- Burnout and exhaustion are leading concerns for many individuals.
- Sleep alone is not effective in managing exhaustion and fatigue.
- Our minds and bodies need 7 different types of rest to feel refreshed and rejuvenated.
Sleep is not enough. A vacation is not enough.
Being a private practice clinician, if I got just one dollar each time I heard a client say, “I’m so exhausted and nothing is helping,” I’d be in the money. Exhaustion is a serious concern for too many of us, and unfortunately, sleep alone doesn’t fix the issue. In fact, only focusing on sleep may increase burnout because other key areas of rest have not been attended to.
Saundra Dalton-Smith, M.D., the author of Sacred Rest, writes that “rest is the most underused, chemical-free, safe and effective, alternative therapy available to us.” As such, she developed the concept of the seven rests our body and mind need to combat chronic rest deficits.
1. Physical rest
Not surprisingly, the first rest we need as humans is physical rest. This is a rest from the physical activities that fatigue us. Sleep, relaxation, and napping fall under the category of physical rest. Paradoxically, so does "active" physical rest (as much as it may sound like an oxymoron). Active physical rest refers to light, restorative activities, such as yoga, stretching, or massages.
2. Mental rest
Are you a person whose brain turns on the second you hit the pillow? You may be struggling with a mental rest deficit. Sleep is helpful, but never feels restorative enough. Relying on coffee to get you through the day may work in the short-run, but in the long-run further perpetuates racing thoughts, worries, or mental processing.
To assist with mental rest, Dalton-Smith encourages short breaks throughout the work day, or journaling before bedtime. One activity I often engage in with my own clients to assist with mental chatter is something called "thought diffusion." Thought diffusion is a mental exercise to help create distance between thoughts and emotions. It is the concept of observing thoughts as they flow in and gently allowing them to pass without placing any pressure on them to move faster or slower. One can use the metaphor of leaves floating down a stream, or clouds passing in the sky.
3. Sensory rest
We live in a world of constant stimulation: screens, conversations, lights, music, pets, children, etc. Dalton-Smith discusses the concept of intentional moments of sensory deprivation to help recharge ourselves from being overstimulated. In my own practice, I often advise clients to allow at least 45 minutes without screen time before bed.
Another helpful exercise is something called "Five senses grounding." Five senses grounding allows us to focus on one sense at a time and become present and grounded within it.
4. Emotional rest
Emotional rest allows us the space to be authentic. If someone asks you how you’re doing after recognizing you are visibly upset, and you respond with, "fine," such a suppression of emotions places added internal pressure on you.
Instead, we can allow ourselves to be authentic, stating, “I’m actually really frustrated with __.” This release and authenticity allow our emotional circuit to feel more rested. Emotional rest also means surrounding ourselves with others who help provide emotional peace.
5. Social rest
Understanding whether you are an introvert, or an extrovert is important. Do you gain energy from others, or do you feel drained after spending time with others? Understanding the limits of our "social battery" can help us realize when we need to recharge. This is a crucial conversation to have with your partner, as people have different thresholds of sociability. One partner may be ready to leave the party three hours in, while the second partner is just getting started.
6. Creative rest
For those of us working in creative fields, creative rest is an absolute must. How often do we struggle with writer’s block, creative fatigue, or burnout from brainstorming or problem-solving? One way to achieve creative rest is to surround yourself with inspiration while simultaneously taking the pressure off having to "do" something with it.
Dalton-Smith suggests, for example, surrounding yourself with nature and simply allowing yourself to feel. Creative rest can also look like stepping away from a problem or project for some time to allow your brain to recharge without pressure.
7. Spiritual rest
Finally, our body and mind may crave spiritual rest. Spiritual rest means connecting on a deeper level with something greater than ourselves. This can mean adding prayer, meditation, or purpose to our lives. I often encourage my clients to find a sense of community through groups or organizations that create acceptance and intention. This can be through a church, a volunteer program, community outreach, or even nature retreats.
I would add one additional bonus "rest" to Dalton-Smith’s list:
Bonus: Cellular/systemic rest
Cellular/systemic rest is the rest of the whole body system from an internal level. What we put into our bodies matters. Processed foods, junk foods, or high-fat/high-sugar foods are extremely difficult for our bodies to digest. Much of the energy we produce goes into the digestion of these foods, which leaves us feeling fatigued, tired, or lethargic.
Giving our body cellular/systemic rest means incorporating foods that are healthy, easy to digest, and provide restorative, oxidative stress protection. Further, being mindful of caffeine consumption to give our adrenals rest is equally as important.
To truly combat exhaustion and burnout, our job is to tend to each of these rests by examining our lifestyles. As Dalton-Smith advises, start with small pockets of rest each day. Some rests may be easier to facilitate than others, but what’s most important is that we begin to refuel and recharge our bodies and minds in many dimensions.
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