There are a lot of verbs meaning "to relax" or "to rest". It's unclear what the difference between them exactly is. Some of the verbs are: "sich ausruhen", "sich entspannen", "ausspannen", "sich erholen". Is there any difference in meaning between the mentioned verbs in day-to-day usage? Maybe some of them sound unnatural in some contexts and some are preferable in others. Dictionaries often translate these verbs as "to relax" or "to have a rest" but the subtle differences in their meanings and their usage are unclear.
Basically, they all mean the same. Though each one has a slight different viewpoint.
- "sich ausruhen" just means you need calm (Ruhe). Often this is the case after stress. You simply need a break. Your power has gone.
- "sich entspannen" and "ausspannen" are literally meant to reduce the tension (Spannung), although prefix "aus-" emphasizes you're taking yourself "out" of the stress location, while prefix "ent-" emphasizes your body is de-stressing
- "sich erholen" preferable means to recover from a former (maybe medical) problem state, illness or exhaustion or something.
There is a smooth transition of usuage. But an athlete would prefer "sich ausruhen" after a competition, while a deseased man would "sich erholen", while a working man would "ausspannen" after work, and you would "entspannen" on a yoga mat.
I could give you some concrete examples / circumstances of how I'd use each if you'd like:
"sich ausruhen" - for example when you're down with a cold, I use it mainly in a physical context referring to my body, be it physically or mentally you come to a rest
"sich entspannen" - while watching a movie, or whatever activity that you enjoy and relaxes you
"ausspannen" - as falkb pointed out, it carries the connotation of relaxing for a longer time with a conscious focus on avoiding what stressed you
"sich erholen" - I'd translate it to " to recuperate" (your strength or what have you)