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Rough Day? 7 Ways to Unwind that Don’t Involve Cocktails or Cookies

Add these healthy ways to ways to de-stress without food or drink to your self-care toolkit

Healthy stress relief tips

Coping with everything from daily stress to bigger things that are out of our control takes some practice. Sometimes, having a snack or a drink does the trick to manage stress momentarily. But there are healthier alternatives you can use now and in the long run to that can help you unwind, calm your mind, and make you feel better. Here's what you should try.

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Practice yoga

"Yoga is one of the healthiest and most satisfying choices you can make for yourself and is calorie-, caffeine-, sugar-, gluten-, and alcohol-free," says Lisa Rosenthal, a registered yoga teacher and founder of Fertile Yoga. Yoga helps to ease breathing, reduce muscle tension, and flood the body with oxygen, all of which help to reduce stress's detrimental effects on the body and brain. "Yoga is designed to integrate mind, body, and heart, decreasing brain chatter, and the fight-or-flight reflex," she explains. "This increases mindfulness, and releases stress-calming endorphins." And those are just a few benefits of yoga. If you find the thought of joining a class full of lithe, impossibly fit people standing on their heads intimidating, you're not alone. Rosenthal suggests finding a beginner class or starting out with a streaming yoga at home. Many types of yoga are relatively easy to do, despite age, or physical ability. Try this five-minute sun salutation routine you can do at home.

woman meditating in the morning to start the dayeldinhoid/Getty Images

Morning mindfulness meditation

Your ability to unwind at the end of the day may actually begin the second you open your eyes. Mindfulness meditation first thing in the morning can help you harness runaway thoughts and anxiety, calming the mind, and eradicating stress before it starts. Many people find that beginning their day this way helps them start out calm and increases feelings of tranquility and inner strength. "Researcher Herbert Benson was one of the first to bring the concept of the mind-body relationship and the relaxation response to modern American medicine," says licensed clinical social worker Lisa Schuman. "He demonstrated how even modified versions of traditional meditation can help lower blood pressure, improve heart health, and teach our bodies how to steady ourselves, in the face of life challenges. With a daily short meditation practice, we are less likely to be hijacked by our emotions." If you can't begin each day in meditation, building in 15 minutes before or during your commute, lunch break, or right before bed may be just as effective for you. Nab 8 stress-busting mini-meditations here.

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Consider hypnotherapy

If you've always thought of hypnosis as a bunch of mumbo jumbo, you're in for a stress-busting surprise. "Hypnosis is basically a focused daydream, and a way to get the mind back inside the body," says licensed therapist Helen Adrienne. She uses hypnosis to help her patients alleviate stress and accelerate mental and physical healing. She recommends self-hypnosis for those who prefer to try the practice at home. "Hypnosis is about 'hallucinating' yourself into believing you are someplace pleasant. You can also hallucinate that you are preparing something that needs to be adjusted, or that you have already achieved a goal you've set for yourself," she explains. "During this process, aim to sync your mind and body together, by systematically noticing the places that help you to let stress go." During a hypnosis session, Adrienne prompts her patients to notice that their tummies are relaxing, or that their facial muscles have flattened out. This helps them experience the cascade of relaxation that results from simple, micro-movements. She invites her patients to follow a set of instructions that have to do with relaxing and moving from their current place to one that's more pleasant. It can be someplace familiar, like your living room, or a place associated with tranquility, like a mountain top or a quiet beach. "The ultimate goal is to take yourself so deep that your actual, physical surroundings no longer exist, or have relevance," she explains. Read more about how hypnotherapy works.

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Choose your favorite scents

According to Sue Phillips, fragrance expert and CEO of Scenterprises.com, the most common scent used for relaxation is lavender. "Lavender comes from Lavandula, the Latin term for 'to wash.' It was used in ancient Egyptian bath rituals to purify spirit and body in preparation for mummification. Aromatherapy studies indicate that lavender slows down the nervous system, improving quality of sleep and relaxation," she explains. Phillips recommends rubbing a few drops of lavender oil on your wrists to calm and relax you during the day. "One of the ways I like to relax before bed is by placing a lavender-filled sachet over my eyes. Peaceful, soothing sleep comes so quickly! If you don't have a sachet, dab a few drops of lavender oil from top to toe—at the temples, wrists, and soles of your feet, to induce a deeper, sounder sleep," she adds. Not a lavender fan? Phillips recommends vanilla, which is associated with positive childhood memories for many people, or jasmine, which has a similarly soothing effect. Check out lavender's amazing healing powers.

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Read aloud

Whether you're a Shakespearian orator, or simply a harried parent trying to get a child to sleep, reading a good book aloud can help you get into the moment, banishing errant thoughts from your mind, and centering you. You can read a children's book, complete with voice-overs and characterizations, or something you're totally into (think young adult fiction, like The Giver or the Twilight Saga). Cozy the family up together, puppy-pile style, under as many blankets as the weather allows, and read until the day (and stress) falls away. In a meta-analysis of studies in Pediatrics, researchers found that reading aloud reduces parental stress or depression, and it also improves the parent-child relationship, too.

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Make pretty pictures

You probably enjoyed drawing in coloring books as a child, but cast away this tranquil practice as you got older. This now-trending pastime may be therapeutic as well as nostalgic. Using adult coloring books, though not considered art therapy, may help combat anxiety by helping you focus. This diverts negative energy away from stress-producing thoughts, and onto the creative task at hand.

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Dance like nobody's watching

Movement and music are both powerful antidotes for stress. Exercise of any kind helps to alleviate pent-up anxiety and releases feel-good endorphins. Music helps to bring our emotions to the forefront, enabling us to work them out. Put music and movement together, and you've not only created a heady, stress-busting team, you've also found a way to have a whole lot of fun. Shut the door, crank up the tunes, and get ready to say good-bye to negative thoughts, and hello to stress-free exuberance. Check out the incredible health benefits of music.

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Medically reviewed by Ashley Matskevich, MD, on April 13, 2020