Inside: If you feel overwhelmed by life, one of the kindest and wisest things you can do is to gift yourself an abundance of rest. This post includes amazon referral links.
In a culture that idolizes doing more, acquiring more, being more, and that conditions us to believe that our worth is tied to our level of productivity or achievement, it feels brave to make rest an integral part of our lifestyle and live vision. It can also feel deeply uncomfortable to give ourselves permission to rest if we believe the story that we are not enough, we’re not doing enough, we can never keep up or measure up.
Discoveries in sleep research, psychology, neuroscience, organizational behavior, sports medicine, sociology, and other fields have given us a wealth of insight into the unsung but critical role that rest plays in strengthening the brain, enhancing learning, enabling inspiration, and making innovation sustainable.Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
For years I operated in a cycle of pushing myself past my energetic and emotional capacity, of ignoring the wisdom of rest trying to tend to everyone’s needs and manage my home and life with perfection, and then falling ill. I used to feel relieved when I’d get sick and be forced into rest. Getting sick was the only way I felt permission to clear my calendar and lie on the couch for a weekend. I am not alone in this.
I also watched my mom pour herself out for her family, sacrifice herself for those she loved. And while I am so grateful for how she loved us, I recognized from a young age that I wanted better boundaries around rest and service. I did not want to spend my entire holiday in the kitchen while others played. I did not want to lose myself and my interests for family. I did not want to die young like she did and I believed and still do that taking care of myself would give me a better chance of living past 53.
When we prioritize rest, we cultivate creativity, and we are able to maximize our productive hours. We live more joyfully as we ebb and flow intentionally from filling our tank to pouring out our gifts. We live resilient and rooted in self-awareness and self-compassion as we allow our bodies and brains time to restore, we give space for processing emotion, for building our support systems, and for reconnecting with our true selves under all the noise.
We also have a right to rest simply because it’s a human need and we matter, not only as a means to any end goal! Writer and Yoga Nidra teacher Karen Brody writes “We take rest like a pill for productivity. Let us rest without an agenda.”
rest, creativity, and mental health
Lack of rest is connected to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. If you are affected by anxiety, stress, or depression, then making rest a priority could be the change your brain needs. A study by the University of California – Berkeley found that insufficient sleep amplifies levels of anxiety and, conversely, that deep sleep helps reduce such stress (source). Brain scans of participants after a night without sleep showed a shutdown of the medial prefrontal cortex, which normally helps keep our anxiety in check, while the brain’s deeper emotional centers were overactive (this sounds a lot like what I lived with when I had PTSD and panic disorder after a traumatic car accident and the death of my child).
According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. More than 75% of physician office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints. Rest combats stress. Embracing a life that values rest might add years to your life and will undoubtedly improve the quality of however many years you get to walk this Earth.
One of the most important ways we can honour our body’s need for rest and repair is by getting sufficient amounts of non-REM sleep, the most healing sleep hours. Non-REM sleep is when tissue growth and repair take place, important hormones are released to do their jobs, and cellular energy is restored. Sleep deprivation occurs when we don’t get enough deep sleep. This article explains the sleep cycle and offers suggestions for getting more deep sleep. This post also offers more insight into sleep.
It’s not only sleep that matters, though. Other forms of rest are vital to our mental health, too. Our brains need breaks, moments between the busy to just be. Think of your brain as having two modes of processing. One is action oriented and lets you concentrate on tasks, solve problems, and process incoming data. It’s what helps you make sense of information in front of you. The second is the default mode network (DMN), a group of brain regions that show higher levels of activity when we are awake and not involved in any specific mental exercise (source), when your mind takes a break to wander inward.
The DMN is linked to well-being, creativity, and intelligence. One study on writers and physicists found that 30 percent of creative ideas originated while the participants were thinking about or doing something unrelated to their jobs (aka those bursts of insight you get while in the shower). One small study conducted at the University of Kansas showed that 3-4 days unplugged in nature boosts creativity by 50% (source)!
Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester says “Nature is fuel for the soul.” It offers rest, boosts creativity, it’s linked with innovative and holistic cognitive styles, improves mind-body health, and helps us tune into the wisdom and beauty of the natural world which is a gift unto itself.
- Explore a seasonal approach to your creative life and how to work with “Autumn Wisdom.”
- Experiment with an exercise that can help reignite your creativity.
- Learn about different types of rest and why rest is essential for creativity.
