Ideas for stress reduction and relaxation

The hectic pace of University life presents unique challenges that can drain us emotionally, mentally, as well as physically too. The following activities are suggestions for self-care practices that can help us reduce stress, relax and recharge.

Creating a collage

Consider creating a collaged picture of what represents relaxation for you – or of your “safe” or “happy” or “peaceful” place. Do this by collecting magazines and snipping images and words that appeal to you. Glue them on a poster board or on the cover of a notebook, which can be used for journaling. Include favorite quotes or copies of photos. Keep it where you can see it and be reminded of rest, relaxation, peace, joy, love and comfort when you need it.


Morning pages – Try this technique from Julia Cameron’s popular The Artist’s Way book as a way to download worries and “stinky thinking”. Every day (preferably in the morning) write 3 pages in long-hand of whatever is on your mind. Don’t worry about sentence structure, grammar, spelling, etc. Just keep your hand moving across the page. This can also be helpful if you can’t sleep or awaken early and can’t go back to sleep.

Writing prompts – Want to write in your journal but feel stuck or terrified of the blank page? Try responding to prompts such as “I am inspired by…” or “I remember….” or “If only…” or “I am delighted when…”

Descriptive details – Write about your perfect day or a place you really love or the best meal you’ve ever eaten. Use lots of descriptive details that engage all of your senses.

Gratitude journal – Try writing down 3-5 things every day that you feel grateful about (it’s okay to repeat them). Or consider these prompts:“what’s the season you are most thankful for?” or “what are you most grateful for that brings beauty to your life?”or “what challenging experience has ended up changing your life for the better?” or “what act of kindness has made a difference in your life?”

Comfort basket

Create a “comfort basket” for yourself. Include your favorite beverages (herbal teas? cocoa?); snacks; a favorite DVD that lifts your spirits or makes you laugh; a warm pair of fuzzy socks or a polar fleece throw; favorite music; books that inspire you (poetry, anyone?) or make you laugh; aromatic relaxing oils or lotions; puzzle books (Sudoku, crosswords, word search etc.); handwork such as crochet, knitting or embroidery; modeling clay or Play-Doh to squish and mold as you please; a journal; crayolas, marker pens or good sketching pencils and blank paper for doodling; postcards to jot a message to friends; rocks, shells, feathers or other objects from nature; a small photo album of photos that delight/inspire you.

Relaxation and mindfulness exercises

Easy 5-4-3-2-1 Technique

Great technique for when you are feeling overwhelmed, out of control, and need something to calm you down on the spot. It can be done sitting or standing.

Here is how it's done:

Look around and name 5 things that you see. Name 5 things that you hear. Start over; name 4 things that you see (can be the same ones that you named before). Name 4 things that you hear. Name 3 things that you see and 3 things that you hear. Name 2 things that you see and 2 things that you hear. Name 1 thing that you see and 1 thing that you hear.

"I am relaxed" instant relaxation exercise

With this exercise, you combine the relaxing power of breathing with an affirmation "I am relaxed." This has two instant benefits: 1) through your breath you quiet your body; and 2) with the affirmation you quiet your mind. You can do this standing, sitting, or lying down.

To do this relaxation exercise:

You can keep your eyes open or close. Bring attention to your breath. When you inhale say to yourself "I am". When you exhale say to yourself "Relax". Breathe in - "I am". Breath out - "Relax". Continue breathing and repeating the affirmation for a few rounds. Let your breath move gently through your body. If your mind wanders off, just come back to your breath and the affirmation.

Tense/release muscle relaxation

  1. Seat yourself in a straight-back chair with feet flat on the floor.
  2. Cross your arms in front of you, or grasp the arm rests of the chair.
  3. Beginning with your forehead, wrinkle/squeeze it; hold and release.
  4. Raise your eyebrows; making your eyes as big as you can; hold and release.
  5. Purse your lips; then open your mouth as wide as you can; hold and release.
  6. Raise your shoulders as high as you can; hold and release.
  7. Squeeze your crossed arms, or grip the chair rests strongly; hold and release.
  8. Constrict your stomach muscles as tightly as possible; hold and release.
  9. Constrict your buttock muscles; hold and release.
  10. Press soles of your feet into the floor and tense your calf muscles; hold and release.
  11. To end, take 3 slow, deep breaths and release fully.

Simple stress relief with square breathing

Looking for a simple way to soothe away tension during a stressful day? Need a break to refocus your attention? Square breathing is a simple, easy, and effective way to calm yourself and enjoy a few minutes of tranquility.

It’s just four simple breath segments done to a count of four:

Inhale 2 3 4. Hold 2 3 4. Exhale 2 3 4. Hold 2 3 4.

Focusing on the breath and the count of four, repeat the same process until you reach a relaxed state.

If you’d like to give your mind something more to focus on than breathing and counting, consider adding a basic meditation to your square breathing. Use any four-sided object (preferably a square) as a visual guide (such as a window, picture frame, post-it note, or computer screen).

Start by focusing on the upper left corner of the square. As you inhale, move your gaze smoothly to the upper right corner. As you hold, bring your gaze to the lower right corner. As you exhale, move your gaze to the lower left corner. And, to complete the cycle, as you hold, bring your gaze to the upper left corner. Repeat, as needed.

Draw Mandalas and Zendalas

Drawing Mandalas and Zendalas (a Mandala and Zentangle creation) can relax and focus the mind.

Check out these short, instructional videos:



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