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Welcome to Restival Season, Apartment Therapy’s series about slowing down, sleeping more, and relaxing however you can — no fancy wristbands needed.
There’s little doubt that rest and relaxation are important for your body and mind — especially this year, when pandemic living has caused prolonged stress. But finding time for that rest and relaxation is sometimes easier said than done, especially when you’re juggling multiple family, work, and personal responsibilities that can sometimes feel at odds.
The good news: Experts agree that even a few minutes of re-centering and calm can help you blow off some steam.
“The way that things like burnout work is that every time you’re not proactively relaxing or scheduling time into your routine and activities to bring yourself back from an extreme stress point, then you’re building up emotional debt.” Alyssa Petersel, founder and CEO of MyWellbeing, a platform that connects people to therapists, tells Apartment Therapy. “If you don’t release some of that gradually over time in these measured increments then before you know it, it can become overwhelming. It can feel like you’re really stressed seemingly out of nowhere.”
In order to minimize these bouts of stress and emotional debt, Petersel emphasizes the importance of “giving yourself opportunities for stress relief and catharsis throughout your week.” And these opportunities, she adds, don’t have to be a massive portion of your day. “It can be five minutes at a time. It can be 60 minutes. It depends on what works best for you.”
Chimère G. Holmes, LPC, founder of Be Ye Renewed Counseling, says establishing a routine or daily habit is a “surefire way to quell feelings of anxiety and depression,” especially now that there’s little separation between where we live and where we work. “You don’t want to be working 12-plus hours a day without taking a moment to pause and to breathe, to nourish yourself — making a point to step away from your computer, to grab a snack, to hydrate, to get some fresh air.”
Here, 83 ideas for how to give yourself a little breather, whether you only have five minutes in between meetings, 10 minutes after your kid goes down for a nap, or a full hour to yourself that you’re looking to make the most of. Of course, you don’t need to do all of these — just pick one that feels manageable and achievable to you, depending on your time, energy, and resources.
With just 5 minutes, you can:
1. Start your day with a sensory exercise.
Petersel recommends taking the first five minutes of your day to pay attention to your breathing, or focus on anything that you can touch.
“One five-minute window that I absolutely love is the very first five minutes that you’re awake,” she says. “If you’re sleeping with a blanket that has a particular texture or you notice a particular temperature in your room, or if you have a carpet and you can just spend five minutes really focusing on how that carpet feels when it makes contact with your feet. If we spend three or more minutes really laser-focused on something tactile, it can actually bring down and regulate our heart rate, and that can be really stress-relieving, especially if you feel like your thoughts are racing or if you feel really concerned or anxious or stressed about anything.”
2. Focus on something tactile.
According to Petersel, the same sensory technique applies to stressful situations throughout your day. “If you’re in a work meeting and something stressful comes up or a new deadline is introduced, you can allocate five minutes to anything that you can feel physically,” she says. “You can bring your pointer finger and thumb together so you can feel the pressure between the two fingers and focus really intently on the point that they touch.” Redirecting your attention to something physical not only keeps you grounded, but it also helps you maintain a normal level of equilibrium.
“If you’re a morning person, try to catch the sunrise from outside of your home,” Holmes offers. “That can be really helpful and enjoyable.”
If you’re not a morning person, try to take a few minutes at the end of the day to peep the sunset.
4. Make yourself a cup of tea.
The methodical task takes only a few minutes, but requires your focus — which means you have a few minutes of mental quiet.
5. Do a few sets of jumping jacks.
“I tend to find that even super minimum exercise is really helpful,” Petersel says. So if you have a five-minute break between meetings, try doing some jumping jacks. “They can bring up your heart rate, and it causes your heart rate to force itself to regulate around the cardiovascular exercise rather than the stress or the panic,” she explains. “If you’re doing jumping jacks and your heart rate starts to pick up, it starts to pump more oxygen through your system and it releases some endorphins.”
6. Drink a glass of water.
Studies show that dehydration leads to higher cortisol levels (aka the stress hormone) — so the more hydrated you are, the more equipped you are to handle everyday stress. Taking a moment to drink a glass of water also allows you to take a mini break from the task at hand.
7. Switch up your environment.
“If you’ve been in three Zoom calls in a row and you’re sitting in the exact same seat and you’re feeling kind of stiff and you’re feeling kind of grumpy,” Petersel says, “maybe you want to sit in the opposite direction and be looking at a different wall, from a different perspective.”
