The importance of rest: 7 different ways to rest this summer
It happens this time every year. Women crawl into my studio, dragging their knuckles on the floor. It’s the build up to the end of the year, the pressure of Christmas. They tell me they are literally hanging out for their summer holidays. These women feel like they are having to ‘push through’ and ‘soldier on’. What they are crying out for is rest. The importance of rest can not be overstated when dealing with burnout and mental fatigue.
We have become culturally accustomed to over-work. We hear of world leaders surviving on 5 hours sleep, junior doctors in hospitals working 60 hours without a break. Maybe the male body can cope with that. (Although I seriously question this).
However, the female body runs on a 28-day cycle and has different needs for work, rest and play in order to thrive. Otherwise our hormones suffer and we burn out.
“Rest is not work’s adversary. Rest is work’s partner. They complement and complete each other. […..] So work and rest aren’t opposites like black and white or good and evil’ they’re more like different points on life’s wave. You can’t have a crest without a trough. You can’t have the highs without the lows. Neither can exist without the other.”
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang “Rest: Why you get more done when you work less” 2016.
Let that sink in. Rest and work are like mutually supportive pals on the same team. They are like tomatoes and basil: sublime together on your plate, and when planted together they are mutually supportive pals who help repel each other’s pests. (But not Coriander. Coriander is no one’s friend eugh..)
You can also listen to this blog as a podcast
Resting will make you more creative
I have my most creative ideas in the shower and when I’m out walking in the morning. Turns out there’s a reason for that. When you are at rest, your cognitive mind (external-task focussed thinking) is switched off and your mind can wander.
Even when you are ‘at rest’, parts of your brain are firing away. Whether you are going for a gentle stroll, taking a power nap, or doing something creative, your brain switches into the ‘default mode network’ which allows a more inward-focussed, task-unrelated thinking. Your subconscious mind now has time to wander through past memories and future thoughts, and it will often come up with insights and solution for your problems.
This wandering mind is the secret to creative thinking because the default mode network will connect parts of the brain that don’t normally work together when you are concentrating on directed-cognition i.e. externally-focussed task thinking.
Some of the most brilliant minds on the planet, past and present, achieve focussed, productive work by interspersing routines of concentrated work (maximum 90 minutes) with periods of deliberate rest. The rest might include movement, meals, naps, talking to friends, playing music (Soojung-Kim Pang 2016). So if it’s good enough for Darwin, it’s good enough for me!
7 different types of rest
Obviously sleep is the big one. We all know that we need 7-8 hours sleep a night. But are you getting the right type of sleep?
Are you being sedated by alcohol/drugs which results in a lack of deep sleep? Which is a total bummer, not just because Gin is wonderful, but also because deep sleep is anxiolytic, which means it reduces your risk for anxiety the next day.
Gentle movement as physical rest
But it may also be that your body would like some physical rest in the daytime. Physical rest might mean lying on your back deck and pretend to read a book, like I did yesterday. Or it might mean flopping on the couch watching Netflix.
However, gentle movement might also be a form of active physical rest for your body. It might increase the sense of ease in your body.
We know that most of us live a sedentary life. And this may have gotten worse as a lot of us now work from home. But our bodies are meant to move all day. So just incorporating a few micromovements, like a wiggle of your shoulders, might bring a sense of ease to your body.
My favorite active rest is romping up and down the San Francisco-like hills of Red Hill, Brisbane. My body enjoys the stretch and the challenge, and my mind gets to float free as a bird. However, I know that this would be my friend’s idea of hell. We are all unique.
Do the kind of movement that works for you, not anyone else.
Some of you might need to do a little less…
On the other hand, some of you, maybe you’re pushing your body too hard by getting too much exercise. Your body might be crying out for a break. Why not pause your normal gym routine for a week to let your muscles recuperate a little bit. Or do you need more of an active physical rest? Like stretching, yoga?
Yoga Nidra, or ‘yogic sleep’ is a form of guided relaxation for your body and mind. Whenever I do it I feel completely rejuvenated, as if I’ve had a fantastic 8 hour sleep, not a 30 minute lie down. (And it really doesn’t matter if you slip off into the land of nod…)
I’ve recorded a few yoga nidra and I’ll link to them below. They’re free and you can download them.
Somatic Exercise: Guided Relaxation of the Body (25 mins Yoga Nidra)
In order to solve problems or come up with amazing ideas or concepts your brain needs to have space, time and energy to generate it.
You can’t say “Well, I’m going to be creative between the hours of 12 and 2pm precisely”. The creative process doesn’t work like that. Your brain might need a break from the relentless pressure of daily life in order to generate those fabulous ideas.
