Even if you love what you do, the pressures to keep up with the modern world can leave you feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically drained. As a health coach, I see this all the time. My clients come to me foggy and fatigued, falling asleep in front of the TV, snapping at their kids, and chronically over caffeinating. And the conventional recommendation to “get more sleep” just hasn’t cut it.
Signs you might be running on empty:
Lack of concentration
Being easily agitated
Coping with food or alcohol
Anxiety or depression
According to physician, researcher, and author, Saundra Dalton-Smith, there’s a big difference between sleep and rest. She says, “If you’re waking up and still exhausted, the issue probably isn’t sleep.” And there are seven areas of rest we’re collectively not getting enough of:
Physical rest. This isn’t about getting to bed earlier; it’s about resting your body in a way that’s rejuvenating. Think yoga, stretching, deep breathing exercises, even napping.
Mental rest. Your mind needs a break too, especially if you tend to chew on past conversations, plan for future what-ifs, or have trouble turning your brain off at night.
Sensory rest. Computers, phones, group texts, notifications, notifications, alarms. It’s no surprise our senses (and our central nervous systems) are overtaxed.
Creative rest. If you struggle during brainstorm sessions or couldn’t come up with a new idea to save your life, you’re probably overdue for a creative time out.
Emotional rest. Keeping things bottled up, people-pleasing, or not being real about how you’re feeling can lead to emotional overload.
Social rest. Some friends lift you up and some drag you down. Be aware of which relationships are fulfilling and which are exhausting.
Spiritual rest. Feeling disconnected, lonely, or lacking purpose? Spiritual rest or connection might be what you’re lacking.
The True Power of Rest
As a society, we have a real problem with not being in “go mode” all the time. And I don’t just mean taking more days off work, although studies show that Americans have an average of nine unused vacation days per year. And on the days they do take off, workers admit to obsessively checking and responding to emails.
As a high achiever myself, I know how hard it is to shut things down . I am physically uncomfortable in the presence of low productivity or what I perceived in myself as laziness. But researchers agree that resting is far from unproductive. In fact, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of the University of Southern California and her colleagues found that downtime is essential to a bunch of different mental processes.1They discovered that when people rest, their minds wander and engage in a default mode of neural processing that’s suppressed when their attention is focused on the outside world. Evidence also suggests that this default mode is crucial for psychosocial mental processing — that means things like recalling memories, having a positive outlook on the future, and instilling a code of social ethics.
When your mind and body are at rest, it allows your brain to make sense of what it’s absorbed and provides insights on how to move forward in a calm, clear, and morally appropriate way.
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston also found that rest can lead to genomic activity changes. In one study, they discovered that a specific method called the Relaxation Response, produced antioxidation and anti-inflammatory changes that reduced stress in the body, lowering heart rate, blood pressure, hypertension, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.2
7 Ways to Get the Rest You Need
Taking time off to recharge your batteries is something most trainers or health professionals won’t tell you. But if you want to get off the overworking, over-caffeinating, and under recovering rollercoaster for good, you’ll want to incorporate a few of these strategies into your routine.
Schedule short breaks. Regular breaks throughout the workday prevent screen overload and give your mind a much-needed mental and creative hiatus. Apps like Focus Keeper use the Pomodoro Technique, a proven time-management method that divides your day into 25-minute intervals with breaks in between.
Remember to breathe. Most people don’t pay attention to how they breathe since it’s a completely automatic physiological process. That said, taking shallow breaths, or even holding your breath, sometimes called email apnea, can lead to confusion, fatigue, and brain fog because your brain isn’t getting the oxygen it needs to perform. Several times a day, stop what you’re doing to take a few conscious, slow breaths in and out.
Get inspired. Can’t think of the last time something got you excited? Take time to find something that inspires you. Go for a walk in nature, make something with your hands, visit an art gallery, or read a book. Surrounding yourself with inspiration helps replenish your drained creative resources.
Learn to say no. Committing to activities, invitations, and assignments you don’t have the bandwidth (or interest) for are going to tap you emotionally, physically, and mentally. Saying “no” isn’t rude or selfish. It shows that you have a deep respect for yourself and your time. People will always have requests. It’s up to you to determine if you accept them or not.
Offload your feelings. That doesn’t mean venting for hours about the dude who cut you off in traffic, but our society’s tendency to bottle things up or say we’re ok when we’re not, doesn’t allow for emotional rest. Talk to someone you trust, whether it’s a good friend, a spouse, or a trained counselor, and keep those lines of communication open.
Engage in something bigger than yourself. A meditation practice is a great place to start, but you might also consider getting involved with your community (either online or in real life), volunteering, or supporting a cause that’s important to you.
Go have fun. Remember fun? Laughing is proven to decrease stress hormones and boost the immune system, so in addition to doing something good for your body, you’re giving it the mental, physical, and emotional rest it’s craving.3
Tired All the Time?
If you don’t want to be known as the friend (or coworker or parent) who’s always exhausted, take a sec to look at areas of your life where you could use some rest. Yes, sleep is part of the answer, and it’s important to a variety of metabolic functions, but tapping into your physical, mental, sensory, creative, emotional, social, and spiritual restoration will give you the biggest return on investment. Curious if you could feel more rested? See what happens when you incorporate a few of these tips:
Schedule short breaks
Remember to breathe
Learn to say no
Offload your feelings
Engage in something bigger than yourself
Go have fun
Are you overworked? Under rested? Tell me what works for you.
Erin Power is an NBHWC board-certified health coach and the Coaching and Curriculum Director for Primal Health Coach Institute. She’s also the co-host of Health Coach Radio, the podcast by health coaches, for health coaches. Erin lives outside of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, on a hobby farm in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.