August 15, 2018

Happy National Relaxation Day!

Finally, a day that’s equally as comforting (though not as delicious) as Pi Day.

If you’re a busy, stressed, type-A person (so, like, most of us?) you might have some difficulty finding the time or the means to actually relax. But you should make it a priority—experts say relaxation techniques not only help us reduce stress, but also improve our mood, boost our confidence, and even increase our sleep quality, among other things.

Spending time in nature and listening to relaxing music are two popular relaxation techniques—yet sometimes that "chill out" station on your Spotify can feel overplayed, or 90 percent humidity makes frolicking in nature less than desirable.

Fear not: There are plenty of unconventional ways to relax. Personally, I found a recent trip to the dentist strangely calming—sure, I was reminded that I hadn't flossed in months (whoops), but it was also nice to do nothing except sit back and bask in the knowledge that I crossed off a major to-do item and was taking care of myself in, yes, a slightly unorthodox way.

Personally, I found a recent trip to the dentist strangely calming.

So if you’ve already tried the meditate-and-take-a-bubble-bath route, here are some more ways to unwind.

1. Laugh a Little (or a Lot) More

The benefits of laughter are huge—and literally there are no downsides (unless you’re giggling in a serious work meeting, but even then, your colleagues might appreciate some levity).

The physical act of laughing calms your body. Research has shown that laughter reduces stress hormones and increases health-enhancing hormones. It can improve your mood and give you a sunnier outlook, too.

The bad news: We laugh dramatically less as we age. As kids, we reportedly laugh 400 times a day—but the average adult only gets about 15 LOLs in a day.

As kids, we reportedly laugh 400 times a day—but the average adult only gets about 15 LOLs in a day.

Start trying to increase your daily laugh quota. First try to laugh past four, then ten, then maybe even 20 (digital LOLs don’t count unless you actually laugh out loud). And if you get close to 400—tell me your secret.

Call up your funniest friend, go on a deep SNL YouTube dive, or find that cat meme that makes you crack up.

2. Lie On Your Floor and Roll Around on a Tennis Ball

Sounds weird, but hear me out. I learned this trick in one of my yoga for runners classes. Tennis balls are excellent self-massage tools. My favorite trick is to position it near one of my shoulder blades and slowly roll around. Under your butt and your calves works, too, and it beats shelling out $$$ at a massage parlor.

3. Write a Postcard to Someone You Miss

Restaurants often hand out postcards with your check (my thought is that it’s to distract you from your bill, but nevermind) so start stashing them—or buy a few next time you’re traveling—and scribble out some words to a family member or friend you haven’t talked to in awhile. In our digital world, there’s something special about receiving analog mail.

4. Visit Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Twitter Feed

Scrolling all of Twitter? Not relaxing. Scrolling only Lin-Manuel’s feed? Priceless. From inspiring “gmorning!” and “gnight!” messages to singing-on-the-subways videos, the Broadway Hamilton genius will bring you nothing but joy.

5. Swap a Book With a Friend

When it feels like my brain hasn’t recharged in awhile, usually I find that I haven’t curled up with a good book recently.

You don’t need to hit up Amazon to find your next great novel—ask a literary friend to swap their last favorite book with you. The best part: You can bond over the books once you’re done reading.

6. Roll Your Face

There are all sorts of beauty hacks to help make you glow—you probably have a few face masks laying around. But one of the newest techniques is to roll, yes, literally, roll, your face with a cooling and calming jade roller.

The Insta-worthy roller helps massage your lymphatic system, apparently draining excess water from your face and bringing out your glow. As this Glamour article explains, it's unclear if it actually works—but the repetitive act of rolling is very calming in itself. The best part: The jade rollers are cheap and, unlike face masks, reusable!

7. Make That Appointment That’s Nagging You

Don’t call me crazy, but scheduling an appointment that’s been at the back of your mind feeling completely freeing. So, yes, this is my way of telling you that scheduling a cleaning at the dentist is how I practice self-care. Eliminating these low-grade stress balls that follow us around for months or years is strangely calming!

8. Gawk at Some Cute Animals

A 2012 study showed that looking at cute images—like pictures of puppies and kittens—can actually increase our concentration. So, here’s your permission to take a full minute to admire that fresh pug puppy strutting down the sidewalk. Or, follow that Insta-famous kitten for a daily boost.

9. Buy Some Groceries

I don’t know what it is—maybe it’s the colorful produce or the way everything’s so neatly organized, but I find wandering the grocery store aisles incredibly calming (so long as I’m not cooking a feast for 20 people). Instead of blitzing your next grocery store run, try taking your time and browsing. Go in and buy something a little indulgent, a little fun, a little out of the ordinary.

10. Mix Up Your Commute

Walking a new route can wake you up—and calm you down. Look, there’s a plaque you’ve never read, or a flock of birds, or even just a new store opening one block over from your normal path. It doesn’t take hopping on a plane to discover a new experience.

11. Go to a Cultural Event

See some art, theater, music. Experience something, anything out of your norm. Plenty of museums are free on certain nights of the month, and a few minutes spent looking around on Facebook will help you discover events your friends are already going to.

12. Count Your Loose Change

Literally, what is more relaxing than methodically piling up your quarters and pennies, and realizing you have actual money sitting around your house you weren’t doing anything with?

13. Cook Something Comforting

I’m talking mac ’n’ cheese, a grilled cheese, basically anything with cheese. For me, a relaxing night in the kitchen means cooking something simple and easy that takes me back to childhood.

14. Organize Something—Anything!

A stack of papers, your cluttered digital desktop, your iPhone photos which are all “allegedly” saved in the cloud (but are they really?). Doesn’t matter what it is—the act of creating order out of disorder can help out an overly taxed brain.

15. Read Your Old Journal

I did this the other day and it’s hilarious. You might see how you’ve changed (whether that’s a little or a lot), but you’ll also discover past problems or issues and recall how you overcame them. Reminders that you’ve bulldozed through worse will help you calm down in the present.

Reminders that you’ve bulldozed through worse will help you calm down in the present.

Need help shaking off stress? Try the Ease Your Worries meditation in the Shine iOS app.

Read next: The Atlas of Self-Care: How People in 50+ Countries Take Care