How to run your life on rest, instead of fumes
Have you ever had the experience of feeling completely exhausted, yet a voice in your head tells you to ‘just push through’?
In my previous career in television production, pushing through seemed like an ongoing necessity of the system. When you were in the midst of a production, you pushed through and rested later when the project was done. More times than not, I would get sick at that point. Rest doesn’t feel rewarding when you’re so completely burnt out that you’re not even able to enjoy it.
The problem with pushing through is that, most of the time, it works. We are capable of pushing ourselves to an end point even when we feel depleted. But there are always immediate and long-term costs when we do this and ignore our bodies’ needs and signals.
In my former work and life, I often felt like I was running on empty. That worked too; I was able to be successful. But it felt awful inside. Living life that way disconnected me from my body and spirit. I wouldn’t have been able to define what ‘self-care’ meant for me back then if I tried.
Flash forward to today, where I’ve learned to run my still-busy life on rest, instead of fumes. When I feel the urge to push through, I take it as a cue to reach for a rest strategy instead and then come back to the thing that needs my attention after I’ve recharged.
This new approach can sometimes feel like a radical act of defiance in a culture where we’re constantly told, both directly and indirectly, to ‘keep pushing, keep striving, hustle, be productive, achieve, do more, go, go, go’.
But I’ve learned from my rest teacher (yep, there is such a thing!) that rest is medicine. After experiencing this undeniable truth time and again, it’s become my personal and professional mission to help people change their perspective about rest and self-care, so they too can live more rested lives in our unrested world.
The kind of rest I’m talking about is so much more than just sleep. To discover your own rest medicine, it’s not necessarily just about carving out time, but about getting to know yourself better and trusting what works for you. Then, you need to take the time you realistically have, before you burn out, in the midst of the busyness, to restore and recharge yourself in ways that address your specific picture of depletion.
When we understand and include rest as an essential ingredient in our creativity and productivity, we can bring the very best of ourselves to our work, to the people who rely on us, and to all of our obligations.
As author of the book ‘Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less’, Alex Soojung-Kim-Pang puts it: “Work and rest are not mutually exclusive, or competitors. One is not an expression of strength, and the other a sign of weakness. In a good life, rest is not work’s opposite. Rest is work’s partner. They complement and complete each other.”
He also notes that “When we think of rest as work’s opposite, we take it less seriously, and even avoid it.” I see this all the time with my coaching clients, especially the high-achievers. When they don’t place value on the things that are uniquely restorative for them, they block themselves from the rest they desperately need, and self-care becomes meaningless.
TRUSTING YOUR BODY AND GUT
In my intimate group program for women and my employee wellness webinar, both named Running on Rest, I invite participants to challenge their old ways of thinking about rest. This includes learned beliefs based on what is modeled to us by other people throughout our lives. Instead, I help participants tune into their bodies, gut, and ‘inner knowing’.
Many of us shut down the part of ourselves that knows what we need. We think that our answers are outside of us, or that other people are doing it better than us so we should mimic their ways.
But if we don’t trust ourselves, we completely negate the ‘self’ part of self-care.
This played out with a client of mine who would repeatedly come to coaching sessions overwhelmed and exhausted. This client stated that when they had a moment to give to self-care, they had no clue what to actually do.
It was astonishing to me, because this person had continually named the things that ‘fill their cup’: solitude and silence, listening to music, walks with specific energy-giving friends, Pilates and slow movement. Yet, something was stopping my client from reaching for those restorative activities in day to day life. I sensed they weren’t valuing them as rest and self-care, but rather nice-to-have’s or hobbies.
I was determined to help open my client’s eyes, and a little Google research led me to a TED Talk that felt like a huge light bulb moment and opportunity to reframe the concept of rest.
In her now viral talk ‘The real reason why we’re tired and what to do about it,’ Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, an internal medicine physician and author of the book ‘Sacred Rest, Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity’, talks about the seven types of rest we all need.
She sheds light on why sleep alone is not enough to address chronic exhaustion – and that there are seven different categories of rest that we can tap into to recharge and restore ourselves, depending on which areas are depleted at any given time.
The seven types of rest, some of which are passive and others which are counterintuitively quite active, are: physical, mental, emotional, social, creative, sensory, and spiritual.
Whenever I introduce this new perspective on rest to my clients and groups, people tell me that it unlocks and unblocks so much for them. Focusing on these different types of rest opens up a whole new world of opportunities to change their habits and mindsets, and to prioritize rest as a key ingredient in their busy lives.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE SEVEN TYPES OF REST
- Physical rest can be passive or active, depending on what our body needs. Sleep is the ultimate passive rest and is of course crucial to our health and wellbeing. But to address physical depletion like muscle pain, tension in the body, headaches or low energy, restorative activities like yoga, stretching, dance, or body work like acupuncture or massage may be what our bodies need to refuel.
- Mental rest is about slowing down and giving your brain a break. Our mental energy is constantly being depleted, especially at work. This can cause stress, anxiety and overwhelm. Clearing our minds can be calming and restful. For some, running is a mind-clearing activity. Others find that mindfulness exercises, meditation, breathwork, or getting out their stressors in writing does the trick.
