Rest Like It’s Your Job- It May Make You More Productive

Art by Robin Eisenberg

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” -Lao Tzu

This week, and the past couple of months, the universe has lit up a neon sign outside my house telling me to rest. Not literally, but that’s how it feels, and I’ve been reflecting on how often we put off rest, and how so many of us struggle with guilt when it comes to enjoying rest and reveling in it fully. 

American culture rewards grueling hours. It’s considered a bragging right to have unused vacation days and sick time. Employees are encouraged to stay late and come in on weekends and they are rewarded for this behavior.

Are we really working ourselves into the ground because we’ve internalized the message that if we’re not busy and checking off to-do lists, we are worthless?

It’s backwards, because we know rest actually makes us happier, and more productive. Science proves this time and time again, and in many other parts of the world, a month or more of paid vacation is not only standard, but encouraged.

So how did we get here? How have we all come to internalize this message that rest is for wussies, and to wear our burnout like a badge of honor?

Instead of preemptively resting to prevent burnout, we often don’t see the signs until it’s too late, and then take four naps in one week, like I did this past week.

After the first nap, I felt really guilty, like there was so much I could have been doing instead. I felt guilty I wasn’t being productive. I “should” have gotten out of bed, cleaned my house, cleaned my car, done some writing, did yoga, etc. I felt reminded of my limited time here on earth, and of all the things I like to do, of all the things I want to do, and of all the things I “should” do.

I was able to catch myself, and see what was happening in my thoughts in the moment. On the first day of rest, I wallowed for a bit, feeling guilty for not getting out of bed until noon, for not wanting to surf, or go for a walk.

I knew I was being hard on myself, but I couldn’t shake the fact that I sometimes struggle with rest. I’m not proud of this. I know rest is crucial. I know I make crap when I sit down and force it. I know I get moody if I don’t take the time to recharge, and yet, I’ve internalized the message that I must be as productive as I can, and I sometimes have to remind myself to enjoy rest. So that’s what I did, I stopped and talked myself into resting and enjoying the heck out of it. It worked.

I was exhausted to my core, and I decided, you know what? Forget that guilt. If I believe in self care and self love, I have to take care of myself right now, no matter what that looks like, and my body and mind clearly want to rest, so I’m going to honor that and enjoy this.

If you struggle with guilt regarding rest, KNOW that you are not alone and please keep reading because rest is crucial for our well-being, productivity, and creativity. I don’t just mean sleeping for 8 hours a night, although that is definitely a non-negotiable. What I mean is taking time for pleasure, relaxation, and FUN like it’s your job. What I mean is doing things because they are enjoyable and nothing more.

Nothing is going to be fulfilling if you’re thinking about how you shouldn’t be doing it while you’re doing it. We need to consciously choose to enjoy our rest time to actually feel rested afterwards. Otherwise, we can end up with racing brain syndrome, guilt, FOMO, and this whole bag of unwanted surprises.

Fuck. That. If your body is telling you to rest, you’d be wise to listen.

Of course there’s exceptions where we can push ourselves to do great things even when we’re tired, but this is a call to generally rest and revel in it! This is a call to rest preemptively so we don’t burn out.

Ignoring the Signs

About a month or two ago, I hurt my hip while surfing. As someone who needs to exercise to feel sane, I can sometimes overdo too much of a good thing, and I truly believe every time I overdo it, physically or mentally, I get injured or sick. My body literally is like you know what, lady? No. This is ridiculous. I’ve been telling you this for weeks. You’re cut off.

All I did was adjust myself on my surfboard, a small maneuver I’ve done a thousand times before, and the next day, I couldn’t so much as get in and out of my car without taking five minutes to figure out the least painful positioning. I think it was my subconscious forcing me to rest.

I’m convinced that this not only happened because I was overdoing it physically and mentally, and I had worked to the breaking point where a mere shift in my seating position caused days of debilitating pain and bed rest. Don’t let it get to this point.

Pay attention to the clues your body gives you, and check in with yourself when it comes to what you want and need. You are the director of your life, and you never have to force yourself to do anything you don’t want to.

Blessings in Disguise

One of many blessings in all of this was that I’ve re-discovered my love for yoga, as I realized I’d probably been neglecting my flexibility/mobility. After I hurt my hip, yoga was one of the only forms of movement that didn’t hurt. It’s felt so good, both mentally and physically, and for too long I brushed it off as “not intense enough.”

Yoga can be as gentle or as challenging as you like, and as I started doing Cat Meffan’s YouTube videos, I realized how tight my body had become, and how it’s a good time to incorporate flexibility and mobility into my routine so I can keep doing the things I love.

My injury and yoga practice has helped me slow down, loosen up, and is a wonderful, tangible way to appreciate slow progress and stillness, mentally and physically, much like gardening or meditation.

Yoga helps me feel restored, and I feel like I’ve rediscovered a tool I forgot I had.

Slow Down and Take Notice

The point of this is to say that if you’re tired, or your body and mind are giving you cues to rest, take stock of what’s going on in your life, and honor those cues and take a second to be quiet and listen to what your body is trying to tell you.

