We all get stressed out sometimes. Whether you’re feeling sad, irritated, anxious, or angry, the end goal is to make those feelings disappear. The natural response is to ignore these feelings by binging Netflix or eating a quart (or more) of ice cream. Or, maybe you try to fight it with positive affirmations and motivational videos.
That might help in the moment, but denying your feelings can make them build in intensivity and negativity until you have no choice but to acknowledge them. Mindfulness helps you notice your feelings in the moment as it helps you become self aware. Understanding your feelings is the key to stress relief. Recognizing that your feelings are hurt is tremendously healing and can help you get back to happiness. This may not happen immediately, but consistent mindfulness can stop excessive rumination in its tracks.
We’ve collected the best 20 mindfulness activities for stress relief. Mindfulness can be practiced by anyone and at any time. From kids to the elderly, and in the morning, afternoon, before bed, or any other time. Getting in touch with your emotions isn’t difficult (the activities are easy, I swear!) and these can help if you’re feeling overwhelmed or under the weather. For the best effect, try a few of these activities for at least a week to see if they work for you.
1: Deep Breathing Exercise
This is the archetypal mindfulness exercise. It helps if you’re feeling mentally or physically overwhelmed and only takes a few minutes of your time. Start by getting comfortable. That can mean sitting, lying down, relaxing on a pillow, standing (some people like standing), or leaning back in your office chair.
You can do this eyes open, but closing your eyes should be more relaxing. Breathe in, nice and slow. Breathe out, even slower. You can find a wealth of breathing exercises and those can help set a rhythm, but do whatever feels comfortable. In and out, slowly and evenly.
Feel your body and any spots of tension. Feel your mind and allow the overwhelming thoughts to dissipate like balloons floating away or clouds in the distance. Focus on your breathing and try not to get wrapped up in your thoughts. Just stay focused on your breathing until you feel more relaxed.
2: Candle Gazing
I personally love scented candles, especially the ones that smell like food (chocolate, cookies, cakes, pies, etc, they get me everytime). This mindfulness exercise uses the candle flame to help relax your mind. Once again, get comfortable and light a candle.
Watch the flame dance. Take in the smells and aromas. Feel the heat, notice how the wax moves and drips. This is a form of meditation. Simply watch the candle for about 5-10 minutes (or as long as you want) and allow your thoughts to wander. If they wander too much or become stressful, then return to the flame and watch it dance.
Now you might be thinking: “my landlord/boss won’t let me light a candle and I need help now.” That’s fine, I hear you. While you might miss out on the smells, you can use videos like this to see the flame:
Just look at how beautiful that candle is. Let your mind wander as if you had a real candle in front of you for a similar effect.
3: One Minute Morsel
This can be especially helpful to those who use overeating to cope with their feelings (I’m guilty of it myself, you’re not alone!). Get one small piece of food, and I mean small. A single berry. One piece of popcorn. A single square of chocolate. Healthier food is better here, but anything small will do.
Normally you can eat that one bite in several seconds. Do the opposite. Take a whole 60 seconds to finish that morsel. Time yourself to make sure. Notice how it feels in your mouth, on your tongue, as you bite into it. Take in the taste, scent, textures, and colors.
If 60 seconds is too long, then aim for 30 seconds. It’s all about intentionally slowness.
4: Hot Cup of Mindfulness
You’ll usually see this exercise aimed towards tea, the de facto calming drink. However, I don’t want to exclude you coffee and hot chocolate drinkers out there (or anyone who just likes hot water, that’s fine too). It doesn’t matter what you’re drinking so much as the calming on your mind.
It all starts with preparation. Slow your mind and body down as you go through the preparation steps. Notice the buttons on your coffeemaker or the texture of your tea kettle as you warm the drink. Listen to the hot liquid pour into your favorite mug. Hear the spoon stirring the liquid and watch as it changes color from any sugar or creamer you added.
Take in the aroma and allow the steam to fill your nose. Drink in small, slow, intentional sips. Focus on the drink and allow everything in you to slow and relax.
5: Intentional Stillness
Staying still might seem counterintuitive when your jumbled thoughts are screaming at you to do something, but it’s one of the best things you can do. This is a simple exercise that can be done anywhere. I prefer looking out my window for this because I find nature calming, but you can look anywhere around you.
