You’ve probably seen the phrase on Instagram or Tiktok or Twitter sometime in the last few years. It’s been made into a hashtag. #RestIsEssential.
And it’s true. We need rest. But what kind of rest?
When are we resting to help restore ourselves, and when do we feel like we’re resting when actually we’re just numbing out? In a world of commercialized self care, though, it can be tricky to tell when we’re truly caring for ourselves or when we’re indulging in comforts that don’t actually impact our wellbeing.
(This isn’t to say indulging in comforts is a bad thing–there’s nothing wrong with setting time aside to take a nice bath or buying yourself expensive chocolates that you really love. These are wonderful treats to give yourself, but they aren’t self care tools.)
The same sort of confusion can happen with rest! When are we resting and giving ourselves (body & mind) a chance to restore, and when are we opting out of dealing with our issues? It can be hard to tell if you’re resting due to burnout. When you’re so burned out, sometimes you don’t know how to restore your energy, so it feels like flopping down onto the couch and binging TV and ordering takeout for a week straight is the only way to go.
But how do you feel at the end of that week? Do you feel mentally, emotionally or physically restored? Or do you feel just as exhausted as before?
Sometimes we do need a rest where we can just let ourselves rest our minds. A few minutes here and there scrolling through your social media feeds or spending a bit of time watching a show isn’t detrimental to your health. But those moments should be when you need a quick break, when you’ve been in a hardworking mode for a while, and need to slow yourself down before jumping back into it.
These are the kinds of breaks we need when we’ve found ourselves in what some refer to as a flow state of concentration: where something is engaging and just challenging enough to absorb your attention completely, often making you lose track of time. It’s how you feel when you’re really “in the zone.” In those kinds of instances, a few minutes to get your friends’ instagram stories can give your brain a helpful break and restore your energy to get back to work.
But in terms of longer term rest and restoration solutions, mentally clocking out is often not what we actually need.
First, let’s talk about a few different types of rest.
- Restorative Rest: The “not doing” type of rest. Low energy activities meant to give either your mind or body a chance to recover from active engagement.
- Active Rest: The “doing” type of rest. Things that feed your mind, emotions or body that fall outside of your regular routine or responsibilities. Things like an art practice, music, writing, other hobbies, spending intentional time with loved ones, etc.
- Avoidant Rest: When “not doing” rest becomes purposeless, or a way to avoid exploring uncomfortable or distressing feelings or situations.
There are three different types of rest we need both restorative and active practice for.
Restorative physical rest is about giving your body a break, a chance to get a break from any hard work it’s done recently, and restore enough energy to be able to continue on as needed. Sometimes this could be what we often think of when it comes to rest: taking a nap, watching a show, etc. If you’ve been on your feet all day for instance, it can be important to find time to sit with your feet up, perhaps while you watch a movie and eat dinner. Instead of mindlessly spending the day on binging Netflix, it’s a practice used to offer yourself a chance to tend to a real need of your body’s.
Active physical rest would be things like: going for a walk around your neighborhood, doing some yoga, doing a body scan to find sore areas of your body and massaging them/tending to them as needed. It could be playing with your pets, dancing around to your favorite music, etc. Things that offer your body something you don’t get in your regular routine, that helps to rejuvenate you even if it takes active energy.
It’s not enough to give your body a break, your mind needs time to rest and restore itself too. (And often, when we overwork ourselves mentally, there are physical symptoms, so taking care of one is part of taking care of both!) Like we talked about above, sometimes a short break online or an episode of a show can be a restorative mental break, just remember to use them intentionally for restorative purposes! Other restorative mental breaks could be chatting with a friend on the phone, engaging in a meditation practice, taking a long shower to give yourself a break from whatever you’re concentrating on, etc. More active types of mental rest could be things like journaling, going to therapy, engaging in some sort of art practice to express what you’re thinking and feeling, etc. You can give your mind a break from your day to day but still nurture it by reading a chapter of a book or working on a crossword puzzle or going to a local speaking event that sounds interesting!
Often overlooked, sensory rest is now becoming a third type of rest we need regularly. In the modern world, most of us spend a lot of time staring at a screen. If you work any sort of office job you’re sitting looking at a computer all day; even food service jobs now have tablets employees use all day long, and most people around you have a smartphone so they’re connected to that blue light no matter where they are. While it can feel easy to just grab our phones or laptops for some “rest” time, it’s also important to take that sensory rest as well, taking time away from screens and engaging physically in the world around you. This is why so many people have hobbies that involve arts and crafts or working with their hands! Make sure part of your rest addresses this need too.
If you’re looking for more support in developing both restorative and active rest practices, working with a therapist can help. Get in touch with our office today to get started.