Therapists advise that we do not overexert ourselves the majority of the time in order to be able to respond to challenging fight-or-flight situations when they do occur. We would all agree that bottling up tension is counterproductive and that it needs an outlet of sorts. It is a lot more than just a question of getting sufficient sleep and going for a walk. It is not just our bodies that need rest.
Here we take a deep dive into the various types of rest that will help us remain balanced.
1/ Physical rest
Muscle fatigue is unpleasant in itself but can also be a cause of bad mood. Mental tension can equally have a negative impact on our physical wellbeing. Here is what body-oriented therapists have to say about it. Suppressed emotions tend to get stored in the muscles in the form of various kinds of tension, which manifests itself in uneasy body language, awkward postures, restricted facial expressions and everything from the way we walk to the way we hunch over our desks. Frequent conflicts accumulate as a sensation of heaviness in the arms and chest. A habit of compromising with others at the expense of your own needs tends to create tension around the jaw area, resulting in such conditions as bruxism (aka teeth grinding).
Tension leads to anxiety, so by eliminating physical tension you can also rid yourself of anxiety.
How to give your body a break
Your body needs both active and passive rest. Passive rest includes sleeping at night and taking that post-lunch nap. Active rest covers all kinds of sports, stretching, walks and massages. Movement has many benefits but is particularly useful to release that pent-up fatigue that does not go away with a good night’s sleep.
There is a series of additional exercises that can help target specific muscle knots. To get your shoulders to relax extend your arms to a T-shape, bend your elbows into a cactus shape with wrists facing away from the head and shoulders slightly lifted. Capture the moment of tension in this position. Then take a deep chest and belly exhale, feeling the body let go.
2/ Mental rest
Our brain constantly processes incoming signals from our environment and seeks to connect the most random dots. Thinking is incredibly hard. It is an effort for our entire being. It is relentless. The tricky thing about cognitive work is that it does not stop when a complex task is completed. The constant influx of information we are submerged in creates a permanent overload for our minds, which are as much in need of rest as our bodies.
A complex task is medicine for the brain.
How to give your mind a break
- Our working brain needs to be regularly slowed down in order to allow it to process information in a passive way, establishing and cementing new pathways and memories. It is a case of learning to do nothing at all.
- The opposite is also beneficial. Consciously choose complex tasks that would entirely consume your attention. This will help you not get distracted by endless notifications from your social media, keeping your cognitive functions in pristine shape. Try solving a logic puzzle, read a challenging text or study a new language.
- Keep a diary. A simple notebook will do but the idea is to use it to deposit persistent thoughts, create mind maps of cause-and-effect scenarios, write pros and cons lists or use it to solve any other issues. A physical journal is best to avoid the temptation of swapping your self-reflection time for a mindless scroll on your Instagram feed.
- Reading a book on psychology, philosophy or just any great piece of fiction is a great preventative measure, which will help you become your very own psychotherapist.
3/ Sensory rest
Speaking of cognitive fatigue, it is impossible not to touch upon sensory overload. Bright lights and screens, urban noise pollution and even excessive presence of foods with taste enhancers can overwhelm and suppress our receptors. However, the damage brought about by overstimulated senses can be counteracted by a daily routine, which involves taking a break from gadgets and noise.
Therefore, the information we allow into consciousness becomes extremely important; it is, in fact, what determines the content and the quality of life.
How to give your senses a break
This kind of rest comes hand in hand with the idea of digital detox. Staring blankly at a wall in some dark corner is not what this has to look like. It is best to spend time outside, where the vibration of your phone will be replaced with the sensation of the sun and wind on your skin. Take a break from your computer every hour or an hour and a half to get some fresh air, stretch your legs or simply shut your eyes. If you are past the point of these measures, it might be time for more serious tactics such as a visit to a spa or a massage, a picnic outside or a temporary change of diet.
4/ Spiritual rest
Informational overwhelm does not just cause sensory overload but can also lead to spiritual fatigue. Fleeting content, social media feeds and mass media are the enemies of conscious consumption, spirituality and taste. They redirect our attention to insignificant entertainment. Meanwhile, spiritual practices promote an awareness of life’s purpose and help us relate to others and the world as a whole.
