25 Ways to Relax That Don’t Cost a Cent

Got no chill? Here's how to relax and unwind today.

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woman relax cup balcony sun
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How to relax for free

Relaxation isn’t just a fun thing to do, it’s necessary to your overall health and wellbeing, says Lisa S. Larsen, PsyD, a licensed psychologist in private practice in Lancaster, California. Yet despite this basic need, many of us are really bad at relaxing.

You can thank our modern go-go-go society, she says. “A high-stress lifestyle, which many people lead, puts you constantly in ‘fight or flight’ mode, which can be damaging to your health if there is nothing to actually fight or flee from,” she explains. “But when you employ the relaxation response, your parasympathetic nervous system takes over and helps you rest, digest, and repair yourself.”

Relaxation is different for every person—one person’s relaxing day at the beach is another person’s sunburned, sand-in-their-shorts nightmare—so Larsen recommends trying out a variety of things to figure out what gets you into prime relaxation mode. And contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take an expensive spa day or a trip to another country to make you relax.

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Vancouver botanical gardens
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Go to the free day at the botanical gardens

Every city offers many local attractions free to the public on certain days each year. And what’s more relaxing than a stroll through a beautifully curated and expertly maintained garden? You get to enjoy all the flowers, trees, and shrub animals without ever having to pull a weed.

Here’s why you should be going for a walk every single day.

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Mother and daughter in blanket fort
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Build a fort and take a nap in it

Forts are a childhood staple, and for good reason: They’re fun! There’s just something so relaxing about snuggling up in a cozy little spot. Make an adult version with a nest of soft blankets, your favourite book, and decadent snacks. For extra magic, string fairy lights across the top.

These are the best sleeping positions for a good night’s sleep.

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Foot bath
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Soak your tired tootsies

Foot baths are one of life’s best little luxuries, allowing you to relax in body and spirit. Your feet do all the heavy lifting in your day to day life so don’t you think they deserve a little extra love? You can use a bubbly foot bath if you already own one or simply sit on the edge of a bathtub filled with a few inches of relaxing hot water. Finish off with a little foot massage with scented lotion. (Bonus relaxation points if you can talk someone else into massaging your feet!)

Always follow this advice if you want to avoid sore feet.

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Swing at a local park
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Take a swing at your local park

Nothing soothes and relaxes a baby like a swinging sensation and, contrary to popular belief, you don’t just grow out of that. Give yourself a gentle rock by heading to the park and swinging under the stars.

Here’s how to identify the different types of stress—and the best ways to overcome them.

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Couple hiking in the forest
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Go forest bathing

“Forest bathing” is one of the hottest new wellness trends as simply being outdoors, in nature, offers a host of health benefits, including a deep state of relaxation. Take advantage of this all-natural remedy by walking or hiking through a scenic spot near you.

Take inspiration from this roundup of the best hikes in Canada.

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Couple watching the sunset in San Francisco
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Admire the sunset

Sure, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west every day of your life—but this doesn’t mean it isn’t a glorious experience. It’s all too easy to overlook the daily aerial light show, especially as it normally happens during the busiest times of day. So make an effort to sit down, take a deep breath of fresh air, relax, and just watch the sun set on another day.

Find out how to stop procrastinating and live a happier life.

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Mother and daughter looking through old photo albums
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Look through old photo albums

Nostalgia can bring back some powerful feelings. Looking through old family pictures or photos can remind you of the comforting sound of your mother’s voice, the safety of your father’s hug, the laughter of your friends, or the peace you found on that island you discovered on that amazing vacation you took years ago. Remembering how quickly life really goes by can help put your daily struggles into perspective, allowing you to relax and go with the flow more.

These inspiring stories prove that it’s never too late to change your life.

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Milk and cookies
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Have some milk and cookies

Milk and cookies are a tried-and-true relaxation method and it turns out there’s a scientific reason for that. The carbohydrates in the cookies combine with tryptophan, a calming amino acid found in dairy foods, to induce a powerful feeling of relaxation, according to a study published in Nutritional Health.

Discover more powerful natural antidepressants.

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Mother and daughter talking
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Tell a favourite childhood story

Sharing a favourite memory with a cherished friend or loved one is a great way to relive happy moments while creating new ones. Not only will this bring a smile to your face and help you relax but it’s a great way to help children relax before bedtime.

Want to make gratitude an everyday habit? Here’s how you can become a more thankful person.

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Smiling afro woman talking on the phone in mall.
Photo: Branislav Nenin/Shutterstock

Call a friend

Hearing your mom or best friend’s voice has a way of instantly relaxing you in a way a text message or an email just can’t. So if you need a quick moment of zen, take a moment to call and say hi to a loved one. They’ll appreciate that you’re thinking of them and you’ll get a quick reminder of why you adore them.

Discover the surprising science behind friendship.

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YouTube karaoke
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Sing some YouTube karaoke

Happy music triggers happy memories, instantly boosting your mood and relaxing you, according to a study published in Memory & Cognition. Double the effect by singing along to your favourite tunes. You don’t even need a fancy karaoke machine these days, thanks to the millions of free sing-a-long videos on YouTube.

