Rest: to cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength.
From Oxford Languages (English Dictionary)
Read the definition above and then be honest. How often do you stop to rest? How often do you actually cease work/activity/movement and think about relaxing, refreshing yourself, or recovering your physical or mental strength?
Our culture talks a lot about relaxing, but often in the context of doing an activity that isn’t work and with the purpose of de-stressing. It’s highly recommended to take a walk, exercise, or pursue a hobby. “Getting away” is also a popular form of relaxing that involves taking a vacation, going out with friends, or signing up for a fancy retreat halfway around the world. These suggestions are all vital for living a healthy life and managing stress. There's a lot of value in relaxing and doing things other than work, but these active “getting away” types of things are not the same as rest. Rest is an absence of activity. Its intent is to give you a complete time out so that you can recharge your batteries, both physical and mental. There are times in life when you simply need to stop doing and take some time to just BE.
If resting sounds like mindfulness, then you aren’t completely wrong. Mindfulness is letting your mind take a break from the constant flood of thoughts running through it. Letting your brain pause often helps your body relax as well. The concept of rest that we are talking about is obviously very similar. I’m not sure that there is a big difference, other than mindfulness practices often encourage you to still DO something, like say three things you are grateful for or notice how your body feels. In contrast, rest doesn’t have any particular rules other than JUST STOP.
The most important and most obvious aspect of rest is getting enough sleep. It’s the ultimate way we stop mental and physical activity. I've talked about the importance of sleep before on the blog (check it out here). If you're someone who has trouble falling asleep, you can also check out my downloadable PDF mini-program that goes over some possible reasons why you have trouble falling asleep and what to do about it. Many studies show that a large percentage of modern humans are chronically lacking in sleep. Sleep is an important time for your body to heal, your brain to process, and your energy body to repair itself. If you're someone who doesn't get enough sleep on a regular basis, then that is a huge part of health and wellness that you need to start working on now. Everyone needs a different amount of sleep. Some people do better with six or seven hours, while I tend to be someone who needs more than nine on a regular basis. The standard 8 hours of sleep that is often talked about is average. You need to work on figuring out what is your sweet spot and then plan time in your life to get that. I know a lot of people who regularly get 5 to 6 hours of not great sleep at night, and that's clearly not ideal for the vast majority of us.
There are other aspects of rest that won't take so many hours out of your day. I think everyone should plan a couple of times during the day when you just sit down and be still for a few moments. Maybe you sit with a cup of tea to drink. Maybe you get to work five minutes early and just sit quietly in your car before you head inside. Maybe you take a moment to pause outside and look at your yard or the sky or whatever you can see out your back door. I think that no matter who you are and what your lifestyle is, you can find a couple of times during the day cease all mental and physical activity. Take a deep breath and let the worries of the day go. Feel yourself breathing. Try to do nothing for just a tiny amount of time.
I think it's also important to plan some larger chunks of rest throughout the week. Schedule 20 minutes during the week when you sit to read a book, take a hammock out and relax, or stop by a park on the way home and just stare at the water. Maybe you give yourself one hour for a mid-week nap or plan a relaxing afternoon at a pool. And, of course, once in a while you need bigger chunks of rest than that. You could take half a day off of work so you can go relax somewhere on your own. Maybe you plan a mini retreat for yourself now and then. You could drop the kids off with family and spend the weekend at home doing nothing in particular.
I think one of the hardest things about rest is explaining to others what you're doing! People see you doing "nothing," and they think that you're available to talk to them, help them, get something done, etc. But the point of rest is that you're simply doing nothing for those few moments. This unplugging and recharging is completely necessary for your body and your brain. It's also pretty countercultural in a world where we think that being busy and being active is always the best. Maybe that's why using the language of rest is a really good thing to start adding to your vocabulary. You can start to train the people around you to understand what you mean when you say, “I'm just taking a rest for a few moments.” That means you really are going to do nothing for as long as you need.
Another thing we need to clarify is that rest doesn't have to be expensive. Part of the value of rest is that you're not making a huge effort to do it. I'm not convinced that flying to the other side of the world so that you can relax on a beach is actually the best way to rest. Sometimes driving 2 miles down the road to a park and sitting in your chair is just as beneficial as spending a lot of money to get away. The benefit of cheap and easy rest options is that you aren't bookending it with a whole lot of stress and planning. There's something absolutely delicious about just taking a few moments out of your schedule to do nothing right where you are without having to put a lot of effort into it. Even if you do want to plan a larger rest time but have no money, you could ask around and see if anyone would let you borrow their house for an evening so that you have a cheap place to stay. Don’t let concerns about money keep you from resting. If you get creative, there are many easy ways to make it happen.
I also want to acknowledge that rest can be spontaneous, but for those of us who are really bad at it, it might be something we have to plan into our schedule at first. That can be as easy as making a checklist for the day and putting “rest for 5 minutes" on it. It could be looking at your calendar for the week and deciding that on that afternoon set aside for errands you will simply plan to use 20 minutes of it to rest. It could be knowing that you have a busy weekend ahead and scheduling on your calendar half an hour after that weekend to get a little extra rest. As you get better at adding rest into your day and your week, you may not have to think ahead about it. Or maybe you'll continue to take short, unplanned rest times during the day, but you schedule longer rest recessions on your calendar to make sure you're getting some of both. I think the ultimate goal would be to make rest spontaneous whenever you need it, but in the beginning, you might have to be a little bit more conscious about putting it into your life.