8. Think about your wins.
“Give yourself five minutes of the day to make what I like to call a ‘win list,’” Holmes recommends. “This could be some really happy or life-affirming moments, something really great that happened throughout the week that you just want to pause and give gratitude for.”
Maybe you write down your win list, or you reflect while sitting in silence. “Take some really deep, intentional belly breaths and think about all of the things we tend to overlook in our busy lives that you’re grateful for — your spouse, your friends, your employment, the neighborhood that you live in, the sun, fresh air, a show on Netflix,” she adds. “Practicing that gratitude really helps you to focus your attention on what is going right in your life.”
9. Take a lap around your home or office.
Similarly, taking a few minutes for a quick lap around your apartment, home, or office can help you recenter your focus. “It helps your brain zoom out and recognize that you’re not in this box, that there’s a bigger world,” says Petersel. “It’s the equivalent of looking up every now and then, getting a change of scenery.”
10. While you’re at it, grab a snack.
In the midst of packed, stressful days, you might forget to make time to eat. A few minutes is enough time to much on a healthy snack. (Bonus: Some summer fruits, like watermelon, are also a great source of hydration that can be beneficial to brain health.)
11. Listen to a feel-good song.
At three to five minutes, an upbeat song is the perfect length for a micro-break. Dance along or just close your eyes and listen.
Mindful meditation is malleable to however much time you have available. According to Petersel, around the three-minute mark is when you can start regulating some of the stressors physically in your body. “If you’re panicking or feeling stressed, try three minutes of really concentrated breathing,” Petersel says.
“You’re sitting in front of the computer all day, so it’s important to take five minutes to stretch your upper body,” Holmes says. “Your shoulders, your neck, your back… that upper part of our bodies tends to get the most tense and tight from so much Zoom fatigue and screenwork, so stretching can be super healing and refreshing.” (If you need a guide, there’s a few dozen YouTube videos that can help you stretch the tension away.)
14. Try a new essential oil in your diffuser.
“Aromatherapy is huge,” Holmes says. “Essential oils or aromatic candles or incense can be recharging and energizing.”
15. Put your head between your knees.
If you’re feeling a wave of anxiety, get your head below your heart by resting it between your knees and taking deep, slow breaths. You can also try a complete yoga inversion, or downward-facing dog pose.
Lighting a candle can instantly bring on the spa vibes. Try calming scents like lavender, sage, or citrus.
If they don’t need water, take a minute to dust their leaves or check for new growth. Your plants will thank you.
It sounds basic, but laughing can ease anxiety and boost your overall mood. So revisit your favorite meme or TikTok video and LOL.
You don’t need to be a trained artist. Flip to a fresh page in your notebook and draw squiggles, flowers, squares, or other easy shapes to give yourself a few minutes to zone out.
With 10 minutes, you can:
Word of caution, though: Petersel advises that you “be mindful that maybe you don’t reach out to someone who might have a history or tendency of actually bringing you further down or making you feel more concerned or more stressed.”
“Spend 10 minutes outside to get some fresh air and natural sunlight, and remember to take some deep breaths,” Holmes recommends. “That Vitamin D goes a long way. You feel so much more strengthened and encouraged to get through the rest of the day.”
3. Give your pet some attention.
“If you have a pet, it’s a great time to have a cuddle or play session,” Petersel recommends. “Pets are really good at releasing those endorphins.”
4. Look any images that bring you joy.
If you’re not into cute animals (no judgment!), Petersel suggests “browsing through memories or pictures that bring you a lot of positive or good feelings, things that help transport you to a better place.” Think: cute animals, old vacation photos, or pictures of long-distance pals.
5. Be at one with your thoughts.
It sounds intense, but this one’s not complicated. Holmes recommends setting down your phone and closing your laptop screen for 10 minutes for some necessary “contemplative time to be at one with your thoughts,” emphasizing the importance of touching base with yourself throughout the day.
6. Practice a five senses exercise to stay grounded.
Similar to starting off your morning by focusing on a tactile sensation, Holmes suggests practicing a more intentional “five senses exercise” for a deeper state of calm.
“Ask yourself: What are five things that I see? What are four things that I can smell? What are three things that I hear? What are two things that I taste? And what’s one thing that I feel? Making that mind-body connection in a few moments can be recharging, and it’s a solid grounding technique.”
