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This blog is the third in our series on optimising your mental wellbeing. As April is Stress Awareness Month this is a particularly poignant time to focus on relaxation.

In 2022/23, stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 49% of work-related ill health - that’s a staggering 875,000 individuals [1]. But it does not have to, and more importantly should not, be that way.

Why relaxation is important

It is important to acknowledge that stress is a normal part of daily life – running late for work, an important presentation, being stuck in traffic, losing your glasses. These are short term, and we know that soon, or with a little effort, they can be overcome. However, chronic stress can be longer term and/or have a bigger impact – medical conditions, financial hardship, a car accident, a bereavement, a heavy workload, noisy working conditions.

We also know that everyone reacts differently to stressors. Therefore, what matters here is not how much stress you can endure, but that you have the skills to reduce the stress. This is where ‘relaxation’ comes in.

Signs that the stress is too much stress

According to the NHS, ‘Too much stress can affect our mood, our body and our relationships – especially when it feels out of our control. … Experiencing long-term stress or severe stress can lead to feeling physical, mental and emotional exhaustion, often called "burnout"’ [2]. You can also find an interesting article on burnout in the British Safety Council’s magazine [3].

There are a number of factors that can indicate that you, or someone you know, is experiencing stress, anxiety or depression. Not everyone displays the same symptoms or in the same way or level. But here are some indicators to look out for:

  • Disrupted sleep.
  • Muscle tension.
  • Stomach or bowel upset.
  • Anxiety or depression.
  • Heart conditions.
  • Feeling restless or agitated.
  • Feeling tearful.
  • Not wanting to talk to or be with people.
  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope with your feelings.
  • Finding it hard to cope with everyday things.
  • Being late, absent or exhibiting ‘presenteeism’ at work.
  • Lack of concentration.
  • Not finding the joy in life.

If any of these resonate with you, please call 111, speak to your GP, contact your HR or EAP team, or contact one of the support services below.

You can download a helpful ‘spotting the signs’ infographic from our Resources page.

How can I relax?

As mentioned in previous posts (tips and sleep), it is important to identify and address the root cause(s) of the stress. That said, the following techniques can also help to reduce stress, improve recovery, and help to build resilience. Not all of them will be appropriate, achievable, affordable or effective for everyone, so experiment and find what works best for you and your life.

The ability to relax is an important part of managing stress. Different techniques will result in specific physiological reactions that will help you to optimise your mental wellbeing (please click on the + symbol to expand each section below):


  • What is it? There are a number of different techniques which induce a restful state of mind and body, including the ones listed below and yoga.
  • How does it help? ‘By releasing physical tension held in the body, meditation can help us release worries buried in the mind, easing anxiety, stress and low mood, and even helping you get deeper, more restful sleep’ [4].
  • Where to find more information: NHS’s Every Mind Matters.

Deep breathing:

  • What is it? This exercise is about slowing your breathing, taking deep breaths in through your nose counting slowly from one to five, then out through your nose slowly whilst counting to five again. Repeating this exercise for five minutes.
  • How does it help? It increases the supply of oxygen to the brain, promotes a state of calmness, counteracts the stress response, slows your heart rate and mind, muscles relax and blood pressure decreases.
  • Where to find more information: see the NHS website to learn how to do this.


  • What is it? This is about focusing on the present moment – your thoughts, feelings, body and the world around you. This includes the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment, e.g., the taste of fresh bread, the smell of newly cut grass, the feel of the chair you are sitting on, the sound of birds chirping rather than the traffic noise.
  • How does it help? It can help you to understand yourself better, to enjoy the environment you are in, to take pleasure in your life, and to develop a positive mindset.
  • Where to find more information: NHS website or read our sleep blog.

Grounding or Earthing:

  • What is it? This is the practice of physically connecting yourself with the earth, e.g., this could be lying on the ground, walking barefoot outside, placing your hands under a stream of running water etc. The purpose, like mindfulness above, is to bring you back to the present moment.
  • How does it help? It helps to calm your mind and manage your mental health as it redirects your attention away from distressing thoughts or feelings.
  • Where to find more information: Trauma Research UK.

Positive thinking:

  • What is it? This is not about ignoring negative aspects in your life, but about framing them in a way that enables you to have a hopeful outlook, e.g., through a positive approach to any challenges. As an example, reframing ‘I’m stupid for not speaking up in that meeting’, to ‘My opinion is as valid as anyone else’s. I’ll speak up next time’.
  • How does it help? It builds resilience and a belief that you can overcome challenges with confidence. By addressing negative thoughts, it helps with stress and anxiety, improves your sleep and boosts your mood.
  • Where to find more information: NHS’s Every Mind Matters, which includes guidance and videos.


  • What is it? This technique involves imagining what you want in, or out, of your life, it is about ‘seeing’ the outcome you want. It can also be about imagining you are in a calm, relaxed, peaceful and safe place.
  • How does it help? By focusing on positive outcomes or calming and serene images, e.g., by imagining you are in a favourite place, with someone special, or achieving a life goal, it enables your mind to ‘let go’, to step outside of anything that is troubling you, or negative in your life.
  • Where to find more information: CAMHS website.


  • What is it? In simple terms, it is the movement and manipulation of the soft tissues and muscles in the body. There are over 250 variations of massage available around the world, the most common include: aromatherapy, head, deep tissue, hot stones, sports and so on.
  • How does it help? The aim is to relax, revive and heal the body through increased temperature and feel-good hormones, whilst reducing the stress hormone, Cortisol. The result is reduced blood pressure, muscle tension relief, improved sleep and enhanced focus.
  • Where to find more information: Patient website.


