How to relax at home without drugs or alcohol

If you're used to drinking alcohol or using drugs when you feel tense, nervous or worried, here are some other ideas to help you relax.

Helpful vs unhelpful ways to relax

People try to relax in all sorts of ways, but not all methods are helpful. Learn about helpful and unhelpful ways to unwind and find that peace of mind.

Using drugs and alcohol to relax

Some people use alcohol or drugs to help them relax, forget their worries or get to sleep. 

Although drug and alcohol use may provide some initial relaxation, regular and frequent use over time can create additional difficulties e.g. impact on your physical health, mental health, relationships, ability to perform at your best etc. 

Therefore in the long term, you can feel worse. 

More helpful ways to relax

There are a number of well-established, less harmful ways you can increase feelings of relaxation.

So if you’re feeling tense, nervous or worried, you could try these techniques and discover which ones work best for you.

Deep breathing

When we’re worried or stressed, our breathing changes.

Our breaths become shorter and more shallow, and we breathe from the chest rather than the belly. Both of these can make the physical feelings of stress worse.

A deep breathing exercise called ‘box breathing’ can help you relax and feel better.

Box breathing is a simple but powerful method for managing stress and promoting relaxation. It's called "box" breathing because you visualise your breath as if it's moving along the sides of a square or a box. 

Here's how to do it:

  1. Find a comfortable seat or lie down.
  2. Close your eyes and take a slow, deep breath in for a count of 4 seconds.
  3. Hold your breath for 4 seconds.
  4. Exhale slowly for 4 seconds.
  5. Pause and hold for 4 seconds before starting the cycle again.

Repeat this pattern for a few minutes, or until you feel more relaxed.

Find a new distraction

Sometimes, you just need to take your mind off things for a while. A new activity can:

  • lift your mood and relax you
  • help you develop new friendships
  • give you something to look forward to

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR)

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a simple relaxation technique that helps reduce anxiety and muscle tension.

It involves stretching and relaxing different muscles in your body in a certain order.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is safe for most people.

However, it may not be suitable if you have any conditions that affect your muscles or joints, like arthritis or chronic muscular pain. If you’re not sure, ask your doctor.

It should take you about 20 minutes from start to finish. Like most relaxation techniques, it will get easier with practice. But you should feel some benefit straight away.

Here’s how it works:

Find a warm, quiet place with no distractions. Get comfortable, either sitting or lying down.

Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Breathe slowly and deeply from your belly.

Next, work through the stretches below.

Hold each stretch for a few seconds then relax it. Repeat each stretch 3 or 4 times.

  1. Face: Push your eyebrows together as if frowning, then release.
  2. Neck: Gently tilt your head forward, pushing your chin towards your chest. Then slowly lift your head again.
  3. Shoulders: Pull them towards your ears like a shrug. Then relax them downwards towards your feet.
  4. Chest: Breathe slowly and deeply into your belly, below the bottom rib, so that you’re using all of your lungs. Then breathe out slowly, letting your belly deflate.
  5. Arms: Stretch your arms away from your body, reach, then relax.
  6. Legs: Curl your toes away from your body, then pull them towards the body, then relax.
  7. Wrists and hands: Stretch your wrist by pulling your hand towards you. Stretch out the fingers and thumbs, then relax.

When you’re done, spend a few moments sitting or lying quietly with your eyes closed. When you feel ready, stretch and get up slowly.

If you prefer to be guided in the practice of Progressive Muscle Relaxation recordings of the exercise can be found at the links in the section below

Guided relaxation

If you need to relax, guided relaxation can be a big help.

These are voice recordings that describe relaxing and soothing images. It’s a bit like listening to a story.

By focusing on the voice and imagining what it’s describing, you can clear your mind of the things that are worrying you.

Here are some guided meditations you could try:

A guided relaxation exercise that works for someone else might not work for you. So if you don’t like a certain recording, don’t give up. Try ones with different voices, music or background pictures until you find something that helps you relax.


If you’re able to do it, physical exercise, whether indoors or outdoors, is great for reducing stress and improving health. Being outside can lift your mood and regulate your body clock. 

But you can also get a full workout without leaving home. Both options are good for you!


Yoga is a system of slow stretching exercises that help relax the mind and body.

Doing yoga can help with the physical feelings of stress and worry, and focusing on the movements can also distract you from what’s on your mind.


Cooking can be a great way to relax and unwind at home – and home-cooked meals are often healthier and tastier than ready-made food.

Everybody is different

We’ve outlined a few ways to help you feel more relaxed here, but remember, they’re not the only options. You know yourself better than anyone. Find the approach that works best for you. 

Need some extra support?

If you're finding it hard to relax without drugs or alcohol and would like some support, we can help.

Search for your local service and get in touch today.

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