On some days it’s easy to get overwhelmed and it’s on those days that it’s good to have some tricks up your sleeve to quickly get de-stressed, relaxed, and centred once more. Here are some of our favourite relaxation hacks for when life just gets too stressful and hectic.

1. Take a break — the pomodoro technique

It’s very important to take regular breaks while you are working to ensure that you give your mind and body a chance to rest and also keep from getting overwhelmed. One great way of forcing yourself to take breaks while working is to use the Pomodoro Technique.


Initially developed by Francesco Cirillo, the pomodoro technique is a very easy time management technique. How it works: one “pomodoro” is equal to 25 minutes of work time. First you choose a task you need to complete and then set your timer to 25 minutes. Work until the timer rings (no, no social media!) and then take a short, 5-minute break. Once your break is over, start again with a 25-minute working sprint. After every four “pomodoros”, take a longer break.

You will soon notice that, once you have your time management under control and take regular breaks from your tasks that you are not only more productive, but also less stressed and overwhelmed as you can use those five or, later, fifteen minutes of rest to do one or more of these relaxation exercises. Two birds with one stone!

There are many Pomodoro apps and timers available on the different app stores – both paid and free – so you can try a few and find which one works best for you.

2. Remember to breathe: Three breathing exercises

A nice ring that reminds you to breathe (from Buddhagroove)

One of the first things you’ll probably notice when you start to stress is that our breathing becomes faster and shallower. You may even ‘forget’ to breathe, only letting out a breath when it feels as if your chest is about to explode. And we often don’t realise this until we pay full attention to our breathing.



One way of relaxing, then, is to do some breathing exercises to normalise our breathing pattern again. There are quite a few breathing exercises that you can try to see which one works the best for you. One of our favourite breathing exercises is called belly breathing, which you can do either sitting up or lying down.

Belly breathing: step-by-step

  1. Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
  2. Place one hand on your belly just below your ribs and your other hand on your chest.
  3. Take a deep breath through your nose, letting your belly push your hand out. Your chest shouldn’t move.
  4. Breathe out through pursed lips (as if you are whistling). Feel your hand on your belly go in, pushing all the air out.
  5. Repeat this breathing 3 to 10 times. Take your time with each breath and feel yourself relax.

Two other breathing exercises you can try is called 4-7-8 breathing and morning breathing.

4-7-8 breathing: step-by-step

  1. Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
  2. Place one hand on your belly just below your ribs and your other hand on your chest.
  3. Take a deep, slow breath from your belly, counting to 4 as you breathe in.
  4. Hold your breath, while silently counting from 1 to 7.
  5. Breathe out completely as you silently count from 1 to 8. You should have exhaled completely by the time you reach 8.
  6. Repeat this pattern 3 to 7 times.

Morning breathing: step-by-step

Morning breathing, done first thing in the morning, helps to relieve muscle stiffness, but you can use it during the day to relieve back tension and stress as well.

  1. From a standing position, bend forward from the waist with your knees slightly bent. Let your arms dangle close to the floor.
  2. Inhale slowly and deeply, returning to a standing position by rolling up slowly. Lift your head last. (Not too fast or you’ll get dizzy!)
  3. Hold your breath a few seconds while standing.
  4. Exhale as you return to the original, bent position.
  5. Repeat a few times.

Source for the breathing exercises:Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation” by Michigan Medicine (University of Michigan).

3. Indulge in some music … though leave the heavy metal for later …

Music can have a great calming effect on us. From the soothing, melodious sounds of birdsong, to Gregorian chant, polyphonic chant, and Classical music, each of the different genres and styles can evoke different emotions.

To relax, look for softer, slower music, like chant, to listen to. Then all you need is some earphones and you’re set.

Even if you’re at work, taking a ten-minute break and listening to something like Anonymous 4’s calming voices, will see you relaxing and regaining focus.

If possible, listen to some music while you work to keep you calm, collected, and relaxed. The music can be very soft and only in the background (another reason why metal may not be quite the genre you’re looking for at this moment…). You’ll soon find that you can focus better on your work and don’t focus on the music. This can be a very calming way to spend a day that you know is going to be challenging.

4. Visualisation exercises – going to your happy place

Visualisation exercises can also be done at your desk while you’re at work or studying, making this a really great exercise if you only have a few minutes to spare. It’s best if the exercise is done somewhere quiet (or put on some earphones with white noise if that will help).

Now, close your eyes and imagine yourself in a favourite and peaceful spot in your imagination. Notice the sights, sounds, and sensations. Focus on breathing slowly and evenly through your nose.