  • What is it? Well, this one really does do what it says on the tin, it is about laughing. If you think about the last time you had a really, really good laugh – not only did your muscles, mouth and jaw ache from the effort, but you may have had tears streaming down your face, all of which left you feeling elated afterwards. You can get professional therapy to help with this, or you could put on your favourite sit-com or rom-com, funny podcast, go and watch a comic live and so on, or simply just start laughing and see where it takes you.
  • How does it help? A study in 2016 found an association between laughter and a lowered risk of heart disease and stroke. It reduces stress hormones and stimulates the reward system.
  • Where to find more information:

Learn or try something new:

  • What is it? This could be anything you’ve not done before, e.g., puzzles, jigsaws, learning a new language or how to play an instrument, making crafts, drawing, painting, colouring in, photography, visiting a local attraction or zoo. Remember, something that also gets you outside provides the additional benefits of fresh air.
  • How does it help? This activity challenges your brain, giving it a workout, it creates new connections, and makes you feel calmer and happier. Who knows it might also make you smarter, provide a new hobby or even a new income stream.
  • Where to find more information: BBC, Just One Thing with Michael Mosley

Return to something old:

  • What is it? Why not try returning to something you loved as a child, e.g., spinning round in circles (when safe to do so), buy a colouring in book (or a digital equivalent) and remember to keep within the lines, try a jigsaw or puzzle app, a favourite book or a new one from a favourite author or genre, listening or playing music, again this could be returning to a local attraction, museum or park.
  • How does it help? Familiar activities can provide comfort and predictability through the peace and happiness of nostalgic associations. The activity also reduces the cognitive load, providing a distraction from what is troubling your mind and therefore gives you a mental break.
  • Where to find more information: Mind.

Get physical:

  • What is it? This could be indoors or outdoors, although as we have already seen there are additional benefits to being outside. The activity could be gentle, e.g., a regular walk, some gardening, or it could be more strenuous, e.g., a visit to the gym, a run, a long bike ride, or anything in between – it could even be getting up from your desk every hour and having a walk around the office/site/home.
  • How does it help? Exercise helps decrease stress and increase endorphins, which improves mood, energy, confidence, motivation and focus. It also helps distract you from negative thoughts, improves sleep (see the sleep blog for why), improves connections and the feeling of belonging, as well as enhancing physical health which reduces the long-term effects of inactivity – weight gain, heart disease, type 2 diabetes etc.
  • Where to find more information: NHS Every Mind Matters, and it will be the focus of our May blog.

Connect with others:

  • What is it? This could be with your family, friends, colleagues or even strangers; and it could be a phone call, meeting for a coffee, joining a group e.g., Andy’s Man Club; or Men’s Sheds; or volunteering.
  • How does it help? Connecting with others can help to reduce anxiety, depression and isolation; improve self-esteem and sleep; build empathy, trust and cooperation; it promotes positive mental and physical health as well as giving life meaning, a sense of belonging and self-worth.
  • Where to find more information: NHS website.


Some other quick ideas include:

  • Take breaks when you need them. Schedule ‘free time’ at work and in your personal life. By making it part of your routine, you’re more likely to keep it up.
  • Write it down – keep a diary of how you are feeling, what relaxation you have undertaken and the impact it had, so you can track what works best for you. You could also try writing a short story, or a poem.
  • Sing like no one is listening – you don’t have to have a good voice, or even a karaoke machine, but why not pump up the volume whilst at home, or in your car (if safe to do so), and sing your heart out …
  • … or dance like no one is watching, [I do this often!]
  • Detox your digital life – whilst it can be good to keep up to date with what’s happening on social media and connect with others, remember it can also be damaging to your mental health. University of Bath found that just one week off social media improved individuals’ overall level of wellbeing, as well as reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety [5]. In fact, individuals managed to free up approximately 9 hours of time for other activities when they took a break.
  • Spend time with pets – grooming, walking, feeding, talking – depends on the type of animal. If you don’t have a pet of your own, consider offering to walk a neighbour’s dog or visit the local zoo - although they’re not keen on you offering to ‘muck in’.


For additional ideas (e.g. eating healthily) please read our mental wellness blog and our sleep blog.

Once you have found a technique(s) that helps you to relax, try to build it into your routine as the more you practice it, the more benefit you will gain from it.

Address the causes

The aim of this blog is to provide some ideas on how to relax. However, if you are experiencing severe and/or long-term stress, then the most important piece of advice we can give, is to identify what is causing you stress and address it.

If your stress is work related, then it is worth noting that organisations have a duty of care to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees, including mental health/stress (HSE). Therefore, a good place to start is by talking to your manager or HR team. However, research has found that over half of UK employees (and notably 57% of Millennials) do not feel comfortable disclosing mental health or psychological conditions. Therefore, below are some services outside your work who you can contact for support.

Where to find support 

Relaxation is a great way to improve your mental wellbeing, but it should not be the only reason you do it. However, if you are reading this because you are experiencing stress, anxiety, depression or are feeling mentally unwell, then please remember, there is always someone who will listen, and the organisations below are a good place to start:


You can also download free infographics and guides from the resources section of this website. We also offer a range of training courses that can help you build knowledge and understanding across your organisation.

Next steps

In this blog we have looked at how relaxation can aid recovery from stress and improve your mental wellbeing. Throughout 2024 we will be publishing blogs on ways to optimise your mental wellbeing. The next one in the series will be on Being Active and will be published in May.

If you would like to be kept informed about new blogs, resources, training and more, please sign up to our newsletter at the bottom of this page.

Remember, you are not alone, there is always someone to talk to or somewhere to find additional help.

[1] Statistics - About HSE statistics published November 2023

[2] Stress - Every Mind Matters - NHS (

[3] Burnout Britain: how can we reduce stress and put out the fire? | British Safety Council (

[4] How to meditate for beginners - Mental wellbeing tips - Every Mind Matters - NHS (


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