Learning How to Rest is Crucial for Mental Health. Five tips
The Non-Stop Hamster Wheel
We as an American society don’t do rest well. To rest is to be lazy, to not be living to the fullest and to be wasting our life away. We brag about how tired we are, noting that we’ve only slept for 5 or 6 hours. We often lament that we wish we had more time to do fun stuff. To work 50-60 hour weeks is a badge of honor. It demonstrates loyalty and commitment to our jobs. And then we come home and have to work our second jobs (parent, homemaker, carpool chauffeur, sports coach). Oftentimes, working so much is about accruing material thing. Or to be perceived as important. We care about what people think and that leads us work in ways that promote materialism, not self-development.
“I’ll Rest When I’m Dead” – Warren Zevon
Rest as a concept is devalued. We reference the generations before us and our ancestors, cavemen. We tell stories about how they were constantly on the move and had no time for rest. They had to constantly look for food or be on the lookout for danger (lions, tigers, food scarcity, etc.). Our ancestors had to be prepared to immediately face whatever came their way.
Rest is also associated with being lazy. Rest is perceived as wasting what little time we have on this planet, doing “nothing”. Being bored makes us think that something is wrong.
Historically though, there were periods of down time, as animals hibernated, humans could live off the animals they killed and they could consume the foods they planted and harvested. There was no “boss” or promotion seeking. There was no need for the latest and greatest smart phone or the newest car. Somehow, we have decided that to not be busy might mean that we’re missing out on something.
But to miss out on something would mean what? That you are not prepared? Perhaps we’ll miss out on the opportunity of a lifetime? Maybe people will think that you are not educated about what’s going on in the world? That our families will not have security and success? Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) kicks in and we’re afraid to be uncool.
The Cost of Sacrificing Rest
When we forego rest, we increase the stress load on our brains and bodies. Stress is designed as a survival tool. It can be a good thing. Being under duress alerts us to danger and helps us become alert. Stress, during caveman days, only lasted for a short time. But too much of a good thing is dangerous. Somehow though, we transferred that preparedness for danger into a nonstop assault on our senses. Whether it be checking our emails every 5 minutes, binge watching the “it” show, logging onto social media or even doom scrolling so that we don’t miss anything.
Our bodies and minds were not designed to be constantly stimulated and inundated with information. And there is a correlation between all of this overload and our anxiety and stress. Is that surprising? It’s not an innocent gesture to just pick up your phone and check your email or scroll on social media.
But if you look at other countries, namely other Western countries, they do not maintain the same attitude and work towards hustling and working non-stop. Rest is considered crucial to a company’s productivity and to the citizens’ well-being. If the citizens are well-rested, they remain healthy and can perform. Resting is valued and a vital part of the human experience.
Now imagine if you are an introvert.
Introverts need more rest. But that seems taboo to say out loud
For introverts, all of this doing is taxing. It is difficult to say what percentage of the population are introverts, but some estimates range between 30-50%. Imagine that 50% of people are running around out there being introverted and taxing their mental load by trying to keep up with all the stuff.
When one is constantly stimulated, the brain has to process what it’s taking in and decide what to do with it. Then, a work deadline is added. a birthday gift to think about shopping for, hearing that someone has gotten sick, that someone has just gotten engaged. Our brains are wired to seek danger and so it goes to work at preparing for the worst. It’s too much and we don’t take the time to stop and give ourselves a break from it all.
Add to that that introverts can look at one issue is multi-dimensional and complex ways, and the risk for burnout or mental overload is magnified.
The reality is that when we rest, we are in the best position to prepare for the best and the worst AND live our life to the fullest. My guess is that our ancestors discovered fire and invented the wheel when they were at rest.
What the Ocean Teaches Me about Rest
Every year, I usually spend a week at the beach with my family. Typically, that is the only long vacation I take every year. My son is fascinated with the waves. We spend hours running in and out of the water, running away from the incoming waves and picking up seashells.
There is beauty in waiting for the waves to come onto the shore, running away from the waves, and feeling the salty water rush across our feet. But then, when the waves recede, we are excited to see what is left behind – a beautifully colored shell, a wonderfully shaped pebble, slimy seaweed and a crab among other things.
It is in those few moments, when the waves were not crashing down, that we discover all kinds of surprises. And within those surprises, we wonder where these things come from, we wonder what their story might be. And we get a few seconds to ponder their story while we wait for another set of waves to come to shore and splash across our feet, joyfully feeling the spray of the ocean on our face and on our feet.
