And no this is not a post about lighting a candle or doing a face mask!
Rest is so essential and yet sometimes so elusive. We are led to believe that rest is automatic – it happens without thinking – like brushing our teeth or getting dressed. But for many people rest isn’t part of their lives, or at least not genuine rest. Many of us (often myself too), are too focused on striving and never stopping. Because we think to rest is to quit or be lazy.
So, we wait until we are exhausted and have no other choice. Sound familiar? Me too.
Personally, I find it hard to rest because I am somewhat of a perfectionist, and I fear failure. What sometimes appears as ‘hard work’ can just be an attempt to ‘be perfect’ by doing, accomplishing, and achieving to the detriment of our mental health.
We worry that if we rest, we might spin out of control or get bored. Boredom is a common result of rest but scratching underneath the surface, boredom can sometimes be an attempt to cover up deeper feelings such as anger, loneliness or feeling trapped.
We might also be afraid to rest because doing so will just set us back making us feel behind with tasks and to-do lists.
We might really want to rest, but our minds are too busy racing, reviewing all the responsibilities that are piling up and spilling over into other days and weeks.
Or we might even be confused about what ‘rest’ really is.
So, what is ‘rest’ really and how do I rest?
Many of us think that using our phones or tablets is resting. After all, we are sitting and scrolling or playing games and not doing anything else. However, it’s exhausting as we are absorbing sensory input and our brain is trying to process it all. We might also start comparing ourselves to others and experiencing difficult emotions such as envy, jealousy, and anger.
Rest is defined in the Oxford dictionary as ‘a bodily state characterised by minimal functional and metabolic activities; and freedom from activity and labour’. It’s ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ and only when the whole system --mind-body—is engaged in a restful state can we begin to experience ‘resting’ in its truest form. It’s shifting from our external to our internal environment and making time to daydream, self-reflect or create.
Below are some great ideas of how you can really rest and not feel guilty about it:
1. Understand the importance of rest
Many of us are operating in a constant state of stress. Rest is the only way to engage the part of our nervous system that allows for relaxation. It is literally vital for our physical and mental health. Your brain isn’t designed to be endlessly productive. In fact, the brain is most efficient when it’s allowed to move between periods of focus and unfocus. During periods of rest and play, the brain can consolidate memories, solidify learning and work on problem solving.
2. Rethink the narrative
This won’t happen overnight but it’s important to re-think the narrative that rest is failing. Most people tend to attach their successes to their worth, value and productivity. We need to reframe and shift the narrative to a more realistic view such as “If I don’t compete this task, it does not mean I have failed. It just means I will get it done tomorrow”
3. Be intentional
As you are about to rest, I suggest saying to yourself, “I am going to rest now” and asking. “Is my mind at rest? Am I allowing myself to ‘be’ instead of ‘do” Focus on taking slow, deep breaths for a minute or longer and really connect your mind-body in the present moment of restful awareness.
4. Focus on yourself
Find an activity that helps you relax. Ask yourself, what makes me happy? What makes me forget time? This may look vastly different for everyone. For some, cooking a meal is a meditative process and for others it’s their idea of hell. Just keep it simple and don’t overthink it. Find something that you love doing (that isn’t work related) and make time to do more of it.
Say you’ve wanted to pick up gardening. Then take some time to commit to reading an article about gardening. Or if you like plants then do some research about plants. Just take some time to invest into something that explicitly does not have to do with your career or your work. If you already have a hobby, great! Carve out some time to do just that!
5. Cultivate freedom in the mind
We spend so much of our lives trying to control our minds, our lives, our breath, our relationships, the list goes on and on. That’s why it’s so important that when you are resting that you just allow the mind to be free. Release control and just let it be. Practice observing what comes up for you and learn to accept it. It’s ok if you experience difficult feelings and emotions when you rest – this completely natural and will happen from time to time. Remember that part of resting is simply allowing all parts of ourselves to be seen – and that’s okay.
In order to rest, we need to first work to undo old attitudes or buried beliefs we hold about resting. Ensuring we carve out time for rest requires a shift in mindset. When you embrace the idea that being busy doesn't necessarily mean being productive, you can build rest into your day without guilt. Even just a few minutes off throughout the day, to day-dream, breathe and self-reflect is enough and can actually help you be more productive, creative and satisfied with your day.