Why do so many of us find it hard to truly relax? It may be because relaxation actually requires a little effort.

It’s more than just kicking back on the couch or taking a break to scroll on your phone. Relaxation is a state of physical, mental, and emotional calm. It can take some practice to reach, especially when life feels too busy to take a moment for yourself.

However, research has shown that practicing relaxation skills may boost your health and well-being. Relaxation techniques may help soothe anxiety and promote sounder sleep, among other benefits, according to experts.

Moreover, taking relaxation breaks can help you manage day-to-day stress and simply feel good — both important aspects of self-care.

Here are a few techniques to help you relax and reset.

It’s helpful to have a toolkit of techniques to relax your mind and body.

You might make one or more of these popular relaxation techniques a daily ritual, or use them to regain some calm and composure during a particularly stressful time.

Breath focus (deep breathing)

Deep breathing is associated with a slower heart rate and reduced blood pressure, according to experts.

You know you’re breathing deeply when your abdomen — but not your chest — balloons out when you inhale. This is why deep breathing is sometimes called belly breathing.

To practice, sit in a comfortable chair and try breathing deeply 10 times. Keep one hand on your belly to feel it expand with each inhale.

Guided imagery

Everyone has a happy place — a location that makes them feel good. Maybe it’s a favorite beach, a lakefront bench, or a sun-dappled forest trail.

When you feel stress mounting, try closing your eyes and imagining a mental image of this place. Take a few moments to mentally scan these pleasant surroundings and recall the calm sensation of being there.

The more you practice this, the more easily you’ll be able to mentally transport yourself to your happy place.

Many people use this technique to calm and center themselves during intense moments.

Progressive muscle relaxation

You can use progressive muscle relaxation at the same time as a deep breathing or guided imagery exercise. The technique is also called Jacobson’s relaxation.

Starting with your feet, gently clench your muscles for 5 to 10 seconds, then release quickly, noting the feeling of tension melting away. Do the same with your other muscles, moving upward through your body until you reach your scalp.

Learn more relaxation techniques you can use.

Stress may lead us to eat foods higher in sugar and fat. This is one reason why so many of us reach for cookies and chips when we’re feeling overwhelmed.

Yet, while these “comfort foods” may momentarily take the edge off, they aren’t likely to make us feel happier or more relaxed in the long run.

On the other hand, some foods may enhance your sense of well-being. Several essential nutrients that are easy to find in foods at your local supermarket may help you feel good, according to studies.

  • B vitamins: whole grains, almonds, avocados
  • Magnesium: leafy greens, nuts, seeds
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: wild salmon
  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits, berries, cantaloupe, watermelon
  • Zinc: oysters, cashews, lean beef

Read more about foods for relaxation.

It may sound strange, but moving your body may actually help you relax.

Physical exercise releases endorphins, the “feel-good” hormones, and helps promote sleep, according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America.

Even a single 30-minute session of moderate-to-vigorous exercise, like brisk walking, may quell anxious feelings.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting 150 minutes of physical activity per week for optimal health.

Some forms of exercise have the added benefit of incorporating aspects of mindfulness. This is the practice of paying close attention to the present moment without judgment, as well as to your own breathing patterns.

These exercises include:

  • Tai chi or qi gong. In this low-impact exercise, you slowly and steadily move through a series of motions that mimic animal actions, like a bird spreading its wings. The emphasis is on staying mindful of your breath and sensations in your body as you move through various poses.
  • Yoga. There are many forms of yoga that you can learn using online tutorials or live classes. Some are slower paced, while others are more vigorous. One common goal of all yoga practices is that you breathe deeply and steadily as you move through various postures, called asanas.

To make the most of your relaxation practice, give yourself full permission to take these moments to focus on yourself.

It’s understandable to think that items on your to-do list take priority over acts of self-care.

However, remember that worries or sleep troubles that intrude on your ability to think clearly and act confidently can get in the way of your daily functioning.

Managing these with relaxation techniques will support your well-being at work and at home.

Read more tips about relaxation and why it’s important.

The ability to deeply relax doesn’t come easily for many people. However, with regular practice, relaxation techniques can become second nature.

Combine them with self-care and healthy lifestyle habits, and you’ve got a recipe for relaxation that will help you better manage stressful situations and boost your overall well-being.