Rest is crucial. Even taking a few days off, or having a week where you give the finger to productivity can be re-energizing, and give you the fresh perspective you need. It may even give you a new renewed appreciation for all the things you love to do.

Abraham Hicks encourages laziness, but not in the neglecting-to-do-life kind of way. More in the, do what’s fun, do what feels good, then the life things and the creative things will flow. When you feel good, and make it your mission to feel good, and trust and believe that everything is always working out for you, it begins to.

Rest is such a huge part of feeling good, both in our bodies and our brains. It’s a non-negotiable, and worthwhile to find different ways to restore yourself every week. It might take some trial and error, but it should at least be a fun experiment.

The Power of Naps and Play

After that first day of guilt, I had a three day weekend where I took three more naps (delicious, cuddly, life-giving naps that I let myself enjoy) and I was so hungry, so I ate tons of comforting food: Lasagna, chicken with parmesan cheese and roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, eggs and bacon, fresh fruit, peanut butter, and tiramisu. My body was clearly trying to make up for some lost time and repair itself.

Allow yourself time to play and have fun, watch sunsets and Netflix, laugh, be silly, draw pictures in the sand, play with your pets, and do a lot of nothing. It helps us feel refreshed and more light-hearted.

Previously, I convinced myself I wasn’t a napper because I’d wake up crabby and hungry. I’m sure this was my guilt making an excuse, preventing me from having a delicious nap. Because after this weekend, when I confro nted that guilt head-on and decided, consciously, to fuck that shit and have a weekend of rest, naps are a game changer.

Abraham Hicks talks about naps as an “energetic reset,” up there, and maybe even better than meditation. If you’re really having a “wobble” and spiraling into negative thinking and feeling like crap, have a nap. It allows you to reset your mindset and “try again” when you wake up.

Negative thinking can be hard to turn around when it has a lot of momentum behind it, and when you nap (or meditate) you get to start from scratch again, and even if you start thinking of something negative, it doesn’t have as much momentum behind it, so it’s easier to turn it around and focus your thoughts in another direction.

Rest is Self Care, Self Love, and Self Respect

If you’re trying to take better care of yourself and practice self love and self care, you have got to rest. Don’t let our culture convince you vacations make you lazy and self indulgent. Don’t convince yourself you need an Adderall prescription to get more done.

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything gets accomplished.” -Lao Tzu

I think we’d all benefit from taking a cue from nature. Bears go into hibernation. Plants go into dormancy. Camellia flowers take six months to grow as buds before they bloom.

It’s unnatural to expect to be blooming all the time without rest. We need time to reset, to recharge, and to nurture our buds before we expect to bloom.

If you, too, struggle to rest, and need help getting more rest in your life, here are some tips to help you get over your guilt and incorporate more rest into your life:

  • Pay attention to your body. Be present in your body, and learn to recognize what it needs instead of guzzling caffeine, alcohol or social media.
  • Meditate to learn to quiet your mind and pay attention to what’s happening in your body and your emotional state.
  • Commit to No Screen Time hours. For me, the evenings where I set my phone in the other room for a few hours, or even the whole night, are so much more recharging and more satisfying than when I mindlessly scroll. Plus, I am infinitely more productive.
  • Listen to your heart. Don’t force yourself to write if you’re not feeling it. Don’t go to the gym if you’d rather go for a hike or walk. Honor your impulses and follow what feels good. If you need to watch something that makes you laugh instead of looking for a new job, do that.
  • Nap. If you’re tired, nap. Any longer than an hour or two and I typically feel like I’ve involuntarily time traveled, so it may be helpful to set an alarm. Experts say 30 minutes is ideal, but I think it’s good to experiment to figure out what works for you.
  • Make your to-do lists micro, and give yourself easy days in between bigger tasks. If it gets put off, just let it be. You’ll get it next time.
  • Remember that you are not your do to-do list.
  • Practice just being, sitting in silence, walking in nature, watching sunsets, listening to rain, and not being on your phone. Practice moments of just being.
  • Channel your inner cat. Play, nap, cuddle, bathe (in the sun and for cleanliness) eat, repeat.
  • Take baths. Buy yourself some epsom salts, candles, turn on a podcast or some music, or enjoy the silence and soak.
  • Watch something that lights you up. I love shows and stand-up that make me laugh, or nature documentaries, or documentaries that inspire me. Do you.
  • Forgive yourself. Allow rest, and know that you will actually be more productive and happier if you make it a practice to do so.
  • Enjoy that shit. Make your rest POTENT by making it a priority to be present, and to not think about your to-do lists.
  • Make rest a priority, and make it so that it’s your JOB to enjoy it and get the most out of it.

What are your favorite ways to rest and recharge?

How do you incorporate play into your life?

How did you overcome guilt related to rest?

Comment below and as always, please share this post with your friends.

Sending you my love and thoughts of fuzzy blankets, bubble baths and long mornings drinking coffee in bed.

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