- Bring awareness to the mind-emotion-body connection and how this plays a role in and is influenced by creative expression.
learning to trust our natural rest rhythms
It’s helpful to acknowledge our unique chronotype (whether you’re a “morning person” or an “evening person”) or natural circadian rhythm, the pattern at which our energy levels naturally rise and fall. Most people naturally wake up at a certain time. “Morning people” have an internal alarm clock that makes it difficult to sleep in no matter what they do, while “night owls” may have a tough time going to bed early. While mostly decided by genetics, our patterns can change with age and/or with hormonal changes. Deciding to embrace your own internal clock without judgment will help you find your way to rest and better sleep sooner. Judgment increases stress which negatively impacts sleep – not a helpful cycle.
Our energy naturally ebbs and flows throughout the day, month, and year. When do you feel most energetic/productive? When do you feel your energy typically slows down? When do you naturally desire engaging outwardly and when do you prefer turning inward and more solitude or quiet? If you’re not sure, track your energy flow for a few days and see if you can identify any patterns. Pull out a one year calendar and think about the seasonal shifts that impact your energy.
Do your daily/weekly/monthly schedules (or internal expectations) align with your natural rhythms? If not, experiment with moving some activities that require more physical or mental energy to your peak hours and move lower energy activities, or better yet, restful activities to your natural energy slumps. Be proactive (and kind to yourself) by building breaks into your day, month, and year when you know that you need more rest.
It seems obvious but if you’re like me, you benefit from regular reminders that we need extra rest in times of chronic stress, grief, or healing through trauma. The world doesn’t stop spinning when hard things happen and it can feel challenging both emotionally and practically to allow for extra rest even when we’re desperate for it. According to Timothy Strauman, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke, “Disrupted focus and lower energy are your brain’s response to the (Covid) pandemic” (source). As frustrating or challenging as this may feel, we must make rest a priority.
Weaving a practice of Seasonal Living throughout your life will help you befriend yourself, attune to your natural rhythms, and live with more consistent joy, wholeness and curiosity. Start here with a few short videos or begin to practice with a Seasonal Mindfulness Journal.
7 WAYS TO EXPLORE PERMISSION TO REST if you feel overwhelmed by life
Consider the obstacles or resistance that typically hold you back from rest – Time? Lack of structure or routine? A chaotic or cluttered home? Over commitment? Grief or trauma? Anxiety that makes it hard to quiet your brain? Physical issues? A lack of self-trust? Perhaps, you aren’t even sure what would help you feel rested and don’t know where to begin. Whatever the state of your current relationship with rest, I trust that the following 7 invitations will inspire you to make space for more rest in your life.
1. if life is overwhelming examine your core beliefs about rest
Take some time to consider how you have worked rest into your daily rhythms and where you feel like you struggle to make rest a priority. Does rest come easy, or do you have to force yourself to slow down and rest? Do you believe in the value of rest or do you subconsciously associate rest with laziness? Do you feel guilty when you rest? Identify your own objections to the idea of rest. Write them down and discuss with a friend, therapist, or coach. You can learn to write a new story around rest.
2. do you sleep plenty but never feel rested?
Sleep and rest are not the same thing. Rest helps us feel restored after mental and physical effort and can be active or passive. There is more than one type of rest that serves us. Download and work through the 7 Types of Rest Handout I’ve provided. This will help you generate ideas for how you want to/could practice these different types of rest to feel more vibrant and healthy.
3. Is your home environment conducive to rest?
How can you make your surroundings more relaxing? Decluttering regularly, changing paint colors, adding in mood lighting, bringing in bits of nature, adding a simple and pretty outdoor space to your home are all possibilities. A personal example: winters in central Alberta, Canada, are long, harsh, and dark. Adding in more light helps boost my mood and feels calming and restful to me: a happy lamp, beeswax candles, a fake birch tree with twinkly lights, salt lamps, and working near natural light as much as possible all help. What are some ways, big or small, that you want to make your home or work environment feel calmer and more restful?
4. Routines can enhance creativity and lessen overwhelm
Routine along with a high degree of control/freedom has the biggest impact on creativity. And by reducing the number of choices we make in a day, routines also decrease overwhelm. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang teaches in REST that “Routines don’t tap into willpower, resilience, or intrinsic motivation, leaving you more of those resources to spend on hard problems.” Ensure that you have intentional morning and evening routines in place that reflect your core values, menu plan, outsource, automate. Honour your wiring and the season of life you’re in by telling the truth about your current capacity and giving yourself permission to receive help or lower the bar where needed. You don’t prove your worth by doing it all and pouring yourself out until you run dry.
