A sore jaw. An aching lower back. A stiff neck. Though we often think about stress in terms of how it can negatively impact mental health, it tends to hurt our bodies just as much as it hurts our minds. In fact, if you can't seem to find time to de-stress and chill out, you may start to notice an uptick in physical health issues — such as sore muscles, fatigue, shakiness, stiffness, chronic pain, and more. Because of this, it's super important to not only care for your mental health when you're stressed, but to also find ways to relieve tension you may be carrying in your body. A trip to the spa or a few days out of office would probably do the trick, but the truth is, you don't need a ton of extras to relax: There are tons of science-backed hacks you can use to relax from the comfort of your own home, car, desk, or wherever.
We don't often make time for relaxing, between the constant siren song of our smartphones or the millions of other things we feel like we have to do for self-care. Even when life gets hectic, taking even 30 seconds to do nothing — like, legit nothing — can help us relax and de-stress. These subtle, expert-approved tricks can help you unwind anywhere, anytime.
#1 Do A Body Scan
#1 Do A Body Scan
First things first: If you're feeling stressed, experts say to take a few minutes to check in with your physical self. "What I always tell my clients is, 'You know your body way better than I know your body.' So, if you want to relax, you need to pay attention to your body and listen to your body," Candice Hood, LMT, MTI, and author, tells us.
A simple exercise you can use is called the Body Scan Practice. The magazine Mindful explains that the practice's "aim is to be aware of the different regions of your body," and helps you figure out where you're carrying stress. Start with your head, then move down the rest of your body, noting what's carrying stress and tension. Are you hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? Taking note of what's happening in your body, without judgment, can help you figure out what you can do about it.
"Connecting with your body enhances your body awareness and brings a sense of calm by encouraging you to tune out what’s going on around you and tune into what you’re feeling inside," Michelle Ebbin, a touch therapy expert, author, and massage therapist and spokesperson for Soothe, adds. "By slowing down and focusing on what you’re feeling physically and emotionally, you can connect to the place of stillness and peace that exists deep within in you."
#2 Try A Spinal Twist
A 2009 study from the University of North Carolina, more than 80 percent of people in the United States will experience chronic lower back pain in their lifetime. It's often a co-occuring health issue with chronic stress and anxiety disorders.
Experts suggest, therefore, that relaxing your back could also help clear some of the clutter and chaos from your mind. Ebbin suggests to try the spinal twist, a "super relaxing yoga pose that can help improve circulation to your back, and enhance your spinal flexibility."
To do this pose, all you need to do is "lie with your back flat on the floor, with our arms out to a 'T,' and bring your right knee into your chest." Then, Ebbin says to drop your knee to the right, and spend a minute focusing on your breathing. Do the same thing on your other side to wring out tension in your spine.
#3 Use A Tennis Ball To Stretch
In addition to the spinal twist, Ebbin suggests using a tennis ball to unwind and let go of stress in your spine. Basically, to make the most out of this hack, all you have to do is put the tennis ball on either side of your spine, relax your body weight on the tennis ball (adjusting as needed), and moving your feet just a bit to massage the spot, similar to how you'd use a foam roller. "The idea is to relax the muscles around where the pain is to prevent spasms," she says, adding that the rolling ball remedy "can give a fairly deep massage, so move slowly and gently."
#4 Take Five Minutes For Mindfulness
"If you can relax your mind, your whole body will relax," says Hood, highlighting the connection between mental fatigue and physical tension. The best way to treat it? Relax with some mindfulness meditation — a practice scientifically proven to decrease anxiety levels and pain, as well as increase gray matter in the brain. Even if you're a beginner, just five minutes of mindfulness in the morning can help you feel more centered the rest of the day.
#5 Drop Your Shoulders
It's not uncommon for many people to carry stress in their shoulders and neck — resulting in stiffness and pain. By simply being mindful of this and dropping your shoulders, you can give way to a lot of that unnecessary tension. Hood says that "If everyone just dropped their shoulders, while taking a deep breath, they'd feel a million times better." Making a conscious effort to simply drop your shoulders is a good habit to form, and the occasional shoulder and neck stretch wouldn't hurt, either.
#6 Use Your Furniture To Stretch It Out
Another hack Hood recommends to her massage therapy clients is using furniture (or even your desk at work!) to stretch it out when you feel on edge. Stretching regularly not only fosters relaxation and a sense of calm, but it can increase blood flow and flexibility, according to Healthline.
If you have a stiff neck, Ebbin says to "Sit in a chair with a back high enough so you can reach behind your head and grab on to the top of the chair with your right hand."
Then, she explains, "While holding the top of the chair (or headrest), place your left hand on the right side of your head, drop your left ear to your left shoulder, and apply gentle pressure with your left hand, so that you feel a nice stretch along the right side of your neck and shoulder." After you drop your head to a 45 degree angle, Ebbin says to hold the stretch for five to ten seconds so the stretch.
#7 Relax Your Feet
Who knew that practicing a little reflexology at home could be a great stress reliever? Ebbin explains that, "Every part of your body is connected by nerves to your feet, and by relaxing your feet you can effectively relax your entire body. One way to do this is to roll the soles of your feet over a tennis ball for one minute." You can also try giving yourself a quick foot massage or stretching your toes out.
"Taking time to relax, stretch, and 'connect' with your body will help you manage the stress in your life," says Ebbin. "Stress management is a powerful tool for wellness, and self-care is crucial to your physical and emotional health, and resilience." With a little bit of practice, these no-frill tips will keep your mind and body relaxed any where you go.