There might be no better feeling than coming to the end of your day and clocking out, placing the last glass in the dishwasher, closing your laptop, putting your kids to bed, or generally finishing the responsibilities of the day—however that looks for you. And though it might be easy to complete those rote tasks, it’s often not so easy to shut off your mind.
That’s where a little self-care and a wind-down routine can really come in handy. And while we all know it’s easier said than done, a little mindfulness, a calming beauty routine, some soothing stretches, or another relaxing activity can go a long way in helping you achieve better, more restful sleep.
With that in mind, we asked SELF staffers about the small steps they take to help release the tension of the day and ease themselves to rest each evening. After all, we spend basically all day talking to health and wellness professionals to get their top tips—you better believe we’ll try some for ourselves. And look: It’s not always perfect. We have late nights of work, or hours stuck wide awake no matter how many grounding techniques we might try. So think of these tips like items in a toolbox: They might not all work for you, and you might not use them every day, but when needed, one of these might be a perfect fit.
And remember, one stressful evening or poor night of sleep is bound to happen now and again. (Or, you know, a lot given the current state of the world.) But there’s always a chance to reset the next day and give your relaxing self-care routine another try. Here are the 16 tried and true methods SELF editors actually use to unwind.
Cook a delicious dinner.
I like making myself a super delicious, but easy meal. The act of cooking is nice because it feels creative and like I’m doing something good to take care of myself. And while I cook, I listen to music that I can sing along to, usually rock—that helps me blow off steam! —Carolyn Todd, health editor
I took piano lessons for nearly 15 years, stopping only when I went to college and didn’t have easy access to a piano. For Christmas this year, my parents bought me a CASIO weighted keyboard because they knew how much I’ve missed playing. I pull out my keyboard and favorite classical sheet music a few times per week after work, and it helps me release tension almost immediately. I’m still pretty rusty after not playing consistently for a few years, but it helps me to cultivate patience, learn to savor slow moments, and notice growth over time. —Sarah Madaus, commerce writer
Revisit a TV sitcom from the 80s or 90s.
We’ve written about the comfort of nostalgia before at SELF, but I cannot emphasize enough how powerful I think nostalgic TV can be. I’m consistently watching one show from the 80s or 90s—so far, I’ve done all of Seinfeld, Frasier, and Cheers, all of which have numerous seasons. I will flip them on before bed, while I’m folding laundry, or even while I’m having dinner to tune-out and unplug from my day. Late-20th century TV is incredible in its own right: The writing was phenomenal and the characters were unique and colorful. Even better, dating apps and text messages were never the butt of the joke. It’s nice to get a glimpse into a universe where there’s no social media—or really even laptops—and linger inside it for a while. Next, I’ll be doing The Golden Girls and The Nanny. —Hannah Pasternak, associate director of special projects
Do a crossword puzzle.
I’ve been staying with my mom in Connecticut since the beginning of the pandemic and almost every night, after dinner and a streaming show or two, we work on a crossword puzzle. We used to do them on the phone when I was still living in New York (we eventually bought the same crossword book, like a couple of dorks), but now we curl up next to each other on her couch, usually with Christofur the Siamese sprawled out on my legs, and challenge our weary selves with clever clues and answers. My anxious brain is often in full force at night, but the puzzle gives it something to focus on so it can leave me alone and let my body chill out, which happens fast. About 30 minutes in, I can barely keep my bleary eyes open. And knowing that I’m getting to spend nightly quality time with my mom, something I never thought I’d get as an adult, adds extra comfort. —Cathryne Keller, associate wellness director
Sweat out your stress.
Until about a year ago, unwinding after work meant plopping on the couch with dinner and just binging whatever show I felt like watching on Netflix. Now, things are a little different. I find the best way to relax is by taking martial arts or self defense lessons with a personal trainer. There’s something so stress-relieving about punching and kicking away all the pent up aggression built up throughout the day. And the adrenaline I get when I can take down my trainer during a drill? There’s no way to describe the feeling of knowing you can defend yourself, all while getting in a good workout, too. It’s made such a difference to my overall health and I truly don’t regret doing it. —Adrianna Freedman, associate social media manager
Leave your house for a walk and a workout.
I recently joined a powerlifting gym that’s a 30-minute walk from my apartment. Getting out the door to work out feels impossible sometimes, but I’ve turned the commute into me-time where I can listen to a podcast, an audiobook, or just listen to my favorite song on repeat. (Lately, I’ve been on a Miley Cyrus kick.) The walks to the gym and back are my warm-up and cooldown, and I like knowing that I have something to look forward to four days each week. —Melissa Matthews, associate health director
Take a long shower.
