How to Muscle Relax: 10 easy ways to unwind

Many of us find it difficult to unwind. Our busy minds keep our nervous systems alert even when we are doing things that should help us relax. With so much stimulation – buzzing phones, pinging inboxes, and content-filled news feeds – our brains are busy processing input. Even when we take a break from physical activity, we may have very little time to think. When much of the world is moving at such a breakneck pace, slowing down and learning to relax can seem radical.

Learning to relax requires focus and some personal experimentation. Because relaxation looks different for everyone.

Here are ten simple ways to unwind; see which ones work best for you.

Learn how to relax your muscles

One technique for clearing your mind while focusing on your body is progressive muscle relaxation. Here’s how to go about it:

Make yourself at home. Most people will do this by lying down somewhere quiet, but it can be done in any position and environment.

Starting from your feet and working your way up, isolate each part of your body and, if you’re able to, tense it, hold for a few seconds, and then release. So, tensing, holding, and releasing your toes, then moving on to the next body part until you’re tensing, holding, and releasing the muscles of your face and scalp.

After you’ve completed your entire body, take three slow, deep breaths to fully appreciate the sensation of relaxed muscles and to create a body memory for yourself.

Relax with breathing exercises.

Slowing our breathing can help to calm our nervous systems and teach our bodies how to relax. Even three deep, slow breaths can help us feel more peaceful by releasing cortisol, one of the stress hormones.

How to relax using a breathing exercise known as square breathing:

  • Slowly inhale until your lungs are full.
  • Hold your breath for the same amount of time it took you to inhale it.
  • For the same amount of time, slowly exhale.
  • Hold your lungs empty for the same amount of time.

Write it out.

Our minds are busy places. We have so many things to remember. We may also have difficult thoughts that are hard to shake. Writing out what’s in our minds can help us relax by reassuring the brain it doesn’t need to hold and track everything.

Some ideas for using writing and lists to relax:

Write out feelings as part of a bedtime routine so they don’t disrupt sleep. Keep a small journal handy for writing down ideas as they come throughout the day. Use a written system of tracking your to-dos to get them out of your head (a lot of people enjoy the Bullet Journal method). Write out worries and fears and then tear them up or burn them as part of a personal practice. Keep a gratitude journal and write down the things you’re thankful for to start or finish the day (or any time you are feeling stressed)

Visualize yourself somewhere relaxing.

Our brains are extremely powerful. If we tell them how to feel, the body will follow. We can relax by visualizing ourselves as relaxed. Where do you find peace? Could you picture yourself there right now?

Imagine yourself in a meadow on a warm spring afternoon, or strolling through a peaceful pine forest. Perhaps you prefer to be on a boat, gently rocking, or at the beach, listening to the waves… The more sensory detail you can conjure up, the better.

  • What can you smell?
  • What can you see?
  • What are the colors of the scene?
  • How does your body feel?

If you are having difficulty visualizing in your mind, you can use supports to assist you. Cut out beautiful images from magazines that you find relaxing (travel brochures can be great for this too). Make a digital scene your laptop’s screensaver and imagine yourself in it. Calm, a meditation and relaxation app, includes dozens of scenes with relaxing soundscapes.

Take a dance break.

Putting on a song you like and making yourself dance, even if you’re not in the mood for it and especially if you’re not in the mood for it, sends feel-good hormones through your body and helps you relax. Upbeat music is great, but slow-dancing to a sad song can also help if you’re feeling down. Stomping around to angry music can do the same. When we align our bodies and minds, we reduce tension and promote relaxation.

Body scan to relax.

Beginning with the top of your head and moving down the body, check in with each part and be present with whatever sensations arise. A mindful body scan is similar to progressive muscle relaxation in that we help our bodies relax by bringing awareness to each sensation rather than tense and release each muscle. If you notice tension in your lower back while checking in with your body, for example, breathe into it and let it go before moving on. Being present with ourselves in this way is very relaxing.

Listen to relaxing music.

Music can help us unwind. Slower tempo music is best for relaxing. Soothing music with a beat rate of 60-80 beats per minute has been shown to slow the heart and match the sleeping heart rate, resulting in feelings of deep relaxation.

Spend time in nature.

Researchers at the University of Michigan discovered that spending at least 20 minutes in “a place that provides a sense of nature” can significantly reduce stress hormone levels. Even if we don’t live near an ocean, mountains, or forest, we can always connect with nature on whatever scale we have available to us.

Some ideas for connecting with nature more regularly:

  • Nurture a house (or office) plant
  • Have your morning coffee outdoors
  • Spend part of your lunch break in a park near where you work
  • Go for a walk in the evening and track the phases of the moon
  • Put your bare feet on the ground and feel the earth
  • Watch clouds

Practice mindful eating.

We all require food. Those necessary breaks can also become intentional pauses for relaxation with a mindful eating practice. Simply put, mindful eating is eating with our full attention through our senses. In the Calm app, Dr. Michelle May teaches a master class in Mindful Eating. It’s a good listen if you want to combine mealtimes with active mindfulness meditation.

Move your body to relax.

Gentle mindful movement reduces heart rate and induces a state of relaxation in the body. Some people practice yoga or Tai Chi to relax their minds and bodies, but no formal practice or class is required. Gentle stretching as part of your daily routine can also be relaxing.


Meditation is one of the most effective ways to unwind. And relaxation is just one of the numerous advantages of meditation.

How to relax by meditating:

  • Find a comfortable position for your body
  • Close or softly focus your eyes
  • Breathe naturally
  • Pay attention to your breathing – just notice it (all this noticing is the meditation)
  • When your mind wanders – and it will – gently return your attention to your breath

If you are new to meditation, you may benefit from the guidance of a guided meditation. Guided meditation occurs when a meditation teacher or other practitioner leads the meditator through the meditation. This can occur during a meditation class or by listening to an audio meditation on the internet or through a meditation app. Instead of meditating in silence, the meditator is listening to another voice for guidance.

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