11 Ways to Relax That Aren’t Exercise or Meditation
07.15.17

Everyone I know, including myself, is busy and distracted on an infinite loop. It’s a curious conundrum, considering we’re all armed with more than enough information on how to de-stress. But the “surprising benefits” of exercise, meditation and work-life balance, documented ad nauseam, are beginning to feel like drawn-out humblebrags. Sometimes, they just seem insurmountable. And try as we might to convince ourselves that binge-watching TV helps, I don’t know anyone who feels refreshed after two+ episodes.

I wanted a pocketful of ways to take the edge off that don’t feel so intimidating, patronizing or, worse, counterproductive. So I asked the team to tell me how they do it. What little practices do they have in their arsenal to genuinely get off their mental hamster wheels? What actually works?

Read on to see what they told me and then share yours, too.


1. Rearrange furniture

Recommended by Patty

“I rearrange all of the art and furniture and items in my apartment and usually do some sort of cleaning out of something (books, clothes, kitchen cabinets) in the process. My brain enters this hyper-relaxed state where I’m actively considering space and meaning and emotion but in a non-literal language that makes my mind kind of…hum? Does that make sense? And then I blink and it’s been four hours and I have a few missed calls and emails but I don’t care because I feel wonderful.”

2. Go for an ice cream walk

Recommended by Harling

“What is an ice cream walk? Great question. The process is pretty simple. Step one: exit your abode to go for a walk. Step two: walk toward an ice cream shop — any ice cream shop. Step three: order an ice cream. Step four: eat ice cream. Impromptu walks are one of my favorite ways to clear my head, but adding ice cream into the mix makes it feel like an intentional way of treating myself, literally and figuratively. I recommend Van Leeuwen if you happen to be ice cream-walking in NYC.”

3. Cook a complicated recipe

Recommended by Haley

“A lot of my stress and listlessness can trace back to feeling too connected to the digital world, and feeling so mentally overwhelmed that I can’t even seem to finish a salient thought. Cooking takes me out of that, particularly if I’m following a challenging recipe. I wouldn’t call myself a cook — in fact I rarely do it — but whenever I force myself to, I never regret it. I love that it’s this physical and productive act with a tangible reward. No matter how anxious I feel going in, I always come out feeling renewed.”

4. Read long-form fiction

Recommended by Leandra

“Lately I’ve been reading fiction as a brain break, which is totally new for me as someone who has historically preferred short-form writing that’s rooted in reality. It’s probably a reaction to the overwhelming amount of NEWS that is available to me AT ALL TIMES ALWAYS.

The kind of fiction I’m reading is super specific — it’s not hyper-fantastical or sci-fi, but rather literary fiction that’s sort of like a biblical story retold in a modern setting. (Ex: Adam and Eve, set in New York in 2017!) I’ve tried so many times to be disciplined about meditation, but have found that my mind just needs a bone to chew on. Fictional long-form seems to function as that bone… for now.”

5. Buy a ticket to an event without planning

Recommended by Matt

“Often when I’m stressed and my brain needs a break, I’ll find a show or event that piques my interest and buy a ticket without arranging who I’m going with or how it fits into my schedule. While it may seem counterproductive to add more to my calendar, I’ve found it to be a great way to give my brain something to look forward to. It always ends up reminding me how much I value and appreciate living in New York. Added bonus: Once there, it gives me something to focus on, experience and enjoy while being present and getting out of my own head. It’s like a gift to my future self and often ends up being a spontaneous, memorable evening. ”

6. Free write

Recommended by Ashley

“When I’m wound up, I sit down and free write for a few minutes on 750words.com. It’s supposed to help with creativity or something. After you write out all your thoughts, it sort of groups them into different categories based on your language, tense, etc. It’s extremely relaxing to see all of your thoughts categorized that way and it helps me to organize what I’m actually freaking out about.”

7. Deep clean

Recommended by Ariel

“The process of cleaning my personal space and apartment is cathartic and calming for me. I never realized the act of cleaning was something that inadvertently made me relax until Haley forced me to think of the times my brain totally turns off. I can be cleaning for half the day and not realize where the time went. It makes me feel refreshed and ready to take on the day.”

8. Draw

Recommended by Amelia

“I drew habitually growing up and minored in art in college, but when I graduated, my practice began to slip away. Because I’m rusty now, I get a sort of performance anxiety about the whole thing, so I try to do it in as casual a manner as possible. I typically call a friend who I’ve been neglecting or put music on, get out a pad and doodle. (A really satisfying pen works best. It has to feel like velvety-butter.) I let my pen do all sorts of weird things: make strange shapes, draw people I don’t know who don’t have hands. There are no rules, no expectations of perfection, no product to produce. And when I’m done with it, I’m done with it. It’s very un-precious and so, so relaxing.”

9. Hem and sew clothes

Recommended by Elizabeth

“I climb on a chair to access my sewing machine — which I keep on a very high shelf away from harm — and then go to town switching unworn jeans into shorts and hemming anything and everything I can find. Hand-needling is great, too! I love the little light that comes on when I power up the machine. When I press the pedal, the slight hum calms me.”

10. Drink lucid-dreaming tea before bed

Recommended by Leslie

“I drink this lucid-dreaming tea while reading at night before bed. It really works! If you drink too much though, you wake up feeling drugged. It’s got a lot of leaves and sticks and dust in it, which makes it LOOK very potion-y, but has a light, floral taste. It is extremely calming and gets me excited for a night of bizarre, full-on dreams.”

11. Beach combing

Recommended by Emily

“I go beach combing. This sounds like the hobby of a 75-year-old retiree from Long Island, but it’s so relaxing for me. I’m always on the hunt for an unusual piece of beach glass or cool-looking shell. Sometimes I just put them in jars around my apartment, but other times I actually make things with the stuff I find. I’ve always loved it.”

What’s your thing?

Get more Brain Massage ?
  • Bee

    Love these ideas! It’s nice to see recommendations that are different than the typical ones you see everywhere 🙂

  • Rosa

    @Leandra, I’d love some fiction recommendation from you! X

  • Abby

    Omg I didn’t realize that other people cherish the ice cream walk in the same way that I do! It’s my favorite activity. In the service of my wallet and waistline, I’ve recently been walking with Yasso froyo pops from home and they are an excellent addition to the experience.

  • Alice

    I take baths. I get into my bathtub and either watch Netflix or read a magazine. I use a bath bomb, I exfoliate, I shave, I mask, everything.

    I’m also on the cleaning and organising group. I tackle “the chair” or go through drawers. I really love organising my makeup and playing with it too.

  • Chiara Settineri

    Loved all of these ideas!! My way of zoning out is similar to Amelia’s in that I like to get creative when I’m stressed… I’ve made a wall of my bedroom into a sort of giant moodboard, and when I’m overwhelmed, I’ll usually just turn on some music, sit on my floor, and start cutting out interesting images or words from magazines and add them on to my “moodwall” (?? not a thing but I’m making it a thing) :))

    • Shevaun

      Okay that sounds dope as hell.

  • patyof

    Oh man I miss ice cream walks. My sister and I used to walk down to the Rita’s Ice on 93rd & Broadway from our apartment up on 131st on summer evenings and it was so peaceful and centering! It’s not the same here in Tucson as it is NYC though. Neither the weather nor the, like… urban planning… is great for pedestrians. Wah!

    • gracesface

      about a year or so ago the last Rita’s in our town closed and now the closest one is like 3 hours away!! as a native east coaster I am soooo sad. It’s is so delicious!!

  • Shevaun

    Honestly the way I relax the most is I drag my husband to our bed and then we spend like, half an hour cuddling and wrestling and talking and shrieking adorations at each other (we are obnoxious).

    We’ve been together for seven-going-on-eight years and talking things out helps me to get out of my head and relax. It’s like a brainstorming session that also involves physical contact. Is best.

  • Marguerite R

    i literally went on an ice cream walk to van leeuwen last week HOT DAMN

  • Cynthia Schoonover

    Great ideas! I feel great after cleaning out a drawer, closet, whatever. And sewing and machine embroidery are my favorites. Not to mention a great novel. Taking the dog out for a potty break is relaxing because I’m on dog time. I enjoy the crosswords and word puzzles in my daily newspaper. The ultimate relaxation for me is cuddling my chihuahua-rat terrier mix. At 9.5 lbs., it’s like having a baby.

  • Bernadette

    Cooking or baking-especially things that need periodic attention over an afternoon, like bread. And spending time not listening to anything-no tv in the background, no podcasts, no nothing. Being at home alone a lot has led me to favor having some kind of noise to keep me company, that turning it all off feels like a break for my brain.

  • Mun

    Knitting!

    • Yes! I love crochet, too. The repetitive motion is really soothing. And you also get to make things that are vintage and cute.

  • Michelle

    I’m all for the ice-cream walk too!

  • “I go beach combing. This sounds like the hobby of a 75-year-old retiree
    from Long Island, but it’s so relaxing for me. I’m always on the hunt
    for an unusual piece of beach glass or cool-looking shell. Sometimes I
    just put them in jars around my apartment, but other times I actually
    make things with the stuff I find. I’ve always loved it.” Go Emily totally agree with…. Beach is so relaxing..

  • Kayla Sweeney

    Leandra, would love to know what that Adam in Eve in NYC book is!!!! 🙂

    • Mon Valdés

      Yes please! I second this!

  • Adrianna

    #1 Paint by Number while listening to podcasts. Amazon has several adult paint-by-numbers, but I would recommend Plaid. I draw (and sometimes paint), so people didn’t understand why I found this appealing. But this is the one thing where I don’t have to make any decisions, even less than adult coloring books. https://www.amazon.com/Plaid-Creates-20-Inch-21676-Victorian/dp/B00426BXV8/ref=pd_sim_201_4?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=EJTNZ0EYM00629DDFYCZ

    #2 Strenuous hike. This is a hard sell, and it even took me 26 years to realize that this is probably my most effective method of “self care.” The 1.5 hr train ride is part of the process. I own a camelback that has the perfect pocket for a book.

