We all know how important breaks are for decreasing stress and improving our overall focus, but what if you can’t relax?

Earlier this year, I wrote about how meditation can improve your writing and was keen to try it out for myself.

I thought it would be a great way to not only boost my creativity, but as an added plus, I’d also learn how to clear my mind and take a break.

But I ran into a problem – I couldn’t relax when I was on the job.

Learning how to “turn off” and clear your mind is key for avoiding burnout, but it’s not always as easy as simply taking a break. After all, we lead extremely hectic lives. Relaxation is something that has to be practiced and learned, like any other skill.

With that in mind, here are a few techniques that I’ve been using to help me to relax and get some real time away from my busy routine.

Get Some Fresh Air with Purpose

One of the most common relaxation tips I’ve come across is getting outside and taking a walk, whether you’re working at home or in the office. A few members of the FlowReader team like to work out during the day, but I prefer walking over taking a run when I’m on a break.

A walk in the afternoon is a great way to calm your brain and get some fresh air! But I tend to feel pretty guilty stepping out the door to stroll around the neighborhood in the middle of a work day.

I’ve found it helpful to give myself a purpose or a reason for going out.

For example, I might go grab a coffee from somewhere in the neighborhood, drop a letter off at a mailbox, or when I’m working at home, take my dogs around the block.

Some of the team members over at Buffer like to use a similar technique where they move locations between tasks to grab some time away from their screens. The idea is that you move to a new workspace after finishing a task or section of your to-do list. And when you move, you walk or cycle to the next spot.

A Non-Work Activity Can Recharge Your Batteries

If you have trouble relaxing, find an activity that lets you recharge. If your routine allows, you could take a nap, listen to some music in a room away from your working space, or read a book for a few minutes.

The problem with this type of break is that you often find your mind wandering back to the tasks you feel you should be doing. In some cases, you can come back from a break feeling more stressed than before you left.

It might sound counter-intuitive, but sometimes, it’s helpful to take a break to do something unrelated to work, but still productive. I’ve found that when I spend a few minutes reorganizing my desk or returning a personal email, I can disconnect for a bit and give myself a much needed mental break.

Do a “Brain Dump”

I stumbled across a great technique recently that has helped me learn to relax and reduce stress. Colin Nederkoorn of Customer.io suggests doing something called a brain dump: write down everything stored in your head.

Clear your mind, don’t try to do any of the things as you’re thinking about them, but just get them out of your head and on to paper or your favorite text editor.

My favorite place to do a brain dump is in an airport or on a plane. You need a place where you’ll be uninterrupted, and preferably where there’s no wifi (you can turn it off).

This isn’t a to-do list, but it’s a great way to clear some space in your mind and get all your goals or tasks down in one place. You can put down work you need to do, vacations you’d like to take, household projects you want to get down, and anything else that comes to mind.

I tried it recently during a break when I was having trouble focusing and the first thing I felt was an immense sense of relief. Even though Collin says he normally does a brain dump every couple of months, I think it’s a great way to help you clear your mind whenever you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

Image Credit: Andrés Nieto Porras

 What about you? What techniques and tips have helped you learn to relax? 

Share with us in the comments below! You can also find us on Facebook or @flow_reader.