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Why can’t I relax? 6 tips to let go of stress

Julia Park

It's Friday. You've worked hard all week and can't wait to let your hair down and

Whether that means going out or staying in, you're excited to let the stresses and responsibilities of the week go as you drift into a rejuvenating weekend that's sure to set you up for success come Monday.

But even if you have logged off, your mind keeps drifting back to work. Thoughts about everything you need to get done over the weekend, like chores or upcoming work, begin crowding your mind. You try to shut off your brain and distract yourself, but your body still feels tense.

If you're having trouble relaxing and letting go of stress, this article is for you. Read on to find out why you may be struggling to unwind, learn some tips to help you relax, and discover how Muse meditation headbands can help calm your mind and find inner peace.

Is it important to be able to relax? Yes and here’s why!

Relaxation isn’t just a good time. It’s a necessary process that helps your body maintain optimal health.

Stress and anxiety are not benign. In short doses, stress can have a strengthening effect on us, expanding our capacity to cope with stress in the future. But over time, chronic stress significantly impacts physical, emotional, and mental health.

Some of the impacts of chronic stress include [1]

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Decreased productivity
  • Lower energy levels
  • Reduced motivation
  • Digestive issues
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension, aches, or pain
  • Increased irritability or moodiness
  • Less patience
  • Increases the risk of mental health conditions (like anxiety and depression)
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart issues
  • Increased risk of getting sick

In addition to our cognitive, emotional, and physical health, chronic stress also impacts our ability to perform at work, how we show up in relationships, and how happy we feel.

An inside look at what happens when you feel stressed

Stress is the result of your brain encountering something it perceives as a threat. When this happens, a flurry of activity takes place to help you survive.

First, your sympathetic nervous system activates. This system basically acts as alarm bells, triggering the production of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline which diverts resources and energy to the systems most essential for survival. This process involves increasing your heart rate and how quickly you’re breathing, tensing muscles, and dilating the pupils, to name a few. 

Once you are no longer faced with the threat, your relaxation system (your parasympathetic nervous system) comes back online, restoring balance and returning your body to its optimal state of function.

However, stress today is more likely to come in the form of never-ending work than a one-off dash to safety from a mountain lion, like our early ancestors faced. This means our bodies are constantly in a state of fatigue, with “non-essential” systems (like the digestive and reproductive systems) deprived of energy, while other systems are in a chronic state of hyper-arousal.

In other words, being able to turn off your stress response and help your nervous system switch into a relaxed state is essential if you want to live a healthy and happy life.

Stressed and tired person

3 reasons you can’t relax (+ tips to deal with them)

1. Your mind won’t turn off

Even though you’ve logged off, you can’t stop negative thoughts from swirling in your head. Sometimes you’ll be reminded of everything you should be doing and worrying in advance about work you’ll have to wait for Monday to start. When your mind’s in this endless cycle, you actually make it so you never have a day off because your mind’s always at work!

Pro tip: Practice meditation. Meditation is a practice that can help you become more aware of thoughts and strengthen your ability to observe them without being consumed by them. 

➤  To start meditating, find a quiet place where you can close your eyes and focus inward. You can choose to focus on your breathing, on a phrase, object, or on maintaining a neutral and open mind. As you focus, thoughts will naturally creep in. Instead of living them out, take the position of a detached observer and notice them, the sensations in your body, and the emotions they bring up. Then let them go and return to your target focus. 

If you're struggling with meditation, an EEG headset designed for focused-attention meditation, such as the Muse headband, can be a valuable tool. This neurofeedback device guides users on how to meditate, promoting a sense of calm. It's particularly beneficial for those in high-stress work environments like healthcare professionals. In fact, a recent 2023 study by the Mayo Clinic revealed that an impressive 91.9% of healthcare professionals experienced increased relaxation after using our device.

This can help you process your stress intentionally, rather than leaving it as an open tab in the back of your mind that prevents you from relaxing on your time off.

2. You’re not prioritizing relaxing activities

When many of us think of relaxing, we often think of crashing on the couch and watching TV, or simply doing nothing. This is usually because we’re so mentally and physically exhausted that even the idea of doing something else makes us tired. And we’re not saying you need to cut out all couch-potato moments — the body needs those from time to time! 

But relaxation is more than just a passive activity. Doing nothing might help our body repair itself, but it doesn’t revitalize or rejuvenate our minds, especially if you’re holding onto stress.

Pro tip: Explore what relaxation feels like in your body. Relaxation is actually not always a passive experience — it takes intentionality to help us remain present so we can truly let go and allow ourselves to relax.

➤  Instead of scrolling through social media, watching hours of TV, or reading the news, try doing something new and see how it makes you feel. Check out these activities that can help you unwind, backed up by science.

➤  Go for a walk in nature, journal, listen to music, try a new workout class — experiment to find what not only manages your stress but energizes you.

3. Your nervous system is in a state of chronic over-activation

If your nervous system is stuck in a state of chronic stress, it can be hard to turn on survival mode. At its core, our stress response is about fear. When it’s switched on, it’s a fair indicator that we don’t feel safe to relax. For this reason, it’s important to create safety, not just mentally, but on the level of your nervous system. 

Pro tip: Take a multi-sensory approach to stress relief. Don’t focus on logic — our logic centers are the most evolutionarily recent parts of our brains, and don’t have much sway over the oldest parts of our brains involved in our stress response.

➤  Many report that essential oils have a very calming effect. Research has found smell is deeply related to memory and emotion, so targeting relaxation with your favorite scent could be a great option. [2]

➤ Deep breathing exercises have been reported to boost energy, alertness, and help us move through emotions. In fact, research has found that the way you breathe can actually influence your emotional state!

➤  Progressive muscle relaxation is a mindfulness exercise designed to provide relaxation through the body. Essentially, you systematically work your way through the body, tensing then releasing on part of your body at a time.

Meditating with Muse

Relax with Muse’s EEG headbands

According to a 2019 research, Muse's advanced EEG technology demonstrated an impressive 92% accuracy in identifying perceived stress. The Muse 2 Headband and the Muse S Headband, paired with the app, deliver exceptional real-time biofeedback results after each session. By leveraging these insights, users can enhance their progress and performance, taking meaningful steps toward achieving a healthier and more mindful lifestyle.

Our Muse programs have demonstrated a notable ability to reduce stress, as stated by more than three-quarters (77%) of Musers who felt they had a better handle on their stress. Muse offers tailored meditation programs to address specific needs, including our stress collection, which comprises 40 unique sessions designed to foster focus and relaxation.

It is important to take breaks and relax, as failure to do so can lead to burnout. Burnout is a prevalent issue among Americans, with 44% feeling overworked and 43% experiencing burnout always or frequently. This lifestyle significantly affects mental wellbeing, but Muse can play a pivotal role in helping manage stress and aid in the quest for relaxation. 

If you’re looking to get a Muse, now is the time to get your hands on our state-of-the-art EEG headbands with our Black Friday sale happening now for a limited time.


  1. Learn about the impact of stress on the body with the APA HERE >>
  2. Explore how smell, memory, and emotions are related HERE >>

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