How do you relax or blow off steam at the end of the day?
January 29, 2015 3:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm hoping to get suggestions for how to relax after a day of drinking coffee. I'm looking for relaxing behaviors, rather than substances. Hoping to hear what people actually do in their real lives, as opposed to what the experts suggest.

I go through phases where I feel I need coffee to help me get my work done. I'm in one of those phases right now. It's okay, but I find it hard to relax at the end of the day, even if I only drink a small amount. Taking a relaxant to counteract the stimulating effect (like alcohol, sleeping pills, or pot) seems to cause more problems than it solves for me, so I'm looking instead for behavioral methods of relaxing.

I read the Wikipedia article on relaxation techniques, but it all seemed rather formal and clinical, and I found myself really wanting to know what people actually do. What do you do in your daily life to relax, which you know works well from personal experience? Even if it's something very simple and obvious, I'd like to know. And if you do use a more formal relaxation technique that you can recommend, then I'd like to know that too.
posted by sam_harms to Health & Fitness (42 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I went for a long swim last night after work. That and running leaves me in a pretty calm state.
posted by alphanerd at 3:54 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Exercise helps. Caffeine free tea helps. Honestly, the best thing for me is no coffee after noon. I love it, but I feel a million times better when I don take up feeling like I need a cup.
posted by backwards guitar at 4:09 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

I generally burn off surplus energy with an evening walk. The exercise is good in itself, and helps enormously with stress, but it also does leave me feeling pretty relaxed. I sleep a lot better, that's for sure.

If the weather is just too nasty for me to be able to stand the idea, I often find some little task around the house to keep me occupied usefully. I expect this would not work for everybody, but going to some chaotic storage spot and putting it in order is very calming and satisfying for me. Really, any sort of thing that should be done, but is going neglected, because it's not at all urgent but will improve my life by being done, is good. So, not cleaning out the garage or anything, but tidying a couple of drawers and chucking out-of-date spices or whatever.
posted by skybluepink at 4:14 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Like backwards says above, save your coffee for the first half of the day. I'm drinking some now. Then (like he says) exercise! Like a long run or a swim. Use up all your excess stimulation. Exhaust yourself. Then do something sedentary. Read a book. Watch a (preferably not action) movie. You could try meditation, but only if that doesn't restimulate you.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:15 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I exercise to burn off extra energy then read. Hubby plays video games.
posted by newsomz at 4:17 AM on January 29, 2015

Sex. You can even do it by yourself. It's like the anti caffeine.
posted by lollusc at 4:24 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

I watch relaxing TV shows on Netflix. Nothing too gripping that's going to make me want to binge-watch a few episodes at a time.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:38 AM on January 29, 2015

I run like a madman, personally. And then a long, hot shower almost always does the trick. If the cogs are still spinning wildly, I make a hot drink. Corn silk tea or even a glass of hot water really knocks me out.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:06 AM on January 29, 2015

I stop drinking coffee after noon. I find that they keeps me caffeinated enough to get through the day without affecting my evening. If I do want something hot in the evening, I drink green tea or decaf coffee.

Reading helps me relax. Some jazz, dim lights, a few candles, and an hour of reading makes me relaxed to the point of sleep. I'm also a big fan of hot baths.
posted by anotheraccount at 5:07 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Swimming is good -- if it's easy, if there's no big production in getting to the pool, changing, showering and changing after the swim.

I'm a bad golfer, but going to the driving range and hitting balls is good for the concentration/distraction involved, but you're not supposed to try to crush the ball, tempting as it can be.

