In today’s fast-paced, information-overload world, it’s no wonder that many of us struggle with simply taking a break. We are often told that productivity—even if we have to push ourselves through exhaustion—is the main goal of life, and many of us (especially women) tend to overextend ourselves, saying yes to far more than we should take on, or not building downtime into our day. Then, even when we do have “time off,” we never fully recharge, opting instead to catch up on chores or fall down frustrating internet rabbit holes. Let’s stop the insanity! Remember that rest is not the same as laziness. Instead, it’s a crucial component of life that helps us maintain our sanity and well-being—and, yes, even enables improved productivity when we’re ready to return to action.
The Benefits of Rest
Studies have shown that during sleep the body’s renewal and healing processes, such as cell division and protein synthesis, are functioning at their optimal levels, while the adrenaline released during normal waking hours (in response to stressors) prevents the cell division that is a hallmark of healing. So resting can help the mind repair as well as the body, since rest helps counteract the effects of stress that have accumulated throughout the day.
We already know that stress piling up can have many negative effects on human health. The American Psychological Association reports that stress “affects all systems of the body, including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems.” Unfortunately, many Americans then pile additional stressors onto the problem, thinking they’re alleviating their symptoms through “comfort foods,” alcohol, or drugs. But scheduling rest in your day, rather than automatically reaching for unhealthy coping mechanisms, is a better way to improve your mood.
Resting is also a great time to recharge many non-physical areas of your life, thanks to benefits from boosting creativity to engaging in reflection and self-discovery. How many times have you heard someone confess that they get their best ideas when in the shower, or while out on a nature walk without their cell phones? That’s because time away—from screens, from work, and even from other people (though relationships are important for mental health, too!)—helps us downshift and gets our brains working in different ways.
Finally, while regularly scheduled rest periods are key for maintaining a better work-life balance, go-getters don’t need to worry that taking some time out is going to cut down on their achievements. In fact, the opposite is true: Rest and relaxation is actually shown to boost your performance. Researchers have found that “even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one’s ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods,” according to one study. In other words, burning the midnight oil is not the pathway to success—it’s just a shortcut to burnout.
How to Incorporate Rest Into Your Daily Life
Want to start enjoying all of these benefits and more? First, make sure you prioritize rest in your life. This may require setting better boundaries with your workplace or family, or scheduling time for breaks in your workday, just as you’d schedule a meeting, workout, or phone call. And, to put any potential guilt at rest, remember that self-care is not selfish—putting your own health first means you’ll be able to better show up for everything else in your life, from your relationships to your job.
Once you’ve set aside the time, try these ways to rest throughout the day or week:
- Meditation and/or breathing exercises, combined with mindfulness, help ground you in the present moment and force you to slow down. If you’re new to meditation, don’t feel intimidated; you can start with just a few minutes and build up your time commitment.
- Journaling is a great way to process or clear out your thoughts when you’re feeling under pressure, or simply a way to record the experiences of your life to enjoy and reflect upon later. If you’re not sure what to write about, try to foster positive thinking by creating a daily gratitude list—this allows you to focus on what’s going right in your life, instead of what’s going wrong (which we humans are naturally more likely to focus on).
- Reading for fun can be a relaxing way to spend your time, but for a more restful experience, avoid materials that are potentially activating, like those with violent content, or those that require a lot of brain power. Choose something light or uplifting instead.
- Creative play is something that too many of us adults move away from as we grow out of childhood, but activities like drawing, coloring, dancing, crafts, playing an instrument, or fun sports can unleash your inner child. If you’re not sure what to try, think about what you liked to do as a kid, or check out the National Institute for Play for plenty of fun ideas!
Americans can have a tricky relationship with rest—one 2018 survey found that more than half (55%) of U.S. workers did not use all of their allotted time off from work. And I get it—we can all get caught up in productivity mode, and it’s easy to get sucked in. Then, with devices at our disposal and in our faces 24-7, “winding down” can sometimes feel like just more work (or downright impossible). That’s why it’s so important to prioritize rest time and schedule “space holders” in your day, so that you can apply yourself more fully to everything else!
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