I also want you to think about rest as being a break from your technology. I see a lot of people who think they are "resting" but they're actually sitting browsing on their phones. I'm not sure that checking up on technology and social updates is really rest because often a lot of what we see triggers emotional and mental responses in us. These responses are not rest. Your body might be still, but your mind and emotions are often getting worked up. When you're looking at your phone, you're reacting to the news, you're thinking about ideas, or you're making to-do lists in your head. There's so much going on there that really is not rest. Try to make your rest a complete mental and physical break. You could put your phone on Do Not Disturb or airplane mode so you won’t be easily distracted.
Now, I know a lot of people who feel like they have to be available every moment of the day for clients, family, work, or whoever else you think needs to be in touch with them. They tell me that they can’t walk away from their phone for any reason. I can think of very few people who, on a regular basis, are too important to not get a break. Everyone needs a few minutes every day when they are not "on call." Everyone needs a few minutes every week when they are allowing themselves to just BE. No one is so important that they have to be available 24/7 at the expense of their own health. If you think that you are so vital to the world that you can’t take a moment to yourself, I would suggest that you take some time to reflect on that belief and see if it is really true. It’s more likely that you feel like you need to be that vital to the world, but that the world would likely go on just fine without you for five minutes.
On a related topic, I think some of the people that have the hardest time finding rest are parents. Parents are often pulled a million directions with constant interruptions and children who need attention. However, as a parent, you can still plan rest into your day. Maybe you take 5 minutes in the afternoon to sit down with one of your kids and just ask them about what's going on. That's a type of rest that is beneficial for your relationship with your kid. It also teaches both of you that breaks are healthy. Maybe your rest is sitting down for dinner and making it clear to the family that you're not getting up again till you're done eating. Sometimes rest is about setting boundaries for yourself and acknowledging that it's okay to let things go for 5 or 10 minutes because you need a moment to relax.
Rest is an important topic because it is part of overall wellness. This constant connection and activity and busyness that is part of our current culture has been shown in a myriad of studies to be really bad for our health. Our physical bodies, minds, emotions, and energy bodies simply cannot keep up with the constant motion and doing and thinking and availability that we think is normal in modern life. Much of the research calls it "stress." We all know stress is terrible for us. And part of that stress is just the constant pull on your attention in every possible direction. Allowing yourself to actually disconnect and rest, is one of the best things you can do for yourself to reduce your stress levels. I think that's why the mindfulness movement of the past 20 years has been so important for so many people. You don’t realize how hard the constant motion and thinking is on your body and mind until you’ve stopped for a break. The more you are able to do that, the more you give space for your body and mind and emotions to process and heal and find balance.
This brings me to another important point. I see a lot of people who are completely unable to rest. They are constantly on the move, constantly planning social engagements, and constantly filling their day with unnecessary work. I think sometimes the underlying issue is that they are afraid to see and feel what their minds and their bodies have to say to them. If you are unable to be alone, if you always have to have noise in the background, if you get antsy if you have nothing to do for a minute, or if you feel like you cannot stop moving for any reason while you're awake, then there is probably something you are unintentionally (or intentionally) avoiding. There are physical emotional or energetic signals your body is trying to send you that you are blocking out. And those messages are really important if you want to be healthy. If that's the case, then it's time to get some help and learn to deal with that.
If you want to say, "I am just too busy to rest. You have no idea what my life is like. I have ______ and ________ keeping me so busy that I just don't have time to take a break. " That could be completely valid. Your life might be totally nuts. You might not have time to take a moment to yourself. You might have a million things pulling you in a bazillion directions. However, for the most part, those extreme situations should only be happening in small chunks. If you look back and you can see that your last 6 months or 2 years have been like that, then there are changes you need to make in your life to resolve the problem. There are choices you are making that are creating that chaos in your life. I know that might sound a little harsh, especially for some of you who feel like you are in a situation you cannot control at all, but I don't know anybody who has zero control over the long-term business of their life.
If you are struggling to find any kind of rest over a long period of time, I would seriously ask yourself if you are avoiding your issues or actively creating chaos. I know there are times and situations in life when it feels impossible to wrestle back any kind of time on your own. I know that the COVID pandemic was like that for many people, and for some their chaos stretched on for many months. But even in those situations, people were able to plan some breaks into their lives. The crazier things are, the harder it is to make rest a part of your routine. It can, however, be done. If you actually want to be healthy and well in the long term, this is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. If you find yourself unable to change your habits and create time for rest, there may be some underlying reasons why you feel this is out of your control. Get some help exploring those reasons and figuring out how to create a more balanced life. You do not want to be somebody who looks back at your life in 20 years and realizes that you didn't do one of the simplest things you could possibly do for your health.
So here are your challenges for this week:
Find at least 5 minutes every day to actually rest. To sit down without your phone and just relax. Enjoy a snack, look around, or take a moment to talk to whoever is near you.
Plan one larger rest period into your week. Aim for 15-30 minutes of chill time. Stop at a park. Sit on the porch. Park your car somewhere. Have a cup of coffee in your kitchen.
Do nothing. See what comes up. Let yourself be. Refuse to get up for any reason. It's not rocket science, but it will change your life in little ways if you let it.