10 Most Relaxing Ways to Unwind After a Long Day
Here's how to find your center in turbulent times, according to therapists.
If it feels like the world is getting more stressful, you're not imagining it. According to a 2022 poll conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), over a quarter of American adults reported being so stressed out that they feel they "cannot function." A Gallup poll from the previous year revealed similar results: Four in 10 adults said they experienced "a lot of worry" in 2021. These startling statistics reflect the anxieties of a nation besieged by a pandemic, widening political divisions, global warming, global news, and more. To say we all need to find out how to unwind after a long day might be the understatement of the century.
The good news is that experts say that with the right routine, it can be done. "It's clear that the impacts of uncontrollable stressors are profound for most Americans, but psychological science shows us that there are effective ways to talk about and cope with this type of stress," said Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD, APA's chief executive officer.
That's why we spoke with therapists and other mental health professionals to find out their favorite ways to unwind when things get tough. Read on to learn the 10 best ways to relax after a long or difficult day.
How to Unwind After a Long Day
1. Practice mindful meditation.
Mindful meditation can be a powerful tool in your pursuit of inner peace.
"It allows you to focus on the present moment, promoting relaxation, reducing stress, and improving mental clarity," says Ryan Sultan, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist, therapist, and professor at Columbia University.
Niloufar Esmaeilpour, MSc, RCC, SEP, founder of Lotus Therapy & Counselling Centre, suggests trying guided imagery meditation in particular. "This involves visualizing a peaceful and calming scene or series of events," she explains. "The process of visualization can help shift your mind away from stressors and activate the relaxation response in the body. It's an excellent tool for enhancing mental clarity and reducing anxiety."
2. Commit to a digital detox.
Spending some time in digital detox can also help you unwind after a long day—especially if your work requires that you sit in front of a computer for a prolonged period of time.
"Allocate specific times during the week to completely unplug from your digital devices. Turn off notifications, avoid screens, and go for some offline activities," advises Bayu Prihandito, a life coach and the founder of Life Architekture.
There are many benefits to doing so—including reduced mental clutter, anxiety, and stress associated with being constantly connected. "It also promotes real-world and meaningful interactions and experiences," Prihandito adds.
3. Take a "sound bath."
Engaging with your various senses can help you feel more embodied and present after a long day. This can help you achieve a feeling of relaxation, even at your most difficult hour.
In particular, listening to music that elevates your mood or provides comfort can help you unwind, Prihandito says. To take it a step further, try a sound bath—a relaxation technique in which participants bathe in the sound waves produced by instruments like gongs, crystal bowls, and Tibetan bowls.
"The frequencies and vibrations of these instruments can influence our brainwaves, leading to deeper relaxation and promoting healing," says Esmaeilpour. "Sound baths can help reduce stress, improve sleep, and increase mental clarity."
4. Express yourself artistically.
Even if you don't think of yourself as a particularly artistic or creative person, you may still be able to benefit from expressing yourself this way after a long day.
"Engaging in creative activities like painting, drawing, or playing a musical instrument can be a therapeutic way to unwind," says Sultan. "These activities promote self-expression and can serve as an emotional outlet, helping you process difficult emotions and reduce stress."
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5. Go on a nature walk.
Being outdoors can have a profound impact on your mental health, improving your mood and reducing anxiety. That's why Sultan recommends taking a daily walk in nature, which he says is "a proven stress reliever."
"Taking a leisurely walk in a natural setting allows you to connect with the environment, breathe fresh air, and gain a sense of tranquility. Nature walks also promote physical activity, which releases endorphins, further boosting your mood," he tells Best Life.
6. Take an aromatherapy bubble bath.
Taking a bubble bath—especially one that incorporates aromatherapy—is another great way to unwind after a long or challenging day. The benefits are both physical and mental, Sultan says.
"Scents like lavender, chamomile, or eucalyptus can promote relaxation and reduce tension," he notes. "Warm baths help ease muscle tension and create a calming environment."
7. Try gratitude journaling.
Journaling can also help center you, even during your most destabilizing times. Experts say there are additional benefits for your mental health and relaxation if you give it a positive spin by focusing on gratitude as you write.
"Writing in a journal is a therapeutic way to unwind. It allows you to reflect on your day, express your thoughts and emotions, and gain clarity," says Sultan. "Journaling can help you identify patterns, set goals, and find solutions to challenges, promoting a sense of closure."
8. Get regular exercise.
You may not feel relaxed while you're working out, but getting moving is one of the best ways to unwind after a long day.
"Exercise is a good way to release any tension in your body, while also helping your body maintain or get healthy. The release of endorphins also helps for a more balanced mood at the end of the day," says licensed psychologist Angela Izmirian, PhD. "Just remember not to exercise too close to bedtime because unfortunately, that may wake you up."
9. Establish a yoga and stretching routine.
In particular, starting a yoga or stretching practice is yet another way to prioritize relaxation after a long day by releasing physical and mental tension.
"These practices improve flexibility, reduce muscle tightness, and enhance circulation," Sultan says. "The mindful aspect of yoga promotes relaxation, while physical movement increases the release of endorphins, which can elevate your mood."
10. Connect with your loved ones.
Finally, Izmirian suggests taking 10 to 15 minutes out of the end of your day to meaningfully engage with someone you love. This could be your partner, children, family members, or friends.
"Connection is huge for our mental health and helps us feel like we are not alone with our struggles. It also brings people together and can feel like you are strengthening your bond with your person rather than letting it slip away into all the chores you must get done," she tells Best Life.
By carving out time for the people who matter most—and putting your obligations aside—you'll almost certainly feel more relaxed at the end of the day.
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