Four New Ways To Get The Rest Your Mind And Body So Deserve
Get acquainted with the power of rest!
It's a tiny, one syllable word that carries so much weight.
It's easy to imagine and perhaps even easier to advice to people who need it, but admit it. It's so much harder to follow our own advice, as it is with all the things in life that are good for us!
The value of good old rest can never be overestimated, overestimated, and overemphasized, so we'd like to take the time to have a little sit down with you about rest. There are many ways to explore what it truly means to be rested and the unexplored ways to gain rest in our lives that seemingly keep us busy and preoccupied 24/7.
Below, we talk about four new ways to think of rest, plus our tips on how to gift yourself with quality rest.
Robbing yourself of mental clarity
If you were used to pulling all-nighters/several consecutive days of intense work in school to get things done, this habit may or may not have been one you carried over to your life as a professional. Kudos to you if you didn't!
It'll require a completely separate article to discuss the many ways this habit is counterproductive, but you can bet that not allowing yourself adequate rest between bouts of heavy mental work has ill-effects. In the beginning, you might feel good about yourself for getting more done in less time. You're willing to sacrifice the prescribed 8-10 hours of nightly sleep if it means getting more clients, submitting more articles, finishing more reports, crunching more numbers, or just generally doing more, more, more.
You might get pats on the back from your boss that you impress with your superhuman workload, but be informed that it's all at the expense of your long-term well-being.
If this is something that becomes your norm and not the exception, you could find yourself suffering from any or all of the following after some time:
- Impaired decision-making
- Increased need to nap during the day
- Feelings of sluggishness
- Slow response time
- Difficulty in concentration
- Irregular appetite (read: the need to snack continuously)
- Decreased mental clarity, overall
The longer you go without rest and the more you believe you can behave like a machine that has no need to slow down, the more you put yourself at risk for these consequences and the longer your recovery time will be.
The bigger problem is that the consequences listed above don't just affect you when you're working. You can unintentionally strain relationships if you're moody all the time, you can get into a car accident if you're not as alert, you can invite weight gain if you constantly stress eat, and you can end up making poor decisions you'll regret later on if you're unable to think about them with a sharp mind.
The joke "rest is for the weak" isn't funny at all, because the longer you go without it, the weaker you will indeed be, physically, emotionally, and mentally.
We understand that the most ideal situation is to simply not overwork. But there are definitely some kinds of jobs or situations where we must push ourselves (read: the operative word is some, so it really should only be an occasional thing) and going without adequate rest/sleep is unavoidable. To temper this reality, we suggest to use your hours more efficiently. That is, there are supposedly times in the day that are best for certain kinds of mental tasks.
It's suggested that the hours of 10a.m. to 2p.m., then again from 4p.m. to 10p.m., are best for diving into unfamiliar activities. If you need to learn a new skill or experiment with something you've never tried before, these are best your windows.
Within one to three hours of waking up, make your big decisions.
The worst hours to be awake to be doing work? 4a.m. to 7a.m. There is also no study that supports or promotes all-nighters, so to the self-proclaimed night owls, you might want to rethink your work patterns!
Be in bed by 10 or 11p.m. at the latest.
As a general note, it's best to sleep at a "normal" time then wake up earlier than usual to squeeze in more work hours in a day, versus the opposite of waking up mid-morning then staying up past midnight.
Timeout for your devices
Reality check—it's not just kids that need to be separated (sometimes forcefully) from gadgets before bedtime. It can be a challenge for adults, too!
The fact that we've become way too attached to our smart devices requires little explanation, but what we'd like to clarify even more is why continued phone/tablet/laptop time right before bedtime can seriously mess with you. The standard is to put away all screens at least half an hour before hitting the sack. So if you're the type to need the TV on to fall asleep, you're in for a bedtime habit overhaul.
So why is it so important to tuck screens away at night? There are several reasons.
The first is what blue light can do to our bodies. It's a problem for our eyes first and foremost; overexposure to blue light can damage our retinas and threaten to ruin our eyesight. Second, it's an issue for our brains—yes, our brains! Blue light inhibits our brain's production of melatonin, a.k.a. the hormone that gives us that super satisfying sensation of sleepiness that sends us right off to dreamland. Darkness is required for melatonin production, so if we continue to be on our phones while we're under the covers, the light emanating from our screens sends our brain the message that it isn't time to start producing melatonin.
There's also the possibility of training our brains to be alert at night. The more we stimulate our brains at a time when it should naturally be at rest, the more we teach it to be active at the wrong time. So don't be annoyed when you realize you've become an insomniac when you weren't always one; you could have actually played a role in re-wiring your brain to keep you up at night!
Explore pre-bedtime activities that don't require phone use. The best one is to do some recreational reading—pick up a magazine, a book.
