Don’t let everyday stresses and problems get you down to the point where you think the only relief is smoking a joint, popping a pill, having a few too many cocktails, or some other drug-related solution. Not only will your so-called relief be temporary, it can also be harmful to your health, contribute to possible addiction, and leave you more incapable of dealing with stresses on your own the next time they occur. There are many natural – and far more enjoyable – ways to relax. Here are 25 that can get you started.
1. Read a good book. Sometimes the simplest suggestions give the greatest pleasure. Remember when you were a child and you could easily get lost in the pages of a good book. Transported into new and exciting worlds, you found yourself eagerly turning each page to find out what happens next. The magic and sense of discovery is still there waiting for you in the thousands of available books today. Where should you start? Begin by checking out the current bestsellers in the top ten lists, both hardcover and paperback. If you really don’t have the room to store an accumulation of books or don’t want or can’t afford the expense of buying new, check out your selections at your local library. You could also scour the websites of Amazon, eBay and other Internet sources for used books. But, wherever you get your supply, the important thing is to develop your reading habit. You will find that you look forward to your time with your latest book. While you are reading, let this be your time for yourself. Set aside that hour or half hour or whatever amount of time you can allocate and devote it wholeheartedly to reading. Enjoy reading. It’s an inexpensive and rewarding way to relax.
2. Get out and garden. Working with your hands in the dirt is more than just child’s play. Although that was fun when you were young, remember? Guess what? It’s still fun. Go outside and look around your house or apartment, condo, mobile home or farm. Surely there’s some spot that needs attention, some area that can use a little sprucing up. If you live in a high-rise or don’t have any outside space of your own, no problem. Grow something in a pot, a small windowsill tray or window box you hang outside. You might even be able to convince your landlord to allow you to do some gardening on the exterior of the building or in a commons area. The point is, there’s almost always a way to get involved with gardening. There are even community vegetable gardens in some towns. It’s worth looking into. Why all this discussion about gardening? That’s easy. Gardening is a fun and low-cost way to relax. Besides tidying up weeds and trimming back overhanging or overgrown bushes, you have the opportunity to be creative with color, texture and pattern. Choose complementary colors for flowers and hedges. Or go with contrasting colors. Experiment with borders. Build a rock garden and intersperse it with graduating height and width flowers. Stick a fountain (using recirculation water to conserve precious resources) in the center.
3. Listen to music. One of the world’s most universal pleasures is music. It doesn’t matter what culture you look at, music is always integral to the fabric of the inhabitants. Music is used in rituals and ceremonies, from the simplest to the most sublime. Church music, symphonies, folk music, country and western, rock, heavy metal, blues, jazz – you name it, there are forms and types of music to captivate every ear. The easiest and most accessible way to listen to music is on your car radio, or the music channels on your cable or satellite TV. Buy a portable radio at a garage sale or during a big-box store clearance and, while you’re at it, pick up a few CDs of your favorite artist. Create your own CDs with low-cost or free downloadable tunes so you can replay your mix anytime you like. Soothing sounds of waves crashing or wilderness calls or songbirds are also useful for relaxation. Many of these are a mainstay of professional massage. It puts you in the mood to relax, and that’s the main point. Give music a chance to soothe what’s troubling you. You’ll find that this relaxation method will become a regular part of your daily routine.
4. Practice yoga. You don’t need to be a master practitioner or even a contortionist to reap the benefits from yoga. This method of relaxation dates back to as long ago as 10,000 years, according to some researchers. According to Yoga Basics, yoga is a collection of spiritual techniques and practices that seek to integrate mind, body and spirit in the quest to achieve enlightenment or oneness with the universe. While this lofty language may be a bit off-putting to some, the point is that yoga can be a powerful tool in your kit of relaxation methods. There are many different types of yoga, but the one Westerners are most familiar with is Hatha Yoga. While traditional Hatha Yoga involves yoga postures, breathing, body gestures and internal cleansing, modern Hatha Yoga, as practiced in the West, typically concentrates on the yoga postures. It’s easy to get involved in yoga. Go on websites and check out the different types of yoga and find the one that appeals most to you. Some sites to explore include Yoga Journal, Yoga.com, Yoga Site, Yoga Movement, and Yoga Life Tips, to name just a few. Take a class and learn how to do the poses. Eventually, you may wish to move on to another type of yoga. There are benefits to each type and practitioners swear by yoga as a way to realign their body, mind and spirit. You can also pick up books, CDs and DVDs on the practice of different types of yoga. Experiment, relax and have fun.