The point is, we were enjoying moments of pause, and we discovered things when there was “nothing” going on. And it was in those moments that neither stress nor anxiety showed up.
Can you stop?
In our everyday, as we are living our lives and planning all the stuff, it is as if we are constantly being hit in the face by waves. It was fun and exciting to see the waves, but I imagine that if we kept getting pelted by the waves, non-stop, we’d be tired and it would no longer be fun.
Plus, there wouldn’t have been the opportunity to see what was left behind. And we would become stressed because we would not know how to handle the abundance of waves. And we’d become anxious and dread the waves because we’d worry about the size of the waves and how to find solace from the nonstop assault of waves.
So why is it ok for us to be go, go, going, all of the time? And if you truly wonder about your purpose in life and finding joy, when would you have time to find it, when you are so overly scheduled that all you have time to do is pass out and do all the things all over again.
We see nature rest all of the time. Do we call nature lazy for going into itself to hibernate? So why do we apply the label of lazy to ourselves? Why do we value hustle over rest? I would argue that nature is much more knowledgeable about what it takes to thrive and sustain itself in the long term.
There is a natural balance to life that we can learn from. Life is about ebb and flow, up and down, in an out. The seasons change, with winter offering nature an opportunity to rest and get rid of things that do not serve it.
Spring, offers new life to come froward and begin to offer its’ new life to others. Summer offers nature its’ opportunity to absorb the sun and grow to its’ optimum. Fall offers nature the opportunity to harvest the fruit that it has created and begin the transition to rest. Within Winter, nature slows down to assess, shed and reorient. Consider that our ancestors used Fall and Winter to rest and prepare for the seasons of activity.
In our non-stop go, go, go world, we don’t ever have seem to have a quiet season. IIs it any wonder that stress and burnout are so prevalent?
Rest is crucial for our well-being and crucial if we want to have a truly transformative and well lived life. Here are some tips to contemplate fitting more rest into your life.
1. Limit or stop altogether your doom scrolling and social media presence.
Do you really need to know which Beverly Hills housewife is dating who and what house they just recently purchased? Is it important for you EVERYTHING about what that politician posted on social media? Is it helpful for you to read about a person that just did something awful or illegal? Do you need to know that there was an accident on the Turnpike last night and that someone died? Not only that, in addition to news about people you don’t know, do you have to gossip about people you do know?
It’s one thing to stay informed, but staying informed every hour does not make you more prepared for what’s going on out there. Replace that time with something that replenishes you and fills your cup. How about going for a walk after dinner instead of watching the evening news? Better yet, play games with your children or loved ones. How are you spending your first hour of the day? Can you journal or read instead of reaching for your phone to seek negativity?
2. Get outside and be curious.
Pause and notice what is going on around you. Most of us drive or walk by our neighborhoods and never notice some of the quirks. Do you know where the fire hydrants are?
Could you find your way back home if someone dropped you in the middle of another neighborhood. Focus on being present on what’s actually around you. Be curious about the story of that house, or that flower or that street.
3. Take mini breaks throughout the day.
Check in with your energy. Check in with your stress levels. On a scale of 1-10, notice when you are feeling most calm and when you are feeling most stressed. Is it consistent? Does it happen only at certain times?
Ask yourself if there are things you can do to reduce that stress or things you can do to increase well-being.
4. Write out your To Do list for the week.
Ask yourself what is a should vs. what is a responsibility vs. things that you want to do. Explore how many things are in each category and identify if there are things you can reduce or eliminate.
Notice if there is nothing on your list that is what you want to do. Notice if something has been on your to do list for the past few weeks. Then, ask yourself why that is. If you seek to eliminate something, do a deep dive about why you can’t or won’t eliminate it (i.e. someone will be disappointed or will be upset).
Recognize that you cannot live your life for others and that you too are deserving of space for yourself. If it is something that you truly dislike but cannot eliminate it, ask yourself if you can give yourself a deadline.
5. Do breath work.
Take 5- 10 minutes to sit and pay attention to your in and out breath. Notice the pauses between the in breath and out breath. See if you can hold the pause for longer and longer. Ask yourself what you need right now, in this moment. It might be water, a nap, a phone call. Or maybe absolutely nothing. And that’s ok.
Remind yourself and repeat to yourself that the joy comes in the pauses. Check out a guided meditation I did on the 4-4-8 breath.
To rest can be difficult and often against the norm, but you are those you love are worth getting a person in their life who can truly be present and available.