According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can have devastating effects on your mood, behavior and body. From irritability and anger to headaches and fatigue, stress could be the underlying cause of any number of health problems. Americans are the most overworked, over-stressed people in the world. National Relaxation Day, observed on Aug. 15, is designed to help you pause, unwind, decompress and — well, relax.
Since spending money is inherently stressful, here are 20 techniques to help you relax without spending a dime.
Phone a Friend
The simple act of calling a friend can release tension and help you relax. Reconnecting with a lost acquaintance can inspire feelings of euphoria, and friends can lend different perspectives while helping you sort through your feelings.
Take a Hike
The act of walking through a natural landscape promotes longevity and provides countless health benefits. New evidence proved hiking stimulates mental wellness in such a dramatic way that it can actually be measured, according to the Los Angeles Times. The good news doesn't stop there either: This natural and relaxing outdoor activity can also combat depression.
Trade Massages With a Friend
Massages are therapeutic, relaxing — and expensive. The average massage costs $60 an hour, according to the University of Minnesota, but trading massages with a friend or significant other gives you all the benefits of a massage, without the cost. Plus, you get the added mental benefits of helping each other out.
Just two brief daily sessions of meditation can relieve stress and anxiety while promoting mental wellness and improving concentration, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. The ultimate in free relaxation, meditation requires nothing more than a quiet environment. Sit or lie in a comfortable position, inhale and exhale deeply, focusing on nothing but breathing. When your mind wanders, re-center it by steering your concentration back to your breath.
Plant Some Flowers
Gardening fuels creativity, sharpens the senses and draws the mind away from the stresses of the day. Most people probably don't associate yard work with relaxation, but benign interaction with nature promotes mental wellness, whether it's modifying landscaping or simply planting a flower.
The age of information puts the combined knowledge of the entire human race at our fingertips — but it also makes it incredibly difficult to relax. "Most of us ... are far too connected," said Traci Pichette, founder of Pumeli, which sells tea and gifts curated for relaxation.
"True wellness requires times of quiet for refreshing the mind and the spirit. To do this we have to unplug with intention. This National Relaxation Day, choose to set aside some time when there will be no television, no radio, no internet via smartphone, tablet or laptop, and no interruptions."
Schedule a Break — Literally
When you're really busy, you pencil everything into your daily itinerary — except time for yourself. "Part of what people can do to celebrate National Relaxation Day is to give themselves permission to take a break," said Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan psychotherapist, executive coach and author of "Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days." "Just as they would schedule time to go to the gym, work and appointments, they should schedule time to relax."
Take a Bath
Most people take baths to get clean. But Dr. Paulette Sherman, psychologist and author of "The Book of Sacred Baths: 52 Bathing Rituals to Revitalize Your Spirit," believes that the bathtub can double as a place of spiritual healing.
"It's often that one place that people will leave you alone so it's easy to leverage an existing ritual," Sherman said. "But instead of using your bath for physical hygiene, you can use your ... bath for emotional hygiene. You can visualize letting all negative thoughts, feelings and beliefs down the drain so you can bathe in peace."
De-Clutter Your Space
An old adage says cluttered space, cluttered mind, cluttered life. One free way to relax is to straighten up your surroundings and enjoy the calm that comes with an organized space.
"Visual clutter and disorder can be distracting to your mind and it slows down your productivity," said Mia Tomikawa, editor and U.S. spokesperson for "Invitation to Happiness: 7 Inspirations from Your Inner Angel," by Ryuho Okawa. "Tidying up your physical surroundings, like papers and files, books, clothes, bills, etc., will also help you mentally organize all the things you need to do. The sense of accomplishment you gain from it will energize you and motivate you to tackle the rest."
Laugh Out Loud
Whether you watch a comedy movie that you know you love or call a friend who is always good for a giggle, the act of laughing is healthy and relaxing.
"Laughter induces an immediate release of stress in the body by causing the heart rate to lower, the arteries to dilate, and feel-good chemicals to flow in the brain," said Kay Walker, author, personal development coach and founder of AwesomeLifeClub.com. "Not only that, it fosters bonds with other people. When you laugh, you share a moment. This connection reinforces your sense of feeling good."
