13 No Nonsense Ways To Relax When You Can’t Seem To

Disclosure: this page may contain affiliate links to select partners. We receive a commission should you choose to make a purchase after clicking on them. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Can’t relax? Life causing you unending anxiety?

It’s not surprising. Depression and anxiety have been on the rise for the past several years. And with the state of the world, is it any great surprise? There’s always a catastrophe, tragedy, or some terrible thing going on.

What’s more, there’s always work that needs to be done, responsibilities to accomplish, and people waiting on you.

The stress can feel unending, which is why it is so important to find ways to relax. Living in a state of stress and anxiety 24/7 is not healthy for anyone. Drowning in stress and anxiety can worsen your physical and mental health, interfere with your social life, and keep you from your personal peace and happiness.

How do you relax when you don’t know how to? One of the most understated hurdles of learning to relax is the time it takes. Common relaxation techniques work. Period. You just have to give them time and keep doing them until you reach a breakthrough.

It may take several tries to get there, and you may need to make lifestyle changes to reduce your stress levels. It’s not always easy, but it’s something you can accomplish.

Here are some common, effective ways to relax.

1. Learn to meditate.

Meditation is a powerful tool used for thousands of years to still the mind and calm the body. The power of meditation is in exerting control over your anxious thoughts, feeling what you need to feel, and then letting them go.

Meditation is a method of dealing with those intrusive feelings by making room for them, acknowledging them, and letting them flow through you.

There’s a simple meditation technique that anyone can do called “Box Breathing.” All you need to do is sit down in a quiet setting, close your eyes, breathe, and focus your thoughts on your breathing by counting seconds. Inhale for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, and repeat. Count off the seconds the entire time you’re breathing. Here’s a simple box breathing animation to help you get into the rhythm of things:

box breathing GIF

This method of meditation can help quiet things down significantly with just five minutes of focus. To experience longer-term benefits, you’ll need to persevere with it. But the beauty of meditation is that you can do it anywhere and at any time.

2. Do more activities that relax you.

You may find that you don’t do enough to relax. That is, you may need to incorporate some more relaxing activities in your life that you can focus on. Gardening is a good example. Gardening is a low-stress hobby that feels wonderful when you have your hands in the soil and can watch your plants grow.

It can almost be a form of meditation because it forces you to be in the present moment. You can use gardening as a way to connect with nature, not just by growing plants but by focusing on the natural world around you while you work. Listen to the birds sing, contemplate the wind blowing through the trees, and take in the life that surrounds you.

People are not meant to be sealed away in cubicles and boxes all their lives. We need a connection to the natural world. It’s a wonderful stress reliever.

How do you know what relaxes you? A good way to find out is to ask yourself what an ideal vacation would look like. Would you be sitting by the pool or at the beach with a book in hand, taking the occasional dip to cool off? Would you be kayaking down a river? Would you be visiting cultural sites and immersing yourself in history and art?

If you can honestly say that you would return from such a vacation feeling refreshed and raring to get back to daily life, you’ve found something that relaxes you.

Alternatively, if you’ve got a family to look after, imagine that they all went away on vacation and were looked after by someone else. Whilst you’re at home alone (with no work to do), what would you spend your time doing? Would you see those friends you rarely get to see because family duties stand in your way? Would you indulge in a few shopping trips with lunch or dinner at a restaurant? Would you go to a concert of your favorite artist or band without worrying whether your partner knows the kids’ bedtime routine?

Whatever it is, you need to carve out the time to do these things without worrying about what else you need to do.

3. Reduce stressful situations and people in your life.

The quality of your life is often related to what you surround yourself with. For example, you may have a hard time relaxing because you’re regularly in high-stress situations that do not provide you with an opportunity to relax. The situations you put yourself in and the people you surround yourself with can either lift you up or tear you down.

Take an inventory of what you have going on in your life. Are there situations or people that are regularly hurting your mental health? Do you have a stressful, thankless job that is constantly pulling at you? Do you have friends or family members that aren’t kind to you? Do you have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders that could be causing the stress?

What stressful situations and people can you eliminate from your life? And if you can’t eliminate them from your life, can you draw boundaries to make it easier for you to deal with them?

