A Rest Revolution: Seven Ways to Restore Our Health

Feeling exhausted? A good night’s sleep should do the trick, right? It turns out, not even eight great hours of solid sleep can reset or restore the kind of rest our mind, body and even our spiritual core may be lacking. According to Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD, a board-certified internal medicine physician and work-life integration researcher, using sleep to fix our deficit is missing the mark. That’s because sleep’ and ‘rest’ aren’t the same thing. In fact, when we use ‘sleep’ as an antidote to exhaustion, fatigue and even burnout, we’ll always come up short.  Dr. Dalton-Smith’s research in this field has uncovered seven different types of rest that can be used to recover and rebuild our energy. Here’s a look at what they are and how to identify when we need them.

The Rest Revolution

In her now viral Ted Talk, Dr. Dalton-Smith explains that while she was living what she called “her best life,” she still felt unfulfilled. Her demanding work was leaving her mentally and creatively drained with little to nothing left for her family. With burnout-mode in full-swing, she was forced to take a hard look at her surroundings to evaluate a better path forward. It was at this point that research led her to abandon the work-life balance she was trying to achieve, and instead, build a better work-rest balance. Her theory helped uncover seven types of rest that high-achievers need to restore balance to their lives: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, social, sensory and creative

Making Space in Our Lives to Explore New Types of Rest

Our lives are always going to be busy, but we can learn to watch out for the signs and symptoms of burnout before it's too late. More often than not, it’s when we're at the end of our rope that we decide to make a change. And by that point, we’re left with little to no reserve energy to work with. Remember, we shouldn’t have to wait until we’re totally and completely exhausted to pause for rest, and it shouldn’t take total burnout for any of us to ask for a timeout. 

Signs We Need Physical Rest

The telltale signs that Physical Rest is needed tend to show up in our bodies. Feeling a lack of energy throughout the day (regardless of sleep), muscle pains and soreness or difficulty falling or staying asleep can all be indicators of this type of rest. Additionally, a reliance upon substances like caffeine and sugar, or even alcohol and drugs, are an indicator that something is off. 

Physical Rest can be achieved through both active and passive means. Active rest includes moving our bodies through stretching, yoga, massage, and passive rest includes building healthy sleep hygiene, napping and avoiding substances like caffeine. 

Signs We Need Mental Rest

Feeling overwhelmed? Can’t remember what day of the week it is? We are probably due for some mental rest! (And who isn’t?!) When we overload our minds, brains and schedules with everything from bad news to multi-tasking, we can head down a dark path. Ruminating on negativity, being short tempered or even just having a foggy head are all signs that we need to give our minds a moment.

Mental Rest usually takes the form of meditation or relaxation techniques such as breathwork. Taking a short scheduled break at the end of the workday before we connect with family, or making a point not to turn on the TV right before bed are good ways to work in even small moments of mental rest. 

Signs We Need Social Rest

Some of us may have missed the social buzz of a busy office environment during the past two years. But for introverts and people who used the time to recover or isolate due to illness, the pandemic felt like a nice break. For them, coming back to an office or large social gathering is now feeling jarring. Feeling drained, low or even mildly annoyed after spending time with friends could be an indicator that we’re due for social rest.

Social rest can be difficult for some people, especially empaths or people-pleasers. Making a concerted effort to be more selective with our time, or only spending time with people who leave us feeling positive and uplifted, are forms of social rest. 

Signs We Need Spiritual Rest

Feeling disconnected, unfulfilled or directionless can make it seem like all the color has gone out of the room. Without a community to connect with, or a sense that what we do matters, depression and anxiety can creep in. Regardless of religious background or affiliation, as social creatures and members of the human experience, we all need a way to connect and feel appreciated.

Spiritual Rest can take many forms. Small steps like reading, finding a cause that we feel connected to and reaching out to family can help us feel more rested and rejuvenated.

Signs We Need Sensory Rest

Our digitized world is designed to keep us plugged in at all times - from watches to phones to devices that listen to us everywhere we go. Sensory Overload Syndrome is causing some people to behave more aggressively, snap at strangers uncharacteristically and drive recklessly. 

Sensory rest doesn’t have to look like a silent retreat in the forest. Simply turning off music on our commute home, reading a real, physical book and turning our phones on airplane mode for one hour a day can cut through the noise for a short period. Always remember: small steps add up to the bigger picture.

Signs We Need Emotional Rest

Having an unusual reaction to bad news, feeling like we always have to have a problem-solving approach to disaster or avoiding difficult conversations altogether are signs that we may be emotionally drained. Often, no matter how authentic we imagine ourselves to be, the professional or adult version we present to the world is hiding the emotional energy we carry inside.

Emotional rest can look like having a conversation with a trusted friend. It can entail starting therapy. And it can involve writing down difficult feelings that are hard to say out loud. 

Signs We Need Creative Rest

Not being able to choose where to eat dinner at night has happened to all of us at some point. But being completely paralyzed by decisions is a good sign that we are in need of creative restoration. An inability to brainstorm, problem-solve or come up with new ideas is also a sign that it’s time to get some creative rest.

Creative rest takes the form of inspiration. When we turn to nature for healing energy walks and a sense of awe, we’re better able to ideate and inspire others. Discovering art and creativity through new crafts, skills and hobbies is another way to reignite the spark.

We are complicated beings, and our energy reserves are constantly being used to manage, multi-task and monitor the world around us. Our workloads are often overwhelming. It's also true that we take on more than we should, depleting our creative reserves in the process. It’s easy to do, and before we realize it, we’re exhausted. This moment is a golden opportunity to take a step and ask ourselves what type of rest we really need - to restore and rebuild all aspects of ourselves so we can be fully present for the next day and beyond.

“It takes courage to say yes to rest and play in a culture where exhaustion is seen as a status symbol.” – Brené Brown