REST and Why it’s Crucial to Emotional Health Part II

We’re back with more thoughts on why it’s so dang hard for many people in our society to rest.

As Americans we value hard work, efficiency, productivity and career & financial success. We spend the first 18 years of our lives being graded and evaluated on academics and mental “intelligence”. But, there isn’t a class on emotional intelligence and well-being. There isn’t an award for being the most able to recognize your needs and to have the wisdom to act accordingly. No recognition for direct, honest and courageous communication. Our school systems alone point to this inequality in values and we are taught them from a very early age.

Our culture makes a lasting impact on our relationship to rest in 3 ways:

  1. Many Americans feel guilt associated with not being constantly productive
  2. People genuinely feel that they are too busy to rest
  3. There is still a stigma attached to talking about and/or prioritizing one’s emotional and mental health needs over the “need” to be productive

Our response:

  1. You are not what you “do”
  2. Simplify, Simplify, Simplify
  3. Be Brave

1) You are not what you “do”:  One step in allowing yourself to rest free of guilt is to separate your identity and self-worth from how much work you’re doing. Whether this is allowing work to-do’s to go undone knowing that that doesn’t make you a lazy worthless employee, or whether that means allowing the laundry to pile up for one more day without feeling like a terrible parent.

2) Simplify, Simplify, Simplify: Do you really NEED to make a fancy looking meal from scratch in order to impress the guests you’re having over for dinner? Get to the core of what’s important (time together) and focus on that. Is it really necessary to keep up 3 happy hour/coffee date/networking meetings a week if it’s exhausting you? How can you dismantle your calendar and to-do list and add in only what fulfills you? Obviously some of these annoying chores can’t be avoided, but spend some time evaluating whether you are doing things out of obligation and “shoulding” yourself into having too much on your plate.

3) Be Brave: What would it be like to say, “I’d love to go to that event tonight, but I really need to stay home and rest.” OR “You know, I haven’t been feeling like myself lately, so it will probably be another week before I can get to xyz.” There are realistic expectations imposed by work, partners and community. BUT look for the times when you can be brave and normalize the need to value rest and mental health. There are many examples of how this value is changing in some work places and it is just wonderful. You could be met with a very affirming and validating response if you only put yourself out there.

Many people worry that resting will only set them back, meaning they’ll rest, but then they’ll have to work even faster and even more to make up for the time they rested (and their tasks went undone). Let’s use the airplane metaphor here: You know how they tell you to put your air mask on first? That’s because we can’t truly show up for others, our work and our tasks without showing up for ourselves first. Taking a few minutes or hours to get true, genuine rest is going to benefit everything you touch and do for the rest of the day. We need to start valuing taking care of ourselves as much as we value accomplishing tasks. Not prioritizing rest is having catastrophic effects on the health of Americans – this cannot continue to be an afterthought, it is the most important thing.