12 Chill but Entertaining Podcasts to Put On When You Need to Rest or Recover

Photo of author
Written By Rivera Claudia

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur pulvinar ligula augue quis venenatis. 

This article is part of SELF’s second annual Rest Week, an editorial package dedicated to doing less. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that taking care of yourself, physically and emotionally, is impossible without genuine downtime. With that in mind, we’ll be publishing articles up until the new year to help you make a habit of taking breaks, chilling out, and slowing down. (And we’re taking our own advice: The SELF staff will be OOO during this time!) We hope to inspire you to take it easy and get some rest, whatever that looks like for you.

Rest—true, brain-off, not-scrolling-on-your-phone-until-you-feel-icky rest—is hard. Some of that is cultural; you might feel guilty for taking time off, especially if you’re looking around and seeing, say, a pile of laundry that you’re itching to put away. But some of it comes down to the fact that rest can be very goddamn boring. You can only watch so many episodes of Real Housewives before you start to feel like your brain is rotting. (And I say this as someone who loves Real Housewives!)

Since I got mono last fall and then, eventually, got a diagnosis of ME/CFS, I’ve had to rest a lot. Unfortunately, a lot of my favorite relaxing activities (reading, knitting, other crafts) from my old life are still pretty brain-on. Sure, they are chill, but I realized pretty quickly that they take more mental energy than I have to give, and I knew I had to find something even more low-key. So I listened to my body, which eventually led me to podcasts, narrated long-form articles (like the kind the New Yorker produces), and video essays (which typically don’t require looking at a screen). Flopping down on my couch and listening to something for 30–60 minutes—while resisting every urge to pick up my phone to check my texts or just google something quickly— has been a game changer.

If you are healing from an illness or injury, in the hospital, on bed rest, or otherwise trying your damnedest to actually relax, I highly recommend an audio-only approach. To help you make this part of your rest routine, I put together a list of mellow podcast episodes and video essays to start with. Each item on this list is a self-contained story (though some span a few episodes) and should be fairly soothing—no grisly murder investigations here!

A few jobs ago, several of my coworkers were absolutely raving about this episode. I wasn’t a big TAL listener, but I took everyone’s advice—and oh wow, did it pay off. This story is the perfect blend of bizarre, mundane, and zany, and is the kind of true crime I can fully get behind.

It was hard to choose my favorite 99PI episodes for this list because there are so many great ones—and because host Roman Mars’s voice is just so soothing, it’s kind of the Platonic ideal of the genre we’re talking about here. But this one, about how a group of Black men in 1970s Pittsburgh created the world’s first-ever paramedics unit, has stuck with me since I first listened to it. (Also, if you like this episode, I’d recommend “The Architect of Hollywood” as a follow-up; it has a similar subject and vibe, and is another one of my all-time faves.)

As a huge Britney Spears fan, I was predisposed to like this four-part miniseries from Vulture. It is all about giving Britney her due, musically, and digs into what exactly makes her music so great. The episodes are short, so all of them are worth a listen, but if you’re only going to do one, I’d suggest the one about “Toxic,” which—turns out!—is a very unique pop song that has roots in a 1981 Bollywood musical.

Each episode of this podcast focuses on a listener-submitted story involving winding, low-stakes drama, and this is one of my favorite episodes. The gossip is fun and the guest is really good—a winning combo. (A close runner-up, if you want another option: “Squirrel Enthusiast with Tracy Clayton.”)

I really like Slate’s Decoder Ring podcast; each episode focuses on “a cultural question, object, idea, or habit” that’s hidden in plain sight and that you might not know the origin of. This one is about the moment in a movie that you’ve no doubt seen, where the protagonist walks down a bustling, crowded city street—a.k.a. “the Tootsie shot.”

6. “Pilates,” Maintenance Phase

Maintenance Phase, hosted by longtime SELF contributor and friend of the brand Aubrey Gordon and journalist Michael Hobbes, is one of my favorite podcasts, so it’s hard to pick a single episode to recommend. That said, a lot of what they cover involves the diet industry and is kind of infuriating, so I decided to choose one of the lighter ones for this list. If you don’t know much about Pilates—or the fact that it originated in a World War I internment camp (!!)—then this is the episode for you.

7. “The Rules,” If Books Could Kill

Michael Hobbes also happens to be a cohost of this podcast about “airport books”—those mega bestsellers that are ubiquitous for a moment in time and that have a lasting impact on (or do long-term damage to) the culture. I really enjoyed this deep dive on The Rules, the dating manual rooted in old-fashioned and reductive ideas about gender.

This episode of 99PI is absolutely delightful; it traces the origin of the 2000s-era earworm “Who Let the Dogs Out?,” which is much harder to pin down than you might think. (My jaw literally dropped at one of the episode’s many reveals.) If you loved the viral episode of Reply All, “The Case of the Missing Hit,” you’ll like this.

9. “American Ivy,” Articles of Interest

This podcast started as part of 99% Invisible, so it has a similar sensibility (but a different host). Typically each episode digs into a different aspect of fashion, like pockets, Hawaiian shirts, and knockoffs. Last year host Avery Truffleman released a seven-part series dedicated solely to Ivy style, the ultrapreppy, wealthy collegiate look most of us associate with brands like J. Crew and Ralph Lauren. It’s a super interesting and incredibly mellow listen.

I assume everyone knows that birds are figuratively gay, but did you know that some are literally gay too? If that’s news to you, consider this lovely episode of Radiolab, which digs into research from the 1970s on the female seagulls that nested and raised chicks together.

This “docu-podcast” explores New York’s Fire Island, a tiny strip of land that has been frequented and beloved by queer people since the early 20th century. Host Jess Rothschild brings the perfect blend of levity, appreciation, and criticism to this topic and had some great conversations with queer elders who have been going there every summer for 30-plus years. It’s a true “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry” kind of a deal.

A friend recommended this video to me, which also happened to be my introduction to Jenny Nicholson (a pro gamer and YouTuber who has lots of thoughts on geek culture). I had no idea that a woman sitting at her desk and talking about a failed Utah theme park directly to the camera for four hours could hold my attention, but, boy, did it! Her deep dive is fascinating, funny, and extremely relatable for anyone who has had a job where the people in charge just made…all of the wrong decisions, at every turn. (And if you’re not yet sold due to its length, I get it; in that case, I’d recommend starting with “A Needlessly Thorough Roast of Dear Evan Hansen” or “An Excruciatingly Deep Dive into the Avatar Theme Park.”)

Happy resting!



Leave a Comment