Why is it so Hard to Rest?
Updated: Feb 13
In the middle of January, right when I was starting to kick into 3rd or 4th gear, I began to feel under the weather. Like, need-to-be-in-bed-and-not-move-or-talk-very-much, sort of under the weather. I rarely get sick like that, and when I do I always feel some annoyance towards myself, like I’m tapping my watch, checking the proverbial oven to see if my feeling better bread has baked. But not this time. For the first time ever, I let myself rest and be without checking in constantly to see when I could start doing again. I slowed myself way the fuck down and just listened and let myself have, without any anxiety or fear of missing out, some deep nourishing rest. It was the kind of rest where I got to indulge all the spots, from the spiritual to the lazy, to everything in between. I just left me the fuck alone and went on the restoration ride my body and mind communicated to me that it needed.
This needs to be put in proper perspective. I am almost 52 years old and this is the first time I have ever let myself do this without feeling badly or guilty on some level.
That’s not normal. So I asked myself, why is it so hard to rest?
You know what? Rest is actually hard to do. When I rest, and I mean really rest, it forces me to stop and take a break from my life and my patterns, and that can feel uncomfortable. Who wants to feel uncomfortable? I enjoy filling my days with people and activities. I like to feel accomplished! Feeling ‘accomplished’ can be addictive. We sometimes fill our lives with more, more, and more in order to avoid feelings or fill a hole that will never be satisfied. And resting and stopping is one of the few things that works against that addictive cycle. And depending on the feelings that are being avoided, slowing down and resting can be challenging.
Knowing what I need to do to rest can sometimes feel elusive. What I need is always changing and it looks differently each day. It can also feel like something I’m striving for, but not quite within my grasp (ex: have you ever tried to make yourself go to sleep?).
Sometimes the thing I need that gives me rest is to be alone with a book or a tv show. Other times, rest looks like me moving my body and going to the gym. Other times it looks like me having sex, or connecting with a good friend, or me dancing, or writing in my journal. Unfortunately, there’s no one size fits all. And so rest can feel elusive because I actually have to listen and pay attention and really ask myself what I need.
Real rest is an emotional nutrient that we need. I’m surprised sometimes when I come away from an activity, or a conversation, or an outing feeling fuller and better than when I began. It’s an emotional nourishment that is always good for my soul. Every time I stretch and actually give myself the thing I need, I always walk away feeling more present, more rooted, more alive and more grounded. Real rest is healthy. It’s good for us. End of story.
Rest is sometimes relational. Meaning, it involves connection. Sometimes that connection involves person-to-person relational connecting. Sometimes it involves being in relationship to oneself. Sometimes it’s connecting and relating with a dog or a cat or a best friend, or nature, art, or God – anything that has us feel appropriately small and in right relationship to all the ways we are connected to each other. That is what I mean by rest being something that is relational and connected.
Rest is digestion. While most of us have heard of the “fight or flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system, many of us have never heard of the “rest and digest” response of the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the part of our nervous system that activates the more peaceful functions of the body.
Well it’s the same for our emotional and psychological systems. After a stressful or emotional (good or bad) event or time in our lives, we just need time to rest and digest to come back into balance.
Don’t be like me where it’s taken me over 50 years to figure out that rest isn’t a weakness. It’s a necessity and a key piece of nourishment and connection.
Now go take a well deserved nap!