Sometimes our days are so chaotic, it feels like we don’t even have a second to pause, let alone relax. And even if it’s less to do with bandwidth and more about the inability to feel like a normal person during this time, I totally get it. On days when I don’t even have work to do, I feel gripped by panic over my finances, an article I read about something called a murder hornet, or just the future of the planet in general. It’s hard to get out of that place; believe me, I know.
A few nights ago, I ordered takeout that I wasn’t supposed to order (because I’m trying to be wiser about my money, etc.) and I somehow messed up on the app and wasn’t able to tip the driver. I went into full-on panic mode, trying to figure out a way to go back and give him a tip, because as someone who’s worked in the service industry, I firmly believe that if you don’t want to tip, you shouldn’t be allowed to do things that require tipping. I started spiraling after I couldn’t figure it out (apparently if you don’t tip, even if it’s on accident, you can’t go back and add a tip, which is a bunch of bullshit IMHO), and my husband suggested I try taking the dog on a walk to clear my head.
Your stress-relieving activities shouldn’t cause you more stress.
At first, the thought of a walk and not solving my problem seemed preposterous. In tears, (I know) I put a leash on Sasha and we started walking. After a couple of blocks, I finally started to feel a sense of okayness. You can just email Uber when you get back and explain the situation. It’s okay. You’re not a shitty person. You’ll fix this, I thought. It wasn’t just the tipping problem I was upset about — it was everything. And I needed an activity to reboot and ground myself before the spiraling got worse.
When I got home 30 minutes later, I felt not only better but also more capable and ready to tackle the issue without feeling totally frazzled. Sometimes it helps to do a thing at some point in your day if you’re feeling anxious or stressed, and it doesn’t necessarily mean soaking in a bath with lit candles for two hours, or baking and elaborately icing a cake (although, if you love those things and have time, go for it!). Your stress-relieving activities shouldn’t cause you more stress. There are faster ways (like 30 minutes or less) of getting yourself to a better, more tranquil space. Here are some quick “brain break” activities that I’ve personally found super helpful.
1. Take a walk where you know there are dogs.
Or take your dog on a walk if you have one (if you have a cat who doesn’t mind being walked, that totally works!). Distracting yourself with cute doggos or just knowing that you’re also doing something for yours gets you outside and moving for a little bit. (Your pup will also love you for it.) Giving yourself physical distance from the source giving you anxiety can be tremendously helpful. I’m just adding the dog factor because I just love dogs.
It should go without saying, but don’t actually pet the dogs because 1) COVID and 2) Just don’t pet dogs without their parents’ permission.
2. Make a to-do list.
I always make a to-do list for the following day before I go to bed, otherwise, I won’t be able to fall asleep. You can do this whenever, though. Sometimes I even try giving myself a certain set of hours to complete a task which really helps me prioritize and hold myself accountable. Also, crossing off completed tasks feels awesome (Here’s why).
3. Clean a small portion of your apartment that’s been bugging you for a while.
Maybe it’s your cluttered desk, or dirty dishes. Every day, you most likely can find something that needs five to ten minutes of your attention. Cleaning and organizing are usually really soothing for me, but only in small increments. The thought of cleaning my entire house is daunting, so I like taking this day-by-day approach. It gives me a much-needed break during the day, makes me feel accomplished, and it helps keep my house clean.
4. Check your fridge and see if you can use any produce that’s going to go bad soon.
Play a version of Chopped and plan out dinner based on what you already have. That’s absolutely free and you’ll feel good you didn’t waste food.
Stretching is truly underrated and only takes a few minutes. If you need some guidance with positioning, try YouTube for free instructional videos. Sometimes we’re so anxious that our body literally gets tight and achy. Stretching out helps give you a couple of minutes to breathe and untangle those wound-up muscles. If you have the time to do a full yoga routine (and if you’re into yoga), go for it.
6. Try out Headspace (it’s free right now!)
The app Headspace offers quick guided meditations. Even if you don’t think meditation is for you (I’m one of those people), right now, the app is offering a larger collection for users for free. The sessions are pretty short, and even for non-meditators like me, I’ve felt calmer after five minutes of using it. Try it out! You might find that meditation is actually your thing (or a thing you’re cool with doing every once in a while).
7. Sketch something that seems simple, but is actually hard (like a coffee mug).
Give yourself ten minutes to just sit down with a pencil and paper and sketch an everyday object. By focusing on little details like shading or getting the shape just right is an amazing way to give your brain a task and distract it from other things it’s worrying about.
8. Give your bed some TLC so it becomes your safe space.
Every day, try to make sure your bed looks and feels like a haven for you after a long day. Maybe that just means making your bed, or maybe it’s arranging pillows in such a way that looks extra inviting and cozy AF.
9. Give yourself sacred coffee/tea time in the morning.
Not all of us have the privilege to get up early and take some “me” time. Some of us have kids, jobs that require us to be on location at the crack of dawn, etc. So maybe this looks more like a sacred decaffeinated tea or hot chocolate time at night — whatever works for you, but make this time about you. You’ve got until your mug is empty to do what you want — journal, read a book, finish a crossword puzzle, you get the idea. I try to stay off my phone during this time, because the last thing I need is like 10,000 Instagram ads for metabolism booster.
10. Write down 3 things you’ve accomplished today.
I keep an “accomplishment” journal where I try to document all my daily accomplishments, which sometimes include small things like doing the dishes or watering the plants. Other days it’s completing a complicated assignment. Whatever it is, make sure to write it down and give yourself some kudos because you are crushing it.
11. Watch a trailer on YouTube for an old movie you haven’t seen since you were little.
One day, I found myself in some kind of nostalgia rabbit hole on YouTube. I spent maybe 30 minutes just looking up the trailers for old movies I loved as a kid, like Mrs. Doubtfire and Rock-A-Doodle. It was like a nostalgia happy (half) hour that felt soothing and reminded me of the simplicity of childhood and how happy I was to just pop in a VHS tape and watch movies for hours. And hey, maybe on the weekend you can treat yourself to that.
12. Browse vacation-booking sites for fun.
Even though it’s unclear when we’ll be able to take vacations again, I’ve always loved to pretend that I’m booking a two-week-long vacation somewhere if I was ever feeling worried, overwhelmed, or simply had the travel bug. Pick out the city and hotel based on what’s around you. Spend 30 minutes just “planning” your vacation.
13. Read for 20 minutes.
I’m a big reader, so my bedtime ritual always consisted of reading for at least 20 minutes. It helps me unplug and relax. I also get a lot of joy out of logging my completed book on Goodreads and rating it. Even though reading books is a hobby, I also feel like I accomplished when I finish them.
14. Establish an easy bedtime routine that signals your brain it’s time to unplug.
If reading isn’t your thing, or you want to switch things up, find a routine that calms you down and reminds you that another day is done, you are awesome and did your best, and now it’s time to put on a sheet mask, condition your hair, or pop a CBD gummy. Because you freaking deserve that little moment.
Gina Vaynshteyn is an editor and writer who lives in LA. You can find more of her words on Refinery29, Apartment Therapy, HelloGiggles, Distractify, and others. If you wanna, you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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