7. Allow yourself to daydream.
There’s nothing wrong with taking 10 minutes out of your day to fantasize about your life as a bed and breakfast owner in charming small-town New England. In fact, daydreaming is proven to relieve stress.
8. Visualize your happy place.
Find a sunny spot and think about your happy place. Whether that’s in your fantasy B&B or on a beach in Thailand, that act of visualizing a place of serenity will help you feel more calm.
9. Use a foam roller to release tension in your muscles.
It doesn’t matter if you just worked out or not, a foam roller will help muscle pain and stress dissipate. If you don’t have one on hand, try giving yourself a mini-massage using an old tennis ball.
10. Put on a completely random playlist.
Maybe you’ll discover a new song you love, or a forgotten old favorite.
11. Turn your daily skincare into a self-care routine.
Luxuriate in the sensation of applying a facial lotion, or take the extra step to try that new foaming face wash. During the day, take a few minutes to apply lotion to your hands.
12. Give yourself a face massage.
You might not be able to take a trip to a masseuse in 10 minutes, but you can give yourself a mini facial massage to help relieve tension. (Here’s your reminder to unclench your jaw!)
13. Or try a hand massage.
For people who spend all day at a computer, this one feels especially wonderful. It’s easy, too: Just use your thumb and forefinger to massage the soft area between the thumb and index finger on your opposite hand.
14. Practice the 4-7-8 breathing method.
To really focus on your breathing, try the 4-7-8 deep breathing method. Close your eyes, inhale through your nose for four seconds, hold it for seven seconds, and exhale through your mouth for eight seconds. Repeat for a few minutes.
15. Write out your to-do list.
Don’t keep the Post-it notes piled up on your desk. Take a few minutes to write out your daily tasks and get organized — it will help you feel more organized.
16. Read that article you’ve had open for days.
If you’re someone who keeps anywhere from 10 to 35 tabs open on their internet browser at any given time, then dedicate 10 minutes a day to working towards closing a few.
17. Make yourself a cup of pour-over coffee.
This is a practice so meticulous you have to focus all of your attention on brewing a single cup of coffee for 10 whole minutes — but there’s nothing like the feeling of mastering the art of the pour-over. You can brag to all of your instant-coffee loving friends, too.
With 15 minutes, you can:
Take yourself outside for a walk around the block, or “go for a coffee nearby if it’s walkable or drivable,” suggests Petersel.
2. Do a body scan meditation.
Whether you have access to the Calm app or pull up a YouTube video, taking 15 minutes for a quick body scan meditation — “all you have to do is listen and get attuned to what’s going on physically from the crown of your head to the bottom of your feet,” Holmes says — will help you stay mindful of your physical presence. “It gives you that full body check-in that we often neglect when we’re sitting at our desks.” Holmes suggests keeping your zen space and your work space separate, so lay your yoga mat or towel away from your desk.
“Start chipping away at investing in a hobby,” says Petersel. “Something that specifically isn’t work related. Say you’ve wanted to pick up gardening. Then in that 15 minutes you have, commit to reading an article on gardening. Or if you like plants, then do some research on different types of plants. Just take some time to invest into something that explicitly does not have to do with your career or your work.”
If you already have an active hobby — say, doing puzzles or knitting — 15 minutes is enough time to make a little progress.
If you’re a reader, then take some time to choose the next book you want to add to your book list. “In 15 minutes, you can also make a dent in the chapter you’re currently reading,” Petersel offers.
Who said cardio needs to be boring? Just cue up your favorite playlist and press play. “Music is super therapeutic,” says Holmes. “I’m an advocate for the dance parties for sure.”
6. Stand outside or near a window for some much-needed sunlight.
“Literal sunlight and Vitamin D will help counter stress and seasonal anxiety,” Petersel says. “In work-from-home environments, it can be hard to be inside all day, so take 15 minutes to step outside to get some oxygen and get some sun. Or reposition yourself by a window while you’re doing some of the hobby-oriented browsing.”
7. Chip away at your personal to-do list.
At the end of a hectic workday, it can be hard to focus on the things you need to do for yourself and your home, so Petersel recommends taking 15 minutes to focus on the tasks that can typically fall through the cracks — like making a grocery list, starting the laundry, folding clothes, or paying a bill.
“All of those things can feel really empowering and help you feel like you’re taking control back in your life when all of these chores and errands aren’t just piling up.”
“At-home face masks for about 10 to 15 minutes can be super soothing,” suggests Holmes. You can multitask while masking, or you can use that time to chill out and listen to a favorite playlist or podcast.
Coloring books for adults are filled with gorgeous images that are super soothing to fill in with your choice of colors. No artistic ability required!
12. Try watercoloring or, if you prefer to stay inside the lines, paint by numbers.
If you want to level up your coloring game, try paint by numbers or watercolors. “Paint by numbers has been something tried and true throughout the pandemic,” Holmes says. Focusing on where to put each color turns this task into something like a meditation.
For those who don’t want to get messy, you can also try a paint-by-number app like Happy Color on your phone or tablet.
13. Take up journaling.
This is a great way to reflect on your day and your feelings, and to set your intentions.
14. Clean up your workspace.
Visual clutter can be stressful for some, so if you’re having trouble focusing, try organizing the space around you. It might give you some peace of mind.
15. Start planning your time off.
Take a break from work to browse activities you can do away from the office. Look into vacation spots, or dream up an ideal long weekend getaway. Be intentional about your time off and plan ahead.
16. Take photos of things around your home.
Maybe the sun is hitting your window just right, or your snake plant looks especially green today. Taking the time to capture the small things around your home will help you stay present and focus your mind to see the beauty in things — and you don’t even need to share these pics on Instagram.
With 30 minutes, you can:
1. Get your heart rate up.
“There’s a lot of research that shows 20 to 30 minutes of elevated heart rate is helpful for your immediate mood,” Petersel says. “It boosts your levels of adrenaline, joy, and motivation. And also long-term, you start developing more protective factors against stressors and mental health obstacles.”
Thirty minutes is enough time to go for a brisk walk, a run, or a bike ride, then be back at your desk for your next meeting.
Petersel also recommends introducing strength-training and core work into your cardio routines to not challenge your mind and body to stay more agile and to “adjust to different environments.”
2. Call a friend for meaningful catch-up time.
“If there are people you want to build deeper relationships with, within 30 minutes you can have a call with a loved one or close friend,” Petersel says. “It allows you a little bit more time to get into the ins and outs that are happening throughout your days… and having a sense of connection and this exchange of love, platonic or otherwise, can feel really stress-relieving.”
To ensure that you don’t get sidetracked into gabbing with friends for more than 30 minutes, Petersel recommends setting those expectations up at the top of the conversation. “It’s something as simple as saying, ‘I only have 30 minutes but I’m so excited to catch up.’”
3. De-stress through a deeper meditation.
Holmes advises setting an intention for your practice before you start. What do you want to focus on in these 30 minutes? “Maybe your intention is to de-stress or to ward off feelings of depression or anxiety,” she says. “But try to sit still and be mindful through some very intentional breathwork.”
“Go take in all of the sights and the sounds of your neighborhood by going on a very mindful walk,” Holmes suggests. “If you have a dog, this is a great opportunity to take the dog out. You’ll both be reaping the benefits of that natural exercise and sunshine. And you can be device and technology free for those 30 minutes.” You can also practice another five senses exercise when you’re outside.
6. Listen to an episode of your favorite podcast.
Get in a comfortable spot, close your screen, and just listen.
7. Research a new recipe to try on the weekend.
Make the time to read up on that new sourdough recipe and order the ingredients.
8. Do a crossword puzzle.
Brain games take your mind off your daily stressors and require you to focus on something else. You may even learn a few new words in the process.
Make a bead bracelet. Try embroidery. Take up knitting. These are all creative outlets with repetitive motions that will help put your mind at ease.
This one is self-explanatory, but a quick nap (around 20 minutes) can help some people feel more energized and refocused. But, Petersel says, “it’s important to be really honest with yourself about what works best for you. For some people, napping can really throw them off and they wake up lethargic and groggy. So if you are going to nap, I would recommend the 20-minute nap because you can get a little bit more rest without going through a full sleep cycle.”
Give yourself a manicure or a pedicure — or both! Self-care is essential for stress relief.
Connecting with the earth can have a calming effect. Some ideas for getting in touch with nature: Repot a plant that needs a bigger home, trim one that’s growing too wild, or pull a few weeds in your garden.
14. Take a long, hot shower.
The warm water will help to soothe and relax your muscles. You can even add some essential oils or light a candle for a bit of aromatherapy.
15. Clean out your inbox
Is your personal email getting out of control? Take the time to organize your inbox and go through your unopened messages. All of those unread emails are probably causing you more stress than you realize.
With 60 minutes, you can:
If you have the time and resources, therapy is an effective form of self care. “It’s really helpful to be able to have the hour to go in-depth into some of the things you want to process,” Petersel says. If you don’t have a full hour to spare within your week, then she recommends setting aside at least 45 minutes — and to schedule these appointments regularly or semi-regularly. “It’s really great to have a recurring relationship with the person who, over time, is becoming more familiar to you and your circumstances. You’re building a lot more trust and a rapport,” she says.
Of course, finding an affordable therapist can be tricky — especially if you’re not insured, or your insurance doesn’t cover mental health. In those cases, search for “sliding scale” therapy in your area; those therapists will adjust their rates to accommodate your income level. If you live in a city with a university, it’s worth calling to see if there’s a training clinic for psychologists and therapists. Because these are staffed by graduate students in the process of earning their degrees, they’re usually an affordable option.
Another avenue: Open Path Collective, which — after a one-time fee of $59 — offers access to a network of counselors therapists across the country with a rate of $30 to $60 per session.
Take a soak while reading or listening to your favorite podcast for double the relaxation. “Generally, baths are warm, and in a warm environment you can really pay close attention to your senses,” Petersel says. Focus on the temperature of the water, the steam rising from the bath, and how your skin feels. Holmes also suggests adding some essential oils to your bath for an extra bit of calm.
3. Or just soak your feet.
If you don’t have a bathtub, fill a large, shallow container with hot water and treat your feet to a soak.
This one doesn’t involve any water, so you can do it anywhere. The idea is that you’re “bathed” in sound, made by striking metal bowls to release soothing tones. Petersel recommends virtual sound baths via YouTube and audio formats if you don’t have your own bowls at home.
5. Go on a coffee date with a friend.
Celebrate your vaccinated status by spending IRL time with those you love. “Try to have really focused face time — away from your phones,” Petersel advises. Instead, she says, focus on those feelings of connection, love, and companionship. And be present.
6. Roll out your yoga mat.
“If you have an hour, try a yoga practice that can essentially become part of your routine,” Holmes says. There are lots of free yoga videos for beginners and advanced yogis alike available on YouTube.
7. Try some stress-relieving body work.
If you have the time and financial resources, Holmes recommends some body work. “Acupuncture, chiropractic care, or even a body massage can really help you relax,” she says. “So if you can, get outside of the house and schedule an hour with a professional practitioner.”
8. Curl up with a good book.
Giving yourself an hour to do some “intentional reading,” as Holmes says, will not only help you accomplish your reading goals but it’s also a way to get your mind off your to-do list and immerse yourself into a fictional world that distracts you from your daily stressors.
9. Or listen to an audiobook.
Listening to the spoken word can actually promote relaxation and boost your mood. Audiobooks also give you the freedom to engage in your reading anywhere — in the car, on a walk, or while doing chores at home.
10. Watch an episode of a TV show.
Whether it’s a new show you’ve just started or an old favorite, focusing on a single episode of TV offers a break in your normal 9-to-5 routine. And you get to focus on someone else’s drama for a while.
Yes, for a full hour. Step away from your screens and focus on a single task.
Or some cookies, or a loaf of sourdough, or a pan of brownies… the choice is yours. Baking can relieve stress and improve your mental health, and the final product is delicious. A win-win!
13. Tidy up your sleep space.
Clothes on the floor? Take some time to tidy up your bedroom and put your clothes in their proper place. The act of organizing can be healing for some, and in the end, you’ll create a more relaxing space for you to fall asleep in at night.
Transport yourself to a virtual space by spending an hour cleaning up your island in Animal Crossing or make some headway in Breath of the Wild.
15. Learn that choreography you’ve always wanted to try.
Listen, you’ll never know if you were born to be a pop star if you don’t try. Think of it as a fun way to exercise.
16. Find an activity that is specifically off-screen.
Step away from your computer and your phone. “One thing could be reading,” Petersel suggests; you could also go for a walk, work on a craft, take care of your plants, play with your pet… the list is endless. The primary goal, Petersel says, is to unplug and to choose “something that’s genuinely just for you that you don’t feel pressure to complete on any given timeline. It’s something that brings you joy.”