Published: 16 December 2020. Written by: Jo Usmar
Rest doesn’t mean just skipping boot camp for a week – did you know there are actually 7 different types of relaxation for body and mind?
‘You look like you could do with some rest.’ Who hasn’t heard those words recently or even told it to their own exhausted-looking reflection in the mirror? No one can deny that 2020 has tested even the most resilient people. Indeed, mental and physical health statistics make for grim reading (with ‘mental distress’ 8.1% higher in April 2020 than in the preceding three years and 22% of workers reporting job-related burnout).
As we enter the season famed for its focus on rest and reflection, it could be tempting to just zone out for a week and watch The Crown back to back – but will you actually emerge rested? In her book, Sacred Rest: Recover your Life, Renew your Energy, Restore your Sanity, Dr Saundra Dalton-Smith describes seven different types of rest.
Here we detail what they are and how focusing on the rest you’re most in need of will better help you get back to your best.
1. Physical rest
Does your body feel as if it’s aged 30 years this past year? Are you walking about grasping your back, rubbing your neck and generally looking like you need a month in a spa? If so, chances are you need some good stretching and a lot of sleep. Yoga will not only help ease aching muscles and build up strength, but has been proven to help people get better quality sleep.
So swap either doing nothing or blitzing a HIIT sesh with a daily YouTube yoga tutorial instead (Yoga with Adriene is free and has classes for all levels) and you’ll soon notice the difference.
If you’re after a gentle flow, take a look at some yin yoga poses here to calm the body and the mind.
2. Mental rest
If you find yourself staring at the same page in your book for 10 minutes, having imaginary arguments in the shower, missing important deadlines, or not having any idea what’s just been said in your Zoom meeting, you could be in need of some mental rest.
The best way to quiet the chattering voices in your mind is through meditation and mindfulness. Our article here explains mindfulness in a nutshell, and you can also download the Headspace app for introductory daily lessons to stop those intrusive thoughts and find some mental peace.
3. Social rest
It may seem strange to speak of needing social rest when most people are clawing the walls right now for more human contact, but ‘Zoom fatigue’, or ‘Zoom gloom’ as it’s otherwise known, is very real.
Andrew Franklin, Assistant Professor of Cyberpsychology at Virginia’s Norfolk State University, explains how video calls are genuinely more taxing for our brains: ‘For somebody dependent on non-verbal cues [like hand gestures or body language], it can be a big drain not to have them.’ He also mentions the strain of maintaining continuous eye contact and how our brains suffer from ‘continuous partial attention’ when faced with a gallery of faces all at once. This is why you might find yourself avoiding a social video call even when feeling lonely.
Turning the cameras off will help, or opt for a traditional phone call instead because, as Franklin explains, it ‘delivers on the promise of only conveying a voice’ so your brain’s not trying to interpret other visual cues (or looking at your own face). Leaving WhatsApp audio notes means you can listen and respond in your own time, or, better yet, ditch tech altogether and write letters. Letter writing is proven to boost mental health, requiring more thought, effort and care than digital contact.
4. Creative rest
Creativity is inspired by the novel, beautiful and new. In a world where travel and external experiences are limited, it’s inevitable that people feel they’re scraping the bottom of the inspiration barrel right now.
Executive career coach Susan Peppercorn recommends breaking the monotony by expressing yourself in art through online drawing or musical classes, by online networking with people outside of your go-to gang (try Meetup, LinkedIn and Bumble BFF), and by heading outside. Spending time in nature is proven to improve creativity.
These 10 tips to improve your health at work should also help break up your day and kick-start more imaginative ideas.
5. Emotional rest
When even the Regional Director for the World Health Organization in Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, has been talking about the general malaise and exhaustion sweeping the world, you know something’s up: ‘Since the virus arrived in the European region eight months ago, citizens have made huge sacrifices to contain Covid-19. It has come at an extraordinary cost, which has exhausted all of us, regardless of where we live, or what we do.’
Seeking emotional rest means acknowledging your feelings rather than hiding them or masking them with booze, food or drugs. While that sounds anything but restful, believe us, it will make you more emotionally resilient in the long-run.
Consider talking therapy and also reassure yourself that you’re not alone – lots of people are feeling off kilter at the moment and, while that’s certainly no reason to celebrate, knowing you’re not ‘wrong’ for feeling angry, sad, anxious or fearful should make the emotions themselves less frightening. Also, consider journalling, which has been proven to alleviate emotional distress by focusing your thoughts and gaining perspective.
6. Spiritual rest
You don’t have to be religious to feel the need for a deeper purpose. Spiritual rest is about tapping into what gives life meaning. If you feel a bit ‘meh’ about the world but don’t know where to turn, try a podcast like Life is Short with Justin Long, in which the actor interviews people to specifically ask about their interpretation of the meaning of life.
Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations is along similar lines, as is How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, in which interviewees explain why their failures turned into achievements. If you prefer something more goal-based and practical, try The Science of Happiness, which delivers expert actionable life advice in 20-minute bursts – essential stepping stones to dealing with the bigger-picture questions.
7. Sensory rest
This one should be renamed ‘screen rest’. Lockdown has meant more time than ever spent looking at screens: phone screens, computer screens, TV screens, Kindle screens… It all adds up to sensory overload and we need a break. This Book Will Make You Calm recommends making official phone blackout times, during which you leave your phone in another room or in a drawer, so you stop picking it up on autopilot.
It’s about becoming more aware of how often you look at it and how it’s making you feel. So if you’re going on a walk, don’t take your phone with you. Also, log out of apps so you consciously have to choose to log into them again, forcing yourself to decide: ‘Do I really want to scroll mindlessly through this app? How does it make me feel when I do?’
We can become so attached to our screens that we feel unmoored without them. Enforcing sensory rest makes you realise that you don’t always have to be available, that the world won’t end if you have an hour off, and that you’ll feel better for it. Instead, read a book, do a puzzle, listen to music, go for a walk, do some exercise. All much more restful than refreshing the news or Twitter.
Read about whether doomscrolling is giving you anxiety here.