As the name implies, this is about intentionally staying still. Look at a fixed point and let that be your focus. Allow your breathing to slow, allow your mind and body to relax. Just take 10 minutes or so and focus on that point. As always, the timing here is a suggestion.
Your mind will wander, and that’s only natural. Gently bring it back to the object of your focus until time is up. Your body may move unintentionally and that’s fine too. Stay as still as possible, but don’t hurt yourself trying to be perfect. This is about relaxation, not perfection.
6: What Do I Feel?
Many people find introspection difficult. It can be scary inside, especially if you’re not feeling your best. However, introspection and understanding your feelings is key to reducing rumination on them. Start by getting comfortable and simply ask yourself, “what do I feel?”
Your body will tell you. You might hear words in your head, or you might feel tension that you didn’t acknowledge until now. Simply listen. You don’t have to fix anything, you only have to listen.
Many people try this as “why do I feel this way?” That’s a bad idea. First of all, “why” comes off as accusatory. It also forces you into fix-it mode, which isn’t as helpful as you’d think. For now, simply focus on listening to your body and feeling whatever real feelings you have.
Be sure to “zip up” to finish. This is a way of closing the exercise and to prevent any bad feelings you may experience from your introspection. Thank your body for telling you how it feels and being honest, and remind yourself that these are your feelings now. No matter how bad they are, those feelings can get better and can change throughout the day.
7: Emotional Writing
This is best done when you first wake up. Open your journal and write at least one page about anything you want. Don’t restrict yourself, just write until you’re finished. One page too much? Then just a paragraph will do. Or, if it’s not enough, then keep writing.
Try this for a week and look back, read what your emotions are telling you. They’re surprisingly insightful when you allow them to be expressed.
8: What Do You Hear?
This is an excellent way to be mindful. There are sounds all around you, but you either passively ignore or actively make more noise than the ambience surrounding you. Take a few minutes to be still and listen. Nothing else, just listen. Identify at least 10 sounds you can hear.
This is going to seem difficult. You’ll get through the first two or three no problem, but after that you really have to focus. Good. Concentrate on identifying sounds and being still.
9: Flat Feet
Unlike the other mindfulness activities here where you can sit, lie down, or get comfy however you want, this is best done in a chair. Sit in a comfortable chair, place your feet on the ground and keep them still. Sounds easy, but going 60 seconds without fidgeting is harder than you think.
Keep your mind as still as your feet. Breathe in and out, focusing on keeping everything still. This works wonders with stress relief as you learn the power of stillness.
Exercising by itself is great for mental wellness. With one modification you can boost your mindfulness as well. You can do your exercise like normal. Lift those heavy weights, run your mile, or speed your way across town. The only difference is to really pay attention to your body.
Feel yourself as your legs pump up and down while running. Notice your arms as you lift the weight. Pay attention to how your muscles automatically shift, move, and tense to accommodate the movements. Stay focused on your body and how it’s moving. This can be tremendously soothing.
11: Washing Dishes
Washing dishes is so boring, but it’s also a good place to practice mindfulness. Hear the water as it hits the sink, dishes, and your hands. Feel it going around your skin, as it warms your hands. Pay attention to how the sponge feels and what your arms are doing to clean the dishes. Simply notice all the movements you do automatically and marvel at their efficiency.
Keep your mind empty. As always, thoughts may come up, but gently go back towards the sounds of the water and how your arms are moving.
12: Massage Yourself
This serves the double role of stress relief and fostering mindfulness. Give yourself a brief massage. You can do an all over massage, or you can focus on tension points like your forearms, neck, shoulders, and any other points that need your attention.
Focus on how much better it feels after you’re finished massaging. Also, pay attention to the hand (or hands, depending on the area) massaging yourself. Notice how much force is going into this. Pay attention to how your hand feels. This also boosts the awareness of your own body.
13: Eye Spy
This is like playing a game of eye spy with yourself, but it’s not just about looking. There are numerous ways of going about this, but the most common would be to name three things you can hear, two things you can see, and one thing you can feel. The amounts can change according to your preference, but keep it consistent.
If you need even more of a boost, then look for something specific. For example, look for five things that are green. Listen to three sounds that animals make. List four nearby textures that you can feel.
