19 Unexpected Ways to Relax When You’re Really Stressed

We love a warm bath as much as the next person, but these tips are a bit more unconventional.

 Martin Poole/ Getty Images

As much as we love our calming nighttime routines and trusty instant stress-relief hacks, sometimes it takes a strategy that’s a bit more idiosyncratic to help us wind down when we’re feeling overwhelmed.

Lady Gaga, for example, recently told Vogue that she watches horror movies to relax — and research backs up that for some people, a healthy scare can boost mental well-being.

Gaga’s revelation prompted us to ask our Thrive Global community about the surprising or unique ways they like to unwind. 

Washing dishes, trimming split ends, cruising the grocery store aisles… We loved these counterintuitive techniques. Which of these will you try the next time you’re feeling stressed?

Staring at “The Scream”

“I look at a picture of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream.’ For some reason, seeing someone else’s chaos, expressed visually, calms me down. Whatever I’m dealing with doesn’t usually feel that bad in comparison!”

—Jayne Beilby, digital organizer, New York, NY

Cleaning the bathroom

“I like cleaning my bathroom to clear my head. It’s almost a luxury when I get the time to do it myself. I like to focus on the details — scrubbing, scraping, wiping, stocking and sorting. If I can get down on my hands and knees, it’s even better. This activity forces me to clear my head and quite literally focus on the task at hand.”

—Leigh Fowler, content amplifier, Toronto, CA

Wandering through a chaotic place

“Sometimes it’s easiest for me to disconnect in the middle of complete chaos. Wandering aimlessly along the Vegas strip or through Times Square in New York are some of my most peaceful moments. I just let the sensory overload wash over me and it all turns into white noise. There’s something about going somewhere big and noisy and letting myself feel small and quiet that’s really calming.”

—Robby Macdonell, CEO, Nashville, TN

Online shopping

“I browse online shopping sites to calm myself when I’m feeling stressed. It’s a good nerve-calmer for me. Looking at pretty things, such as arts and crafts items and new handbags helps me forget what was I angry or upset about. Even if I do not buy anything, it relaxes me.”

—Fatama Zohora, marketing copywriter, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Watching “Friends”

“I watch ‘Friends,’ the TV show, whenever I want to relax. It’s comforting to watch something familiar and light-hearted. I even keep a ‘relaxing TV show’ list, so for a few hours, I can be at peace and breathe. Even when my life is spinning out of control, at least I can control my entertainment!”

—Shabrina Koeswologito, writer, New York, NY

Washing the dishes

“I wash the dishes while playing Latin music in the background. This chore distracts me and my entire focus is on making my dishes sparkling clean. The song that is on repeat while I relax is ‘La Cintura’ by Alvaro Soler.”

—Arminé Gambaryan, business management, New York, NY

Baking some goodies

“I get so much joy and calmness from the process of moving through each guided step, cleaning as I go, having a process to be fully present in. And then, of course enjoying the end result. I always feel calmer afterwards.“

—Danielle, life coach and wellness advocate, London, UK

Blaring 90s pop

“I listen to 90s and 00s pop music, preferably on a loud volume, to destress. If I put on some Hanson, BSB, N’Sync or Britney, I find myself instantly smiling and singing along. The music has a way of taking me back and then flinging me back to the present, reminding me that whatever is going on right now will pass.”

—Jenny Dempsey, customer service, Carlsbad, CA

Shooting pool

“I shoot pool to relax. I find that the level of intense focus I use to be competitive in the pool hall is the same level of intense focus I use in my work. It’s very relaxing for me.”

—Charlene Burke, business research, Georgetown, IN

Reorganizing shelves

“I pick the busiest day of my week and do a deep cleaning of my shelves and cupboards. Some might argue that I should be answering the emails in my inbox and stressing about work. But I am always 10 times more productive after doing that. My husband thinks it is mad, but after a deep cleaning session, I feel completely relaxed.”

—Rachida Benamar, entrepreneur, London, UK

Following the social politics of reality TV

“One of my favorite ways to relax is by watching reality TV and looking at the social interactions that players or participants have. I enjoy watching the participants try to become friends with each other, see what makes them angry with each other, then observe how the competitions brings out the best and worst in people. To me, it is very relaxing to watch one of these shows knowing that none of it really matters in the long run of life, and that likable players frequently get eliminated first, or very last.”

—Terri Parke, licensed mental health clinical counselor, Noblesville, IN

Heading to the grocery store

“I relax by going to the grocery store. You have to time it well to avoid crowds, and you have to choose the right grocery store. The choice and autonomy I feel at the grocery store empowers me. Plus, the friendly staff uplifts my mood, and the aromas, textures and colors create a sensational experience that allows me to destress.”

—Tom Anderson, COO, Denver, CO

Channeling your inner Beyoncé in the shower

“I love to relax by singing my heart out in the shower. Channeling my inner Beyoncé brings me so much joy and helps me to relax. It’s a great way to release stress and negative emotions. How well you can sing doesn’t matter, although if you decide to try this, hopefully your neighbors will be as forgiving as mine!”

—Yasmina Hedhli, life strategist and mentor, London, UK

Cooking to jazz

“My relaxation is turning on my jazz music and diving off into cutting, prepping, tasting and preparing an outstanding meal for my daughter and I. While she is at school, I try to spend my early morning gathering all of the ingredients I need for dinner and dessert.”

—LaMont King Jr., front office manager, Conrad, IN

Driving fast

“I like going out on the streets with my car. I sit behind the wheel and I turn on the radio. I like to shift into the top gear and drive for about an hour. Because of the high speed, I need to be very focused and in control. When I finally get out of the car my mind is clear and I feel relaxed but yet full of energy. I guess that’s adrenaline!”

—I.L., lawyer and banking, Thessaloniki, Greece

Watching loud movies

“I love to watch loud, epic movies, like “Mission: Impossible” and any Marvel movies. The bad guys always lose and the good guys always win. It’s a great release from my day-to-day.”

—Fiona Jeyachandran, trauma counselor, CA

Purging extra stuff

“Every day, I get rid of one thing I don’t need or use anymore. This quickly reduces clutter and makes for a much more peaceful environment.”

—Todd Garrett, marketing, Nashville, TN

Doing jigsaw puzzles

“I love doing jigsaw puzzles on my iPad. I just lose track of time and feel great when the final piece clicks in.”

—Arielle Ford, author, La Jolla, CA

Trimming split ends

“Because I embody certain OCD traits, I choose to give in and embrace it so I can be more functional. I have dark brown hair and even though most people feel you can spot split ends more easily on blondes, I feel the opposite. To relax, I love to let my hair air dry after a good wash, take my salon-grade scissors, and chop any splitting ends. This is counterintuitive because then my cleaning OCD kicks in and I have to vacuum up the hair! But I feel accomplished knowing I have the power to push out my next haircut!”

—Melissa Muncy, content marketing, San Francisco, CA

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More from Thrive Global:

8 Things You Should Do After 8 P.M. If You Want to Be Happy and Successful

The One Relationship You’re Probably Ignoring

The One Word That Can Hurt Your Reputation at Work

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