Like a great cup of coffee, or eight hours sleep, rest is hard to come by. For me, it’s impossible, because I have an 18 month old ultra-toddler who is the earliest of all risers and constantly on a mission to Mars. But for the rest of you, are you getting enough rest? I am not just talking about sleep. Rest is downtime. Rest is time-off. Rest is the nothingness between the crazy. Because in a society obsessed with productivity and an economy that doesn’t generally reward those who take time to smell the roses, trying to get enough rest can in itself feel stressful.
Why is rest so important?
Rest is good for you. This is factual. Relaxation slows our heart rate, reduces our blood pressure and relieves tension. When we relax, the flow of blood round our body increases, we have more energy, we’re calmer, we have clearer minds, which in turn aids positive thinking, concentration and memory. And those are just the headlines. Because R&R also feels nice, looks nice, creates an interesting InstaFeed. The easiest way to rest is, of course, to sleep. But those eight hours aren’t ‘mythically’ good for you. Those eight hours are biologically essential. Did you know for example, that during those eight hours, the space between brain your cells actually increases, allowing the brain to flush out all the toxic molecules that build up during the day. The brain can’t do this at any other time. And these toxic molecules, they potentially have the effect of accelerating neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s, and mother-fluffing Alzheimer’s. Your body also goes about repairing your muscles, organs, and cells while you sleep. It chucks a bunch of chemicals into your bloodstream to strengthen your immune system. It repackages and consolidates all your learning and memories, while problem-solving your life, giving you Ah-Ha! moments when you wake. All while you lie around snoring, farting, and dribbling. So sleep-rest is bloody marvelous. But let’s get back to waking-rest, which is even harder to achieve. If you are short on time, what are the best ways of getting some all important rest while still managing to keep your job, marriage and life commitments?
Meditating, yoga, walking in sunshine, reading a book, a lazy swim, a quick hike, dangling your feet off the end of a pier into a calm lake, skimming stones, baking a cake, smelling the roses. All of the above can help us to switch off from the stress of life, even if it’s just momentarily. Mediation even changes the structure of your brain, in a good way. Sara Lazar and her team at Harvard found that mindfulness meditation increased cortical thickness (a good thing) in the hippocampus (also a good thing) and reduced stress, anxiety and depression. Google it. And the NHS now prescribes daily nature walks to some of their sad miserable patients, highlighting, yet again, how important it is to relax, just for a second, just for you, at least once a day.
Macro rest could be an annual holiday, sabbatical, maybe looking at semi-retirement, or a different kind of working week. On a smaller scale (but larger than micro) it could include taking a course (not related to work), learning something new (ditto), DIY projects (by choice, not by nagging partner), starting an allotment and growing vegetables. It’s all about carving out time dedicated to your personal rest, or rather, stepping away from your personal work, whatever that may be.
There are two evil characters in the world of rest that will do anything to prevent you truly resting. No1, is screen time. No.2, is YOU!
Screen time includes TVs, laptops, phones, ipads. They are not relaxing. They are not downtime. They are not rest. Even the blue light emitted from them interferes with your body’s ability to rest. It messes with your brain’s ability to produce melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle (circadian rhythm), making it harder to fall asleep and then stay asleep. And please don’t get me started again on the importance of sleep. Then there’s the effects of the Electromagnetic Radiation they emit, or the social disengagement they create, or the increase in the use of these devices to numb (blah. blah. blah.). In short. Put down. Switch off. Step away.
The other big block to rest, is YOU. Because you can organise the best holiday under the sun. You can meditate the shit out of life. But if you are actually spending the time making mental To Do lists or checking your emails every second minute (I am talking about you, self-employed people) then you might as well just work. As a freelancer, I get it. When I stop working, I stop earning. It’s a terrifying fact. So be realistic with yourself and your circumstances. If work needs to be a part of your holiday, if your office needs to stay connected, then be structured about it. Block out a fixed time that is dedicated to checking in with work. Tell this to whomever needs to know. Stick to it. Then stop. Walk away. Switch off. And dedicate yourself to resting. Understand the value of it. It’s importance. Rest and relaxation slows our heart rate, reduces our blood pressure and relieves tension…need I say it all a second time? It’s not frivolous. It’s not a luxury. It’s not slacking off. It’s a basic health requirement.