5. Engage in meditation. Another ancient practice in Eastern philosophies, meditation has been practiced for countless centuries to relieve stress, anxiety, depression, to treat a variety of illnesses, to help during treatment for addictive behaviors, reduce high blood pressure, and alleviate pain and to relax. According to Healthwise, meditation is the practice of focusing your attention to help you feel calm and give you a clear awareness about your life. It is widely practiced in the West today. Basically, two main types of meditation are most commonly used: concentrative (or transcendental meditation, TM), and mindful. In concentrative meditation, the focus is on a single image, sound or mantra. Mindful meditation, on the other hand, focuses not on a single purpose, but on all the sounds, images, thoughts, feelings that pass through your mind. Each has its adherents, but both have profound benefits. Learning how to meditate isn’t difficult, either. You can take a class, or teach yourself with the help of how-to books, CDs and DVDs, and downloadable instruction you research on the Internet. In a nutshell, you’ll be doing special breathing and be in a quiet room for a period of 15 to 20 minutes. The rest is all technique. You can’t beat meditation for a wonderful way to relax. Check out the following helpful websites as a starting point: How To Meditate, Learning Meditation, Institute for Applied Meditation, Types of Meditation, Holistic Online, Health and Yoga, and Psychology Today.
6. Take up running. Another inexpensive and easy way to relax is to take up running. All you really need is a good pair of running shoes – and the go-ahead from your doctor that you’re physically fit enough to start. Running is an excellent way to get your cardiovascular system in great shape, not to mention your legs. Running actually utilizes all the muscles in your body, so you get a great workout in the process. Don’t just break out into a run, however, as that is guaranteed to get you into trouble and result in a lot of stiffness and soreness afterward. You always want to do a good stretch of your legs, arms, and back muscles before you begin. Also be sure you’re well hydrated and take water with you. If you have to use the restroom, do that before you break out into your run. And, when you first start out, go slowly. Do a brisk walk that’s a kind of semi-run, rather than sprinting right away. Some tips from runners that you may find useful include:
a. Eliminate tension in your face and jaw. Don’t clench your teeth together. That’s a sign of tension. Consciously work on relaxing your face and jaw.
b. Stop clenching your fists. It’s common to see newcomers – or those who are really intent on getting in the last of the run – balling up their fists. That’s a no-no and will actually increase your tension. Concentrate on letting your fingers stay free.
c. Relax shoulders. This is another common mistake runners make. You need to tell yourself to relax your shoulders.
d. Keep your mind free. Don’t bring your tensions and troubles with you on your run. This is a time to allow your thoughts to drift, to be one with nature, and to leave all that other stuff at home.
7. Swim a few laps every day. Not only is it good exercise, swimming feels good, doesn’t cost a cent, and gives you great cardiovascular benefits. It also relaxes you. After swimming a few dedicated laps each day, you emerge from the water feeling a good form of fatigue. It only lasts a few minutes, and you’re refreshed and invigorated. Top it off with a warm or cooling shower (depending on your mood and how cold it is outside) and add moisturizer to your skin afterward. Best of all, swimming burns calories and trims inches off your torso in the places where you may need it most. How’s that for a whole lot of plusses and no minuses? Dash off a few laps the next time you feel stressed out. You’ll quickly begin to appreciate the relaxing power of swimming.
8. Float in a pool or body of water. While we’re on the subject of water, here’s another technique you can use when you’re in the pool – or any body of water large enough to accommodate you. If you’re adept at floating on your back (the way they taught you in swimming classes, remember?), just do this for as long as you can. If you can’t easily do this without a lot of flailing around, buy an air mattress and plop yourself down on it. Stare up at the sky (be sure to wear sunglasses or a hat) or take a snooze. The rhythmic motion of the air mattress bobbing up and down on the water, the gentle lull of the waves, the sounds of birds and nature – all contribute to a peaceful sense of relaxation. This is something you can’t buy at any price, and it’s readily available to everyone. One caution though, if you’re out on a lake, ocean or river, is to be sure you don’t drift too far, or tether yourself to a dock or raft. Always use common sense. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
9. Encourage your sense of humor with laughter. Body laughs, chuckles, little smiles, giggles – what do they have in common? It’s the release of tension by engaging your sense of humor. Laughter is truly the best remedy for a lot of today’s stresses and problems. And it’s cheap. We each have laughter within us. All we have to do is let it go. What if things aren’t funny? What if your life is full of sorrow and pain? Then you’ll need to work at developing your funny bone. Don’t worry, it can be done. How to start? Check out movie reviews to find a really rip-roaring comedy and go see it. You can also check out movie reviews of DVDs playing and rent a few comedies at the video store. Go to see a comedy act at the local comedy club or watch comedy programs on network and cable TV. Buy or take out a library book on jokes. When you hear a co-worker or friend tell a good joke, respond with appropriate laughter. Try to remember the joke to tell others so you can share the laughter. Speaking of sharing, it is part of our human nature to respond in kind when we hear something that’s really funny. Sometimes, a situation or circumstance strikes us as funny and we just break out laughing. We might not even be able to stop laughing for quite a while. Often this happens in a group situation, such as a family outing or dinner. One person relates a funny story or anecdote and first one person starts laughing. Before long, others join in. Laughter is contagious, and it’s very relaxing. Try it. You’ll be amazed at how relaxed you are after you’ve had a good laugh.
