Self-care: The importance of rest

As I mentioned, one of the things I've been focused on this summer is self-care. Health (mental and physical), habits, diet, exercise, you name it I'm working on it.

I've been reading, journaling, and experimenting with what helps me feel better - trying things that are out of my comfort zone, and even outside of my belief system. Who knew real rest - not just resting because I'm already sick and worn out - was one of these.

I realized I hadn't really learned to rest

Flowers in San Francisco

I took an online course this summer, Mondo Beyondo Dream Lab, run by photographers and writers Jen Lemen and Andrea Scher. (Andrea also used to have a jewelery business called Superhero Designs - I always wanted one of her brightly coloured necklaces, long before I could afford one, and then a few years ago one of my oldest and dearest, Kirsti, got me one of her pendants as a Christmas present! I still wear it all the time, and it makes me feel a little more like a superhero.)

This iteration of the course was focused on "...what is possible when we truly sink into play, rest and kindness." And the reason I signed up for it were a couple lines in the "Who is it for?" section:

  • Anyone who is tired of the hamster wheel and ready to rest more and worry less.

  • Anyone who is up against the compulsion to do more and be responsible at the expense of their happiness or physical well-being.

These lit up the big "YES!" sign in my brain. Truth be told, I ended up skipping a huge number of the "play" assignments (that's a whole other challenge for me), and focused on the rest and kindness ones. I really needed those. I really needed the message of: You're already enough, you've done enough. If you need to rest then rest, you don't need to earn it. The messages and assignments for the duration of the course were so sweet and thoughtful, I was really glad that I signed up for it. (If I didn't already have so much on my plate for the fall, I would seriously consider their Mondo Beyondo course that starts in a couple weeks, it sounds inspiring!) 

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Through Dream Lab and not working for the past few months (though it's been busy enough with hosting visitors, traveling, and catching up on many postponed tasks), I finally realized that I had been pushing myself far too hard for much too long. I didn't even really know it or understand it, not deep down, because it felt normal at the time feeling exhausted every day, especially afternoon, crashing, and running on adrenaline. Using every ounce of energy on work or things other people wanted me to do, and having only tiny crumbs left for myself.

This post by Sarah Wilson - Sweetest surrender - is really so much like what I was experiencing over the last couple years. I was just beyond worn out, and as many of you know I have several chronic conditions, many inflammation-based, that I'm only now realizing must have been so exacerbated by how I'd been functioning (or not functioning), building up over years. Evidence enough is that I've actually gained a bit of weight over the past few months, have been feeling much more relaxed, less crashy, and have had several people who I hadn't seen in a while tell me that I looked healthy. Who me? Looking healthy? Well that's new!

This summer, I reclaimed rest, and have been doing it unappologetically. Finally. I rest when I need it, but also, and maybe more importantly, before I need it. I realized that I end up enjoying what I choose to do more, when I choose to do less.

The Dream Lab rest exercises were challenging for me at first, but then quickly I started to revel in resting. Days I had a lot of energy I would go out for the afternoon and run errands, or work in the yard, or get chores done. But not too many, not till I felt like collapsing. Days where I woke up tired, I'd read, watch a movie, draw, geek out on the computer, etc.

And I've started doing this when I travel too. Especially the first couple days when I'm adjusting, or when I start feeling ill at all, I just take a full day off and rest. Not just an hour or two, but the entire day. Just sit and relax on the bed, read, go for a short slow walk, do some stretches, nap. Ironically, as I'm finishing this post, I'm just starting my second day in Santa Monica completely exhausted, since I've had insomnia the two nights since getting here (which sometimes happens when I travel). It might not be so bad, but is made a million times worse when the young kid in the next suite is yelling and skateboarding right out the window and waking my cousin and I up early. I'm running on very low reserves right now! The reality is sometimes even when you do all you can to rest, outside forces still interrupt, and all you can do is be kind to yourself and keep making time to rest (and of course leave them a note asking for some quiet in the mornings!).

