Although you probably don't like to admit it, deep down you know your body is crying out for a rest. But as usual, you push through. Mind over matter, only the weak need rest, no pain no gain, I'll sleep when I die, and besides, busyness is importance and I like being important. Yet once again you hear the quiet call from within... “stop, rest... please!” What do you do? Do you listen to your body?
What is rest to you?
It is becoming increasingly evident that rest is important for living well and performing well, but what is equally important is choosing the right rest for you (1). Your unique preferences for rest is what counts. Have you ever stopped to reflect on what makes you rest? Probably not. Right now, yes, right now, take a moment to think, imagine, dream. What brings you rest? What do you find relaxing? What gives you a sense of comfort and peace? What helps you switch off? What makes you stop and simply feel how you feel?
You need to choose the rest that your mind and body respond to. Being warm, being massaged, sitting in a Jacuzzi or on the beach, reading, walking, stretching, laughing, simply doing nothing, sitting in front of the fire and allowing yourself to be mesmerized by the flames. Run, surf, BASE jump, ski, be at the top of a mountain; the possibilities are endless but not necessarily equally effective. When choosing your rest “activity”, bear in mind that recent research has found that many of the highest scoring restful activities have one thing in common regardless of a person’s personality type. The most effective give time for the individual to be alone without the fear of interruption (2). Time to be free from other's thoughts, demands, and expectations, seems to be key to truly bringing rest. Find out what works for you.
When do you rest?
Once you discover what kind of rest works for you, we have to look at when. Proactively schedule it in. Think beyond simply scheduling an annual holiday and one full day off work per week (which are valuable and recommend). I would like to challenge you to also plan daily rhythms of rest. Choose relaxing evening activities, schedule moments of relaxation during your working day, and even making time for short naps! By taking control of rest and sticking to your plan, your life may begin to change! You may begin to feel more energized, positive and focused. Your willingness and ability to work may rocket. You may notice a sense of control and experience successes that previously you never thought possible.
It may be in these very moments of rest that you actually gain the revelation that you had been waiting for, find the answer to the problem, understand another's perspective or design the plan for your next big victory. Resting may be the most productive moment of your week! I hardly even need to mention Archimedes’ “Eureka” in the bath or Newton’s apple moment as he sat under a tree, history is full of stories of inspiration arriving within rest.
Better you, better world
Evidently, resting is not a sign of weakness but of wisdom. Recent research shows that when we are at rest, supposedly doing nothing, our brains are in fact busier when we’re not concentrating on a task, than when we are. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of the University of Southern California argues that when we are resting, the brain is anything but idle, and that far from being purposeless or unproductive, downtime is in fact essential to mental processes that affirm our identities, develop our understanding of human behavior and instill an internal code of ethics (3). It is when we rest that we replay the day’s situations and conversations. We make sense of our experiences and wonder what we could and maybe should have done better. We work out ways to communicate more effectively and stand up for what we believe. We begin to imagine what our future could be, which then begins to form our destiny!
Choosing to listen to your body, and choosing rest, not only allows the brain to function on another level, but it also gives the body chance to recover. Your over stimulated sympathetic adrenal system (the one that kicks in during a stressful situation or maybe simply in response to the demands and challenges of everyday life), can take the foot off the pedal and allow the parasympathetic system (the one that is activated through relaxing activities) to take over. This brings a much needed balance to our body. A kind of resetting and retuning happens, enabling our various systems and functions to continue to work optimally, moving towards a state of equilibrium.
Balancing the stress and demands in your life with rest and recovery will expand your capacity, improve your performance and increases your resilience. The mind and body is wonderful, and through a process of supercompensation it moves beyond its former state to higher levels!
Top tips for rest!
- Take control of your rest
- Discover what works for you
- Schedule it in, and stick to the plan
- Work within daily, weekly, and annual rhythms of rest
- Try 10-20 minute naps
- Listen to your body
- Laugh more
- Take time to be alone
So go on, listen to your body, give rest a chance! It may change your world!
Miriam McKnight, Performance Coach
Miriam has a broad experience of working with young athletes, corporate individuals and post pregnancy women returning to sport and fitness. She leads the sleep and recovery science team for Hintsa Performance. She is also the author of Amazon best-selling book, The Happy, Healthy, Mom.
1. Sands, W.A. Thinking sensibly about recovery, Strength and Conditioning for Sports Performance 2016; 451-483.
2. The Rest Test, Hubbub at the wellcome collection, 2016 http://hubbubresearch.org/event/rest-and-relaxation-in-the-modern-world/
3. Immordino-Yang, M.H. et al. Rest is not idleness, implications of the brain’s default mode for human development and education. Perspectives on psychological science 2012, vol. 7 no. 4, 352-364.