The World Health Organization has called stress the health epidemic of the 21st century. Our lives today are more stressful than any previous generation. We are connected to our work at all times and busier than ever. Because of the intense stress and pressures we face in our current world, we need healthy ways to unwind.
At Exercises for Injuries, we feel the squeeze too. We recognize that high stress and pressure can lead to depression, physical illness, and overall malaise. That’s why we’ve created this list of 10 healthy ways to unwind. Sit back, relax and enjoy these unwinding tips.
1. Take a Walk
Unwind by taking a nice, long walk. Give yourself no goal or direction. Just head out for a walk. Decide which way you’ll turn as you go. Discover new side streets around your home or office. Take in your surroundings and enjoy your stroll.
How walking helps you unwind: Walking will improve your mood and reduce your stress levels. While you walk, your body releases endorphins. Endorphins are special neurotransmitters in the brain that send signals throughout the nervous system. Dr. Melissa Stroppler, MD, says, “With high endorphin levels, we feel less pain and fewer negative effects of stress.”
2. Play Cards
Grab a friend or a neighbor and start shuffling the deck. Playing a game of cards is an excellent way to unwind. You’ll be focused on the game and light conversation instead of the pressures of life and work. If you’re all alone, a simple game of solitaire can help you relax just as well.
How playing cards help you unwind: The folks at Bicycle brand playing cards say that one of the best benefits of playing cards is that it reduces stress. A Bicycle representative told us, “Playing cards is a great activity that allows people to talk to each other face to face. It can take your mind off other worries of life.” He added, “Playing cards make the brain think in different ways. There are hundreds of games from which to choose. They can be as easy or as difficult as you like.”
Recently, I purchased a used electric piano and learned to play simple chords by watching free instructional videos online. Now, I can play and sing a few of my favorite songs. There is nothing more stress-relieving than sitting down at the piano bench and playing music. When I’ve had a long day, I spend a few blissful minutes tickling the ivories to unwind before bed.
If you already play an instrument, pick it up and make music. If you want to learn to play, search online for video tutorials or sign up for lessons with an actual teacher.
How making music helps you unwind: Susan Kuchinskas at WebMD says, “Researchers now know that playing a musical instrument can switch off the stress response, improving physical and emotional health. When our senses detect a possible threat in the environment, the body undergoes a chain reaction in which genes within each cell switch on, directing the cells to produce chemicals associated with the stress response. Playing music sets off an opposite chain reaction that switches these genes off again.”
4. Read a Book
If you can’t remember the last time you read a physical book from cover to cover, it’s time to head over to the library and find something you can enjoy. If you like fiction, check to see if they have anything new in your favorite genre. If you’d rather read biographies, check one out and get started.
How reading helps you unwind: In 2009, the University of Sussex in England put out a study that found that reading a book, even for only six minutes, relieves stress levels in the body by 68 percent. The study also found that reading was a more effective stress relief tool than drinking hot tea, playing video games or listening to music. We like that storyline.
For some people, drawing is an excellent way to unwind. Try taking your sketchbook out in the yard and drawing things you see around you. You can also draw a scene from a photograph while you sit at your desk.
How sketching helps you unwind: Creating art seems to help us slow down and relax. It shifts our focus away from the struggles of life. Anne Willieme, the director of ArtMed Insight, says, “Drawing, for instance, can help us connect with our sense of sight, slowing down our seeing and making it more embodied. Sketching a peach, we can take note of the fuzzy texture of its skin, the subtle shades of pink and orange and the late afternoon light tinting it. As we do so, we can become more fully present to the moment.”
Meditation is a wonderful and enlightening way to let go of all the pressure and expectations you face each day. Turn off your phone and spend 20 minutes in some type of meditation. Enjoy the tranquility and mindfulness of the practice.
