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Photo by Ivan Smuk/Shuttestock.com

7 foolproof ways to feel instantly relaxed

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The cottage is supposed to be a place of Zen—an oasis from the everyday frustrations that weigh us down. But sometimes our stress follows us to the lake, making it hard to relax and enjoy a little peace. If you struggle to let go of tension when the kids are screaming, work problems are swirling through your brain, and the cottage chore list is growing longer by the minute, these seven strategies can help.

Let it out

Sometimes you have to dramatically acknowledge your stress in order to release it. Scream at the top of your lungs, give yourself a one-minute whining window, or quickly scribble down everything that’s driving you crazy. Just the act of expressing your stress can help alleviate it. If you do put pen to paper, rip your frustrations right up or toss them in campfire to truly them go.

Stare at the small picture

Nearly anywhere in rural Canada, you have access to the most gorgeous scenery imaginable. But when you’re stressed out, even a panoramic view can be overwhelming. Sit down and focus on tiny details of your natural surroundings. Whether it’s the leaves on your favourite tree, an interesting rock by the water, or a cloud shaped like an elephant—whatever your eye is naturally drawn to. By breathing deeply and consciously staring at something specific, you can regain focus and calm your mind.

Get moving

Exercise gets your blood circulating and releases endorphins—powerful brain chemicals that create a euphoric feeling and lower stress. So why don’t we feel relaxed when we’re dashing around the kitchen making lunch or rushing through a list of chores? Because we’re focused on the outcome of our actions rather than the actions themselves. When your anxiety levels are high, try moving your body with no agenda. Just focus on each movement and how it feels. Start by shrugging your shoulders, rolling your neck and wiggling your toes. Then work up to full stretches, or even try running in place.

Stop and smell the roses

Or whatever your favourite scent is. Studies have shown that certain scents (like lavender, peppermint, citrus, and jasmine) have calming properties, but holistic coach Kim Coleman from GrowingBeyond.com says you should also choose something personal. Something that will trigger fond memories that can instantly lighten your mood. Maybe it’s the mint growing in your garden, the fresh vanilla bean from your kitchen cupboard, or a cinnamon scented candle. Take a few moments to really inhale and absorb the scent.

Keep in touch

Physical contact with other human beings (or animals) releases a brain chemical called oxytocin that has a powerful calming effect. If you’re up at the cottage with your family, pull your spouse into a tight hug, let your children brush your hair, or simply hold one of their hands. If your cottage companion is a furry friend, pet them for awhile or get down on the ground for a good cuddle. Even if you’re spending a weekend alone, you can reap the benefits of human touch, by rubbing your own forehead or massaging your neck or ears. It may not trigger a feeling of intimacy, but it will increase circulation and release energy that can boost your mood.

Do something silly

Sometimes you have to pretend to be relaxed before you actually start to feel it. Start by putting on what Kim Coleman calls a Mona Lisa smile—not a giddy joker grin, but a soft, warm expression. By using those facial muscles, you’re sending signals to your brain that will start to lower your anxiety. Progress to making goofy faces and laughing out loud. Then just do something utterly ridiculous. Play with a goofy toy, skip up and down your dock, or do a running jump into the lake. The sillier you feel, the funnier your situation becomes and the more tension you’ll release.

Eat your feelings

Stress eating doesn’t have to be a negative thing! There are lots of foods with special properties that can improve your mood. Bananas are packed full of potassium, which boosts your energy.  Honey has compounds that relieve inflammation in the brain, fighting against anxiety. Salmon contains omega 3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and improve brain function to help ward off stress. And dark chocolate is the most potent endorphin-producing food in the world. Grabbing a quick snack could be the key to instant relaxation.