What might be best is going to batting cages, trying to crush balls tossed out by pitching machines.
posted by ambient2 at 5:09 AM on January 29, 2015

Another thing that might help if you arent inclined to really "do" anything is to set up a routine for when you first get home from work. Some Fred Rogers type thing. Get changed, maybe shower, have a non caffeinated drink, and do it all in the same order every day as a way of mentally changing gears from work to relax mode.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:18 AM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]

I just had this conversation with two friends in the last two days. I personally enjoy cooking a nice meal for my family every night. I'm a dude. I work in IT and volunteer in a lot of social work from my previous life. I have a 4 year old. I play on a soccer team too---but really, that 30-90 minutes I spend every night making a delicious and nutritious meal really gives me some zen. Everyone leaves me alone, I turn on some NPR (the WAMU stream because WAMU>all) and I cook, usually making an unnecessarily large mess in the process.
posted by TomMelee at 5:23 AM on January 29, 2015 [7 favorites]

I play a game online, either chess or go.
posted by unreasonable at 5:45 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Swimming knocks me right out at night. So does martial arts. Sometimes reading does, but only if I'm already working on a semi significant sleep debt (like at the end of the work week).
posted by zdravo at 5:47 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I found that the whole "LCD screens at night is bad for sleep" adage rang true for me, and did my own independent testing to make sure I wasn't imagining it. I'm not a scientist, but I absolutely fell asleep faster and woke up more rested if I cut off LCD viewing after 8pm (for a 10-11pm bedtime). Even using an analog clock rather than an LCD next to my bed helps.
posted by juniperesque at 5:51 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I hit the treadmill for 1/2 hour, then I play Xbox, usually for 1/2 hour as well.

I can't keep up with kids half my age on the first-person shooters, so I usually play a driving game.

My only opportunity to drive cars worth more than my annual salary.

If I've had a complete disaster of a day, I paint.

If it was good enough for Churchill or the Duke of Wellington, it'll work for me.
posted by Colonel Sun at 6:11 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I drink Yogi Bedtime tea and answer questions on this site. Sometimes I crochet while watching t.v. Taking a long walk after supper is a must.
posted by myselfasme at 6:23 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not at the end of the day, but: half caffeinated coffee. I totally understand the "drink tea! drink decaf!" mentality, but sometimes I need caffeine to get me through the day! And in that case, drinking a 50-50 blend of caff and de (you can get this at many coffee shops, Community Coffee sells one, or you can just mix your own) when I get that itch doesn't seem to sacrifice my ability to get things done but does make me less wound up at the end of the day.

I run and take a hot bath, then listen to podcasts when I'm going to sleep so even if I can't fall asleep my brain's got something to work on and isn't just turning over constantly. In Our Time has been recommended here before as both interesting and soporific.
posted by theweasel at 6:59 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

Making dinner that takes more than a few minutes to throw together helps me (I stand a lot at work so 45 extra minutes on my feet wears me out...) Then I watch a couple shows on Netflix and do some crafting/ something with my hands. Drink herbal tea before bed. If that hasn't done the trick I'll do deep breathing exercises in bed.
posted by missriss89 at 7:03 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I move all of my living room furniture to the perimeter of the room, put on some music, and start hooping. I find it so relaxing and I can just zone out and enjoy myself until it's time for bed, and then I sleep like a baby.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:19 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I often exercise right after work, which is good for sweating out workplace demons, and helps me sleep more readily later on.

And, while it's often accompanied by a drink (but doesn't have to be), I find the most relaxing ritual I have is cuddling with my husband for an hour or so before bed while we read or watch TV. Being next to him is a comfort.
posted by Kurichina at 7:37 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have a friendly cat sit on your lap. Stroke it untill the purring starts. Then keep going.
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:49 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

The primary helper for a lot of people is physical activity. It can be strenuous exercise, or yoga, but there's something simpler: go for a walk. Try for twenty minutes. My reasonable substitute for this is to walk the mile from the metro to my house after work instead of taking the bus, which only takes me fifteen and not twenty minutes, but it's usually "enough" to unwind. It's hard to separate science from hokum, but on days I'm stressed out I'll say the walk definitely helps me, regardless of whether it "makes you smarter" (as it may, or may not, actually do).