5. weave purposeful rest throughout your day
There are times that we need a quick repose to help us get through our workday. A 30-minute session of Yoga Nidra may be as restful as 2-4 hours of sleep. Though the research is not conclusive, many people find it calming to listen to Binaural Beats (with earphones) but calming music, white noise, or nature/water sounds may be equally impactful. I like binaural ocean sounds to distract my brain from worry and help me be present and mindful. And napping has different benefits depending on duration/frequency but in general boosts memory, focus, and alertness. Another way I build rest into my day is to name 4-5 pm as my Rest Hour to use in whatever way feels good at the time.
6. Self-trust facilitates rest
Self-Trust includes feeling safe, honouring our boundaries, deep listening, self-compassion, and a sense of agency and capacity. Self-trust is a conscious, life-long practice. We build self-trust as we learn to listen to our body’s cues (including cues of hunger, thirst, needing the bathroom, needing rest, or our gut/intuition), emotional messengers (all of our emotions are simply messages; we can learn to pause and listen to what’s coming up and then choose our response in a thoughtful way), and as we learn to notice and examine our thoughts or narratives and take an active role in writing a new story for our life.
7. investigate sleep issues
While we can learn how to build healthier sleep routines, sometimes our issues run deeper. Ask for professional help if your sleep is poor and disrupted. Help could look like a sleep study, sleep apnea test, working with a naturopath or M.D. to get blood work and shore up deficiencies or discuss sleep aids, a nutritionist to optimize your nutrition, a body practitioner to calm stress, or a dentist to get help with grinding/clenching while asleep. Sleep is critical for health and merits our energy and attention.
It’s not your job to make everyone comfortable and you’re not responsible for everyone’s feelings.Rachel Rodgers
REST COMES IN MANY SHAPES AND FORMS: start where you can
Rest is not an all or nothing choice. When I had three little people at home, no family around for support, and we lived on one income so we could homeschool, rest looked different for me than it does today. The season of life we’re in and our other unique life circumstances influence both sleep and what rest looks, sounds, and feels like. Yet we can start where we’re able.
Getting to know your true self underneath your learned coping patterns, cultural or familial conditioning, and your efforts to keep up and measure up, will help you unearth the truth of what you need and want, and can help you identify the forms of rest that you can weave throughout your days or life. I’ve shared a sampling of some of the restorative choices I make in my current season of life:
- walks in nature
- cooking a max of 4 times/week
- working PT from home with a flexible schedule
- slow mornings that allow me to putter and think
- travel including longer trips and day/weekend visits to the mountains
- laying on the couch and Netflixing
- enjoying good food in new restaurants with my favourite people
- naps and climbing into bed as early as needed
- doing less and lowering the bar for myself
- a rest block from 4-5 pm
- hiring support
- quieting the noise of comparison
- time off social media
- not giving the best of myself to people who are not in my inner circle(s)
- living clear about my values and priorities in this season
- honouring my boundaries
- owning what is mine, not taking responsibility for what isn’t mine to carry
- regularly asking myself “what is the kindest thing I can do for myself?” and following through
7 Books to reinforce the importance of rest
I’ve included my Amazon referral links. There is no bookstore in my town so in addition to using Amazon, I love both the library and Scribd for audio books.
- Daring to Rest: Reclaim Your Power with Yoga Nidra Rest Meditation, Karen Brody
- Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less Paperback, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
- The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, Arianna Huffington
- Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis, Ada Calhoun
- Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity, Dr. Saundra
- How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, Jenny Odell
- Burnout: The Secret to Solving the Stress Cycle, Emily and Amelia Nagoski
If you feel overwhelmed by life it makes sense to examine your current beliefs and patterns around rest. Rest is one of the kindest and wisest gifts we can offer ourselves in any season. Not everything is urgent. Not everything is for this season. We can breathe, rest, and trust that a beautiful and meaningful life is not built by doing more faster, rushing, hustling, striving, and never quitting, or by sacrificing our joy and wellbeing by conforming to the status quo.
A full, beautiful and meaningful life is handcrafted intentionally, slow and steady, by truth-telling about who we are and what we want and need, through a practice of honouring our wiring and shifting as we move through different seasons of life, and by acknowledging our agency and power to consciously choose our response.
Remember that you matter. Gift yourself an abundance of rest.
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