4. Disconnect from electronics regularly.

Taking a break from electronics is never a bad idea. For better or worse, they are a regular part of our lives. Many find them a regular source of stress and unhappiness.

That may be anything from spending too much time on the news to your screen time at bed interfering with your ability to sleep because of the device’s light. Even worse, maybe you have a job where you are expected to be regularly connected and accessible.

You need to draw boundaries with your use of electronics. These devices are there for your convenience to interact with the world, not to make you accessible every minute of every day.

The world won’t end if you’re unreachable for a weekend. Take a break from the devices. Turn off your phone for a little while. Try not to be accessible all of the time with your workplace. Don’t answer work-related messages outside of the times you’re being paid for. Don’t check your work email and messages on your personal device.

If you need to be accessible, buy a cheap burner phone and use that phone number for work. Don’t just use a virtual phone service routed to your personal phone. Actually separate your work and personal life by keeping them on separate phones.

5. Take regular breaks from social media.

Social media is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s done a lot to bring people around the world together. It’s been used to organize protests, break the news, and pursue justice for people that might not have ever had the chance. But, on the other hand, social media is extremely stressful, capitalizes on the Fear Of Missing Out, and is engineered to be addictive.

People generally don’t portray a balanced view of their life on social media. Instead, they are sharing their highlight reel. That can make you feel bad about yourself or that you’re unworthy. In addition, social media can deepen anxiety and depression by causing you to compare your life to other people who are probably not portraying their real life as it is.

And people do weird things to flex on social media. For example, in the entrepreneur and guru space, it’s not unusual for people with something to sell to take pictures with cars that don’t belong to them, rent an Airbnb to take pictures in to make you think it’s their property, or buy expensive clothes for a photo shoot and then return them.

Spend less time on social media. Even stay off social media altogether if you think you can. You’ll thank yourself later.

6. Stop thinking in terms of ‘should.’

Part of the problem of a busy modern life is that you always feel like there is more you could be doing… more you should be doing.

You ‘should’ yourself into doing more than you can handle, and then when you do get a moment of downtime, you think you ‘should’ be doing more with it than just relaxing. You don’t give yourself permission to relax because subconsciously you feel relaxing is a waste of your precious time.

Well here’s news for you: you 100% should be taking time to relax. Okay, so you should look after any kids you have, you should do your job to the best of your ability, and you should keep up with necessary tasks such as paying your rent and going grocery shopping.

But there’s no one to say that you ‘should’ tidy your house twice a week. Nothing says you ‘should’ spend every evening socializing just because that’s what your friends do. Those are optional things, and you should treat them as such once in a while. You need to tell yourself – repeatedly if necessary – that bad things won’t happen if you don’t do everything you think you ‘should’ be doing.

If you can’t relax because your mind is always thinking about what you ‘should’ be doing, you might have an anxiety disorder, you might be a workaholic, or you might be a perfectionist. These are all things to speak to mental health professional about.

7. Make lists.

If your find that you can’t relax because you’re thinking about or planning things in your life, get those thoughts out of your head and down onto paper (preferably) or onto your device.

Much of the time, you won’t think thoughts only once; you’ll think them again and again as your mind tries to organize what you’ve got to do and how you’re going to do it. When you write a thought down, you give your mind permission not to think about it again, safe in the knowledge that it won’t be forgotten about.

It’s simple organization at the end of the day, but it can help your mind to switch off and worry less.

8. Practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness is all the rage in our stressed-out, anxious world. Simply put, to be mindful is to be in the present moment. By putting yourself in the present moment, you are freeing yourself from the weight of your past and the anxiety of the future. You’re not spending your time dwelling on things that are outside of your control.

All you really have control over is your present, right now. Finding the way to your present can be difficult if you haven’t found a good way to reign in those thoughts yet. Meditation can help. You can also try mindfulness exercises, like looking for objects colored blue around you or focusing on your senses.

The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is one way to ground yourself in the present that may help you relax.

What are five things you can see?

Four things you can touch?

Three things you can hear?

Two things you can smell?

One thing you can taste?

And repeat the process until you find the stress and anxiety slipping away.

9. Stop trying so hard to relax.

What if your inability to relax stems from trying too hard to relax? That is, you’re psyching yourself up and out of a relaxing state because you’re making yourself feel like you aren’t relaxing enough or trying hard enough to relax. You may be inadvertently causing so much additional stress to yourself that you are keeping yourself from relaxing.

Mindfulness and meditation are tools that can help with this problem. By focusing on trying too hard to relax, you’re actually putting your brain onto future problems that aren’t relevant to you right now. “I need to relax. Why can’t I relax? This isn’t going to help me. I need to do more! I need to do something else! Try something else!”

This train of thought is going to keep your wheels turning instead of quieting things down. Instead, you can replace it with thoughts from the 5-4-3-2-1 exercise or focusing on your breathing. Let whatever thoughts come that come, and then let them slip away out of your mind by not dwelling on them. Replace them with those mindfulness exercises instead.

That may be just what you need to let go, find some peace, and relax.

10. Talk to someone about your problems, fears, and worries.

You will struggle to relax mentally if you have something that you really want to get off your chest, be that a problem you want advice on, or a fear or worry you have. If you don’t have an outlet, a person to vent to and to get advice from, you’ll be left facing your issues by yourself, and this often means getting stuck in thought loops.

The moment you can talk about what’s going on inside your head is the moment those thoughts begin to subside. Do you have a close friend or family member you can talk to? Or a partner who will listen to your concerns?

If not, don’t just talk to anyone. Don’t spout the inner workings of your mind to a random colleague or a friend you’re just not that friendly with. Instead, turn to a professional. Get yourself a therapist and let them be your outlet. They will help you focus on solutions and on taking the power away from your thoughts so that your mind can relax.

11. Get out and exercise.

Most people just don’t get enough exercise nowadays. Exercise can be a powerful way to burn off anxiety and excess energy. Regular exercise can also make you tired enough to help you sleep if you find disrupted sleep is a part of your anxiety.

It doesn’t even need to be a lot of exercise. Simply taking regular walks for about twenty minutes every other day can pay massive dividends to your physical and mental health. The sunshine is also good for you because it provides valuable vitamin D, which can help with the mood-balancing chemicals in your brain.

12. Disrupt your regular routine.

Sometimes we find ourselves locked into stress and anxiety from the boredom of a regular routine. Life can get monotonous and boring when things are going well. Get up, go to work, come home, take care of your responsibilities on your days off, and repeat until death. And while some people ache for that kind of peace and calmness in their life, it’s usually not great for the long-term.

People need some excitement and experiences in their lives. Disrupting your regular routine can be so helpful in breaking through chronic anxiety and finding a little relaxation. Maybe you need a change of setting for a little while to stir things up a bit. Maybe it’s time for a vacation or a break from the routine.

It doesn’t need to be anything huge. Instead, grab yourself a hotel room in a nearby city and attend a couple of events there. Catch a concert, visit an art exhibit, or go to a museum to give yourself a new experience.

13. Reduce your intake of caffeine, stimulants, and alcohol.

You may find it difficult to relax because of what you are putting into your body. Caffeine and stimulants are obvious sources of anxiety and stress that can keep you from relaxing.

Alcohol is another understated cause of regular stress, even though it’s not a stimulant. Instead, alcohol regularly interferes with your brain’s ability to produce mood-balancing chemicals and disrupts emotional regulation.

Many people use alcohol as a means to self-medicate their problems or relax. Alcohol can indeed help a person loosen up or relax in the short term. But it’s also true that regular use of alcohol will interfere with your brain’s ability to do what it needs to do over the long term.

The same is true for marijuana. As it is becoming more legalized and used throughout the world, more people are turning to pot to relax and chill out. That may work in the short term, but it doesn’t in the long term. In fact, it can make anxiety and stress much worse and harder to address later. For some people, it works right up until it doesn’t, or it can make their underlying mental health issues worse.

You may also like:

google news follow button Follow Us

About The Author

Jack Nollan is a person who has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years now. Jack is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspective from the side of the mental health consumer. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.