11 Ways to Relax That Aren’t Exercise or Meditation

This article originally appeared on ManRepeller.com

By Haley Nahman

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 exercisemeditation 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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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

“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.”

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