Updated: May 6
Because we need it, but getting it can be hard.
This is piece is about rest and getting rest. Yes, an entire article on rest. Why? Because rest is wonderful, but a lot of us don't get enough of it. A lot of us are tired. We live in a society that tells us we should do more, more, more, and that resting is lazy, which is especially problematic for BIPOC, or weak. Our society also prizes extroversion and glorifies turning up (I'm not sure if people really say “turn up” anymore, but I’m beyond the age where I stay on top of that kind of thing. Maybe that's one of the reasons I'm so into rest). And, sometimes our life circumstances make it so that there's very little room for getting rest. Lots of things keep us from getting rest, it seems like it's somehow always under attack. And with the arrival of spring, warmer weather, and COVID restrictions being lifted and/or ignored, there may be even more barriers. We're at a time in time that has more opportunities for getting out and being active than we’ve had in more than two years. We might be facing internal or external pressure to go out and do everything with everybody. FOMO and the temptation to forgo rest might be strong.
Despite the complicated relationship many of us have with rest, it's hard to deny that in a lot of ways, it feels good. It not only feels good, it's essential. I want to be clear that when I say rest I'm talking about more than just sleeping or napping. Getting rest is about restoring ourselves, letting ourselves be. Rest comes in many forms, and does a lot for us; it heals our bodies, boosts creativity, reduces stress, helps us make better decisions, and increases productivity. Rest can even be used as a means of resistance and path to liberation. This is a different topic, but If you don't know about the Nap Ministry and its founder, artist and theologian Tricia Hersey, a Black woman, I invite, encourage and urge you to learn by visiting her website.
The fact that rest does so much for us means that it's not just one thing. Board-certified physician and best-selling author Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD, also a Black woman, lets us know that there are seven kinds of rest, and that each has something to contribute to our well-being.
Physical rest. This might be what we usually think of when we think of rest. It's about resting our bodies, and it can be passive or active. Passive rest includes sleep and stillness, while active rest includes anything that improves the body's condition, such as yoga or stretching.
Mental rest. As a psychologist and mindfulness meditation teacher, I like to educate folx about the mind: there's evidence that we have more than 6,000 thoughts a day, and some estimates say up to 80,000.thoughts a day. So, mental energy and exhaustion are things. Sometimes we need to take time away from trying to plan, calculate, and figure things out. Resting our minds by doing what engages other parts of ourselves helps us to process and connect information, and form memories.
Sensory rest. Maybe you've heard of sensory overload, which has to do with taking in too many sensory experiences. It might be excessively loud music, fluorescent lights, or just the drone of background noise, too much can be overwhelming. Remedying it depends on what's going on around us, but might be as simple as stepping away or closing our eyes for a minute or two (in a safe environment, of course).
Creative rest. We do a lot of problem-solving and analyzing, and constantly face challenges that call for us to come up with solutions. This requires energy, and causes us to be in our heads, which can making being present for what's happening around us. We can get creative rest by stopping to appreciate what's around us, whether it's art, nature, or just everyday life. By noticing what’s already here, we can take pressure off ourselves to produce or create.
Emotional rest. This one has to do with tuning into and expressing our true feelings, rather than
judging ourselves for having them, or trying to hide them to protect others. Emotional rest lets us be true to our feelings, and take a break from people-pleasing. Let's get in touch with our feelings, and give ourselves space to truly feel them.
Social rest. This may sound obvious, but some relationships ask more of us than others. Some interactions are downright draining. It can be hard, but setting boundaries with others is absolutely, 100% essential. It's helpful to pay attention to how different people make us feel, and surround ourselves with those who are nurturing and supportive.
Spiritual rest. Spiritual rest is about connecting with something beyond ourselves in order to increase our feelings of belonging, love, and purpose. Many people achieve this through gratitude practices, meditation, or prayer.
It’s likely that we’re good about getting some kinds of rest, and could work on getting more of other kinds. We might not know how being rested vs. tired really feels like, or how it impacts us, and that’s OK, as long as we’re trying to give time and attention to figuring it out. Listening to your body, mind, and spirit will help, and if you’re still not sure what you need, check out Dr. Dalton-Smith’s rest quiz.
As you go out into the world in this time of new possibilities, have fun, discover new things and rediscover old things, connect with others, AND, get some rest.
“Wisdom is knowing when to have rest, when to have activity, and how much of each to have.” — Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
I'm a licensed psychologist, mindfulness meditation teacher, activist, and educator based in Brooklyn and originally from Oakland. As a Black woman, I’ve made it my mission to destigmatize and demystify mental health for BIPOC individuals and communities, and to make wellness practices accessible to us. I spread awareness and promote mental health through writing, teaching, doing therapy, facilitating mindfulness and wellness workshops, community outreach, and advocacy. I find balance by trying new foods, hiking and camping, meditating, reading, and playing video games and spending time with my partner Eddie.