Not all rest is created equal. Discover the formula you need to fully relax and get the deep mental and physical rest you deserve.

By Pamela O'Brien
December 16, 2020
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Energy. We all need more of it after this very challenging and draining year. And the best way to get it is by replenishing ourselves through proper rest, says Saundra Dalton-Smith, M.D., an internal medicine physician and the author of Sacred Rest.

“Rest is not the same thing as sleep. Rest encompasses the restorative activities we do that help us refill our tanks, which become depleted throughout the day,” says Dr. Dalton-Smith. “It truly reenergizes us.”

In her research, she has found that most people have a rest deficit. “We live in a society that doesn’t know how to not be busy,” she says. “We’re always working and using energy, so we’re getting depleted.” COVID-19 has, of course, made matters even worse. (Hello, quarantine fatigue.)

“We're under a lot of stress from all the uncertainty," says Dr. Dalton-Smith. “We don’t know what’s going to happen six months from now with the virus or with our jobs. There’s a lot of anxiety that goes along with that. That’s why it’s especially important to learn how to get the right type and amount of rest.”

Yes, there are different types of rest, too. Here's how to start.

Figure Out Your Specific Rest Needs

In her work, Dr. Dalton-Smith has identified seven types of rest everyone requires. “One size does not fit all when it comes to rest,” she says. “Everything you do draws from a different pool of energy. The best rest occurs when you revive the specific kinds of energy you regularly deplete.” These are the seven types of rest:

  • Creative: The type that inspires and motivates you.
  • Mental: When you quiet your mind and focus on what’s really important.
  • Physical: The rest that relieves your body of muscle aches and tension and helps improve your sleep.
  • Social: You spend time on relationships you cherish and with people who enhance your life.
  • Emotional: The ability to express your deepest feelings and be your genuine self.
  • Sensory: Gives you a respite from background noise, including negative self-talk and digital devices.
  • Spiritual: You feel that you are part of something bigger, as well as a sense of belonging and fitting in.

You may be experiencing a deficit in one or more of these areas. To find out what kind of rest you need to incorporate into your life, Dr. Dalton-Smith has developed this online Rest Quiz.

How to Get Each Type of Rest

Once you’ve identified the areas in which you’re coming up short, you can start working on building them. “For instance, say you have a creative rest deficit,” says Dr. Dalton-Smith. “Think to yourself: When do I feel energized and restored?” Then start finding ways to incorporate that activity throughout your days. “If you find being on the beach restorative, research shows that looking at a picture of that image elicits the same response,” she says. Use a photo of a gorgeous, peaceful sand beach as your screen saver, and you’ll get some creative rejuvenation whenever you look at it. “Little tweaks like that can go a long way,” she says.

It’s important to build up your rest at various points throughout the day so that you’re always recharging, says Dr. Dalton Smith. Here are some of her best suggestions. (Related: What Happened When I Prioritized Self-Care for a Week)

Mental Rest: Meditate

Practicing meditation, such as focusing on a single word or thought even for just a few minutes, gives your brain a chance to settle down, studies show. (Try one of these Best Meditation Apps for Beginners.)

Going for a run has a similar effect. Because it’s a repetitive activity, your brain doesn’t have to think about it and can wander and relax, says Dr. Dalton-Smith.

Physical Rest: Move

It may seem counterintuitive, but gentle movement improves circulation, which makes your body feel better, says Dr. Dalton-Smith. It’s not about intense exercise in this case; instead, do activities that restore you physically and help you relax. Stretch, do restorative yoga, take a walk outside — these will all de-stress you and ease any aches you may be feeling.

Emotional and Social Rest: Share Your Feelings

Many of us live under a level of constant stress related to our emotions, says Dr. Dalton-Smith. “We feel like we have to live up to a certain image or persona, which prevents us from telling other people what’s really going on in our lives,” she says. We become afraid to be real and vulnerable, and that is exhausting. “All of us need someone with whom we can be truthful and say, ‘I’m not OK. I’m anxious. I’m scared,’ ” she says. “It could be a family member, a trusted friend, or a counselor—whomever you feel most comfortable with. Otherwise, you begin to feel like no one knows the real you. That’s a very dangerous head space to be in, and it can lead to problems like depression.” (Related: How to Use a Wheel of Emotions — and Why You Should)

Sensory Rest: Embrace Stillness

You’re likely experiencing constant overload, but you may not realize it. “We live with bright lights and background noise, whether it’s our kids yelling, traffic whizzing by, or our phones beeping,” says Dr. Dalton-Smith. And that takes a toll. Each day, Each day, no matter how busy you are, find time to be alone in silence to recharge, she says. Turn off the TV or the music and put away your devices. At night, when you go to bed, make sure the room is as dark and quiet as possible. Give your senses a chance to fully relax and recharge. (Also see: How to Practice Mindfulness Mediation Anywhere)

Creative Rest: Get Outside

Being in nature evokes wonder and inspiration — two things that are crucial for creativity, says Dr. Dalton-Smith. Some people also get those benefits from going to an art museum, listening to a symphony, or watching a theater performance. Find what flips your creative switch, and do it.

Rest Techniques for Working from Home

Don’t sit glued to your desk for hours. Dr. Dalton-Smith says you’ll be more productive, and feel energized and motivated, if you practice these two simple techniques.

Take Regular Breaks During Your Workday

“Practice what I call flow-break cycles,” she says. “For an hour and a half or two hours, do your work and really concentrate on it. When the time is up [set an alarm if you need to], take a few moments and step away from your screen. Pull your shoulders back, and stretch. Do a few neck rolls. Get up from your chair, take a quick walk, get a glass of water. This will help you reenergize mentally, creatively, and physically.” (Related: I've Worked from Home for 5 Years — Here's How I Stay Productive and Curb Anxiety)

Turn Off All Those Notifications

The beeps on our phones and computers are an unrelenting source of stress. “The fight-or-flight response kicks in whenever one goes off, and over time, that will start draining you and leave you fatigued,” says Dr. Dalton-Smith. “Most of us need notifications only for text messages and phone calls. Switch off the rest.”

If you’re required to check your email frequently for work (honestly, who isn’t?), try what she calls time blocking — setting up three to five periods throughout the day to read and respond to email. “That way, you’re not getting that bing, bing, bing all day, causing the stress response to kick in,” says Dr. Dalton-Smith. (Next read: How to Avoid the Burnout You Might Be Heading for)

Shape Magazine, December 2020 issue

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