10. Put on your dancing shoes. Similar to the universal nature of music, dancing is also part of cultures around the world. After all, you generally need music to dance, whether it’s recorded music or singing and chanting. But it’s the physical nature of moving to the sound of music in a somewhat organized manner that we’re talking about here. Dancing has many different forms. There’s formal dancing, such as ballet, ballroom dancing, tap dancing, break dancing and dancing to popular music. You can be casual and dance, or take instruction to become an expert in a particular form of dance. Learn new dancing techniques and routines and perform in church or school events. Join a dancing troupe, or try out for music and dance performance in the community. Or, just dance for yourself. Dancing means that you are concentrating on the steps and moves, controlling your breathing, and exercising discipline to execute everything flawlessly. While you are dancing, you’re in the moment. You’re solely focused on the dance, not on problems and stresses that may have consumed you in the day. You may make new friends or intensify relationships you already have by putting on your dancing shoes and stepping out. Why not give it a try?
11. Learn and practice controlled breathing exercises. Believe it or not, you don’t need to learn yoga or meditation to get the relaxing benefit from controlled breathing exercises. Sure, controlled breathing is a part of both yoga and meditation, but you can also do this as a standalone exercise. Think of it as the quick path to relaxation. You can do your controlled breathing anywhere. You don’t need a special mat or clothes or instruction. You don’t have to go anyplace special or be with a group. In essence, you close your eyes and sit quietly someplace for a short period of time, say 5 to 10 minutes. Breathe in and out, using your diaphragm as you breathe in, hold it in for a count of five, and exhale through your mouth. Concentrate on the sound of your breaths, especially the rhythmic nature of your breath going in and out. Wipe your mind of any distractions – this will get easier as you practice. After this short break of controlled breathing, you will feel a sense of inner calmness and relaxation. Try it the next time you’re in between meetings, don’t have enough time to go out for a snack, or just need a little time to reflect and relax.
12. Join a cooking class. Express your creativity by learning how to cook new types of cuisine, healthier meals, or just to learn the art and science of the kitchen. There are cooking classes available in community centers and colleges, cooking schools, even online and TV. Many people get excited about cooking by watching The Food Network on cable, or have specific shows they watch such as 30 Minute Meals, Paula’s Best Dishes, Good Eats, Giada At Home, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, and more. They watch the show and get inspired to try it themselves. This often leads to more instruction, either through the purchase of any number of specialized cookbooks or taking a cooking class. The point is that it takes discipline and preparation to cook. You don’t just throw things together and hope it all turns out right. The pride and sense of accomplishment you feel when it all comes together is magnified by the appreciation of those you’ve cooked for. Even if you cook for yourself, cooking is a great way to relax. It’s another easy method anyone can use to take their minds off their troubles and end up with a tasty result. What’s on your menu? Spruce it up with a snazzy new recipe you make yourself.
13. Volunteer to help others. There’s no question there are many deserving charities and organizations that can use a little help. While you may not have the money to donate, you can still volunteer your time to help out. As for when is the most appropriate, the answer is anytime. It is true, however, that during the holidays, organizations and charities that depend on donations from the general public are really desperate for help. There seem to be more people needing more now than ever before, putting a real strain on charities. You can help by going through your cupboards and pantries and donating dry foodstuffs and cans. Vegetables and fruits in cans (be careful to make sure they’re not nearing expiration) are especially desirable. But you can do more than just donate. Volunteer to help out for Thanksgiving meals at homeless shelters, or give of your time to visit with senior citizens at assisted living centers. How does this relax you? When you look outside yourself and your own problems and give of yourself, it’s a selfless form of generosity that rewards you with a sense of inner peace. It’s actually a form of love, even though you are spending your time and energy with strangers. When you see how much your gift is appreciated, it will fill you with a good feeling. This is as close to relaxation as you can come, and it’s a practice more people should engage in.