This is also used for grounding, which can be useful for coping with trauma.
14: Intention Setting
If you read my review on Atomic Habits, which I highly suggest, then you know the power of intention setting. This sets up your mind for success and give you time to think about what you really want to do. Many of us get lost in hours of YouTube, social media, and general scrolling. We want to get something bigger done, something more important, but it never seems to happen.
Intention setting is a great way to curtail all that scrolling. It basically goes like this: “I would (action) at (time) in (place).”
For example: “I will write before work in my bedroom.”
This helps to cut through all the other thoughts that try to prevent you from completing whatever action you need to accomplish.
15: Express Gratitude
As one person to another, I can tell you there’s a lot to be disappointed about in life. I can be angry about waking up late, not finishing my to-do list, not being nearly productive enough, and so on.
Yet, when asked to do the opposite, when asked to express gratitude, it takes me a few minutes to think of anything. Most of us need to search for something to be grateful for, which makes it a great mindfulness exercise.
Make a gratitude list. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. It can be as simple as having a good lunch or being able to talk with a friend today. Start small by listing one gratitude a day. Try to work your way up to 3-5, but even one can improve your mindfulness.
16: Follow Your Breath
This is similar to the deep breathing exercise, but with a twist. Like before, get comfortable and focus on your breathing. Close your eyes and allow the world to disappear as you focus only on your breathing.
The difference here is how you experience your breath. Notice how breathing moves so many parts of your body. How your nose moves to take in air. How your chest and belly move to the incoming air. How your body deflates when you exhale. Notice all these common, yet never paid attention to, movements and sensations.
It makes you appreciate how wonderfully complex our bodies are.
17: Draw Yourself
You don’t need to be an artist for this mindfulness activity. It’s simple: draw yourself. Do it on any piece of paper and with anything you’d like. You can use pen, pencil, crayons, markers, or anything else you have.
The point here isn’t to make an accurate portrait (though if you can, that’s amazing!). It’s about thinking about how you look and trying to represent that on paper. More than that, what aspects are you focusing on, what aspects do you like and not like?
This is commonly used in mindfulness-based art therapy and it’s wonderful for self acceptance. It gives you a chance not only to consider your own looks, but also to accept how you look and be happy about it.
18: Noticing Pain
Anyone who has chronic pain (migraines, joint issues, muscle pains, etc) knows how debilitating it is. There are some mindfulness exercises for pain that can help. Get as comfortable as possible and close your eyes. Focus on the pain. Not on how bad it feels, but simply how it feels in your body.
What are the exact areas affected? During a migraine it might feel like your whole head and body is throbbing, but when you pay attention you’ll notice it’s only a few areas that actually hurt. Just feel the pain and let it exist there. As with any other mindfulness exercise, allow it to exist but don’t become engrossed with it.
Use deep, controlled breathing to relax your body. This should help reduce the pain, but even if it doesn’t simply notice where the pain sits and understand you’re safe. Even with it there, you’re safe.
19: Make a Collage
Have any spare magazines lying around? Make a collage out of them. This can also be great with children because it’s a fun exercise that makes you think. You can create a collage about anything, but I would suggest making one about yourself. Maybe about how you’re feeling, or what you think of where you’re going or how you were.
In any case, cut out pictures and words from the magazines and glue them to paper or poster board. When you’re done, you can keep them around and even show them off on social media. You’ll be surprised what comes about when you let your mind wander and certain words and pictures start jumping out at you.
20: Mindful Walking
Give yourself permission to take a walk and let your mind wander. You can walk down trails that you’ve taken a hundreds times before, or walk somewhere new and interesting. In either case, the point is to allow your mind to wander freely. Notice the thoughts as they come up.
You don’t have to follow the thoughts for too long. Just notice as they pop up and what you’re taking notice of. This can be a liberating experience and wonderful for your mental health.
What do you think? Did any of these mindfulness exercises jump out at you?
Let me know your experience with them and if you have any other ideas. I’d be happy to hear them and might even add them to this list.
I hope this has given you some inspiration to try a mindfulness exercise. They can be liberating and healing when you give them time to work. Remember, try it for at least a week to see the effects. Be well and I’ll see you again soon!