It seems the human body is designed to require a balance between activity and rest. Just being awake requires a corresponding period of restful sleep to maintain our brains and bodies. To build muscle, it’s necessary to work the muscle and then rest to recover. It’s during the time of rest that the strength gain happens. Micro-tears from the stress of training get repaired, and that’s what increases strength. When we’re trying to learn something new, it’s study followed by sleep that is most effective in locking that knowledge into our brains.
In my last post, I discussed how two years of pandemic life have left us depleted and needing self-nourishing rest, Sabbath rest. As I’ve continued thinking about incorporating more rest and balance into my life, I realized that there are different types of rest. We first need to identify what we need rest from and then determine what type of rest is effective.
By reflecting on my life, I’ve identified six categories where I need to balance activity with some type of rest. Each person will have unique rest requirements since everyone’s life and temperament are different. But I believe some commonalities are likely to be shared by most people.
The first category is the obvious: daily sleep. Everyone has unique sleep requirements, but I fall into the most common category of needing at least 8 hours of sleep to function well (physically and mentally). People have written entire books about sleep, so I won’t belabor this other than to point out that sleep is the essential form of rest.
My second category is rest from physical activity. Daily physical activity is essential for our health, but we need to balance our activity with appropriate rest, especially as we get older. My knees and back no longer cooperate with everything my mind wants to do. For me, effective self-care rest includes balancing more strenuous activity with gentle yoga and stretching as well as taking a rest day (or two) each week when I significantly decrease my usual exercise.
My third category is rest from work/sustained mental activity. When I was in grad school, taking multiple theology classes each semester, it helped tremendously to give my mind a total break from schoolwork every Sunday. Now that my “work” is writing, I need to rest from the creative (but also exacting) work of writing/editing/revising. I need to do something totally different to get this kind of rest. Physical activity seems to be very effective at helping me get out of my head. Going out for a walk is ideal, but doing some cleaning around the house also works (and allows me to feel virtuous about checking something else off my to-do list!)
My fourth category is rest from general busyness or over-scheduling. Some seasons of life are just busy. I’m retired and don’t have kids at home, so I have few demands on my time most days. But I still have times when my calendar gets full. The feeling of being perpetually rushed and busy often creeps up on me gradually, and I’m not aware of it until I notice my reluctance to leave the house. Even for the things I usually love to do. I start having dreams about living in the woods (too much Thoreau influence!) or a monastery. When I get in this state, my most effective way to rest is to plan unscheduled time for myself. (And also pay more attention to how much I can schedule on my weekly calendar without feeling overwhelmed).
My fifth category is rest from social interactions. This seems closely related to my last category, and I debated giving it its own category. I suspect this may not be such an issue for extroverts, but I’m an introvert, and I need time on my own. As much as I love spending time with my friends and family, I need to balance this with time alone. Effective rest means scheduling a day when I have nothing planned and can do whatever solitary activities appeal to me, like reading, watching a favorite show, or taking a long walk.
My final category is rest from spiritual/personal development. I love reading spiritual books or discovering new ideas to make my personal life more effective or productive. But I’ve realized that this also eventually wears me down. It’s important to balance this pursuit of knowledge with the experience of mindfully being present with what is here now. I tend to over analyze and approach things very seriously, so an activity that is frivolous and light is perfect for this kind of rest. One of my favorite activities for this kind of rest is shopping for office supplies (because I am overly enthusiastic about having nice pens and fun notebooks)! Reading a light mystery or novel also gives my mind a much-needed break.
It’s been helpful for me to think about rest in this broader way and consider my personal needs for rest. One insight that surprised me is that we even need rest from what we love to do! I tend to think that I can’t get enough of the activities that bring me joy. But the truth is that even these things need to be balanced by rest.
Your needs for rest may differ from mine, but maybe some of my categories also resonate with you?
A Closing Prayer
Bless all of us who are exhausted from lives that have gradually become over-scheduled and draining, perhaps without us noticing. We have endless lists of things to be done and people who depend on us. We have high expectations for ourselves and hesitate to even think of asking for help or stopping to rest. Help us recognize when we are pushing too hard and need to give ourselves a break. Remind us that we are not in charge of keeping the world turning. Let us rest in Your presence and have the insight to see how we can incorporate more rest and balance in our lives. Amen.