The first time I sought help for my sleep issues, at the university health clinic, they had me do guided progressive relaxation with a tape. It feels a bit woo-woo the first couple times, but it did turn into a helpful technique for me that I can shorthand into "take a deep breath, exhale and relax" now that I know what local tension feels like in various places. If you ever have the ability to take an Alexander Technique class (favored by actors and opera singers near you!) this will also help you learn to identify where you're carrying tension in order to release it.
posted by fedward at 7:55 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Totally not what the experts recommend, but: TV. On my laptop. One 45 minute episode, downloaded with no commercials. When the credit music rolls on at the end, the cats know it's time for me to shower, after which they receive crunchies.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:06 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It's good to know that a lot of other people think coffee is a strong enough substance that they should limit how much they drink. I feel like I shouldn't make a big deal about it, because it's just coffee, but I guess it's actually pretty powerful stuff. I seem to be extra sensitive to it, even feeling it into the next day, so I really should just keep it to one or two cups early on.

Exercise tends to make me a little manic, but I can feel my body needing it, so maybe I should play around with something light.

I guess getting into a little routine of enjoyable but not-too-demanding activities at the end of the day is probably my best bet. Some herbal tea--maybe something with mint--might help as well. Honestly though, I think I'll be fine if I just respect the power of coffee and be careful with how much I drink.
posted by sam_harms at 8:38 AM on January 29, 2015

If the weather permits, sitting on the porch/stoop with a beverage / book / knitting project / friend. Nthing to cut out screen time before bed.
posted by momus_window at 8:46 AM on January 29, 2015

Green tea might give you the caffeine-boost you want with less yucky after-effects. I find it has a smoother drop-off than coffee and am also sensitive to coffee.

Make sure you're eating well and not also relying on sugary/high-carb food items in these busy periods.

I find vigorous activities helpful: go for a walk, re-arrange furniture or do some deep cleaning, follow up with a hot bath and some calming-branded tea.
posted by lafemma at 9:12 AM on January 29, 2015

Go Japanese - instead of showering, have a hot bath in the evening.
posted by Rash at 9:24 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Limiting coffee (one cup of espresso in the am, one not later than 5 pm) is the big thing. Other things I do include the gym + hot shower, getting into pjs when I get home to switch my mind into "You are home, now chill" mode, and reading just flat on my back, from a print book or my no-backlight Kindle. Turning the lights down lower as it gets later. Turning the heat down so I want to get into bed around bedtime.
posted by jessamyn at 9:38 AM on January 29, 2015

I run and do restorative yoga to help myself get to sleep on high caffeine intake days.
posted by blueberrypicasso at 9:44 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's good to know that a lot of other people think coffee is a strong enough substance that they should limit how much they drink. I feel like I shouldn't make a big deal about it, because it's just coffee, but I guess it's actually pretty powerful stuff.

Caffeine/coffee affect people very differently; this is why there are lots of conflicting results from studies trying to determine whether or not it's good for you. Something I learned with commercial genotyping is that I metabolize caffeine slower than average . The effect of this is that coffee lasts longer and affects me more strongly than the average person. It also means several cups of coffee a day will increase my risk of a heart attack, but for someone with a much higher caffeine metabolism rate, it will actually lower their risk.

Trust what your body tells you. Your experience may be very different from everyone else's.
posted by danny the boy at 10:19 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm currently doing the 30 day yoga challenge (you can find it on YouTube - its the one with Adrienne) and its so nice. Each day has a 15-30 minute routine and I do it right before I go to bed. It helps calm me down and clear my head of stuff that might otherwise keep me up all night worrying.

I could never do anything vigerous like dancing/swimming etc before bed because that would just rev me up!
posted by silverstatue at 10:25 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Knitting, crocheting, cross stitch - anything with repeating patterns and rhythmic actions - seem to work really well for relaxing me. Not quite to the point of falling asleep (I read crappy detective novels at bedtime for that specific purpose) but just to unwind and ground myself a bit. I usually sleep really deeply after my weekly Stitch-n-Bitch meetup.
posted by VioletU at 10:28 AM on January 29, 2015

I sit down and focus on my breathing for a few minutes. I don't do anything in particular other then take intentional slow deep breathes. It doesn't take me very long before I am more relaxed and have kind of re-set myself for non-work activities.
posted by Shanda at 10:32 AM on January 29, 2015

Herbal tea and knitting can work wonders when it comes to stress relief, but they don't counter the effects of too much coffee or coffee at the wrong time. Even if I drink the same amount of coffee every day, drinking it too late in the afternoon or evening usually leaves me regretting it, as much as I love coffee.

