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The Seven Forms of Rest and Why You Need All of Them

31 July 2023

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The idea of ‘rest’ is getting a lot of attention these days. After decades of embracing so-called ‘grind culture,’ wherein every moment of the day must be intensely scheduled, with 50+ hour workweeks, plus a dynamite social life, plus hand-painting your child’s school valentines, plus training for a marathon and reading a book a week, people are just…stopping. The idea of slowing or stopping the hustle of the old days (AKA two years ago) certainly got a boost from months we spent on lockdown, unable to cram our schedules in the same way as before.

What are the seven types of Rest?

Whether you view rest as a political movement, scarce commodity, or something you rarely think about, one thing is probably true: you could use a little more of it, and more than one type of it. Rest and sleep are two entirely different things. Sleep is one form of rest (physical) but there are six more! 

If you’ve ever found yourself in a state of exhaustion even though you’ve been getting plenty of sleep, chances are you’re depleted in another category of rest. In addition to physical rest, we also need mental, emotional, spiritual, creative, social and sensory rest.

Physical Rest.

This can be active or passive. Passive rest can include napping or sleeping. Active physical rest might be engaging in activities that you find restorative, such as getting a massage, yoga, stretching or using a foam roller. These examples of active physical rest also help improve flexibility and circulation. That, simply put, makes us feel better in our bodies. Because many of us spend so much time seated at our desks, another form of physical rest falling somewhere between active and passive would be to make sure your workspace set-up is ergonomically correct for your body.    

When you are experiencing a deficit in physical rest, you might notice body aches and pain. Another sign could be swelling in your feet and/or legs after working at your desk for long periods. It could also be spasms in your back or neck pain. 

Mental Rest.

A deficit in mental rest can leave your mind racing or spinning when you settle into bed at night. Maybe it takes a long time to fall asleep because you can’t turn your mind off and relax. When morning arrives, it feels like you didn’t sleep a wink and it’s hard to concentrate or remember even simple things, like the two items you need at the store.

Concentration and recall struggles, if a person isn’t in their eighties, can be a clue that there’s a mental rest deficiency at work. Overstimulated, busy brains, referred to as ‘monkey mind’ in yoga, are not able to capture or retain information.

Ways to allow yourself more mental rest are simple. Schedule a little break every two hours while working. Keep a notepad and pen by your bed and jot down whatever’s keeping your mind whirring.   

Emotional Rest.

When a person is maxed out because they’re carrying more than their share of emotional labor, that person feels stifled and unable to express their emotional needs. This is usually the person whom everyone thinks is the nicest, best advice-giver. She’s always there for others and rarely says no to helping out even when opting out is precisely what she should do. Emotional rest is the rest we experience when we have the space and time to cut back on people-pleasing and caretaking, and just ‘marinate in’ and express our authentic feelings. 

If you feel like you always have to keep your emotions in check, you may have an emotional rest deficit. Other examples of situations which may result in a need for emotional rest: not telling your kids how much the pandemic has affected family finances; trying to keep a brave face when you feel overwhelmed by violence or war in the world or, if you’re a business owner, having to lay off staff members or shut down altogether.  

Giving yourself space to answer honestly when someone asks how you are is a terrific way to allow yourself to rest emotionally. If things aren’t great, muster up the courage to say so – and why.   

Spiritual Rest.

This has everything to do with feeling a deep connection and sense of belonging, purpose and acceptance. Each person’s form of spiritual rest is unique, based on their belief system, but generally speaking it involves engaging with something greater than yourself. We all need to feel like we matter and that what we do during our brief time on the planet will somehow contribute to the greater good.  A spiritually exhausted person may feel that nothing they do is important, or that their job is devoid of meaning. These feelings can lead to burnout if left unchecked.

Your spiritual rest may come in the form of attending worship services; it may be that meditation or community service are the forms of spiritual rest that resonate most with you. 

Creative Rest.

Creative rest is gained when we let ourselves appreciate beauty or feelings of awe and wonder. People who work in fields requiring problem solving, brainstorming new ideas, designing or writing must make creative rest a non-negotiable priority. All of us need it, though, to varying degrees. Beauty is restorative. Humans are designed to respond positively to it, whether it’s beauty created by humans (art, music, dance), or natural beauty like the sky, trees, flowers, oceans or mountains.

You can tell you need creative rest when you find yourself struggling with being innovative, when brainstorming gets you nowhere or when problem solving feels really hard. Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, author of the book “Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity, says this: Creativity is more than just art; it’s any type of innovation. A lot of people over the pandemic used an excessive amount of creative energy because everything as we had known it changed. There was a lot of problem-solving required, which means there was a lot of creative energy required. And most of us, because we don’t see ourselves as creatives, never thought about how we would pour back into that energy well as we were draining it.

Social Rest.

Social rest (AKA emotional rest’s BFF, or evil twin, depending on the day) is the restorative, excellent energy boost we get when we spend time with people who are positive and supportive. They fill us with energy. Many of us spend too much time with folks who have the opposite effect. They may be full-throttle energy vampires, or they may inadvertently drain us. An example of inadvertent energy suckers might be a certain coworker, or sometimes your spouse or kids. It’s people who need things from you or who exhaust you. You know it when you feel it. Your internal monologue will say something like “Can we just stop for a minute?”

A way to increase your social rest is to spend time with people who don’t need anything from you. People whose presence you simply enjoy. Let them pour energy back into you.

Sensory Rest.

All day long your senses are flooded with stimuli: your email, phone, Slack, computer screen, Zoom calls, kids, the scent of your colleagues’ lunches, window glare, someone repeatedly tapping their foot…the list goes on. Even if you’re not consciously paying attention to the sensory input filling your environment, your body and subconscious are. Too much sensory input leads to sensory overload, which is defined by feelings like rage, irritability, agitation and/or anger. You may feel good early in the day, but if you need sensory rest, your agitation will grow as the day progresses. 


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