- Emotional rest is anything that allows us to feel and express our true emotions. If we try to push our feelings down, they will push back and linger under the surface, depleting our emotional energy. This kind of rest helps offload challenging emotions bringing relief and lightness. Talking to a coach, counselor, a trusted friend you can be real and raw with, joining a support circle, journaling or doing mindful self-compassion exercises are just a few ways to find emotional rest.
Social rest can either look like solitude or time with energy-giving people. This type of rest restores by either connecting us with people who fill our cup (vs those who suck our energy) OR disconnecting and holding a rest boundary for ourselves by saying no to plans with others. If you’ve had too much social interaction or time with people who drain you, you may need a quiet break from social activity.
- Creative rest allows us to be re-inspired, get into a flow, see things differently by exploring or indulging in the world around us. This type of rest can help you find new inspiration in life and work. If you feel unmotivated or uninspired, you likely need creative rest. Maybe this means making something with your hands or engaging in a creative project, or your creative rest could come from immersing in an inspiring atmosphere, appreciating beauty through art, music, nature or even play.
- Sensory rest invites us to unplug from screens, noise, light and other stimulus. Constantly being surrounded by stimuli can lead to sensory overload. Introverts can be extra-sensitive to stimuli and need more frequent sensory rest. Notice your home, work and other environments and how different stimuli affect you, and take sensory rest by unplugging from those things. A break from devices, dim lights, silence and stillness, or breathing fresh air mindfully and deliberately with no distractions can all provide sensory rest.
- Spiritual rest involves connecting with something bigger outside of our own experience – activities and practices that offer a deeper sense of meaning, belonging, purpose, community and contribution. This could involve community service, meditation in a group setting, engaging in religious or spiritual practices or communities, or any personal activity that helps you tap into a common humanity and our sense of belonging.
FIND THE RIGHT REST FOR YOU
You can align to the seven types of rest by making a list of activities or practices that ‘fill you’ in each category. If you can’t think of any, list ones you’re willing to try. Then, reference this list whenever you are able to take a moment – and you will need to take it because no one is waiting to hand it to you. We each need to take ownership of our rest and self-care.
The only way to know if a rest activity is right for you is to experiment and see if it restores you. You may find one activity, like being in nature, fits in a few rest categories. Trust what’s right and true for you.
Ask yourself these questions at the end of a day or week:
- What depleted me, took energy from me, or asked a lot of me – and what can I do to restore this energy deficit?
- Are there any physical symptoms that are asking me to rest? (soreness, headaches, feeling off, cloudy mind, etc.) What cues are my body giving about what type of rest I need most?
- When did I find myself ‘pushing through’ or tolerating? What type of rest could I have taken in that moment to refuel before completing the task?
- Challenge yourself to listen to your body and incorporate different types of rest into your routine. It might mean making changes that feel strange, uncomfortable or radical for a while. But that’s how we invite positive change and make it stick.
As for my client, it took some time to shift their mindset. But eventually, they understood and embraced their personalized and unique picture of self-care.
REST VS. RELAX
It’s important to recognize the difference between true rest and recreation. For me, watching TV on the couch can be fun and entertaining. This is important – but when I’m honest with myself, it doesn’t refuel me.
Sometimes I choose to unwind with a recreational activity, but I consciously know that it isn’t rest. When I’m depleted, I choose something I know is energy-giving rest medicine for me like yoga nidra meditation, stretching my body or walking in nature.
Ask yourself if the activity you’re reaching for is truly going to restore your energy, or simply serve as a relaxing way to unwind for the sake of enjoyment. Both are great and needed at different times! But it’s important to know what we’re choosing.
Next time you feel that urge to ‘push through,’ try to put that old, limiting messaging aside and allow yourself to take a rest break instead – even just a moment if you can’t make space for anything more. Take a few deep breaths, a short walk, listen to an inspiring piece of music that gets you into a flow, have an honest chat with an energy-giving friend, or take a momentary self-compassion break. Then, go back to the thing that needs your attention and energy. You may find your productivity increases because of that rest break.
I hope you’ll begin to see for yourself how fueling with rest is always a winning strategy.
Jenny Tryansky is an ICF-credentialed Professional Certified Coach with a whole life/whole person approach. In her private coaching practice, she works virtually with clients around the world, specializing in working one-on-one with people who are driven yet highly self-critical. She coaches clients to build meaningful, authentic lives, tackling personal and professional challenges with self-compassion and resilience, as they move forward toward their goals fuelled with confidence instead of self-criticism. Jenny has a passion and interest in helping people value authentic self-care as an essential ingredient to living a full life. Her private group program and employee wellness seminar, Running on Rest, empowers people to use rest as fuel for their busy lives, emphasizing that taking good care of ourselves first is how we can bring our best to the work, people and things we give our energy to every day. In addition to coaching private clients, Jenny is a writer, speaker, workshop & group leader and mindful self-compassion advocate. She juggles life in Toronto with her husband and young daughter, and her work with clients around the world. Connect with Jenny on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn and read her articles with helpful resources on her website. Sign up to her newsletter for occasional emails with helpful insights, resources and news about new programs and workshops! For a complimentary exploration call with Jenny to determine if there’s a great connection and fit, send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or connect through her website.
Learn more about Jenny’s Running on Rest group program for women here.