14. Spend time with family and close friends. This tip is so simple and yet so often ignored as a means of relaxation. There’s nothing as meaningful as spending some quality time with those you cherish. Whether that’s your immediate family or a few very close friends, make it a priority to arrange to spend time with these individuals. Don’t just drop in and grab a coffee or a quick bite, however. You need to spend uninterrupted time with them, allowing for casual conversations, intimate revelations, sharing a laugh, talking over old times, planning new adventures together. This is quality time. It isn’t time that you squeeze in before or after a half-dozen appointments and errands. It isn’t an afterthought. Plan ahead to get together with family and friends. Go on outings with them, maybe to see a sporting event or the theatre, or out to a family dinner celebration. Go for sleigh rides in the winter or bowl together. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. You may need to be a bit of a salesperson to get them up off the couch, or intrigue them with your infectious enthusiasm. But do give it a try. The closeness and bond of family and friends is an easy way to become relaxed – if you let it.
15. Make an effort to meet new people. If you’re tired of your same old friends, some of whom may have become more of an annoyance than true friends, why not get out there and meet some new people? Don’t just dismiss this idea as too much trouble, or say that you don’t have the time. That’s ridiculous. We are human beings, and human beings crave conversation and being with others. Think of your day’s activities. How many times do you come into contact with someone new? You see people everywhere you go that you may not know. Or, if you go to a particular coffee shop or run or jog in the park at certain times on a regular basis, you may start noticing the same people are there when you are. Gradually strike up a conversation and get acquainted. If the person isn’t interested, accept it politely and try someone else. It isn’t that you are desperate. It’s that you are making a concerted effort to put yourself out there and develop new relationships. Some of these relationships may turn into deep and lasting friendships, while others may remain casual friends. By opening yourself up to meeting new people you are doing something positive, something that will, in turn, help relax you.
16. Do something special for someone you love. Buy a bouquet of flowers or take your someone special out for a romantic dinner. Think of all the things that please him or her and create a special occasion to celebrate your relationship. Whether that someone is a man or a woman is not the point. We all bask in the thoughtful and caring words and acts of those we love. And it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, either. Be creative and come up with ideas that will make your loved one smile, or laugh, or cry with happiness. Should the evening end in romance… well, there’s a whole lot of relaxation that results from that activity as well. It isn’t really necessary to spell it out here. You get the idea. Go ahead and plan something special today.
17. Join a choir or singing group – or learn how to sing. Like the healing power of music, singing helps lift our spirits, relax our minds, and bring our mind, body and spirit into balance. Ever catch yourself singing along when your favorite song plays on the radio as you drive to or from work or errands? Sometimes, you really belt it out – and feel really good afterward. There’s a magic about singing that simply defies explanation. Sure, you need to use breathing techniques so you have enough oxygen in your lungs to carry on the tune – especially those really high or extended notes. But you don’t need formal training to start singing. Just do it! Of course, it does help if you have others with whom to sing along with, such as a choir or singing group. You can also arrange to take singing lessons. Whether you have no ear for tone or think you can’t carry a tune, you can sing for yourself. Who’s to bother? Sing in the shower or while you water the flowers. Sing as you walk in the woods (more about that in the next tip). Sing whenever the urge strikes you. If you don’t know the words, hum the tune. You’ll get the hang of it – and the benefit it brings in the form of relaxation.
18. Go on nature walks. Not far from where you live there’s probably a nature preserve or nature conservancy where you can take guided or self-guided walks. These designated areas may charge a modest fee, or they may be free. Search out some nearby and take a morning or afternoon when you have several hours and go for a nature walk. Bring along a friend or family members and make it a special outing. You can bring along a picnic lunch or arrange to stop for breakfast before or a snack afterwards. Not only will you get the benefit of fresh air and exercise, you’ll also reap the rewards of seeing the beauty of nature. Look around you on the walk. Notice the changing foliage, the emergence of flowers, the presence and sounds of birds and animals. Every season brings new changes, so make nature walks part of your overall activities itinerary.
19. Start exercising – and do it daily. Whether you want or need to lose a few pounds, feel the desire to get fit and trim, or have no urge at all to exercise, give it another thought. Exercise does more than just burn calories, melt away fat, spruce up the body’s cardiovascular and other systems. Exercising decreases stress hormones such as cortisol and produces endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Exercise also helps release adrenalin, serotonin, and dopamine. Together, these chemicals that exist naturally in the body help to elevate mood and result in a feeling of completion and relaxation. The old adage of exercising is good for you, do it every day is a great one. The type of exercise you choose doesn’t need to be elaborate. You can do stretches and strengthening with workout balls and stretch bands at home, or lift small hand weights. Join a gym or get involved in a sport. Take up skiing, snowboarding, basketball, ice skating. Join in a beach volleyball game or set up an area for table tennis. The point is to do some form of vigorous exercise every day. Start slow, about 15 to 20 minutes, and work up to a full hour each time you exercise. Aim for at least 4 to 5 days a week if you can’t do it every day. Be consistent, and give it all your attention. Don’t strain yourself to the point of pain, however. A nice burn is a good thing. It lets you know you’re giving yourself a good workout and getting results. You’ll feel a mild fatigue that will dissipate after a few minutes of stopping, but the feeling of relaxation will last a lot longer.