If you find yourself turning to coffee throughout the course of the day, try substituting caffeine-free tea after a certain time, or even green tea, and see if that helps. Green tea has caffeine, but if I drink it in the afternoon it doesn't mess up my night the way coffee can. Green tea and rooibos tea generally leave me feeling alert in a non-jittery way, unless the green tea was brewed too long.
posted by bananana at 11:58 AM on January 29, 2015

When I come home I like to be silent for a while and to kind of tidy up/clean a bit, then I watch TV shows. Something that doesn't take a lot of thought and kind of takes me out of my brain and allows me to reset.
posted by shesbenevolent at 12:08 PM on January 29, 2015

When I come home my family is usually asleep so I will heat up supper and do some light reading, usually comic books. I find it to be a good way to wind down because the comic books aren't too long so I'm not sucked into the "one more chapter" trap of a book.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:59 PM on January 29, 2015

My personal suggestions:

I'm crazy caffeine sensitive, but it truly does help with focus, alertness and the like when I must be a very early riser. My routines:

My coffee is on the weak side. I grind my own beans, so I can not only control strength but also content. This doesn't just mean occasionally substituting a portion of the regular beans with decaf ones--although that helps--but also using other additives, like a quarter teaspoon of quick oats, to the grinder with the beans. This is totally anecdotal, but it seems that suspended solids might also cut caffeine absorption by some mechanism (plus it adds a bit of sweetness to the cup of joe).

I drink a lot of water. It's almost like the rule you hear for a night at the bar: one cup of coffee, one cup of water. Alternate.

I live on a giant hill in SF. When I feel jittered out, I climb it and have the sensation of letting my body burn through whatever metabolites are still coursing through me.

A bit of a professional aside, I do a lot of toxicology work. Part of that work involves collaborating with a psychiatric services / addiction clinic. I'll repeat what I hear from them on an almost daily basis: if you're feeling so wound-up that you can't sleep and are seeking pharmaceutical help to do so, you need to stop drinking coffee/consuming caffeine. Period.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:14 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Even in Houston where it's 100 degrees F all summer, it's great to get into a hot, dry box for 15 minutes, take a thirty second as-cold-as-possible shower, and have your whole body reset. Maybe see if there's a place nearby?
posted by Seeba at 9:17 AM on January 30, 2015

I used to finish work, fight traffic all the way across town, then come home to lie on the floor with my roommate and listen to (usually classical) music. Roommate not necessary.
posted by mermaidcafe at 2:11 PM on January 30, 2015

No coffee after lunch for me, unless I want to be wired all evening and unable to fall asleep. Some brands of hot chocolate have enough caffeine (or whatever it is that chocolate has) that it can impact my sleep, so beware if you are sensitive to those things.

Rituals are relaxing. I tend to do the same set of things in the same order in the evening, from cooking dinner to relaxing after with a book or Netflix. I'll often open a beer as part of that process, and I think the ritualistic popping the top off and sitting back with a very clear "my work day is now entirely done" feeling is probably more important than the alcohol. So even if you are wanting or needing to avoid alcohol and other substances, finding some small rituals that mark that change from daytime and stress to evening and relaxation could help a lot.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:46 PM on January 31, 2015

Response by poster: For those who are reading this in the future, here is an update.

After reading what everyone said about coffee, and thinking about how over-stimulating I find it, I realized that the reason I wanted coffee wasn't because it gave me energy (I already have plenty of that), but because it gave me a feeling of being grounded and focused, and also helped improve my memory (which is something I have difficulties with at times). After I understood that, I did a little research and changed some of my other habits to help with those issues. That allowed me to cut out coffee entirely. Without coffee I no longer had much difficulty relaxing, so although I got a lot of good advice about that, I didn't need to take any of it.
posted by sam_harms at 3:30 AM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

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