Yoga is all about concentrated breathing and posturing the body in ways that are challenging and beneficial. Anne E. Appleby, founder and CEO of YogaForce LLC, teaches yoga at Stanford University, Google and Oracle — and she believes in the relaxing power of posture.
"Just the deep breathing helps one to relax," Appleby said. "Try it now. If you are sitting at a desk, pull your abs in and take a deep breath. Pull your shoulders up back and down. Feel better? Good posture and a deep breath help to instantly relax you."
From comfort food to guilty pleasures, eating triggers pleasure responses in the brain — but eating out of emotion can also be unhealthy. Instead, relax by eating mindfully.
"The beauty of mindful eating is that it allows you to enjoy food in its many functions — nourishing, social, religious, cultural or relaxing," said Dina Garcia, RD, LDN dietitian nutritionist and mindful eating coach. "To mindfully enjoy your favorite relaxing food, start by taking a few deep breaths before eating to center yourself to the present moment. Then as you eat, slow down and enjoy your food while actively paying attention to all five senses. Listen to your body and stop eating before you are full so that you can end in a comfortable relaxed state instead of being overly full or uncomfortable."
Keep a Journal
The events of an especially busy day can fly by in a blur. Keeping a journal gives you the double benefit of the soothing power of writing as well as the clarity of recollection.
"It helps to work out the stressors in writing, rather than working them out on others," said Deborah Maragopoulos, family nurse practitioner, best-selling author and founder of nonprofit groups Divine Daughters Unite and Genesis Gold. "Also, re-reading it helps you realize how much you’ve emotionally and spiritually matured over time. Instead of focusing away from yourself with mindless activities like TV, focus inward and try to unravel the entanglements created by stress."
Read a Book
Just as writing helps release stress and promote wellness, reading can too. Just six minutes of reading every day can reduce stress levels by 60 percent, according to a stress research study by Dr. David Lewis. So, grab a book and read every day to unwind.
How To: Save Money on Reading
Get Some Sun
Failure to get enough vitamin D, which you get from exposure to sunlight, is proven to create a wide range of physical problems, but catching some rays — with sunblock, of course — could have some fantastic mental benefits, as well. A lack of vitamin D can increase anxiety, according to the Calm Clinic. So, sitting quietly in the sun is a great way to relax.
Clinical research out of Germany revealed that creating art — whether it's pottery, painting or anything in between — has a calming effect that can actually improve brain function. In fact, the study revealed that senior citizens who engage in art have been shown to slow and even reverse cognitive decay in advanced age. Art is therapeutic and will almost always relax your mind.
Put Your Nose to Work
The internet is full of testimonials praising the relaxing power of breathing, meditating and yoga — but they don't talk much about the role your nostrils play.
”One powerful way to relax and even out the brain's hemispheres is through alternate nostril meditation," said yoga expert and best-selling author Edward Vilga. "Hold up your right hand to your face, block with the thumb to exhale through the left nostril. Then inhale on the same side." Switch sides and repeated. You can do this as a way to relax since it occupies your mind and stills your brain.
Follow Your Animal Instincts
If people cause stress, animals can certainly relieve it. "I’d recommend spending time with a pet — your own, a friend’s or a shelter animal in need of a friend," said Danielle Keenan-Miller, Ph.D., and director of the UCLA Psychology Clinic. "Interacting with animals has both psychological and physical benefits, including reductions in blood pressure and increased levels of oxytocin, a chemical that helps us to feel happy and trusting."
The benefits of expressing gratitude have created a social media firestorm in recent years as medical and psychological experts revealed the healing nature of giving thanks.
"Start the day with a grateful journal," said Tyler Spraul, certified strength and conditioning specialist and head trainer at Exercise.com. "Take five to 10 minutes to write down at least 15 things that you are grateful for. Start with this on National Relaxation Day, and see if you can turn it into a daily habit. It can help you keep things in perspective and focus on what's positive in your life."
Scan Your Body
Getting in touch with your body is one of the greatest ways to relax. After a hard day's work, try a body scan.
"Sit or lie down, find a comfortable position and gently focus on different parts of your body," said Kathleen Lisson, teacher of meditation and mindfulness at IPSB College in San Diego. "Start by feeling your toes for two breaths, then feel each different body part, switching every second. Focus on your entire body, breathing peacefully for a few breaths." Try this before bedtime to get a relaxing night's sleep.