    • Andrea Raymer

      I love going to the movie theater. I have so may friends that don’t get it and don’t want to spend the money but I love taking myself on a date to the movies. I think its the only way I can truly focus on the movie without the distractions of the outside world. Also my dad sends me gift cards to regal cinemas for every possible occasion so I never actually have to pay for it. My dad is awesome.

      • rachel

        In general I like taking myself out on a date somewhere where I can just sit with myself, be that a movie, dinner, or an ice cream (totally with you there Harling!)

  • My thing has always been exercise. I’m going to keep that one but I’ll add some of these to my list to change things up.

    https://www.bluelabelsboutique.com

  • Andrea Raymer

    I find really repetitive tasks really relaxing for me my 2 favorites included:

    1. cutting apples (occasionally for pie) I haven’t taken a bite out of an apple in years because I like cutting them so much. Apple slices and peanut butter quickly became my favorite snack because I like cutting them so much.

    2. Folding clothes. I have a very particular way of folding my clothes from my 2 years of selling merchandise at broadway shows. When I was unemployed last summer I would re-fold all the clothes in my dresser on a bi-weekly basis. I hate doing laundry but love folding my clothes, I think I need to find a husband that doesn’t mind the washing part and I am happy to fold everything as long as I don’t have to lug it all to the Laundromat and deal with the actually washing process.

    • Kate

      omg I HAAAAATE folding clothes. My room is just piles of clean clothes everywhere. I can’t even hang them up. Let’s get married.

  • Mon Valdés

    For me, painting my nails is one of the most relaxing experiences. From cutting them, filing, moiturizing the cuticule, painting and finally applying the colour. I love it, and I feel like a million bucks once I have my manicure done.

  • Lisa

    the lucid dreaming tea piqued my interest but i noticed kava kava as an ingredient. While it is an effective anxiolytic, there’s been tons of evidence that kava kava harms the liver to the point of needing transplants. Just thought I’d put this down to think about if anyone didn’t know.

  • Lorange E

    I throw pots–as in make pottery on the wheel. My mind disappears into the work. It requires a sort of relaxed concentration that shushes away most of the world.

    Doing yardwork sometimes is similar for me. I go outside to mow the lawn or water something and suddenly it’s an hour later and I’ve weeded a whole flowerbed or have sticks in my hair from pruning a bush.

    A key element for me is that these hobbies are physical as well.

  • Lorange E

    Oh! And related to the beach combing thing–I go birdwatching. Yeah, I was born middle-aged or something.

  • Catherine Bohner

    So little love for cooking in the comments! That’s my jam. Agree on the complicated recipes, although the cleanup is a bitch. I really like making pesto by hand, chopping the heck out of herbs and then mashing everything with a
    mortar and pestle.

    • cyrus

      Yes cooking is my #1, actually do that every day because it’s better and also because I just enjoy the process so much!

  • rachel

    I often tend to get wound up at home (thinking about everything I have to get done tonight/tomorrow/this week/forever), so I like to do a sheet mask and a manicure. Would not recommend for the office, however, unless you want to give all of your coworkers heart-attacks.

  • Trịnh Thanh

    Love this post! Love how you make it magazine editorial look like.

    quạt hộp

  • DarthVadersCats

    LISTEN IM GOING TO NEED AN ENTIRE ARTICLE DEDICATED TO THIS DREAM TEA???

  • Ashley Minyard

    When I’m really stressed I find a life drawing session to go to. I get to flex my creative side, remember that it’s actually something I’m good at, and feel really productive and accomplished when it’s over. They’re usually 3 hour sessions and it’s rude to have your phone out or talk to anyone, not to mention there’s gentle lighting, soothing music and you’re literally staring at a beautiful naked person. It’s the perfect way to spend a block of time getting into the zone and away from the outside world.

  • lateshift

    perfect. yes. to all of this.

  • angela

    #5- buy a ticket to an event:

    YES! yes to that, so much! For the past 4 years I had stopped going to concerts for some reason, I just didn’t check who was playing when etc.
    But a month ago I spontaneously bought tickets to see Kevin Morby after listening to maybe 3 songs of him. I ended up going by myself because my BF couldn’t come with. Best night ever, the gig was pure magic, it made me so happy and also relaxed me in a way. Seriously made me grateful to live in a city that hosts so many great gigs all the time.
    So yes, if you’re into music but kinda forget to check gigs in your town, please treat yourself and do it! go!

    • angela

      also I would mention gardening even tho it’s a bit limited when you live in a city aha, but just watering my plants and taking care of them feels great.

    • Missum

      You know, I’m on another continent but I did the same spontaneous buying with a Kevin Morby gig after having heard one song. The venue was half empty, it was anazing show, and KM created that sense of hallowed space, making it feel like a private gig for me n my BF…and now KM is one of our favourite artists…for all that spontaneous relaxing cooking n dancing round the kitchen.

      • angela

        Oh really? funny to find a fellow morby fan on MR! 🙂
        His gig in paris felt very intimate too (small but sold out venue), he really *looks people into the eyes* when he plays, it makes it very special. I was standing kinda close in front of him so sometimes he also looked at me while singing, sorry for the groupie talk but it was amazing.
        Hand Habits was great too, i recommend listening to her album !:)