I absolutely MUST shower after a long day. There’s something about washing my body and removing the stress and anxiety from the day that’s so calming—I stand in my shower for way longer than I should. But when I’m done, I’m so relaxed and can enjoy leisurely pleasures, like making dinner in my robe. —Kenny Thapoung, associate director of audience development
…Or take a nice warm bath.
One of my favorite things to do at the end of a long day is to take a bath. I always use bath salts, and I often light a candle on the ledge of the tub. The combination of the warm water and the scents of the salts and candle helps me feel relaxed both physically and mentally. Even 10 minutes in the tub will do the trick. —Sarah Yalowitz, director of programming and development
Slow down and stretch.
I hold a lot of tension in my upper body, so I can really feel the effects of stress in my jaw, neck, and shoulders after a long day. (So. many. muscle knots!) One of my favorite ways to unwind is to simply take a long, hot shower to really encourage my muscles to loosen up. The warmth of the water gets me into self-care mode, and I’ll follow up with 15 minutes of stretching before bed if I really want to avoid aching the next day. It’s a nice way to force myself to slow down and combat some of the effects of sitting all day at a computer. —Alisa Hrustic, health director
Loosen up and zone out.
After AM exercise, getting my daughter out the door for daycare, work, then making dinner, and putting my toddler to bed, I’m usually pretty drained—but also somehow restless. My favorite way to unwind these days is to watch something easy (The Great British Baking Show is a balm for my mind), and stretch at the same time in front of the TV. I find it easier to hold intense postures, like pigeon pose or a low lunge, when I’m distracted by the dulcet tones of a pie critique in an English accent. After just 10 minutes, I’ll feel looser overall, less stiff, and more ready for bed. —Amy Eisinger, digital director
Make reading a priority.
Before the pandemic hit, my favorite pastime was reading a book on my commute. It was a great way to relax before and after work. Now that I work from home, I make it a priority to read at least two chapters in my book every day after work. It helps me to relax and unwind after a long day. —Cheryl Carlin, senior manager, analytics
Listen to a gripping audiobook.
These days, I’m listening to The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix. It’s a hilarious novel about women in a small-town book club who realize they need to save their community from the vampire who’s moved into the neighborhood. Losing myself in this kind of plot helps reset my brain from thinking about work, as opposed to something like a news or pop culture podcast, which would definitely have me thinking about story ideas. And the fact that I’m listening instead of reading gives my eyes a break after a day full of staring at a screen. Even better, if I listen while I take a quick walk, it really reinforces the “self-care time!” message for both my body and mind. —Zahra Barnes, executive editor
Create a library queue, so you always have a new book.
I always set aside time to read on my Kindle after the productive part of my day is over. I read a bunch of different genres, but whatever I choose is almost always fiction—I find that to be a much better way to decompress. It can take me forever to pick a book to read (which is not good for winding down), so one way I’ve gotten around that is by curating a robust waitlist from the library. That way, whenever the book is ready for my digital check-out, I know it’s one that I’ve already vetted and am excited to read. Then I can just get started. —Christa Sgobba, associate director of fitness and food
Get cozy first, then read.
Working full-time and having a toddler admittedly doesn’t allow for much winding down time (as I’m sure most parents know!), but I still like to curl up under like three blankets on the couch, (being cozy is a necessity), and read as many pages of my current book as I possibly can before I pass out. It gives me an hour of time to quiet my body and brain, and get lost in someone else’s world. —Allison Tsai, associate health director
Pamper yourself with a beauty routine.
After I put my baby down at around 7 PM, I like to unwind with a cup of tea and usually watch whatever my partner wants on TV (I don’t pay attention anyway so it feels wrong to steer the selection). Then I dive into some kind of beauty routine. I’ll give myself a mani or pedi, put on a face mask, or do a full hair wash and style (my mornings belong to my daughter so I have to do it at night!). —Shanna Shipin, commerce managing editor
Master giving yourself a good manicure.
One way I like to unwind is playing around with nail art. In 2021, I set out to get better at doing my nails at home since salons were closed due to COVID and I also just wanted to save money. While I don’t think I necessarily saved money, since I spend a good amount each month buying fun new nail polish colors, brushes, stencils, and cuticle products, I have definitely found it to be relaxing. My friends have suggested making it a side-hustle but I never will because this is truly a hobby that I enjoy getting better at and sharing on my Instagram Stories. —Jenifer Calle, senior commerce editor
Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.