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Permission to Rest

Resist? Who resists rest? Nobody skips a nice little nap when they need one…. And if you believe that, I’ve got a saber-toothed tiger to sell you.

Into every life stress will fall. And into some, hardship, pain, or too much bad luck. These are the built-in risks of being human, and everybody gets a turn at the tough parts. When life is flowing it can feel like a dance, but when it hits the rocks, our stress hormones surge. (Thanks to that handy fight-or-flight reflex.) But too many of us have forgotten how to turn off the stress response again when we need to.

A tiger or a tabby?

Our lives can get so complicated that we become our own saber-toothed tigers, routinely sweating the small stuff and over-riding our natural need to rest and recover. When overloaded or in pain, struggling to meet too many expectations including your own, it’s easy to forget that you’re still a human animal, and that rest is vital to your well-being. To enjoying your life instead of just enduring it.

Noticing the difference

There’s a difference between feeling genuinely rested and managing just enough sleep to keep going. Often the biggest obstacle between us and the real rest we need is permission. We need to give ourselves permission to rest, deep down, all the way past our reasons and To-Do lists and relationships and responsibilities and distractions and worries. We need to recalibrate our frazzled, device-addled minds.

Permission to rest

Here are 5 common reasons not to rest, and 5 ways to give yourself permission anyway.

  1. When I say No, I feel guilty. That’s the title of a classic self-help book from the 70s—and there’s a reason it continues to sell like gangbusters. In order to say Yes to rest, you need to learn basic assertiveness. That includes concepts such as: It is appropriate to take care of my well-being. When I am tired, it is right to respond to my body’s needs. When asked to carry more than I’m able to hold, it is responsible to say No, I can’t. Or simply, I need help.
  2. Somebody needs me. Congratulations! It’s a pretty bleak life if nobody needs us at all. But the default position of many people is to feel so swamped by others’ needs that they simply lose track of their own. Can you have it all? Not often—especially if you’re in charge of the young, old, or vulnerable. But respecting your own need for rest means you’ll be able to do a better job of helping those who count on you.
  3. I’ve got too much to do. Oh, the tyranny of the To-Dos. One way to evaluate the real urgency of items on your list is to say the following for each time-eating (and rest-robbing) activity. “When I’m on my deathbed, I’ll wish I’d spent more time _________.” Does it make you laugh, or wince? Hint: When one makes you laugh, you already know that’s something you can cut back on. When you’re wincing, that signals a skewed priority. Trim the list to what’s essential or meaningful, and get more rest.
  4. Sleep is boring. So are illness and exhaustion, and they’re headed your way if you can’t remember the last time you felt truly rested. Worried you might miss out? Try thinking of sleep as something nearly sacred, not an empty time but an open one. Over-achieving spirituality author Kathleen Norris went on a retreat and complained to an elderly monk that she had no energy. “Oh, we hear that all the time,” he said. “Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to sleep.”
  5. I’ll rest when I’m dead. Cute one. Macho, too. Consider that finding a balance between activity and rest while you live is a lot more rewarding than whatever’s going to be carved on your tombstone. Try to get into the habit of being a genuine friend to yourself and giving yourself a break. To practice, imagine that your closest friend is verging on burnout, and you can see a crash coming. What could you say? How about: “Permission to rest. You’ve earned it.” Now grant yourself the same kindness.

And here’s a bonus tip: rest on a fabulous organic mattress if you can, to make the most of it.

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