Reading is a twofold process. As I am reading an author’s work, he shapes me in return by creating a new piece of work, but this time it is one made of human rather than literary matter.
How to rest spiritually
Spiritual rest covers everything that brings you a sense of purpose and expansion such as meditation, religion, philosophy or something like volunteering for a good cause, which helps you reconnect with the world around you. That sense of connection can apply as much to the world of living as to that of the great composers, novelists and artists of the past.
5/ Creative rest
The lack of this type of rest is a recurring problem for those working in creative jobs, which require a daily spin of original thinking and innovative ideas. The typical outcome here is either a mind overburdened by half-finished raw concepts or a blank slate. As the main protagonist of Shakespeare’s Kind Lear said: “You will gain nothing if you invest nothing.”
Complexity must be approached simply, otherwise we shall never understand it.
How to take a creative break
Seek out things that inspire awe and wonder, learn to take joy in the natural flow of life rather than an achievement of creative goals. Simply observe beauty. It might be a case of admiring a park and taking your landscape architect’s hat off for a moment. When reading a book, try to enter a state of flow rather than milk it for potential topics for your own written work. Believe me, all that you will need will naturally crystallise in your subconscious. The key is to try and approach your professional subject matter as an amateur and fall in love with it all over again.
6/ Emotional rest
Emotional exhaustion can be diagnosed in the following ways. It might go like this: you find yourself thinking again and again that you are deeply underappreciated by your friends, they use you and you have no energy to sit down with them and discuss it. This is a classic case of emotional burnout.
The other scenario might be: you are very empathic and a good friend/partner. You are always ready to support the other person and make them feel comfortable, so that no one is ever feeling down when they are by your side. No one apart from you. This is a case of emotional caregiving.
And last but not least: you constantly try to assess the influence of your emotions on others and feel guilty for other people’s negative reactions. Any of the above should get alarm bells ringing as an illustration of an emotional disbalance. A person experiencing it either clams up, explodes or gradually fades.
Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.
How to get emotional rest
- The first aid kit of emotional exhaustion involves reaching an optimal level of feeling and focusing on it for as long as you need. No more. In other words, you should try to return to the here and now through breathwork, bodywork or meditation.
- Going forwards emotional rest will require consistency, courage and self-control. You will need to voice your needs and quirks to those close to you, do some inner work. It will be difficult at first, but your efforts will pay off.
7/ Social rest
There is no one that understands social fatigue better than introverts. For them the only way to recharge is to be totally alone. But even the most social butterflies can find themselves too tired to be in the company of loved ones. While this can be worrying at first, there is no need to be alarmed. You simply need to put your socialising on pause on occasion.
By overwhelming ourselves with socialising we spend a lot of our resources on other people, on the way they live, the things they do, the thoughts they entertain, that funny look they gave someone and on whether they have taken things the right way. This applies in equal measure to those whose lives we only encounter on a social media feed. When you are already burnt out, another DM is simply exhausting.
I enjoy people watching but for me it combines work with pleasure, making it something that would require taking a break afterwards and in my case solitude.
How to take a social break
Solitude can be either partial, such as when you only choose to socialise with people that energise you and make you feel alive, or complete, when you spend all your time in your own company. Some people find solitude challenging, but a relationship with yourself is the most long-lasting and permanent in your life, the only one you can never leave behind. So, find a minute to make it work.
What type of rest do you need right now?
We all need emotional support, balance, social stability and a feeling of being present in our bodies as well as a myriad of other things that make our life feel grounded and our minds organised. If you are going through a difficult time, you might need all of these kinds of rest. But, maybe, at this particular time you only need one.
Have you been procrastinating that blog post, while trying to push away negative thoughts? It is time to take a creative break. Have you just finished prepping for your wedding? You might need a spiritual break and let a professional organise your honeymoon. Fifteen-minute breaks for your mind and senses are also non-negotiable every single day.