How many times have you heard yourself say, “I can’t I’m just too busy” when it comes to something like rest? Or you’ve looked at someone like they’re mad when they suggest taking a few hours to read a book or switch your phone off at 7pm. Rest has almost become a controversial topic today. Our social conditioning often tells us rest is lazy, unproductive, pointless. Busyness is an addiction, a badge of honour and a way to justify all sorts of self-abandonment and avoidance. If something isn’t constructive or productive – or pleasurable or measurable – then it often seems like it will be a waste of our time.
But. Have you ever felt exhausted after a full night of sleep? Or come back from a holiday more weary than when you left. Or wondered why sometimes, activities like spending an afternoon helping someone else can end up feeling more energising than a full night’s sleep? All of this comes down to rest – and the fact that there isn’t just one way to do it. There are 7.
The theory of 7 different types of rest is the work of Dr Saundra Dalton-Smith. It’s part of a wider movement that is unstitching the toxic narratives around how to be a great person and live your life well. That’s how to be a great person in your estimation and how to live your life well for you. Because that’s the first point to make here: one of the reasons many of us abandon ideas of rest is because we’re focused on other people’s perspectives (real or imagined) of what a good life looks like. As a resilience coach I can tell you that building any kind of internal energy or positive life force starts with self-awareness. Knowing who you are, what matters to you, what makes you tick. So, it’s always going to be vital to give yourself some time and space to figure out those answers first. But on to rest..
The 7 types of rest
1. Physical – this could be active or passive. So, you might actually take a nap or work through a slow Yin session or a gentle walk. Constant body aches and pains are the big red flag that this is what you need to do for yourself.
There is no escaping the huge impact that sleep has on how rested we feel. I try (as often as possible) to have a solid bedtime routine. For me, that includes a couple of gentle Yin asanas designed to calm the nervous system. Maybe a drink like golden milk (warm oat milk with turmeric, honey and ginger) and a bit of light visualisation. What kind of mini bedtime ritual would work for you?
2. Mental – this comes from switching off your brain and its constant chatter. A couple of clear indicators that you’re deficient in this type of rest are: repeatedly walking into a room and not knowing why you went in there or closing your eyes to sleep at night and your brain goes into overdrive. This is the type of rest that you’re awake for. But where you’re disconnecting from mental activity. That might be an inner critic narrative, for example, or just continually turning your To Do list over in your mind. Meditation is the obvious way to achieve this. But it could also be something like a really engaging book or music you love.
I actually got a bit angry the first time I tried to meditate – many people do apparently – as it felt restrictive. Now, I find the best approach is to do what you can, don’t force it. 5 minutes can be as effective as 50. Light a candle, take some deep breaths, set a timer and just sit – or repeat a question in your head like “what is coming up for me right now?”
3. Sensory – if you find yourself on a hair trigger temper, getting easily irritated or agitated then it might be a break from screens, lights, interaction etc that you need. In one study by the University of Leeds 59% of study participants reported negative impacts on their health from looking at screens. Those impacts included everything, from eye strain and wrist pains to mood swings, lethargy and feelings of guilt and anxiety. This isn’t just about turning off devices. It’s about giving your brain a real break from anything that you find stimulating, whether that’s people or your phone.
I find it really difficult to turn off my phone but I can feel the difference when I do. One of the simplest ways to do this is to engage your mind in something else. Go for a walk outside and leave your phone in your bag or pocket (or at home). Or try something like cold water swimming, which brings you fully into your body and away from an anxious mind.
4. Creative – this is about the appreciation of beauty in any form, whether that’s art or music or theatre. You can tell that you need this type of rest because innovation, problem solving and ideas no longer come easily to you. The reality is that we are all creative people, whether that’s how we see ourselves or not, and you’re not going to feel grounded and balanced in your life unless there is some creative rest and refuelling happening.
If you don’t feel like a creative person then maybe you won’t know where to start with this. So get some supplies that appeal, whether that’s a sketch pad or some clay. Lower your expectations – in fact, bin them off completely – and leave all perfectionism at the door. This isn’t about getting it ‘right’ it’s about engaging with a part of you that isn’t analysing, people pleasing or trying too hard. So, grab your supplies and just start – go with whatever comes out of you.
5. Emotional – authenticity is the conduit for emotional rest. This is the experience of relief, or feeling energised, that you get when you’re able to show up truly as yourself. If you feel like you’re constantly battling to keep your feelings in check, no one understands you or you have one face you show to the world and then a ‘real’ you, this could be what you’re lacking. It’s about taking the time and space to express emotions – let them out – and stop habits like people pleasing. This can involve a lot of vulnerability and discomfort, which is another reason we avoid it. But it’s also amazing how transformative simply being yourself can actually be.
Some daily journaling can be a great way to get to know yourself more. So that you’re able to show up as who you really are in every day situations. You can use journal prompts like “If I woke up today without fear or anxiety what would I do first?”
6. Social rest – this type of rest isn’t actually about taking a break from people. It’s about being surrounded by positive and inspiring souls, rather than those who drain you and feel toxic. Most of us spend a lot of our lives with people who draw energy from us. If that feels like a reality for you right now then consider more social rest. This starts with reevaluating your relationships. Look for those where people don’t need anything from you, where it feels like positive energy sharing and that you’re receiving as well as giving.
It can be really difficult to move on from people who have been in our lives for a while. Or who we’ve developed some challenging bonds with. You don’t have to push anyone out of your life if you don’t want to. This might simply be about setting new boundaries for the way you interact. Or this could be the ideal moment to change up your social circle.
7. Spiritual rest – finding meaning in life and feeling like you, and what you do, matter is very powerful in terms of energy. If you feel a bit directionless and you’re wondering what this is all about then spiritual rest could be what you need. This is about belief systems. It’s about allowing yourself to explore ideas of spirituality. And being able to go beyond the mental and physical and connect to something deeper.
Stepping out of daily life and seeing a bigger picture can be tricky. For me, it often works best under a starry sky or anywhere in nature – that’s where spirituality is for me. Find the place where you feel most connected to something bigger and commit to regularly including some contemplative time there. It might feel indulgent to prioritise this when there are bills to pay and jobs to do. But it can be incredibly invigorating to delve into the mysteries of life and the universe.
Ultimately, rest is what gives us time to regenerate and grow physically. It allows us to recover emotionally and to really flourish in life. Nothing in nature is ‘on’ all the time – from the seasons to the fullness of the moon – and human beings don’t do well when we try to be. I’ve also found – as a resilience coach and with my own life experience – that many of the things we discount (like the activities involved in these 7 types of rest) are actually a more direct route to goals and objectives that we think we have to struggle and strive for. Often, the things that have the biggest impact on resilience – on feeling energetic and excited and able to take on challenges – are the things we’re told don’t really matter. But that’s faulty thinking. That’s why changing what you prioritise in terms of rest can make such a big difference to how resilient you feel.
Find out more about how small mindset tweaks like this can make a big difference, not just to how rested you feel but to how capable you are of achieving the success you want. Book an intro call today.