Relax in an instant

You don’t have to check into a spa to unwind. For stress relief, weave these six mini-breaks into your day.

1. In the Time It Takes to Cook a Bowl of Oatmeal, You Can…

Turn your shower into a relaxing ritual.
Keep your speedy suds-up-and-rinse routine, but add a small pampering element to upgrade an everyday shower into a spa experience. Trade your plain old soap for a rich body wash (pick a fragrance that reminds you of a favorite place). Or try a scented shower infuser.

Toss a tablet on the tub floor; as it dissolves in the water, it will fill your bathroom with its aroma. “Take a few slow, deep diaphragmatic breaths to help calm your nervous system and ease stress,” says Dr. Amit Sood, director of research for the Integrative Medicine Program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Related: 10 Tips for Becoming a Morning Person

2. In the Time It Takes to Find Your Car Keys, You Can…


Knead away stress with a hand massage.
Whether you work at a computer all day or not, hands carry a ton of tension. But using a fast modified reflexology technique can diminish that clenched-fist feeling and even affect the rest of your body. First apply a silky lotion to make your hands easy to massage. "Begin at the base of the large muscle below your thumb. Use the fingers of your opposite hand to rub gently in a circular motion," said Stephanie Hunt, a massage therapist at the Red Mountain Spa, in St. George, Utah. "As you work your way up your thumb to the tip, you will release tightness in your shoulders, neck, and scalp."

3. In the Time It Takes to Read Three New E-Mails, You Can…

Pause for a few soothing seconds.
When you don’t have time to leave your desk, mist your face with a cucumber-scented spray. It feels refreshing, hydrates your skin, and offers a welcome break from stale office air. Plus, the smell of cucumbers can reduce anxiety, said Dr. Alan Hirsch, neurological director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, in Chicago.

To further increase the feel-good factor, “disengage for several minutes to clear your mind,” said Dr. Amit Sood. "Close your office door and log out of your e-mail," he suggested.

Related: Easy Ways to Unwind

4. In the Time It Takes to Pack Tomorrow’s Lunch, You Can…

Take a nice, sleep-enhancing soak.
Experts suggest slipping into a warm tub an hour before going to bed. "Soaking in the tub will raise your body temperature," said Dr. Mary Esther, a sleep-disorders specialist in Charlotte, N.C. "This can improve your sleep quality by increasing deep sleep."

Make the whole experience even more relaxing by adding skin-softening bath oil to the water, dimming the lights (darkness lulls the brain to sleep, too), or coating yourself with a lotion with a calming scent when you get out of the tub.

Related: 11 Fun Things to Do on a Rainy Day

5. In the Time It Takes to Remove Your Contacts, You Can…

Brush your way to relaxation.
It feels wonderful when someone runs his fingers through your hair, but the simple act of brushing your own hair can put you in the same zone. “Repetitive movements like this evoke a relaxation response in your body,” said Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston. “This can break the chain of stressful everyday thoughts that can keep you from fully calming down.” Benson’s research has also shown that regularly tapping into that relaxation response can help slow stress-related aging.

Woman in front of a mirror brushing her hair

Woman in front of a mirror brushing her hair

6. In the Time It Takes to Give a Good-Night Kiss, You Can…

Chill with aromatherapy.
Evidence has shown that certain essential oils, such as lavender, are relaxers. “Lavender has calming, soothing effects, so it’s good to use at bedtime,” said Rachel Herz, author of The Scent of Desire. Rub a balm with lavender oil onto your body’s pulse points (located at the base of your neck, inside your wrists, and on your temples) before you get under the covers. The warmth of the skin in these areas can enhance the scent, which envelops you while you sleep.

Related: What Is Your Body Language Saying?