23 Science-Backed Ways to Relax Your Mind

Stress is part and parcel of American working life.

It pushes you to become more efficient, productive, and motivated.

As long as you let stress work for you, it can be your lifelong friend.

Unfortunately, most of us do the exact opposite.

According to a study published in the Harvard Gazette, 44% of working adults in the US admit that stress is affecting their health, but not exactly in a good way.

It is estimated that work-related stress triggers a lot of sick leaves in corporate America, resulting in a staggering $30 billion worth of business losses every year.

So, how can you mitigate the effects of stress?

While it’s true that other people find solace in drinking alcohol or eating junk foods, there are healthier alternatives to combat stress.

Best of all, they’re free and can be done in the comfort of your own home.


Green Tea


If you think a glass of milk isn’t for grown-ups, why not try a cup of green tea instead?

What used to be a staple of traditional Chinese medicine is now enjoying the widespread application and for a good reason.

In a study published in the Biological Psychology, the l-Theanine in green tea leaves has been found to have anti-stress effects.

This amino acid inhibits the actions of your sympathetic nervous system, the one responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response, which then results in reduced heart rate and saliva production.




Chocolates contain cocoa polyphenols, known for reducing stress for both highly-stressed and normal individuals.

A 2014 study published in the International Journal of Health Sciences assigned 60 medical students into three different groups, each of which received a daily supply of a specific type of chocolate (dark, milk, or white).

After 2 weeks, those from the dark and milk chocolate groups reported decreased stress, with the most significant reduction found in female students.




It’s not called food for the gods for no reason.

Honey, one of nature’s greatest gifts to mankind, is just as good for your body as it is for your skin.

In a landmark study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, laboratory rats were given natural wild honey before and after being injected with epinephrine, a stress hormone.

The results are nothing short of impressive: the antioxidants from honey protected the heart and blood vessels of the stressed rats from what would have been destructive effects of epinephrine.


Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)



EFT incorporates elements of acupressure and cognitive behavioral therapy to repair your emotions.

It’s done by tapping specific meridian points in your body with your two fingers while you replace your negative thoughts, emotions, and beliefs with something positive.

A recent study tried to measure its effectiveness on Nursing students who deal with a significant amount of stress every day.

After recording their baseline stress and anxiety levels, the students were asked to perform emotional freedom technique (EFT) for the next four weeks.

Data from the weekly assessments show that the Nursing students experienced decreased feelings and symptoms of stress.


Mindfulness Meditation


Also known as “present-focused” awareness, this Buddhism-inspired practice involves focused breathing and being in the moment, free from the distracting thoughts either about the past or future.

You can easily do this while walking, sitting, or lying on the floor for at least 10 minutes a day.

To prove how potent mindfulness is in relieving stress, researchers from Johns Hopkins University looked into 19,000 studies and found 47 that met their criteria for a high-quality study.

Published in the Journal of American Medical Association, their findings reveal that mindfulness meditation can effectively assuage the psychological symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain.




Pranayama, or breathing in yoga parlance, is an essential part of mind-body therapy.

Without it, you can never fully reap the benefits of yoga or meditation.

But breathing itself has all-encompassing benefits; it can influence your mind and body just as your thoughts and physiology can change the pace of your breathing.

However, between fast and slow breathing, which one can reverse stress more effectively?

A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Yoga measured the vital signs and self-reported stress of subjects who were asked to practice either fast or slow breathing.




Nothing beats a good ‘ol massage to end a long, tiring day at work.

Whether given by your loved one or a certified therapist, massage has been proven to quell stress by lowering the level of cortisol – a.k.a. stress hormone – in your body.

Where you apply the massage doesn’t matter: studies after studies prove that you can do it on the scalp, feet, or almost anywhere and still enjoy the same benefits on your psyche.

If you live alone and don’t have much money to spare for a daily trip to the spa, you can also make a DIY body massager out of a golf ball or buy one of those nifty foot massagers that promise to mimic the actions of a therapist’s hands.


Stress Ball


Do you always find yourself fidgeting when under stress?

Try squeezing a stress ball.

This simple malleable tool can help you release tension, as proven by a study in one of those nifty foot massagers which discovered that patients who used it before a surgery reported less pain and anxiety.




A disorganized office desk, a room brimming with useless stuff, and a to-do list that keeps you away from your real priorities.

No wonder you’re struggling to have peace of mind.

To prevent stress from hijacking your brain, think and act like a minimalist.

By keeping things organized, you increase your ability to focus, as proven by this study conducted by researchers from the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute.

Meanwhile, a similar study by U.C.L.A. researchers found that stress hormones spiked among mothers of middle-class families in L.A. when they dealt with their belongings packed inside the garage.

Remember that in times of stress, less is more.




Aside from improving your flexibility and mindfulness, yoga is also an incredible stress buster.

What’s great is you don’t need expensive equipment or a full hour of workout to benefit from it.

In fact, you can simply lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor.

Then, deeply breathe in and out as you relax your abdomen for as short as 5 minutes.

A study in the Alternative Medicine Review indicates that 25 out of 35 trials they analyzed show yoga can significantly decrease symptoms of anxiety and stress.

On the other hand, a similar study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience found that the subjects who went through a three-month yoga retreat experienced reduced stress and inflammation.




Daily workouts as simple as stretching or a 20-minute run on the treadmill can go a long way in staving off your stress.

Psychologists have yet to come up with a concrete answer to explain the role of exercise in alleviating stress.

While others believe it reduces the body’s levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, others argue that it trains the body to respond to stress in a healthy way.

Perhaps it’s as simple as keeping you busy: the more you focus on physical activities, the less likely for your mind to be filled with life’s worries.