Maybe you just go for a walk in nature, play with pets or stare up at the stars…
Zone-out and give those thoughts time just to pop into your brain.
Your brain may also need novelty to stimulate new ideas. So invite fresh, new things into your routine: take a different route on your walk, listen to new playlists, try different foods and allow inspiration to strike.
If you were born in the era before smartphones and high tech TVs, your brain would have enjoyed more sensory rest then. But now our senses are overstimulated on a daily basis.
In Denmark they have this wonderful term ‘Hygge’ (pronounced ‘hooga’) which is all about sensory comfort and cosiness in their long winter nights. They use a lot of candles, comforting foods, people gather together and play board games. They use blankets and fires to keep warm. They snuggle up and read books. This sense of sensory rest feels so appealing to me.
I love lying on the floor under the ceiling fan in summer, feeling the breeze waft over my skin.
What can you do to rest your eyes? Maybe you could turn off bright overhead lights and instead use lower lumen lamps, or candles.
Perhaps the scent of a beautiful candle or essential oil could bring a bit of calm to your olfactory system.
Maybe a soothing playlist at a gentle volume could bathe your ears.
And of course… chocolate could warm the cockles of your heart and your tastebuds.
When you’re asked “How’s it going?” How often do you respond truthfully? “Actually, I’ve had a really tough week and I felt like leaving my job. I could really do with a hug and someone to talk it through with.” But what we actually say is “yeah I’m good”, stuffing down our need for emotional soothing.
How often do we share our inner emotional world with friends and get our emotional needs met? It takes great courage and vulnerability to say “I’m not doing so well actually. I don’t expect you to do anything. I just need you to know that I’m not OK.”
Who could you reach out to for emotional rest?
I think this is probably the most challenging one for women. Because so much of our time is spent looking after other people, doing things for others, checking in with people to make sure they’re okay. But like that old saying goes “fit your own oxygen mask first”.
Whilst social isolation is known to be a killer. Too much social contact can be an energy drain, particularly if you’re an introvert. There’ll be relationships that fill you up and some that drain you a little bit.
Perhaps there is somebody in your friendship circle who think “you know what … not today. I need to fill myself up first before I can deal with that person.”
I would encourage you to choose when you have the energy to respond to that phone call. Choose when to respond to their messages. Not because you don’t love/respect them, but because you’re making a discerning choice about the right time for you.
What does your soul need? I don’t necessarily mean in the religious context. Personally, I like to separate the word ‘spiritual’ from religion, although that might be different for you.
I like to think of ‘soul’ as the space between. The space where there are no words, just a sense of knowing.
Does your soul need tranquillity or does it feed on the energy of hustle and bustle? Does it want silence, meditation, stillness or does it feed on vibrancy?
Here’s an example: At the beginning of this year, I started going to a co-working space on my non-client days and my soul literally buzzed with happiness. I am an extrovert and whilst working from my relaxing little backyard studio for the past years was helpful and a financial life-saver, my extroverted brain needed the buzz of an office full of people. I swear my soul was shining as I rode the elevator for up to the office and I probably grinned like a weirdo at the coffee machine in the kitchen. I was just so excited to be back around ‘colleagues’. My soul needed it.
Do you ever have those days when you come home from work/uni but you still can’t switch your mind off? Perhaps you’re going over and over something hurtful that your boss said. Or worrying about your presentation tomorrow. Unfortunately worrying is one of the most unproductive ways to spend your time, especially at 3am. There’s a useful technique that we use in psychotherapy called ‘containment’.
How to ‘contain’ a worry
Say there’s a particular worry that’s not letting you sleep at night. Rumininating/worrying about it is not going to help solve it. There’s nothing you can do about it at 3am. To contain the thought, you could write it down on a piece of paper and leave it beside your bed, entrusting the piece of paper to hold your worry until the next day (when you can actually do something about it).
Or perhaps you simply imagine writing it down on a pad of paper. Or imagine putting it under a rock. Or visualise putting the note into an imaginary filing cabinet, ready to pick up again the next morning.
The idea is that you’re setting the worrisome thought aside and ‘pending’ it until you have time the next day. Or whenever you have capacity to deal with it.
Scheduling time for rest
My invitation to you, is to go through these seven different types of rest and come up with a recipe for the types of rest that you need to fill up your cup. We’re trying to find a balance. It is absolutely NOT selfish. If you do not fill up your own cup, how on earth are you going to be able to look after others? So take the time.
And then put it in your diary, prioritise it and actually do it!
Women especially need to put in their to do list and prioritize it. This is your time for you. So that you can then help others. It’s not selfish. It’s self-care.