If you really need something to keep you company, try a podcast or play ambient sounds. Throw in a bit of aromatherapy to help you make the adjustment; lavender works wonders for sending you off to sleep.
A little something called state-dependent memory
In the early 20th century, psychologists first described the concept of state-dependent memory (otherwise known as context-specific memory), but before we get technical, let us tell you that we're sure this is a phenomenon you've lived without realizing it!
Have you ever told someone (or yourself) to go for a walk or do something totally unrelated if you run into a wall during a particularly demanding mental task? When you did take a break then go back to work, did you find yourself feeling refreshed and able to see things from a different perspective? Well, that's you experiencing the concept of state-dependent memory, at least partly. Allow us to explain.
State-dependent memory is basically this: we recall information or emotions more accurately if, in the time we recall them, the context surrounding us is the same or similar to when we first learned a piece of information or first felt a certain emotion. We'll give an example to make that more concrete.
Say, you have a favorite spot at home where you always work on your most challenging projects. In this place, the lighting is dim, it's quiet, the temperature is just right, and your favorite room scent fills the air. The first time you worked here, you learned that you were at your most creative and productive and you always experienced your best ideas flowing freely. Strangely, you find that you don't work as efficiently when you're in a totally different setting where there are people shuffling about, there's music, the lights are all fluorescent, or there are many things happening around you like in a coffee shop or shared office space.
That's state-dependent memory at work; your memory, in this case, is your learning that your favorite spot at home is where you perform your best. Your brain has learned that in order for you to be productive, you have to be in a setting that replicates or recreates the setting of the place where you experienced peak performance (in this example, it's a spot with the dim lighting, privacy, etc.). Otherwise, you lack the state that your mind depends on in order for it to function at its best. (Hence, state-dependent memory).
State-dependent memory can do wonders if your mind associates a place with good things like in the example above. But what if your mind has learned that your working spot at home is where you're always exhausted, uninspired, and distracted? Here's where rest steps in. And we don't just mean rest as in sleeping, but rest as in taking your thoughts to a different place.
If your state-dependent memory is making it difficult for you to move forward with a task when you've been sitting in the same place for hours, don't keep forcing it to. It will get you nowhere, except maybe to more feelings of frustration.
To combat any negative, unproductive associations made by state-dependent memory, there's a little trick you can try. You can keep trying to tackle a problem in your mind, but do so in a different place. If you can't figure out a solution or come to a solid decision, keep that line of thought but get up, go somewhere else, and think about it elsewhere. Take your dog for a stroll, drive around for a few minutes, go to the grocery, walk to your favorite pastry place; a change of scenery could help you break free of unwanted effects of state-dependent memory.
This is one form of rest you didn't know you needed, or that you likely didn't know existed. Now you know that it's possible to rest your brain while staying productive, simply by not forcing your mind to go on overdrive under circumstances where it simply can't do so.
Too much of a good thing
We talked with "Happiness doctor" Dr. Lia Bernardo previously about one of the worst things to come out of quarantine living: the need to always be doing something in a misguided attempt to stay productive.
It's an awesome thing to want to make the most out of our time during the pandemic because we've been given the chance to stay home and try out all this stuff we didn't have time for, pre-COVID. But too much of a good thing can also be bad, including stuffing our daily schedules with too many things. Instead of enjoying the gifts of time and the opportunity to use it however we want, we feel burnt out and weirdly, tired even though we're mostly at home.
This is because overstimulation can be a bad thing, and like all things in life, balance is always key. It's bad if we're always just plopped on the couch all day, but it's not any better if we're constantly finding things to keep busy with. As Dr. Lia stated, a lot of the time, what people need to realize is that doing nothing isn't a point against them. It's not laziness. It's not missing out. It's not you losing the "who can do the most during lockdown" competition.
Rest is the ultimate form of self-care.
Left and right we're bombarded with ways to de-stress. Even when we're looking for ways to rest from doing things, the irony is that the Internet and the experts will still make us, well, do things.
If you've ever Googled "ways to relax," we're sure you've encountered suggestions of yoga, guided meditation, exercise regimens of every kind, and even unusual things like learning to cross stitch, growing your indoor herb garden, or tying out watercolor.
Barely any resource will tell you to just exist and be, because for the 21st century human being like me and you, that might just be the hardest thing to do. We're always in motion in our bodies and in our minds that letting go and just learning to be with ourselves (that means no phone in hand and no Netflix playing in the background) with just our breathing to keep us company is a real feat.
But try it out.
It's a rare opportunity to get to assess where we're at emotionally, mentally, physically, and even spiritually when we're in stillness. Allow your mind to wander. Let your imagination run to wherever it wants to go. Enjoy not having to be anywhere or get things done.
Throughout the week, we try so hard to stay focused and are guided by deadlines that it's a privilege to get rest by doing nothing!
Images from Pexels and Unsplash