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How To Rest

“Sounds like you need a break.”


It was the simplest, most obvious response to the absolute cascade of overwhelm I’d just released onto my therapist’s floor. But the concept was entirely foreign. A break? What did that even mean?


No, that isn’t it, I thought. I needed help. I needed to be appreciated for my hard work raising a neurodivergent kid on my own. I needed to be paid more to make up for the psychological abuse I was facing at work. I needed to be seen and heard. I needed anything but a break.


After weeks of her insistence that rest was a critical first step toward my wellbeing, I finally relented and agreed to attempt to spend 60 minutes each day actively resting.


If, at this point, you’re thinking this exercise sounds wasteful and ridiculous, this post is for you. Because it sounded wasteful and ridiculous to me too. And what became immediately clear when I attempted to engage in it was that I had absolutely no idea how to rest. I knew how to sleep—who doesn't?—but definitely not how to rest.


And why would I?


Rest had never been presented to me as something worthy of my time.


I had been steeped in startup-variety hustle culture since leaving behind the works-based religion of my youth. I prided myself on my strong work ethic and “boundless energy”—I literally included both on my résumé.


Like you, perhaps, I had been subject to a lifetime of societal and familial expectations that demanded a saintly level of self-sacrifice and the ability to power through sheer exhaustion without ever batting a perfectly curled eyelash. I was suffering for it, and maybe you are too.


It’s precisely this type of conditioning that can lead to resentment and burnout, crippling anxiety, and crushing depression when we can no longer meet those societal and familial demands without cracking.


As Tricia Hersey says in her amazing book Rest Is Resistance:


“We are not machines. We are not on Earth to fulfill the desires of an abusive system via our exhaustion. We are worthy of rest."


We are, goddamn it.


But how do you do it?


You start by unlearning your harmful conditioning. You dismantle the beliefs that stand between you and your rightful rest, and you become a student of rest so that you can optimize your precious downtime for maximum restoration.


Let’s begin this unlearning here:


Rest is not laziness.


It’s a critical aspect of maintaining your physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. For this reason, taking time to rest is not stealing time from some other, more worthy pursuit. Rest does not negatively impact productivity; it is itself productive.


And further:


Rest is not passive.


It’s not about doing nothing, even if you choose forms of rest in which your physical body is still. Resting well is about intentionally engaging activities that heal your body, sooth your mind, and replenish your energy. While those activities may be quiet and still, they do not have to be.


Lastly:


Rest is an additive, not a subtractive process.


We tend to think of rest as the absence of something (your kids, your job, your racing thoughts…), but for rest to be maximally restful, it should involve actively cultivating a specific state of mental and physical relaxation as a container for that rest.


Got it? Good. Hopefully I’ve saved you some time here. Because when my therapist suggested that I rest for a mere 60 minutes a day, I did a fair amount of floundering before I finally got it right.


For the first few weeks, I napped. The result? 60 minutes lost and not an ounce of rest to show for it. I was just as overwhelmed when I woke up as when I’d fallen asleep.


Next, I tried hot baths. This was better, but still missed the mark. My body felt relaxed, but my mind was always in the future (60 minutes in the future, to be precise), and the effort felt disproportionate to the amount of rest achieved.


Finally, my therapist suggested making something with my hands.


“It’s about cultivating a flow state,” she explained. “Your body is relaxed, but active, and your mind is focused exclusively on the present.”


I’d enjoyed collage in early adulthood, so I broke out my stacks of old magazines and some scissors. And there it was. Finding my flow was a game-changer. In a flow state, my 60 minutes of rest took on a timeless quality. And you know how I felt at the end? RESTED. Blessedly, miraculously rested.


While a flow state can be an amazing container for restful rest, it’s not the only one. The key is to establish and maintain a state of physical and mental relaxation that includes awareness.


If sleep is akin to turning off the overhead light in a room, the ideal state for active rest is a dimmer switch set to maybe 50%.


Here are some ideas for turning down the brightness in your own life:


Hobbies

Whether it’s gardening, painting, knitting, or playing a musical instrument, hobbies that you’re passionate about can be restorative as well as intellectually and creatively fulfilling


Mind-body practices

Practices like yoga, meditation, tai chi, and qigong are specifically intended to cultivate the kind of alert relaxation that delivers maximum restoration. These practices actively sooth the mind and help relieve stress in both short- and long-term ways.


Time in nature

Immersing yourself in the natural world can be uniquely and powerfully restful, with physical benefits that include lowered heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels.


Human connection

Spending time with loved ones or in community with like-minded folks both relaxes the body and quiets the mind. The benefits of social connectedness are many and include greater resilience, decreased anxiety, and fewer symptoms of depression.


Rest is not a luxury. And it’s not negotiable. Once you know how to do it, it's critical that you fiercely insist upon and protect it. 60 minutes a day was life-changing for me, but there's really no magic formula. Find the form of rest that works for you, make the space for it, set healthy boundaries around it, and hold them as if your physical and mental health depend on it.


Because they do.


Need some support with this? A 30-minute free consultation is a great way to explore some ideas and see if I might be the right coach for you.


 


Photo of Kelly Judd, life coach for women, a white woman with dark hair and large tortoiseshell glasses, slightly smiling at the camera

Hi, I'm Kelly. 👋 I help you make hard decisions and do hard things. Like you, I spent decades putting others' needs before my own. After almost 20 years of leadership roles and a lifetime’s worth of plot twists in my personal life, I made the empowering decision to seek greater meaning and purpose in my work, helping others to reconnect with their authentic selves and discover the joy, peace, and clarity that comes with finally identifying and prioritizing your own needs.



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