How meditation helps you unwind: Meditation can help you unwind in various ways. One particularly helpful way is that it helps you process stress better. Psychologist and meditation practitioner Maria Camara say, “We begin by creating space in our minds to reduce demands by discerning what is essential. We train our minds and increase our mental resources. Then, when stressful situations arise, our training will have provided us with the skills we need to work with our emotions. We can deal with stress in a more peaceful way. Mindfulness meditation practice is the ideal tool for stress management.”
7. Work on a Hobby
Remember hobbies? They’re those fun and interesting activities that you used to work on before you got so busy. Pick up your crochet hook or your half-built model car and begin tinkering with it again. If you truly don’t have any hobbies, poke around a hobby and craft store to find something that piques your interest.
How working on hobbies helps you unwind: It seems hobbies help lower our heart rates and make us happier. A 2015 study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine followed 100 adult participants as they engaged in their normal daily lives. The study participants reported their activities and their feelings. They also wore heart rate monitors. After the three-day study, researchers found that the people who engaged in hobbies had a 34 percent reduction in stress levels and they experienced sadness less often than the participants who didn’t engage in hobbies. They had lower heart rates as well. It didn’t matter at all what the hobby was ― only that the participants truly enjoyed it.
8. Spend Time With Your Pet
Whether you have a dog to walk, a cat to cuddle or a tank of fish to watch swim, take a full 20 minutes to engage with your pet. If you don’t have a pet, take your neighbor’s dog for a walk or spend some time with the animals at your local shelter.
How being with pets helps you unwind: Research has shown that just petting a dog or cat reduces the body’s blood pressure and heart rate. Studies have also found that even watching fish swim around in an aquarium can reduce stress levels. It seems the positive interaction with any type of pet can benefit the mind and body in all sorts of wonderful ways.
9. Ride a Bike
If you don’t have a bike, borrow one from a friend and enjoy the feeling of the wind in your face as you ride around your neighborhood. Just a few minutes on a bicycle will have you feeling like a kid again.
How riding a bike helps you unwind: Just as a long walk, or any type of exercise, causes the body to release endorphins, bike riding does the same thing. Those feel-good endorphins bring natural stress relief and a sense of euphoria.
10. Take a Hot Bath
Let your stress melt away as you soak in a nice, hot bath. For even more relaxation, add some lavender essential oils to the water.
How taking a bath helps you unwind: Aside from the obvious wonderful feeling of soaking in a hot tub, taking a bath can cause us to breathe more deeply. Cindy Lamothe at Healthline says, “A warm bath can also improve breathing. The temperature of the water and pressure on your chest increases your lung capacity and oxygen intake.”
The pressures of life often lead us to seek unhealthy ways to blow off stress. Overeating, yelling at our loved ones, binge-drinking and escaping into social media are options that may feel good for the moment but will never provide us a truly healthy way to unwind.
The 10 healthy ways to unwind that we’ve suggested here will not only bring you stress reduction and peace, but they’re all healthy for your body mind and soul. The next time you feel like you’re about to explode from the stresses of life or whenever you know you need to relax, try one of these healthy activities and unwind.
Anderson, C. (2015). Hobbies reduce stress just as well as exercise. Retrieved from: https://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/hobbies-reduce-stress-just-well-exercise
5 ways playing cards reduces stress. (2017). Retrieved from: https://bicyclecards.com/article/5-ways-playing-cards-reduces-stress-2/
Camara, M. (n.d.). How does meditation reduce stress? Retrieved from: https://mindworks.org/blog/how-does-meditation-reduce-stress/
Green, B. (2014). Did you know reading can help reduce stress? Retrieved from: https://infinitemind.io/did-you-know-reading-can-help-reduce-stress/
Kuchinskas, S. (2010). How making music reduces stress. Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/how-making-music-reduces-stress#1
Stroppler, M. (2018). Endorphins – natural pain and stress fighters. Retrieved from: https://www.medicinenet.com/endorphins_natural_pain_and_stress_fighters/views.htm
Willieme, A. (2015). Draw your stress out. Retrieved from: https://www.alive.com/lifestyle/ draw-your-stress-out/