Here’s what your favourite type of music can predict about your personality.

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Photo: Shutterstock


Meditation is one of the most powerful relaxation methods we have, according to a growing body of research. And the best part is that all you need is a quiet place and your mind (and once you get good at it you don’t even necessarily need quiet).

Find out what might happen when you start meditating every day.

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Asian woman with her dog at the park
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Walk your dog

Owning a pet has many health benefits, including stress relief and increased relaxation. Simply sitting and petting your furry friend can help you unwind but for the biggest relaxation benefits—for you and for them—take your pup on a walk outdoors.

Here’s scientific proof that your dog loves when you smile.

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Toronto Public Library
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Head to the library

Libraries are a free and incredibly useful resource—yet so many of us don’t even have a library card. Going to a quiet, clean library is calming on its own but add in a good book and you’ve got a recipe for hours of relaxation.

Even if your local library hasn’t reopened yet, several libraries have apps that allow virtual lending. Check out more fantastic things to do while in quarantine.

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Folding laundry
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Fold your laundry

Clutter increases anxiety, according to a study published in Current Psychology. So while chores may not be your go-to strategy to relax, doing some light cleaning will allow you to better relax. Plus some repetitive chores, like folding laundry, can induce a relaxing “flow state” that leads to less stress and greater creativity.

Find out how one woman cured her insomnia by decluttering.

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Sketch a doodle
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Sketch a doodle

You don’t have to be an artist to enjoy sketching, doodling, painting, or some other artistic endeavour. One of the main reasons people enjoy it so much is that creating art is innately relaxing, according to a study published in The American Journal of Public Health.

Check out these science-backed reasons why adult colouring books are good for you.

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Pick-up basketball game
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Play a sport

While some people prefer a solitary run or hike, many people love to relax with others. Playing a group sport, like an office kickball team or a neighbourhood basketball game, can be a great way to get some happy endorphins flowing and have some fun social time.

Here’s more science-backed advice on how to be happier.

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Playing acoustic guitar
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Make some music

Do you play the piano? Have a violin sitting in your closet? Love the harmonica? Every person has the capacity to make some kind of music. Even if you’re no Mozart or Itzhak Perlman, you can still find a great deal of satisfaction and relaxation in playing your own music. For example, playing the piano changes the way the brain works, helping even amateur pianists become better at tuning out distracting stimuli and helping them to relax, according to a study published in PNAS.

Check out more everyday habits that are easy to adopt and can help boost your memory.

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Music is always with me. Portrait of athletic mature man before run.
Photo: Pavle Bugarski/Shutterstock

Listen to a podcast

Podcasts are a huge trend right now, and while some shows (think true crime) may keep you up at night, others are designed to help you relax. Look for a podcast focused on meditation, music, learning, or even bedtime stories to help you find your chill.

Here are some of the best history podcasts to listen to right now.

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Woman laughing
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Have a good belly laugh

The process of laughing actually reduces the levels of stress hormones in your body, according to a Japanese study. This makes having a good giggle one of the quickest and easiest ways to relax. Watch a funny video, ask a friend to tell you a joke, look up funny memes, or read your favourite comic.

Don’t miss these other weird facts about laughing.

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Photo: CaseyMartin/Shutterstock

Play a game with a kid

You know who never has a problem relaxing? Small children. We are all born with an innate sense of how to chill out but somehow lose that ability as we get older. Get a relaxing reminder by playing a fun game with your kids. It can be physical, like tag, or strategic, like Monopoly, or just silly, like Candy Land. Just make sure you’re not distracted by your phone so you can fully relax in the moment.

Check out the best-reviewed board games on the market.

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Woman having a cup of tea
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Have a cup of tea

Tea-lovers have known how to relax for millennia. Whether you choose tea or an herbal blend, the combination of warm water and herbs has an immediate soothing effect. Plus it gives you the opportunity to sit down and take a moment to yourself—just two of the proven health benefits of green tea.

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Writing in a journal
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Write in a journal

Have a hard time relaxing after a stressful day? Pull out your journal! Simply writing out your feelings eases negative feelings and relieves stress, according to a study published in Behavior Research and Therapy.

Did you know that keeping a gratitude journal is the secret to happiness?

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Woman reading a book
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Read a good book

Between texts, emails, and the never-ending stream of content on the internet, most of us read a lot every day. But when it comes to relaxing there’s a difference between reading for work and reading for fun. By picking up a book you allow yourself to get lost in a good story without the risk of distracting electronic notifications.

Here’s why your brain needs you to read every single day.

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Woman's legs in bubble bath
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Take a bubble bath

Warm water combined with bubbles and perhaps some candles and music are a go-to way to relax after a hard day for a good reason: It works! A bubble bath is the perfect way to shut out the world and let your body and mind unwind.

Feeling like you’ve got a handle on how to relax now? You might also consider adopting these expert stress management tips.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest