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The Art of Rest

The summer season is upon us and with that often comes scheduled vacations and breaks from work or school. Only, this year we’re coming into what many media and news commentators describe as the “post-pandemic era”. Some, including health experts, disagree that we’re out of the woods just yet. In fact, local and national news outlets have been covering a highly transmissible variant of the coronavirus. In addition, there is increasing recognition that the next wave of the emergency response to covid will be related to the growing mental health needs of those affected by the pandemic. As the push for vaccine distribution continues and cities across the country begin to re-open, some are wondering if they’re ready for life to return to “normal”.

We’ve experienced a collective sense of loss over the past year. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, our bodies have certainly been in an active state of stress at one time or another. There’s no doubt that we’ve all earned a period of true rest. If you’re finding that even an ounce of relief may be possible for you this summer season, perhaps the following can guide you on how to perfect the art of rest during your time off.

Rest is defined as a behavior aimed at increasing physical and mental well-being (Helvig A, Wade S, Hunter-Eades L., 2016). According to physician Saundra Dalton-Smith, M.D., and author of Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Renew Your Sanity, there are seven types of rest that we need: physical, mental, social, creative, emotional, spiritual, and sensory (Dalton-Smith, 2021).

  • Dr. Dalton-Smith denotes physical rest as one of the most important types of rest we can offer ourselves. Physical rest can be passive, such as sleeping or taking a nap. This type of physical rest helps improve our brain and emotional health, including improving memory formation and emotional regulation. Active rest on the other hand can include activities such as yoga, stretching and massage therapy, which assist with improving blood circulation and flexibility.

  • The second type of rest is mental rest. Mental rest is related to our ability to concentrate and tackle the incessant running dialogue in our minds. Mindfulness and meditation techniques are encouraged to promote the mental rest we need to better organize our thoughts and improve focus.

  • Sensory rest is the third type of rest highlighted. When the pandemic began, many of us were all tasked with finding new ways of conducting our work and remaining connected to family and friends. This of course meant increased screen time on a myriad of electronic devices. The bright lights and sounds emitting from these devices can often lead our senses to feel overwhelmed, particularly when engaged on them for long periods of time. In response, tactics such as using light-filtering glasses or limiting the use of electronics can protect us from feeling overstimulated.

  • Next, and arguably my personal favorite next to sleep, is creative rest. Creative rest can include engaging in outdoor activities (i.e., nature walks), reading, and/or enjoying works of art. This sort of rest can help promote problem-solving and spark new ideas. Dr. Dalton-Smith also advises surrounding yourself with works of art that inspire you and help reignite your passion.

  • Next is emotional rest. To engage in emotional rest is to intentionally pay attention to your feelings, honor them, and speak truth to their existence. You may find that you’re able to achieve this by journaling or talking to a close friend or family member about how you’re feeling. Speaking of leaning into your relationships, social rest is also an important way for you to re-energize yourself. To achieve this, one has to be intentional about surrounding yourself with people who are positive and leave you with your “cup” full rather than empty.

  • Finally, there is spiritual rest. Spiritual rest, as defined by Dr. Dalton-Smith, is “the ability to connect beyond the physical and mental and feel a deep sense of belonging, love, acceptance and purpose”. Some find that they are able to achieve this through prayer, meditation, or engaging in community activism or volunteer work.

The term, “reopening anxiety” has been trending lately. To support this sense of angst, the American Psychological Association recently published a report that stated that nearly half of people they surveyed (49%) feel “uneasy about adjusting to in-person interaction” when the pandemic ends, regardless of vaccination status (APA, 2021). I encourage you to take your time as you rejoin society and be intentional about how you care for yourself. Whether confident or unsure about how to proceed this summer season, try not to fall into the trap of holding a narrow view of rest. Challenge yourself to engage in a more holistic approach and discover how it supports your transition into the “new normal”.

Web Resources:

Sources Cited:

Helvig A, Wade S, Hunter-Eades L. Rest and the associated benefits in restorative sleep: a concept analysis. J Adv Nurs. 2016 Jan;72(1):62-72. doi: 10.1111/jan.12807. Epub 2015 Sep 15. PMID: 26370516

The 7 types of rest that every person needs; Jan 6, 2021 / Saundra Dalton-Smith MD

Stress in America: One Year Later, A New Wave of Pandemic Health Concerns; March 2021 American Psychological Association


Learn more about the author of this post: Crystal Balfour, PsyD


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