do you play the piano? Have a violin sitting in your closet? Love the harmonica? Every person has the capacity to make some kind of music. Even if you’re no Mozart or Itzak Perlman, you can still find a great deal of satisfaction and relaxation in playing your own music. For example, playing the piano changes the way the brain works, helping even amateur pianists become better at tuning out distracting stimuli and helping them to relax, according to a study published in PNAS.
Listen to a podcast
Podcasts are a huge trend right now and while some shows (think true crime) may keep you up at night, others are designed to help you relax. Look for a podcast focused on meditation, music, learning, or even bedtime stories to help you find your chill.
Have a good belly laugh
The process of laughing actually reduces the levels of stress hormones in your body, according to a Japanese study. This makes having a good giggle one of the quickest and easiest ways to relax. Watch a funny video, ask a friend to tell you a joke, look up funny memes, or read your favorite comic.
Play a game with a kid
You know who never has a problem relaxing? Small children. We are all born with an innate sense of how to chill out but somehow lose that ability as we get older. Get a relaxing reminder by playing a fun game with your kids. It can be physical, like tag, or strategic, like Monopoly, or just silly, like Candy Land. Just make sure you’re not distracted by your phone so you can fully relax in the moment.
Have a cup of tea
Having a nice cuppa has been a way to relax for millennia. Whether you choose tea or an herbal blend, the combination of warm water and herbs has an immediate soothing effect. Plus it gives you the opportunity to sit down and take a moment to yourself—just two of the 14 proven health benefits of tea.
Write in a journal
Have a hard time relaxing after a stressful day? Pull out your journal! Simply writing out your feelings eases negative feelings and relieves stress, according to a study published in Behavior Research and Therapy.
Read a good book
Between texts, emails, and the never-ending stream of content on the internet, most of us read a lot every day. But when it comes to relaxing there’s a difference between reading for work and reading for fun. By picking up a book you allow yourself to get lost in a good story without the risk of distracting electronic notifications. Looking for more immediate relaxation? These relaxation tips will help you wind down immediately.