We all know that rest is important. Getting your eight hours as often as you can, not working yourself to the bone, and having firm boundaries about your work routine so you're not bringing your work home with you, etc etc.
But how much do we know about what rest actually means?
Rest, means slowing things down. Stopping the endless input of information that our brains are constantly receiving and sorting through that we can get so consumed by that we end up strolling through our day to day completely lifelessly and mindlessly until we eventually burn out or even get sick.
One reason that we get so consumed by our thoughts in this way, is that they're causing us stress, and we're not sure how to manage or deal with our stress. We might know a couple of tricks or tips, or might just repeat to ourselves each day of the working week that we "just need a holiday".
Well, what if we could have a much better approach to how we manage our stress, and also ourselves? that would be good, right? No need for anymore of those pesky holidays getting in the way of our work, right? ..I'm kidding, obviously.
We all need a proper break from time to time. To step away from the routine that soon becomes mundane and rather dreary. But, do you know that feeling you get when you just get back from a holiday? After all the travelling stress and you're settling back into yourself, that lack of urgency, that lack of need to be anywhere, or do anything with such a rush or impatient drive? What if I told you that you could actually feel much, much more of that, if you were to just dedicate some time to slowing down.
Im not talking about quitting your job forever (as nice as that would be), I'm talking about actually implementing tools, on the daily. Maybe making a yoga class once every week or two.
Just taking the time to stop, take stock, slow your breathing, and stop fighting, stop resisting your body's needs for its rest.
Our bodies will tell us when it needs a rest. We'll feel fatigued, stressed, maybe we'll have heightened anxiety or worry, our fuse will be so short that we can't handle the smallest inconvenience and have reactive bursts of frustration or anger. Which we know deep down, isn't a true expression of who we are, when we're our best version of ourselves.
When we ignore these signs, and keep pushing on, our body doesn't have a chance.
It gets ignored, and no one likes to get ignored, so it'll force you to slow down and actually listen.
You know the feeling, when you're approaching burnout but you've got a couple days of booked, or even a holiday. When your time off approaches, boom. You get sick. It ruins the break. You try to force yourself through it, again, while still not listening to your body, making it worse.
You then return to work, still sick, and to repeat the cycle again.
So, why does this happen?
The fine tuned balance of our nervous system
Our nervous system is constantly reacting to everything. From our stressors, what we eat, what we watch, how we move, how we don't move, how we handle situations, conversations with friends and family or lovers, it responds everything.
When we are in a more sort of "doing" mode, as in working or walking or exercising, our nervous system is in its Sympathetic state. This allows our body to react to stimuli appropriately and quickly. In the more extreme of this state, it would be considered our "fight or flight" mode. Imagine a bear was to start charging towards you out of the woods, wielding in its hands all of the work and lists of chores you still had to do, seeing all of this at once would of course trigger this response. And I'm sure the sight of these lists of chores and endless tasks can sometimes feel much the same as the bear, never mind both. Your instincts would be overwhelming, to fight, or run for your life.
Personally, I'd be running for my life, albeit confused as to how the bear managed to open the drawer in my house to get these documents before tracking me down individually.
But anyway, besides the point.
When are nervous system is in this Sympathetic state for too long, your body won't allow for proper rest. Basically, you won't recover properly. Your stress will keep being stored in your body, leading to heightened anxiety, lack of sleep, illness and disease, and a short temper to finish it all off.
The other, complementary state of our nervous system, the Yin to our Yang, so to speak, is the Parasympathetic nervous system. This is the rest and restore version of our nervous system. Not what you'd want when you're being chased by a nagging chore hungry bear. Throughout the day, we should switch between these two states. They should be in balance, and work with each other.
However, the more and more stressed we get, the more we're going to get stuck in that sympathetic, fight or flighty state of being. So, to speak.
Practices like Yoga, slow breathing, and forms of Pranayama, can increase the parasympathetic tone of our nervous systems. They can also tone certain aspects of the vagus nerve complex. An aspect of the vagus nerve, is being able to slow down our heart rate, and ease us into a more Parasympathetic state. Now, I'm no neuroscientist, or even a scientist, for that matter. I just like to read into and understand how the practices that I teach can affect the body, and explain that in fairly simple terms (hopefully).
The biggest takeaway for all of us, is to listen to our goddamn bodies.
Our bodies are constantly relaying feedback back to us so we can use it. Stop ignoring these messages of approaching burnout and chronic stress. The messages are meant for you, not anyone else.
There's no one sitting in their bedroom with an old radio trying to dial into your nervous system so they can be like, yup, knew it, this persons really stressed and needs to slow things down.
That's you, you're meant to be the person with the radio, listening, paying attention.
Truly, our health depends on it. Researches say that stress is the cause of anywhere between 75-90% of illness and disease. Our way of life, depends on it. Our wellbeing.
If we want to move through life in a balanced and healthy way, where we're able to adapt to the challenges that life throws at us with a state of equanimity, presence, and clarity. If we want to be a better version of ourselves, we need to make time for rest.
Stop rushing. Go outside. Venture into the woods or go to the beach. Stop staring at your phones and laptops and TV's.
Play more, laugh more, rest more, and stress less.
I know stress isn't an easy thing to escape. I've been there, and at the end of the day, I had to make a choice. I could continue down the path I was on, and constantly feel burnt out, depressed, paranoid, and to an extent like life had no real substance or meaning, which is a dark, dark path, or I could take responsibility, and escape. I quit my job, I changed my circumstances, and put a better, more balanced life at the top of my priorities.
Life isn't all about money and things, it's a shame that sometimes it takes something dark to happen or illness to take hold for us to really wake up and discover this. But hey, as long as we realise in the end.
To summarise, here's something simple you can do, every day, to invite in a slower way of being, and it's ridiculously simple.
Block of 15 minutes, lock the bathroom door if you have to and hunker down in there to get some peace, and even out your breathing.
Place your hands on your abdomen, feel into your breath, and breathe in for 5 seconds, and out for 5 seconds. Notice how it makes you feel, and make a habit of it.
Feel like you've got too much to do, too much urgency? then move. Get that feeling out of your body. Go for a run, a cycle, a yoga class. Sometimes the easiest way to get out of a funk is to move, shake, or even complete the fight or flight cycle with a run. Doesn't have to be far, but your body will thank you.
I think one thing that can truly help also, is trying to find the lighter side of things. It can be hard, I know, but just try. Practice gratitude for what you have, before your life ends up running away from you.
And if you're really struggling and want some guidance, I can help you, but you need to be the one to reach out and seek help. I can help slow things down, I can guide you through movements to release your tension.
The options open, if you need it.