Why Am I So Tired?: A Case for Rest

When I ask the people in my life how they’re feeling, one of the most common responses I receive is, “Tired.” And I can’t tell you how often I will set my sights on having an early night, only to find myself sitting in front of my laptop and television (simultaneously) way past my bedtime. 

In our busy and hectic day-to-day lives, it has become easy to ignore the very human need to slow down and rest. Until recently, I rarely considered my need for rest. Even before having children, when I actually had moments when I was “off the clock,” I would fill that time with tasks to complete. Why is this? In our society, we receive messaging from a young age that tells us that needing breaks is a sign of laziness or a poor work ethic. For me, this was further complicated by the cultural messages I received in my home. As a child of immigrants, I saw my parents work tirelessly, rarely stopping. My father would begin working before the sunrise and would often get home way after dark. I grew up thinking that I could never work hard enough and even associated feelings of guilt around taking time for myself. Does that sound familiar to you? For most Americans we have been conditioned to believe that rest is a luxury rather than a necessity for our physical and mental health. As a result we have developed into an incredibly rest-deprived society. 

Not having enough rest doesn’t just have physical implications, it can also impact you mentally and emotionally. Someone who is rest deprived will have a harder time focusing, communicating effectively, and being productive/creative in their work. People who have gone long periods of time without an opportunity for actual rest may also find that they are experiencing more interpersonal conflict. Being rest deprived makes us irritable, short tempered, and more likely to find it challenging to see another perspective or empathize.    

The built up and compounded stress we carry around when we’re not allowing for rest can often manifest into actual physical ailments. Headaches, back/shoulder/neck pain, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal issues, a lowered immune response (the last thing we need during a pandemic!), and even heart conditions have all been linked to chronic stress. Chronic stress also contributes to higher instances of anxiety and depression. And while sleep is a way to rest, it is not a substitute for rest. People who regularly get a full 8 hours can still move through the world feeling exhausted. This is because while sleep is needed to keep our bodies running, it doesn’t necessarily ensure that our bodies are running well. By taking the time to rest, we are giving our bodies the opportunity to heal from the strain of our day and our brains the chance to recharge so that we can be more effective/productive when we return to our lives. But how do we make time to rest when our lives are already jam packed and scheduled down to the minute? 

Rest can look different for everyone but, ideally, real rest should be something that feeds you emotionally and restores you physically. It doesn’t have to be overly time consuming or complicated, but if done regularly, rest can help ensure that you avoid the dreaded burnout that so many of us fall victim to each year. Some folks feel better rested when they allow themselves the time to be still and quiet. This stillness can consist of anything from meditation to setting aside 30 minutes to have tea and read a chapter of a book. Spending time outdoors has been shown to lower cortisol (aka the stress hormone) so for some of us, rest can look like a good long hike or a quiet bike ride through a park. However you choose to engage in rest, the key to being better rested is in finding ways to incorporate rest into your regular routine, like you do with so many other obligations.   

 Tips for incorporating rest into your busy schedule:  

  • Step away from your work. Giving yourself short breaks throughout the day where you actively step back from your duties to meditate, listen to music or engage in a practice that calms you will not only keep your stress levels low, but also, allow you to come back to your tasks feeling refreshed and renewed. 
  • Use your hands. Engaging in mindful tasks with your hands can help to calm and soothe any frantic or erratic thoughts by shifting your focus onto the task at hand (pun intended) and allowing your brain to rest. Cooking your favorite, simple meal, doodling, or even watering your plants can become a mindful practice that lets you disengage from the stress of your day. 
  • Make room for laughter. Turns out, that age-old adage actually has some truth to it; laughter may not be the best medicine but it’s definitely high on the list. Laughter provides a great opportunity for relaxation not only because it triggers the release of endorphins (more feel good hormones), it also has the added benefit of lowering blood pressure and boosting our infection fighting antibodies! Even just 15 minutes of laughter with your friends/family or watching clips of your favorite comedian on your lunch break can significantly lower stress levels and allow you to return to your day feeling more positive and relaxed.
  • Pick a consistent time in your day/week to schedule rest breaks. This could mean doing a quick half hour of yoga before work, taking leisurely after dinner walks, or setting aside time to have a long soak in the bathtub at the end of your week. Incorporating regular moments of rest into our schedule normalizes the practice until ultimately we’ll start looking forward to the act of prioritizing our mental and emotional health.

However you choose to incorporate more opportunities for rest in your schedule, take care to keep in mind that rest looks different for everyone. Rather than attempting to make yourself meditate or do yoga because they’re meant to be relaxing, instead take time to figure out what really feeds and fulfills you. There’s no one size fits all approach to emotional and mental well being and what may be relaxing and restful for some could actually cause more stress for others. Listen to your body when it tells you that you need rest and, if necessary, try a few different methods until you find what works best for you. For some, carving 50-minutes out of their week for therapy offers the opportunity to better tune in to oneself and learn when and how to rest. If you need help identifying these signs after spending a lifetime ignoring them, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We would be glad to help.

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