Jan. 10. 2018
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped® and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

Want to chill out? 2018 is the year of chill, for me. A way to relax, soak in the present moment, stress less, and feel best.

Relaxation looks different for each of us, but it’s something that we all need to be able to tap into from tools, strategies, and routines that keep you feeling like you can unwind. Chilling out (i.e. managing stress and relaxation) is a key part of a balanced life because stress can ultimately decrease your health (1). It’s usually in the daily routine — and even the mundane tasks — where we find the ability to get grounded, stay centered and chill out. Remember I shared some of my biggest learning lessons from 2017? Sticking to my morning routine, prioritizing hygge-friendly activities to my day, and carving out time to unwind with nighttime rituals, is key to my relaxation routine.

In this how-to guide to chill out, I’ll walk you through some ideas, tools, and strategies that may help you get into your zone to develop your own unique relaxation routine. It starts with understanding stress’s biological impact on the body, having a plan for stress when it happens, making a simple shift in mindset, and simple tips to keep stress at bay to fully unwind.

Stress = The Opposite of Chill

A stressful event causes a series of changes in our nervous, cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems — these are typically adaptive changes that bring about the stress response. Stress hormones are first released, making energy stores that are available for the body to use immediately. Next, energy is distributed to the tissues that become more active during stress, which usually means the skeletal muscles and the brain. Also, immune system cells can also fire up at this time and head to “battle stations”. Less critical systems are put on pause (or suspended), for example, think digestion and the production of growth hormones. So for example, if you’re running from a bear, your body isn’t putting energy towards digesting your last meal, it wants you to run! Long story short, when you feel like you’re getting “run down” after a stressful few days, weeks or months, this extended pattern of no-chill-time is directly linked to the elevated levels of the stress hormones that suppress immunity (1).

Have A Plan For Stress

We all get stressed. We live in a society where stress and the act of being busy are sometimes celebrated but that doesn’t mean we should live with stress guiding us. The key is to plan ahead of time for the inevitable stress we’ll be exposed to so that it doesn’t completely sideline you. Robert Epstein, a Harvard-trained psychologist, introduced us to four ways to healthfully handle and manage stress. In the Epstein Stress Management Inventory for Individuals (or ESMI-i), participants can test their stress management ability through these four areas of competence: reducing or eliminating the source of stress, practicing relaxation techniques, correcting irrational thoughts and learning prevention through planning so that you can avoid the stressors before they affect you. Epstein, in his years of research on stress management, has found that avoiding stressors through proactive planning is a more effective way of coping with stress than any stress management techniques, like yoga or meditation, you can do once you’re frazzled and panicky (2).

Here’s how you can plan for stress so that it doesn’t interrupt your chill time:

  1. Plan for the week ahead. Look at your calendar and map out your commitments, events and potential stressors before they happen. Is there a chance you could be late for dinner on Wednesday? Will you have to work late on Thursday night? Do your kids have projects due on Monday? By calling out potential hiccups beforehand, you’re prepared for things that can go wrong and can be better equipped to brush them off if and when they do (3).
  2. Surrender control. It’s incredibly common to feel anxious and stressed in a situation when we’re trying to control it. By trying to manage and steer things that are not in our control, we’re more likely to feel frustrated. When you map out your week, remind yourself of the things that are not up to you to handle or solve.
  3. Choose optimism. Have a busy week planned? Go into it with gratitude, and remember to choose joy from day to day. Focus on being present. Have something on the calendar that you’re dreading? Tackle it with determination and drop the attitude; it’ll just bring you down, even more, when you’re trying to relax throughout the week. Balance your week with things that make you happy. Small tasks and habits can help you relax, even if just for a few moments, like lighting your favorite candle, going for a walk and listening to your favorite music.

Have a Shift in Mindset

While there are things you can do to plan for stress and potentially eliminate it before it happens, there are certain situations and events that can be inevitable. The next step is to practice your ability to change your outlook of the stressor. Stressful thoughts and feelings will hold you back from reaching true relaxation. When was the last time you were chilling out, and your mind was still racing? The two can never really go hand-in-hand, and that’s where the concept of reframing comes into play.

Reframing is a transformative cognitive exercise you can practice when you have thoughts and feelings of anxiety, stress, pain, and suffering. It’s really just a fancy term for the simple shift in mindset surrounding a bad situation. This mental activity teaches you to consider the stressor or negative situation and explain it in a positive or neutral way. It doesn’t require quiet time or hours of practice for most like meditation. Instead, it’s a mental habit that will teach you to take emotions out of the equation, which as you probably know, can seep into the situation and give us an unrealistic view of what happened. By reframing potentially irrational thoughts, you can achieve more peace of mind, reminding yourself that you are in fact in control of your reactions and feelings (4).

25 Tips for Managing Stress & Chilling Out

  1. Meditate — a go to
  2. Get busy in the kitchen, whipping up your favorite recipes
  3. Read a good book
  4. Start a gratitude journal
  5. Put your phone away
  6. Take a walk and breathe fresh air
  7. Move your body! Try this simple at-home workout or go to a class with a friend
  8. Make yourself some Turmeric Milk as part of a nightly ritual
  9. Enjoy some hot tea
  10. Practice self-care with by applying a DIY face mask, moisturizing body balm, or a nourishing hair mask
  11. Diffuse relaxing essential oils like lavender and eucalyptus
  12. Practice deep-breathing
  13. Put on your favorite pajamas
  14. Run a hot bath with calming bath salts
  15. Have fun with a creative hobby like painting, drawing, coloring or calligraphy
  16. Enjoy music! Listen to your favorite playlist or create new tunes
  17. Light your favorite candle
  18. Clean or tidy your home
  19. Cuddle with your furry friend
  20. Clear the air by burning palo santo sticks or incense
  21. Make your to-do list for tomorrow, next week, next month, etc.
  22. Set goals for the future
  23. Find visual inspiration on Pinterest
  24. Call an old friend
  25. Get outside and enjoy nature


  1. Schneiderman, N., Ironson, G., & Siegel, S. D. (2005). STRESS AND HEALTH: Psychological, Behavioral, and Biological Determinants.
  2. Epstein, R. (2011). Fight the Frazzled Mind: Proactive Steps Manage Stress and PDF here
  3. Davis-Laack, P. (2012, April 22). Easing the Pressure: 4 Strategies to Sidestep Stress.
  4. Shurick, A. A., Hamilton, J. R., Harris, L. T., Roy, A. K., Gross, J. J., & Phelps, E. A. (2012, December). Durable Effects of Cognitive Restructuring on Conditioned Fear.


Keep a good thing going and check out these resources for additional tips and discussion on stress management.

  1. 10 Ways to Calm Anxiety Now, Nutrition Stripped
  2. Five Tips to Help Manage Stress, American Psychological Association
  3. 5 Ways to Reduce Stress, Entrepreneur
  4. 10 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress, Healthline
  5. 5 Ways to Cut Stress in a 24/7 World, USA Today

Let’s Hear It

What do you say? Do you feel better prepared for handling stress and reaching ultimate relaxation status? Chilling out is a beautiful thing! Share your favorite tips and tricks in the comments below — others in the community may benefit from your favorite ways to chill out! Connect with NS on Instagram @nutritionstripped and #nutritionstripped.

xx McKel