5. Mindfulness meditation – relaxed in the present

Mindfulness SquaredApart from visualising your favourite place and finding a bit of calm during a hectic day, you could also try some mindfulness meditation and find relaxation in this way.

Mindfulness meditation: step-by-step

To start your mindfulness meditation, you need to be comfortable where you are sitting, whether it be on a chair, a meditation cushion, etc. You should be sitting on a stable seat, though, not a wobble chair!

  1. When you are seated comfortably, straighten – but don’t stiffen – your upper body and let your upper arms be parallel to your upper body. Place your hands on top of your thighs. Make sure that you don’t stretch too far forward; you should just be relaxed.
  2. Drop your chin slightly so that you look gently downward. You don’t have to focus on what is there and can even close your eyes if you want to.
  3. Just relax. Pay attention to your breath or the sensations of your body. “Follow” your breath as you breathe in and out. Focus on the physicality of breathing.
  4. When your mind starts to wander, gently nudge your attention back to focus only on your breathing.
  5. If you move, do so with intention; pausing a moment before you move. When you feel ready, lift your gaze or open your eyes and take in your environment. And that’s it – you’ve done it! The more you practice, the easier it will also get to focus for longer periods.

6. Muscle relaxation and muscle tension exercises

Both muscle relaxation and muscle tension exercises can help for stress and to relax. They are also quite similar in the way they are done and can also be done while sitting at a desk – score!

Here are the exercises step-by-step. You can try both and see which one works better for you.

Muscle relaxation exercise: step-by-step

For the muscle relaxation exercise, sit comfortably on a chair with your back straight but not tensed. Your feet should also be flat on the floor and your upper arms parallel to your body. Place your hands, palms down on your thighs.

  1. Close your eyes and breathe deeply and slowly in and out.
  2. Start to relax your muscles, starting at your feet and working up your body; relaxing your legs, body, arms, etc.
  3. Once you’re completely relaxed, continue to breathe deeply for a few more minutes.

Muscle tension exercise: step-by-step

For the muscle relaxation exercise, sit comfortably on a chair with your back straight but not tensed. Your feet should also be flat on the floor and your upper arms parallel to your body. Place your hands, palms down on your thighs.

  1. Close your eyes and breathe deeply and slowly in and out.
  2. Tense all your muscles for a few seconds before you start to relax them.
  3. Start to relax your muscles, starting at your feet and working up your body; relaxing your legs, body, arms, etc.
  4. Once you’re completely relaxed, continue to breathe deeply for a few more minutes.

7. Tea! Glorious tea!

Woman drinking tea / coffee in a bright cozy room

Tea can also relax and act as a pick-me-up. If you feel stressed, try chamomile tea, rooibos, rooibos and vanilla, your favourite brand of green tea or a tea blend containing lavender and chamomile. Lavender tea will also do the trick!

As you can see, it’s not the caffeine in black tea that you should aim for, but rather herbal teas that don’t contain caffeine. For instance, rooibos (also called ‘red bush’) is used as a soothing tea even for small children as it doesn’t contain any caffeine.

If you feel that you need a bit of an energy boost as well, rather opt for green tea with lemon. It won’t give you the jolt of energy that coffee (or an energy drink) will give you, but it will still give you that natural boost that you need during the afternoon slump. And it’s definitely healthier than a chocolate as well!

8. A nap may be just the thing

When you are stressed and overwhelmed, it could be that you are, in fact, tired and just need to take a nap to inject some energy and perspective back into your day. You don’t need a lot of time to take a nap, though; it’s actually better for your energy levels and concentration to rather take shorter power naps.

These power naps are only 10-20 minutes long and will leave you refreshed and ready to tackle the next task!

Here is an article that will show you step-by-step how to get the best nap to wake up refreshed and relaxed.

9. Pick up your needles (or hook)

The soothing and relaxing qualities of hobbies like knitting and crochet is becoming well known – and for a good reason. A study by the UK’s Knit for Peace, found the following: “There is an enormous amount of research showing that knitting has physical and mental health benefits, that it slows the onset of dementia, combats depression and distracts from chronic pain”.

A study done by Harvard Medical School in 2007 also found that knitting could be as relaxing as yoga. (And knitting or crochet is also a lot easier to do at the office than yoga, for the most part.) Well, then, who can say no to that!

It is also the social side of these hobbies that can help you relax. Why not start a lunchtime knitting club at work? Not only will this force you to take a proper break from work, but it will also help to take your mind off the things that are worrying you and stressing you out.

And, if there’s no one to teach you how to knit, you can find a lot of great tutorials on YouTube or services like Bluprint.

Making time during the day to relax is very important and using some of these hacks can make a day a lot less stressful and a lot more productive!

Pin It on Pinterest