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The Power Of Rest

Apr/28/2024 / by Sweta Vikram

Why you need to unplug and relax

South Asian woman holding tea cup and a book on lap
Photo via Shutterstock

We live in a culture where being on-the-go is constantly celebrated and applauded. 

A coworker once said with admiration that her husband clocks 80 hours a week. I understand that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to leading an intentional life. Also, some jobs are more demanding than others, and we may not always be able to walk away overnight. But to believe that erratically long hours and a rest-deprived life is a good thing is where I see the problem. Where is the time to take care of your health, hobbies, family, friendships, errands, or even your basic needs of rest?

Sure, we all have phases in our lives where we can’t slow down as much as we’d like. From time to time, and in different phases of life, our commitments might stop us from getting sufficient rest. These phases can include child or eldercare responsibilities, career demands and other life needs.

I know firsthand that despite best and intentional practices, it was impossible for me to truly rest when I was a cross-continental caregiver with a career, home, and life in two countries. But chronic lack of rest can’t be your ongoing status quo or life motto. You can’t glorify productivity and chase success at the cost of your health. Because we are nothing without our wellbeing. 

In today’s over-achieving and fast-paced times, we have learned to exist in a “sympathetic” nervous system mode, constantly alert and watching our back. If you were being chased by a tiger or a car almost hit you or you tried to survive a snakebite during a hike, it would make sense for the fight-or-flight response to kick in. You’d do anything for survival, protection, and safety—this is being in the sympathetic nervous system mode. But our day-to-day life doesn’t need us to exist in a heightened state or put our body’s systems in alert mode.

The Need To Rest 

Resting activates the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system responds to peace and is our “rest and digest” response, and where we should ideally be. But most of us exist in the sympathetic mode these days. This impacts our health and wellbeing and creates extreme stress in the mind and body. Did you know that we can change our emotional states more easily when we counterbalance our busy-ness with relaxing activities?

In small ways, lack of rest can make us more irritable, moody, scatterbrained, exhausted, tired, or unable to recollect information. Ask yourself who or what you become when you haven’t rested well in a while? I feel very emotional. It’s hard for me to make pragmatic decisions or not get wound up. My sleep and digestion feel off. If I push myself beyond a point and don’t engage in mindful resting, my throat starts to act up.

There are also some serious consequences to not getting enough rest. They can include health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, obesity, depression, and immunity issues.

Missing Out On Rest

What might impact our ability to rest? There could be many reasons, including some of these.

Never-ending to-do list

Familial responsibilities

Caregiving in a different country

Little children

Irregular sleep and eating habits

Mental health challenges

Unrealistic expectations around success and career

Digestive disorders and gut health issues

Scrolling social media before going to bed

Being inept at slowing down

The need to constantly feel productive

Attachment to perfectionism

Inability to let go and build boundaries

Excessive workload

Lack of social support

How Mindful Resting Can Help

Resting is not just about sleeping. A simple definition of rest is, “cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength.” 

Rest boosts your immune system

It prevents injuries and accidents

It stimulates your creativity

Heals your body

Reduces inflammation

Improves digestion

Lowers stress

Offers a new perspective when you aren’t making decisions from an exhausted place

Empowers mental and emotional wellbeing

Improves focus and mood

Reduces muscle tension and chronic pain

Lessens anger issues and frustrations

Resources For Better Rest

Rest is most beneficial when you incorporate it into your daily life. It might require a mindset shift if you feel guilty resting or can’t identify with a life where productivity isn’t a measure of quality, health, or happiness.

If you are wondering where to start and are looking for ways to bring more rest into your life, check out Mita Mistry’s “All You Need Is Rest”. I have also heard good things about The Art of Rest: How to Find Respite in the Modern Age by Claudia Hammond. If you are interested in documentaries, there is Headspace: Unwind your Mind on Netflix. There is also Quest for Sleep, a full documentary film on YouTube that follows real characters whose struggles with sleep threaten to unravel their waking lives.

I am a big fan of Andrew Huberman’s podcast Hubermanlab where he discusses neuroscience. Try this Non-Sleep Deep Rest protocol (NSDR) to enhance the learning process by reducing day-time fatigue and improving focus.

“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” ~ Maya Angelou

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional. If you are looking for advice from a trained yogi and ayurvedic doctor, contact the author here.

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