Aromatherapy is the use of soothing odors from essential oils or scented candles to calm your mind.

It’s a safe, non-invasive method of stress relief which you can try anytime or incorporate into massage therapy.

Several studies-involving various subjects ranging from high school students to registered nurses – have proven how effective aroma treatment in reducing stress and its symptoms.

When shopping for scents, look for those with calming properties like lavender, rose, bergamot, frankincense, orange, geranium, ylang ylang, and sandalwood among others.




The popularity of doctor dogs is enough indication that our canine companions are more than man’s best friend.

Several studies have shown that stroking your fur babies or simply knowing that they’re beside you can bring positive impact on your health.

Specifically, it can help you cope with stress by decreasing the levels of cortisol and epinephrine in your body, resulting in lower blood pressure, heart rate, and a calmer spirit.


Talk Therapy


Research shows that talking to others, instead of spending time alone, is associated with higher well-being.

So, instead of wasting time on social media, pick up the phone and vent out your feelings on someone – whether it’s a therapist, relative, or a friend – who can provide you with more than a small talk.




Here’s one good reason to thank your inner bookworm: Reading for pleasure can decrease your stress by 68% – way better than just listening to music, drinking a cup of tea, or worse, spending your time doing nothing.

Getting lost in the magic of a fictional novel or the mind-enriching insights from a non-fiction book is perhaps one of the best ways to distract your mind away from self-destructive thoughts.

Just make sure that the reading is truly pleasurable (newspapers, for example, give more bad feelings than good).




Gone are the days when hypnosis is used solely to turn someone into a human puppet.

For those suffering from chronic stress, hypnosis can now be a good alternative to meditation in overcoming mental clutter.

By entering a trance-like state and making positive suggestions to the subconscious mind, not only will you experience deep relaxation but also get rid of negative coping habits like smoking.

Best of all, you can practice hypnosis alone even without the help of a professional.

In a study published in the Psychosomatic Medicine, 21 first-year medical students who used self-hypnosis as a coping mechanism before a major examination reported less distress and anxiety than those who didn’t.


Art Therapy


Healing through art is as old as time.

But as what researchers from Drexel University have discovered, you don’t have to be the next Picasso to benefit from art therapy.

After inviting 9 adults (some of whom can only draw stick figures) to create art out of simple materials, 75% of them recorded lower levels of the stress hormone called cortisol during the first 45 minutes.

A similar study, meanwhile, looked into other forms of artistic expressions like dancing, music, and writing.

And the results are enlightening as they are unsurprising: creative arts can calm your brain activity and help stave off anxiety.


Guided Imagery


Imagine yourself sitting on top of a hill with the cool breeze damping on your skin, or sunbathing on a beach while sipping fresh coconut juice.

If this simple act of visualization puts you in a good mood, then you’ve just experienced one of the most effective forms of stress relief.

By training your mind to imagine relaxing places, either through the help of a therapist or an audio recording, you can let your senses immerse in the calming experience without actually being there.

Guided imagery has been tested numerous times and produced the same positive results for different highly-stressed individuals: from cancer patients and students to people suffering from mental illnesses.


Progressive Muscle Relaxation


Muscle tension occurs as a result of stress and anxiety.

In other words, it’s your own vicious mind working against you.

But you don’t have to let it overpower you; with progressive muscle relaxation, you can condition your mind so it can distinguish between tense and relaxed muscles, and then focus more on the latter as you progress.

With the help of a therapist or an audio recording, you systematically squeeze, tighten, or stretch different muscle groups from legs to face before going back to a relaxed state.

Research shows that this method can effectively release tension from your body before a stressful event, whether it’s a school test or a life-saving surgery.


Positive Self-Talk


Every word we utter can build or destroy whoever hears it – including ourselves.

Unfortunately, we tend to feed the monsters in our minds with all things negative, causing our self-esteem to spiral downwards.

To reverse this, what you need is a positive self-talk in which you tell yourself only words that are encouraging, uplifting, and confidence-boosting.

To have a more objective look at yourself and beat stress more efficiently, a 2014 study also suggests addressing yourself in the third person (“he” or “she”) instead of the first person  (“I” or “me”).


Foot Spa


Through a potent combination of aromatherapy and massage, foot spa or foot baths can help you curb stress.

Because our feet are rich in nerve endings, stimulating them using massage can bring deep relaxation that extends to different parts of the body (think foot reflexology).

According to a  study published in the Journal of the Korea Academia-Industrial Cooperation Society, a 20-minute aroma foot spa helps in relaxing the muscles and alleviating stress.

If you’re stuck at home, a small tub of warm water with your choice of essential oil (preferably lavender) can do the trick.

Alternatively, you can try a foot spa machine which is equipped with a built-in water heater and a foot massager to give you that complete at-home foot spa experience.


Digital Detox


Social media are a double-edged sword.

While they help you build connections faster, they can also fuel stress and a plethora of negative emotions.

This has been confirmed by a recent study by the recent study by the American Psychological Association, in which working Americans who are constantly on their phones reported a 6.0 stress level on a 10-point scale, a far cry from the 4.4 by people who use their devices less frequently.

Lesson learned?

Limit your use of your phone at home as much as possible and totally unplug from technology every now and then.

After all, what matters most in life is rarely found online.




Being one with nature is one way to bring tranquility back into your life.

It doesn’t matter if you have a green thumb or not; even a simple trip to your garden where you do the simplest of tasks like watering plants can already bring tremendous impact on your mental health.

In fact, a 2010 study in the 2010 study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that although both reading and gardening reduce cortisol levels, the latter has a more positive effect both on the stress hormones and the mood of the subjects.

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