As the calendar flips into a new year, it is easy to get swept into the frenzy of resolutions and plans for earth’s next revolution around the sun. My personal new year’s plan was to run more, and perhaps to run a few longer trail races. The weather has been drier this winter, the trails gloriously clear. I had been running more already which had me thinking I could breeze into the new year with even more running vigor.
And then, on an otherwise delightful New Year’s Eve run, I strained my calf. I didn’t do anything special. I didn’t fall. I didn’t oddly extend it. My left calf just seized up. I was angry. I was so excited for my 2024 goals, and this was literally cramping my style.
Hearing and reading about others starting the new year with renewed energy and commitment to X, Y, and Z only made me angrier. I spent New Year’s Day watching a Back to the Future marathon with my husband and son, and limping around the park while my son used his new metal detector. This was not the blazing start to 2024 I had hoped for. Whereas I would usually try to get in other physical activity for all the reasons we know we need to, I’ve just been too tired from the holidays to do it.
A couple days into feeling sorry for myself, a strange thing happened. This physical rest started to feel good. And no surprise, my calf started feeling better, far more quickly than my lingering injuries usually do. I have been reading a little more, cooking a little more, and even writing (this!), which got me thinking about rest. A quote from Brené Brown has become quite popular over the past couple of years: “It takes courage to say yes to rest and play in a culture where exhaustion is seen as a status symbol.” Although I agree wholeheartedly, I realized this week that maybe I hadn’t been applying this to myself.
Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith described seven types of rest in her 2019 book, Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Recover your Sanity:
- Physical rest: This is clearly what my body demanded. According to Dr. Dalton-Smith this may not only include sleep but can involve gentle physical activity like yoga or massage.
- Mental rest: Is your mind abuzz all the time? Forgetting things? Skipping a beat? Mental rest is probably what you need. Dr. Dalton-Smith encourages breaks throughout the workday. Activities like journaling and meditation can help as can intentionally silencing our phone notifications or other interrupters.
- Emotional rest: This type of rest involves taking a breather from emotional demands, or emotionally demanding individuals. This can look like time alone, avoiding stressful situations, or spending time outside. It also involves engaging authentically with our feelings and letting trusted others know how we are really doing.
- Sensory rest: We live in a world of overstimulation- noise, light, information, children, etc. Sensory rest is retreating from this stimulation: turning off our computers, sitting in quiet, closing our eyes, and other activities that can give us some space from the constant input.
- Social rest: As an introvert this one is very important for me, but even extroverts can hit their social limit. This type of rest involves thoughtfully saying “no” to social requests and giving yourself permission to spend time alone. “I have plans” can absolutely be a plan to sit in your pajamas and watch a movie alone. And no one needs to know that. Taking a break from social media can help also (which could also help sensory and emotional rest).
- Creative rest: In an interview with CNN, Dr. Dalton stated that creative rest is “for anyone who has to solve problems and find solutions. And it doesn’t mean taking a painting class or a pottery class — that’s creative work. Creative rest is allowing yourself to appreciate beauty, whether that’s natural beauty, like the mountains or ocean, or creative beauty, like artwork, music or theater. When you experience the creativity of others, it can awaken something inside you and inspire you.”
- Spiritual rest: This involves connecting to a greater purpose and can include a sense of belonging. Prayer, meditation, and volunteering can help. One of my favorite ways to work with clients on spiritual rest is through clarifying and living one’s values. Values refer to how you are living when you are living a meaningful life, and as opposed to goals, are never “completed” (LeJuene and Luoma, 2019). By focusing on how our actions can reflect the kind of person we want to be, we can connect to a side of ourselves not bogged down by our next to-do list item.
If 2024 has you feeling exhausted already and resolutions feel like pushing a rock up a hill over and over, maybe it is time to think differently. Maybe you need rest. Rest from socializing. Rest from phone calls with a difficult relative. Rest from checking email. Rest from bicycling. Rest from the TV on in the background. Rest from shopping. Rest from jumping from activity to activity without feeling connected to what you are doing. Rest from your dog. Wait. Scratch that. How about take a rest with your dog? Goodness knows our pets provide wonderful models of rest.
Knowing what type of rest you need is important. If you need spiritual rest, taking a vacation probably isn’t the answer. If you need social rest, connecting with friends won’t help. If you need sensory or mental rest, taking a day off and surfing the internet will not likely fill your tank. By targeting the kind of rest we truly need, we can truly recuperate.
Although I hope to be back on the trails soon, I will be doing so with a new appreciation of rest. Wishing you a restful new year.
Dalton-Smith, S. (2019). Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Recover your Sanity. Faithwords
LeJuene, J. & Luoma, J.B. (2019). Values in therapy: A clinician’s guide to helping clients explore values, increase psychological flexibility & live a more meaningful life. Context Press/New Harbinger Publications.