Why is giving ourselves permission to rest so hard?
Musings exploring the need to give ourselves permission to rest. Will this become an easier proposition after lockdown?
“Our power cannot come from an outside credential, it must come from an internal condition.” Gabby Bernstein
Rest is an important part of our daily routine to enable us to function in the most effective manner, but I’ve found both personally and professionally there are times when it seems very difficult to give ourselves the permission to fully rest and recharge. Often the times when we add 'rest ' into our calendar are termed a 'treat', a 'luxury' or a 'day off'. However, without allowing both our mind and body to take a break from ordinary daily stresses, it impacts on our 'active' part of the day.
The terms we use seem to imply that rest is not a requirement but a choice or a reward, but we couldn't function without rest and therefore it must be a necessity. So often, I have a list of jobs to do on my 'day off', which means I'm filling all the relaxing time, rushing around trying to get the jobs ticked off my list rather than curled up on the sofa reading a book, or sat in the garden listening to the birds.
We all live lives to the full and want to be getting the most from each day. Social media showing everyone's new experiences creates the impression that this is what not only is expected but also is what will make us happy. Only, a life without the required down time means that pleasure is overshadowed by tiredness and a guilt for the 'work not being done'.
During lockdown, the restrictions imposed have made many, including myself, re-evaluate our priorities and the enforced 'rest' - that accompanied lockdown for many of us - was an opportunity to explore rest as having equal value to activity. I found once the initial lockdown anxiety had passed, that the enforced pause was valuable and coming now to the end of lockdown I want to ensure that I continue with more of a balance. I want to feel that I can shed the guilt that I once felt in a restful day.
Are we learning to rest in lockdown and what happens after?
This got me thinking... has lockdown somehow legitimised 'rest' with a government campaign to keep people home, inadvertently leading to our lives allowing for some more lie-ins, putting our feet up, reading a book to refresh us for what the latter part of the day has in store? Our lives are bound to have evolved through the shared experience of lockdown. In the workplace, people are now experiencing more choice and flexibility as to hours, place of work and how they set out their day (as employers try hard to support their staff through these challenging days). My hope is that this support continues and with it comes a newfound strength to take control of our lives and ensure more balance between rest and activity.
Mental health has come to the forefront of society now more than ever. There’s a huge focus in the media on supporting mental health conditions and many campaigns try and increase awareness and reduce stigma. In addition, there is now much more awareness of what we can do to help ourselves.
Often our perception of rest is a physical one - a lie down, a sit down or a snooze, but mental rest is just as important and can be a part of something which is physical, such as running. I came to running later in life and have found a huge sense of wellbeing in a short run where my mind could empty and focus on one thing - essentially giving it a rest from the myriad of pathways it is normally juggling. Feeling physically exhausted but mentally rested is a great paradox and often combats the need to find 'permission' to do something for yourself, as exercise has now become (socially) an 'essential' part of life. During lockdown this has been re-enforced with the government rules stating that only essential travel and exercise are important enough reasons to leave your house. This type of re-branding has possibly altered our psyche to release the guilt we feel from a moment of ‘self-indulgence’.
I was incredibly lucky to take part in a series of life coaching sessions a few years ago. I felt burnt out. I felt guilty and stressed as a new business owner and new mum and needed help to find a balance in my life. I realised my life was mostly focused on work, my dependants and keeping busy, rather than finding time for things I enjoyed and that kept me calm. I was asked to write down all the aspects of my life, and I found that seeing my life written down in front of me, highlighted to me how important the balance was, and how much happier I could be with more balance. I often take myself back to my ‘life wheel’ if I start to find my life speeding up to that extent again. I'm not sure if my friend and life coach realised at the time how influential that session would be in my life. And yet with this knowledge on board I still struggle to always give myself the permission I need to take a break and be still, do little, have a lie-down. It's something I keep working on.
Massage therapy does the trick - it's not a treat!
As a massage therapist, I often see clients who are very uptight and the stresses they are feeling in their day-to-day life are showing as physical pain in their neck and shoulders, gluteals and lower back. Clients can be in a lot of discomfort when they come to see me and during the first treatment we have a 10-15min discussion about their body, aches and pain, how they are feeling and how they came to be in this state. Usually, I find that stress has built up over time and with a body not relaxing often enough, it can take more than one massage session to fully release the tension held in the muscles. Yet often people find it difficult to allow themselves to commit to 'treating' themselves every week to a massage and will opt to come once a month so they 'deserve it' even if the body is crying out in pain for more regular treatments.
Whilst massage itself is a great way to help reduce tension held in our body; the moment of stillness, the calm environment, and the idea of stripping away life as you undress to lie on the couch all adds to the concept of a rested state.
There tends to be a gender bias from what I see in my clinic - where men find it easier to give themselves permission to have a rest when they need it, whereas women still seem to think they have to deserve it. We need to allow ourselves to let go of rest being a deserved state and give ourselves permission to rest as and when we need it regardless.
“Life is short, yet we spend an awful lot of it in angst about our past, present and future. We push ourselves to keep working and producing when we just need a little break, a nap, a beach day, a walk.”
Heather Martin, HuffPost
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