9 Soothing, No-Thinking-Needed Activities to Do When You Just Can’t Anymore

published Feb 27, 2023
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Credit: Photos: Shutterstock; Design: Apartment Therapy

On a recent Saturday, I awoke mid-morning out of sorts and exhausted. My husband, knowing I’d endured a particularly grueling work week, graciously occupied our pup so I could sleep in. But even after a couple of languid hours awake, I felt compelled to roll back into bed for an early afternoon nap

At this point, hardly anyone is unfamiliar with the concept of burnout. With the ongoing pandemic, adjusting to working from home (or returning to the office, or becoming a full-time caretaker), and everything in between, the need to hit a personal reset button can be harder to ignore. 

Confronted with my own burnout, I recalibrated my expectations for the weekend. Postponing a date night, putting off the laundry, and leaving my inbox for another time, I cleared the way for a weekend of laying low, embracing rest, and staying engaged in some cozy, zero-pressure ways. Here are nine soothing activities for those low-energy days when you just need a break.  

Peruse a Coffee Table Book

If you’re like me, you have a stack of fascinating niche coffee table books that wow your guests… but that you’ve never even looked through. Flipping through books predominantly containing photographs and modest blocks of text, it’s easy to pick up and leave off without any sense of urgency. Plus, discovering an extraordinary room/landscape/painting/photograph might spark some new, much-needed energy and inspiration.

Curate a New Pinterest Board

I’m a big believer in inspired unwinding. Opening Pinterest to my main feed, I like to pore over the images, eventually landing on one to follow down the rabbit hole. Keep in mind, this is separate from using Pinterest as a tool. For instance, if you’re hosting your sibling’s wedding shower, Pinterest becomes a search engine for invitations, menus, and decorations. Similarly, if a rough work week led to your low energy, diving into resume resources or CV templates won’t help. But building a board of unique Christmas tree decorations or your favorite ’90s childhood toys or aesthetic floral photos is purely about inspiration and enjoyment.

Credit: Sokor Space/Shutterstock.com

Revisit Old Photographs

Whether pulling out my photo boxes containing prints from the disposable and digital camera eras, or swiping through my phone’s albums, Instagram, or even Facebook (truly a treasury of bad memories or high school shenanigans, often both), heck, I love looking at photos. The comfort of thumbing through memories can point you in the direction of some much-deserved healing and reflection — and deleting the evidence of high school shenanigans often feels very good, too.

Turn Up the Tingles with ASMR

I will stand (quietly) on my Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response soap box and whisper until I’m blue in the face about the healing power of ASMR videos. When you’re at a breaking point, just grab a screen, suspend your disbelief, and let a whispering ASMRtist perform a personal attention roleplay. If you’re new to this relaxation resource, you might unlock a trove of strange but soothing content. And if you’re a pro like me, you’ve likely already navigated to a new tab where you’re watching someone pretend to measure you for a bespoke suit. I salute you!

Credit: Daniel Kim Photography/Stocksy

Tour Your Favorite Homes Online

Over the years, I’ve saved some of my favorite homes on Zillow just to keep for when I eventually win the lottery. Whichever real estate site you use, it’s fun to house hunt with zero pressure or expectations. Another thing I like to do is locate and tour houses from my past that bring back a rush of memories, like my grandmother’s old house or my childhood classmate’s family home, which happened to be my favorite house, like, ever. (Harmless nostalgia or just plain creepy? I’m certain the comments section will decide soon enough!)

Credit: Onchira Wongsiri/Shutterstock.com

Draft Low-Pressure Lists

I’m a list lover, with a checklist, index, and inventory for anything and everything. But when I’ve got no output left to give, I don’t even want to think about my ongoing to-do lists. With that said, jotting lists in my Notes app or spiral notebook is still a soothing activity that frees up space in my overtired mind. Bucket lists, places you’d like to travel, favorite books, random ideas, names you love — these are just some of the categories I explore to shake off my mental cobwebs and activate the parts of my brain that aren’t consumed by deadlines or obligations.

Watch a Favorite Childhood Flick

Like many children of the ’90s, I was raised in front of the television. My mom would pop in a classic Disney VHS tape or a movie we rented from Blockbuster, and I’d play “Clarissa Explains It All,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “Barbie Birthday Party at Walt Disney World Epcot ’94” on an endless loop. With the help of Disney+, Paramount Plus, and good ol’ YouTube, access to the ultimate comfort content is a click away. 

Credit: Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock.com

Give Yourself a No-Frills Manicure

I have a nervous habit of polish-picking and finger-biting when I’m stressed. So, if I’ve had a crummy week, the evidence will be all over my hands. Soaking, trimming, filing, painting, and hydrating my nails lends me a sense of control over my situation. Self-care is restorative, and showcasing a crisp pop of nail color is one of the simplest ways I feel more like myself. Plus, I can give myself a basic manicure on auto-pilot, critical for a weary brain.

Observe Some YouTube Tutorials

A lot of my pent up stress stems from the items on my to-do list that I keep putting off. And when I’m putting off a task, it’s usually because there’s an air of mystery surrounding it. For instance, despite my limited experience with houseplants, I can tell it’s time to repot one of my favorites. If it weren’t a low-energy day, I’d be in the backyard with my head in my phone trying to follow basic guidelines for repotting. But when I’m burnt out, simply observing — not taking notes, not studying, not memorizing — a task’s tutorial gives me a boost of confidence without the attached obligation. Not today, and that’s okay!