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In any case, I'm starting to be able to tell when I need rest earlier, and have also begun to rest pro-actively more often. It's a revelation in how I should have been living all along. But I always feel so compelled to keep doing, to keep pushing ahead to keep up with all the things on my must-do list. To keep up with "normal people".

But what I now know recognize is that feeling healthy is more important than most, if not all of those things. The very small percentage that are that important, I can push a little extra for, but it's not a daily occurance. I've been letting go of the notion that my rest time must be earned. What a ridiculous notion. Who am I working for to earn my rest? Only myself; I do not need permission.

So, my lovely friend, if you have been feeling exhausted for longer than you can remember, please give yourself permission to rest. Early and often. It's one of the best gifts you can give yourself.

Some tips I've gathered

  1. Make time for rest before you need it. Set aside a few hours once or twice a week where you have zero commitments, and you've communicated to anyone you live with that you're going to be resting and so won't be available to go out or do anything engaging. If you're traveling, and can help it, don't make any plans for the first day at your destination.
  2. Take naps - it brings down your adrenaline and cortisol levels, which in turn may help you actually have a better chance of sleeping well at night. As long as you don't overdo the napping so that you're not tired enough at bedtime!
  3. Melatonin - especially during short periods of insomnia, or when travelling, this natural hormone can help a ton. I used to use it a lot more years back when I had more frequent bouts of insomnia, but now I reserve it for travelling adjustment.
  4. Go to bed at a regular time, and turn off your computer and television at least an hour before then.
  5. Avoid caffeine. If you have trouble sleeping, I'd say avoid it altogether. But if you must have it in the morning, just cut yourself off after about noon. Watch out for hidden sources of caffeine - iced tea, sodas, and even painkillers can have a ton of caffeine in them.
  6. Light exercise - just going for a walk, or doing some easy yoga can really help to reset your whole system and give you a better chance of sleeping well, especially if you've been experiencing insomnia.
  7. Meditation, journalling, snuggling - anything that makes you feel calm, safe, and helps get your mind to stop spinning is always good.

A few good reads on resting

Comments

Very insightful post. As per our discussion on FB, I think that the comments that you make above about "rest" are really important. Especially #1 Make time for rest before you need it. You are so right about making time for nothing. I find if I protect myself with some no commitments time, I am less likely to feel so possessive of my time and "fearful of fatigue" (THIS A HUGE DRIVER IN MY LIFE AND DECISION MAKING) and cancel on activities or friends when I feel that time is threatened.

Just another thought about your post- one of the things that I have learned in my residency with it's awful call schedule is sleep =/= rest. Although I recognize that sleep is super important for cortisol regulation and overall health (both mental and physical!), I personally find that I am capable of functioning with less sleep that I think I need, as long as I am taking time to rest and rejeuvenate. I'm not sure if I'm expressing myself well, but for myself, it is a balance, the right amount of sleep and the right amount of rest. If I don't enough resting (and creative time) in my life, I have a tendency to overcompensate with sleeping more, and this actually doesn't really help. In fact it often makes things worse for me. I'm still cranky and irritable and physically wrecked. I keep thinking "I'm tired", and then sleep more, to no relief. But I have just started to realize that as long as I am resting and taking care of myself (which I am still really bad at) I actually need a lot less sleep than I think and am able to cope better (physically and mentally) with the awful demands of my sleep-deprived program.

Thanks so much for sharing. AND YOU ARE A SUPERHERO!

Yeah, that makes sense about needing rest/creative time as well as sleep time - I think that's totally right on the money! (Especially about overcompensating with sleep when we don't get rest.) But... (big but!) for me, there is no compensating for lack of sleep. Sleep is priority #1 and not getting enough wrecks me instantly. I absolutely have to get enough sleep every night - I can usually survive one night short on sleep, but sometimes even that will debilitate me, and times like now when I'm travelling and have had multiple nights of not enough, it ain't pretty. All of my various issues flare up at once and it takes a ridiculous amount of resting and sleeping and effort to try and get things to settle down again. A luxury which is not always available. Preventing getting into this state by always sleeping and resting enough is non-negotiable for me!