20. Take a brisk hike every day. Hiking or a brisk walk is something we all can do. Instead of parking right up next to the door, park at the far end of the lot and put it in high gear and stride to the store. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. In fact, if you live or work in a multi-story building, use the stairs as much as you can. During inclement weather, you can walk up and down the stairs to get in your cardiovascular workout. Walk with a friend or partner around the neighborhood, or hike on trails in community or state parks. If you’re near the beach, a brisk hike in the sand is a terrific way to spend some relaxing time outside.
21. Plan and make a special meal for your family and/or friends. Whatever your station in life, you’ve got to eat. It’s much better to share your mealtime with family and friends. Why not plan a special meal that you share with them? If you’re not particularly adept in the kitchen, never fear. You can buy meals ready-made or do a delicious take out with all the fixings from your favorite restaurant. Arrange a nice floral bouquet and light some candles. Play some soft music in the background to set the mood and encourage conversation. This is a wonderfully relaxing way to spend an evening, and it will be memorable for all concerned.
22. Give your artistic side wings – start painting, jewelry making, flower arranging, or whatever. Here’s a secret not many know. Each of us has some artistic points in our favor. We just don’t necessarily know it yet. If you’ve ever had a desire to do something creative, like painting, making jewelry, learning how to arrange flowers, work with wood, ceramics, home decorating – now’s the time to get serious about it. There’s nothing holding you back other than the vague idea that you might not be good at it. So what? And, who’s to say what’s good and what’s not? The point is that you release the creative spirit that’s inside you when you try to create something new. Use your imagination, plan new designs, and dream up combinations that you find appealing. While your mind is engaged, along with your hands in the act of creation, you will be relaxed and completely free of stress, anxiety and depression. Don’t believe it? Give it a chance.
23. Develop your spirituality. Life shouldn’t all about paying bills, going to a crummy job (or a fantastic job that takes all your time and energy), facing one boring, monotonous day after another, or being so caught up in selfish pursuits that we forget an integral part of our lives that requires nurturing. This is your spirituality. In some, it may have been so neglected that it shriveled to be hardly recognizable. In others, spirituality is something that is actively pursued, cultivated, nourished. That’s where balance is achieved. You don’t need to be religious to reap the rewards of a heightened spirituality. It doesn’t require chanting or prayer, necessarily, although these prove very helpful to some. You can develop your spirituality by looking inward and trying to improve your outlook on life, to believe in you, or a higher power or state of consciousness. You can buy books and tapes on spirituality and spiritualism, or look the subjects up on the Internet. Becoming more spiritual will give you a new appreciation for life and how precious it is. You will be able to give more of yourself to others, and gain richness beyond measure in return.
24. Do something to help children – sick, orphans, underprivileged – there are plenty to go around. Speaking of getting outside your own self-contained world, there are so many deserving children in society that haven’t had a decent shake in life. They may be orphans, or are sick, poor, malnourished, or abused. Surely there’s something you can do to help them. Make a small donation of money to the charity or organization that you choose. Bring Christmas toys and gifts so that they can experience holiday joy. Volunteer or spend some time with them, if the organization has such a program available. If not, inquire as to how you can help. Seeing the smiles of children who have so little is worth more than anything money can buy.
25. Celebrate all that’s good in your life. Finally, although this list of suggestions is far from complete, make it a point to celebrate all that is good in your life. Instead of thinking of what you don’t have, add up all the riches you do have. Include the love of family, the bond of close friends, a job you enjoy, good health (if you have it or improved health if you’ve been following some of the tips previously mentioned), happiness, a sharp and active mind, healing spirituality, and overall well being. Goodness has a way of spreading its way around. When you are positive in your outlook, and act in a manner that inspires others to do likewise, you are helping to lift others out of themselves and into a better appreciation of life. Why be a sourpuss or cynical or pessimistic when you can look at the world around you and see the beauty, the possibilities, and the goodness? Life is all about living. Let’s make this life the best we can for as long as we have. You won’t need drugs to help you relax. Living life to the fullest will be your gift – to you and to those you love.