Reflections on REST as a Component of Good Health
A client recently summed up her over-all health by saying, “I feel like a hamster on speed in a wheel that’s on fire!” This woman’s colorful description mirrors how so many of us feel in today’s crazy-busy world.
For anyone who is like me and has often half-jokingly remarked that they need a vacation to recover from their vacation, the lesson we need to learn is that there is no substitute for a good rest—that is, a rest that refreshes and rejuvenates your body, mind and spirit.
Rest—proper rest, and the permission to act on it— seems to be a forgotten component of good health.
Our culture sends mixed messages about rest. On one hand, it is a cultural convention for a hostess to inquire of her overnight guests, “Did you sleep well?” The question implies that restful sleep is somehow desirable, and yet, the question is largely rhetorical, since most of us are woefully unprepared to do anything to improve the quality of sleep for our guests besides offering a pharmaceutical sleep aid.
On the other hand, have you noticed how insomniacs are often celebrated in our culture as the most productive members of society? These are the people who can hold down a full-time job and write a best-selling novel with the time they’re not “wasting” in sleep. The thinking here is that since we get to rest in peace once we’re dead and buried, in order to be productive, we must work constantly the entire time we’re alive. I recently heard a well-meaning grandfather make the comment, “If I take a nap, I might miss something.” Unfortunately, his pre-school-aged grandkids overheard him and began to echo the sentiment.
Rest has no room in today’s workplace, either. We work right through our breaks and meals—and then brag about it. Our employers celebrate as model employees those who never use their personal leave days or vacation time. Or society rewards those who go, go, go—all the time, non-stop. The hamsters on speed in the wheels on fire are the heroes among us. We obsessively use drugs like caffeine to artificially push ourselves beyond our natural limits. And then we wonder why our lives are so incredibly stressful…and why we are not enjoying good health.
We’ve forgotten that the human being has a natural biological rhythm of activity and rest that allows our bodies and minds to function optimally. Numerous scientific studies have shown that sleep deprivation diminishes mental performance. We know that stress and sleeplessness go hand-in-hand, and science has proven to us over and over again that chronic stress and sleep loss hastens the onset of aging and chronic disease. When will we wake up to the realization that good rest is good for us?
Change Your Perspective and Get a Good R.E.S.T.
Giving ourselves permission to rest regularly and properly can help avoid the physical and mental exhaustion that so often plagues our lives. One of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is the gift of rest. Honoring our need for rest by restoring and rejuvenating our bodies, minds and spirits contributes to our whole-person wellbeing. If you want to enhance your over-all quality of life, give yourself permission to rest—regularly and right.
Resting “right” has everything to do with our perspective of rest. Resting properly, or right, means viewing rest as a positive thing, not as the remainder or the leftovers, or the thing you finally get to do after you die, but as part of the natural and necessary rhythm of life. As a culture, we need to learn to value the time we spend not working as “up-time,” rather than “down-time.” I can’t change our culture overnight by myself, but I can change my personal perspective.
To help me begin thinking of rest as “up-time,” for the betterment of my own overall health, I came up with some words the letters R, E, S and T could stand for: Regular Elimination of Stimuli and Tension. This mnemonic helps me remember to keep the idea of rest in a positive perspective.
- Regular – I do my best to honor a regular bedtime and wake-up time, so my body can depend on its own natural biorhythm. This also gives my body’s physical systems the time they need to rest and recharge.
- Elimination– I consciously act on ways of shutting out unnecessary stimulation and tension in your life. I’m getting better at saying “No, thank you” to invitations that interfere with my regular sleep schedule. I look for ways to block out light and noise in the bedroom, and I look for ways to create peace wherever I go.
- Stimuli– Knowing what activities and foods can stimulate my brain and body and counteract my sleep cycle helps me avoid things like too much TV, exercising too late at night, caffeine after 7 pm.
- Tension– Emotional upheaval makes my mind and body tense. When I’m tense or upset emotionally, I can’t sleep well. I do my best to defuse interpersonal tensions in my life and create peace in all my relationships, but especially before bed. There is profound wisdom in the advice, “Don’t go to bed angry.”
The time I spend resting is up-time for me because it raises the quality of my life. By remembering to R.E.S.T. regularly and right, I can improve the quality of my own life, and hopefully set a positive example for others. I hope you, too, can learn to rest well.
This post was part of the Kaleidoscope of Creative Connections focused on Rest. Dive into more heart-centred writings from the amazing souls who collaborated in the creation of KCC – June 2014.