15 simple ways to relax, according to scientists

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It’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day grind and let the stress pile on.

And getting rid of that stress often seems exponentially difficult.

So if you’re looking for a way to escape, here are some science-backed ways to decompress – even if you can’t get away from the things that are stressing you out.


Get a massage.

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Yes indeed, getting a massage may be a great way for some of us to relieve stress and relax.

One small study looking at the effect of back massages on Japanese students preparing for exams found that people who got them had less muscle stiffness and lower levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. Some caveats though: the study was small, and it didn’t have a control group. In other words, there’s no way to know if they’d sent another group of people into a quiet room and not given them massages that they wouldn’t have seen similar results, perhaps just from being isolated from their studies.


Meditate.

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Flickr/Pawel Maryanov

Meditation is often seen as a great way to relax, and many studies back up that idea. In a meta-analysis looking at several studies of relaxation training in people with anxiety, the observed effects of meditation were greater than those observed for other intentional relaxation techniques, such as autogenic training (a process that involves making your body feel heavy and warm) and applied relaxation. Other studies have also outlined its effect as an anti-anxiety and antidepressant method.

Want to learn how to meditate? Check out this nifty graphic.


Exercise regularly.

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The key to a relaxed mind is a relaxed body, according to the Harvard Medical School: “The relaxed body will, in turn, send signals of calm and control that help reduce mental tension.”

One way to relax the body is by exercising. It may sound counterintuitive, but working out can help the body release mood elevating hormones, like endorphins, and reduce levels of stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol.


Take a hot bath.

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If you’ve had a super stressful day at work, try relaxing with a warm bath.

According to the National Institute of Health, a warm bath can help increase blood flow, thereby reducing stiffness and pain in your joints. And less pain can mean a more relaxed body and mind.


Visit a sauna.

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Stefano Zardini

Saunas may be a great way to alleviate the body from stress-inducing tension, and thereby help the mind take a break and quiet down.

Multiple studies suggest that saunas help trigger anti-inflammatory responses in the body that may help provide some relief to people suffering from asthma, chronic bronchitis, congestive heart failure, and rheumatic arthritis.


Spend time with a dog.

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Having a dog around comes with many benefits, one being that the simple act of making eye contact releases the feel-good chemical, oxytocin, according to 2009 study.

While oxytocin isn’t directly related to relaxation, researchers found that administering oxytocin to rats actually induced anti-stress responses, like reduced blood pressure.


Have a make-out session.

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Kissing may help reduce levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol, at least according to research by psychologist Wendy Hill at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.

Hill compared cortisol levels in college couples who had just kissed with couples who had held hands for 15 minutes, and discovered that cortisol levels were lower in the kissers than the hand holders.


Take deep breaths.

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Deep breathing is what the American Institute of Stress calls a “super stress buster.

When we’re anxious and stressed, it can cause you to take shorter breaths, so by deliberately taking a series of deep ones, you can help increase the supply of oxygen to your brain.This, in turn, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, sometimes referred to as the “rest and digest system,” because it’s the part of the nervous system that slows heart rate, increases intestinal activity, and relaxes certain stomach muscles.


Tense and relax your toes.

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One of the Mayo Clinic’s many relaxation techniques involves gradually tensing up different muscle groups, starting with your toes. They advise holding the tension for five seconds, and then slowly relaxing the muscles.

This is called “progressive muscle relaxation” and researchers think it may help boost our awareness of the physical sensations associated with relaxation.


Close your eyes and picture your favorite vacation spot.

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Jacek Zarzycki/YouTube

Zoning out can be a great way to relax, and it’s especially fun if your mind drifts off to a sunny location that’s stress-free.

Some psychologists advise spending about 15 minutes a day daydreaming: not only could it help you focus, they say, but as a meditation technique it could also help reduce stress.


Actually take a vacation.

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Reuters/Mike Blake

Just make sure it’s a relaxing one – so holiday travel might not cut it.

In a study looking at happiness levels in people who took vacations and then ranked them, those who rated their sprees as “very relaxed” also reported feeling happier compared to those who did not vacation, and even compared to those who did vacation but did not report feeling “very relaxed.” The benefits of these “very relaxed” vacations typically lasted at most two weeks, the study found.


Try yoga.

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The Mayo Clinic is a big fan of using yoga as stress relief. Intentional breathing, exercise, what’s not to love?

Still, while some studies have shown that yoga could be a useful component to treating depression, more studies are necessary to confirm the beneficial effects of yoga across the board.


Listen to music.

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Listening to music enhances athletic performance
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Toby Melville/Reuters

Feeling stressed? Put in some ear buds.

One study found that listening to music before a typical stressful situation made it easier for the nervous system to recover when compared to not listening to music before the event. This was measured by monitoring cortisol hormone levels, heart rates, as well as reported levels of stress and anxiety. In fact, there’s a whole area of treatment, called music therapy, that’s dedicated to using music as a way to supplement other medical treatments.


Paint or draw something.

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IMCBerea College/Flickr

If getting visual is more your thing, it may be time to break out that adult coloring book.

The Mayo Clinic also recognizes art therapy as a relaxation technique. And there are some studies that seem to back it up as a stress-relief tactic – one study on the benefits of coloring pre-designed mandalas suggested that the exercise can reduce anxiety.


Get some alone time.

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Although too much alone time could be stressful in itself, taking a second to be intentionally alone could be a helpful technique to relax. A 1997 study found that teenagers that spent time alone had a positive experience with solitude in comparison to younger children.

And having alone time could be a good way to give yourself time to meditate, which we’ve mentioned before is a promising way to relax.