After re-entering the world post-lockdowns, what many of us anticipated to be the second coming of the ‘roaring ’20s’ didn’t quite eventuate. Instead, millennials are being referred to as ‘the tired generation’, and reports of burnout and anxiety are at all-time highs.
But what we often get wrong about tiredness and fatigue is that a good night’s sleep only scratches the surface of our wind-down well-being. We see it time and time again. After a long day at your desk, you get home, perform some errands, avoid screens an hour before bed, and get the doctor-recommended 7-9 hours of sleep—sometimes more. And yet, we wake up as if having never slept at all. We still reach for a healthy dose of coffee to feel ‘awake’, and we still slump over our desks, trying not to fall asleep mid-meeting by the afternoon. Even a little lunchtime nanna nap doesn’t really help.
Well, according to Dr Saundra Dalton-Smith, a physician and author, we’re most likely so tired because of our erroneous conflation of sleep and rest. In her book Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity, Dr Dalton-Smith posits that the answer to our insatiable exhaustion is in getting the various kinds of rest required by our bodies and minds with modern-day living.
Dubbed the ‘seven stages of rest’, the wellness expert’s theory of rest provides insight into what we can do to optimise our productivity and mental well-being. But really, it serves as a guide to feeling less exhausted by life and more excited about it.
Ahead, we break down the seven types of rest needed to fully recharge your batteries.
As far as types of rest go, this one you had to have seen coming. While sleep isn’t all you need, it is worth noting that it is vital for our biological functions. This stage, according to Dr Dalton-Smith, though, can refer to both passive rest (sleep) as well as active rest, which includes calming activities such as yoga or massage that allow us to wind down.
For sleep, forget what you managed to run on in your university days and embrace a long night’s sleep of at least eight hours. Not all slumbers are created equal, so try to ensure you’re taking the necessary precautions to get the most out of your sleep. She recommends snoozing by at 11 pm at the latest. Studies have proven the benefits of napping, but a mid-afternoon slow stretching session may have the same relaxing effects.
This one can be a touch more difficult in 2023, but mental stress has physical impacts—a day of worrying or hyperactive thoughts can make us feel like we’ve run a marathon by the time we go to bed. To relax the mind, the author recommends keeping a journal where all your anxieties and thoughts can be externalised and taking breaks during your work day to clear your head. Breathing exercises are also a great way to switch off and slow down any racing thoughts.
“Schedule short breaks to occur every two hours throughout your workday; these breaks can remind you to slow down,” she writes. “You might also keep a notepad by the bed to jot down any nagging thoughts that would keep you awake.”
Just like too much going on in our heads can leave us feeling exhausted, so too can overstimulated senses. “Bright lights, computer screens, background noise and multiple conversations—whether they’re in an office or on Zoom calls—can cause our senses to feel overwhelmed,” explains Dalton-Smith.
The key to getting ‘sensory rest’ is disconnecting from our environments, if only for a few minutes. This might best work by putting your tech down and going for a stroll without distractions or having a shower with a luxurious, calming scent.
She also encourages intentional moments of sensory deprivation, which can be as simple as closing your eyes for two minutes during the day. “Intentional moments of sensory deprivation can begin to undo the damage inflicted by the over-stimulating world,” she writes.
“You can’t spend 40 hours a week staring at blank or jumbled surroundings and expect to feel passionate about anything, much less come up with innovative ideas.”
No matter how much we try, we know that this nugget of wisdom from Dalton-Smith rings true. Particularly for those in jobs that demand creativity or strategy, it’s important to step back and refill our creative cups. To curb any creative blocks, she urges us not to neglect our need for external inspiration. Watch a film, visit a garden, go to a museum, or listen to some music. Appreciating art and nature can offer us a new perspective and inspire us with new ideas.
This is a type of rest that relies on us to put ourselves first. Whether it’s knowing when to say ‘no’ to the event, being open with our bosses about what we’re able to achieve, or releasing the need to please everyone, self-prioritising is crucial to resting our emotions.
When we don’t listen to what we need emotionally or place ourselves in settings that we don’t have the emotional capacity for, we really just let ourselves down. Of course, it’s good to get out of your comfort zone, and sometimes being a good friend is putting your feelings aside for others, but there comes a time when too much of it catches up with us.
Clearing your calendar is not all it takes to get what Dalton-Smith refers to as ‘social rest’. It’s less concerned with the quantity of social commitments and more about the quality. As she notes, we experience social rest deficits when we “fail to differentiate between those relationships that revive us from those relationships that exhaust us.”
For example, you may only see one friend a week, but if that friend’s company is draining and unhealthy, then you could be in dire need of a break. Vice versa, you may be working with a jam-packed week of outings, but if these people nourish and revitalise you, then you won’t feel exhausted.
That said, some of us really do just need to stop making so many plans or simply need to make sure that there is ample me-time blocked out around these events to allow us to fully recharge.
No, this doesn’t mean sleeping in instead of going to church. Instead, spiritual rest, as Dalton-Smith explains, is when we actively “engage in something greater” than ourselves. This could be meditation, community work or helping others in some way.
Ultimately, it encourages us to step outside our own lives and egos to tap into a more generous spirit. More often than not, it helps to give our problems some perspective, and you’ll be surprised at how ‘restful’ this work can feel.
Not quite sure what types of rest you’re missing? You can take Dr Dalton-Smith’s online quiz here to figure it out.
This article originally appeared on Grazia International.