The rest I didn’t know I deeply needed

Have you ever felt really really tired? And even when you get sleep, you awake even more exhausted? 

This past year I have been focusing on getting better sleep, but it hasn’t helped at all. Fatigue can be a sign of many health problems, so I worked with my doctor to check my physical health, and my psychologist to check my mental health. Together we determined the source of my fatigue as burnout. And while I needed sleep, and was getting it, what I needed more was rest. 

I used to think that these were the same thing, it turns out they are completely different. 

A problem worth solving

We live in a society that is focused on productivity, high producing, and achieving behaviors. We say things like “do more with less” and “sleep when I’m dead”. We see people who are busy as productive, stressed as up to big things, and achievement as the only important measure of success. 

The result is we are experiencing significant increases in chronic fatigue or its more recently introduced name, myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). A 2017 survey shows some 560,000 Canadians report that they have the disease, a 36.7 percent increase over previous results from 2014. The number also suggests the disease may be more common than breast cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis combined.

Since March of 2020, we are seeing significant experiences of compassion fatigue, lockdown fatigue, and pandemic fatigue.

Defining the difference

So, what is the difference between sleep and rest? We to begin let’s look at the actual definition.

Sleep definition “a condition of body and mind that typically recurs for several hours every night, in which the nervous system is relatively inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended.”

Rest definition “cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength.”

What stood out to me when I looked these up was “relax”. Rest was about relaxing. This lead me to begin looking at what areas of my life I needed to relax in? And this is when I found a Ted Talk by by Saundra Dalton-Smith (available at the end of this post) and the 7 key areas of our lives we need rest in, and more importantly restoration.

7 Types of Rest

1. Physical Rest. This can be passive or active. Passive can be sleeping or napping. Active rest could be a restorative yoga class, a relaxing float, a massage, and activities that release tension in the body and improve the body’s circulation and flexibility. 

2. Mental Rest. Have you noticed how busy your mind is? How many decisions we make in a day, how many experiences we process, how many things we are juggling. With the invention of technology, our day begins earlier and ends later than ever before. That email we answer hours after work, scrolling of social media, 24-hour breaking news cycles. Taking mental rest doesn’t have to be big. It can look like taking short breaks every 2 hours, having a notepad to capture nagging thoughts or inspired ideas, and leaving those decisions that seem difficult for the next morning when our brain has rested. 

3. Sensory rest. Bright lights, computer screens, competing background sounds, buzzing smartwatches, emails dinging. All this can overload our senses and cause us to feel overwhelmed. Taking sensory rest can be as simple as closing our eyes for a few minutes, turning off our devices, or putting them on airplane mode. And practicing sensory deprivation, such as intentionally turning off off electronics and environmental sounds. In loud places, you may consider noise-canceling headphones. A therapeutic float is an exceptional example, the tanks are designed to lessen our sensory experience. The room is dark to rest our eyes, the water is room temperature to rest touch, the room is designed to be silent to rest our hearing. Intentional moments of sensory deprivation can begin to undo the damage inflicted by the over-stimulating world.

4. Creative rest. You may think only artists would need creative rest, but it is also important for those who problem solve and brainstorm. Getting creative rest can be found in being in the awe of life. Sitting on a park bench, watching the waves as they wash up on the shore, or the waterfall spilling over the rocks of a mountain. We can also use our creative side for fun, painting a picture, a trip to a museum. And lastly, we can create a creative and inspirational environment to work in, have some fun with it. 

5. Emotional rest. This means giving ourselves space to process emotions, and rests when we need them from processing emotions. Having people you can express yourself to freely. Recognizing the people pleasing we do, and cutting back. And when someone asks you how you are, being honest when we are not okay. 

6. Social rest. You have likely heard the phrase that we are a combination of the five people we spend the most time with? There are relationships that fill our cup, and those that drain it. Getting social rest means taking breaks from experiences or people when we need one. We can also spend time with positive and supportive people. This can also mean socializing in small groups vs large groups. With so much of our social interactions now happening over zoom, we can even change the view so we are able to either see the whole group or just the speaking. Giving both our sensory and social eyes a rest.  

7. Spiritual rest. Spirituality, a connection beyond the physical and mental, allows us to experience belonging, connection, purpose, and love. Practicing spiritual rest can help us realize we are not alone, be part of something bigger than ourselves. Practice can include a daily routine of meditation, prayer, or reading from sources of our spiritual beliefs. We can also volunteer within our community, or take time to do a good deed for another. 

How do I know which one is needed? 

At Eat Breathe Thrive, we use a meditation called the Interoceptive Check-In. It is designed to listen to our inner sensations, which both support us in understanding our current experience, it also builds the interoceptive connection, making it easier to check-in. 

I do this meditation several times a day, either with or without the recording linked above. In the second section where we identify what needs the sensation may be pointing to, I ask myself what type of rest may be needed. 

A fun truth, likely you need them all a little or a lot. So even if you pick the wrong one you will experience benefits. This isn’t a practice of getting something right or fixing ourselves. It is an opportunity to support our experience, and if what ever we choose isn’t working, we can simply try something else.  


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