The Seven Types of Rest that we All Need
I’m tired, but I don’t need more sleep. Although we think of sleep as the antidote to being tired, this isn’t always the case. We often use the word “tired” to say “I no longer want to endure/deal with that.” We say “tired” when we really mean that we feel fed up, used up, or drained. What we really are is depleted.
Sleep is the ultimate rest, and without it, our ability to function is diminished in all areas, but it is not the only kind of rest that you need. As many of us are learning over the course of the last stressful year, sleep doesn’t always replenish you.
A friend of mine recently commented on feeling tired: emotionally, mentally, and socially. She didn’t list physically, which struck me, considering that she is tending to a farm. I can relate- I have energy, but often I just feel tapped out in a vague way that leads me to drink wine and scroll Facebook Marketplace, a space that is a mental and emotional void but offers the possibility of a cool find. To further understand my depleted feelings, and failed attempts to recharge, I started exploring rest. Here is what I found:
There are actually 7 types of rest that we all need
This may be one of the most helpful things I’ve learned this year. It is from the work of Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, TedX speaker and author of Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity. She says that “people tend to excel at getting certain types of rest — and then are completely omitting other types of rest, simply because they don’t know they exist.” This is why we are so “tired.”
Sleep all you want, it may not be enough. We expend energy in these 7 areas, so all 7 also need to be replenished. Let that sink in for a moment, because it is actually pretty profound and can transform the way you look at rest. As you read these seven areas, think about the flow of energy in each, and where you might have an imbalance between input and output.
Mental rest is about giving your thinking brain a break. This type of rest gets a lot of attention because a lack of mental rest affects productivity and our ability to learn new things, impacting so much of what we do. Given all that our brains do, mental rest is vital in small doses daily.
People need mental rest when they’re overwhelmed and struggle to shut off their thoughts. Taking a break from work to go for a walk or writing your thoughts in a journal to get them out of your head, are forms of mental rest. Meditation is a terrific way to give your brain a break.
Sensory rest is about giving your senses a break from stimuli- most often visual, auditory, or tactile. If you are a parent of young children, you are likely to have a sensory rest deficit! It’s easy to forget how much energy it takes to process all the sensory stimuli we encounter.
Something as simple as driving without the radio playing can be a form of sensory rest, as can closing your eyes for a few minutes to give them a screen break.
Emotional rest is about being authentic and honest with your feelings; hiding emotions is depleting. It takes a lot of energy to let yourself feel your emotions, especially the stressful ones, but it is even more draining to get stuck in emotional holding patterns.
I highly recommend (run and get it now) the book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily and Amelia Nagoski, and this video, for more on how to complete the stress cycle. There is actually a physiological process that needs to occur to enable us to move through our emotions and return to a state of equilibrium where we can rest.
Spiritual rest is about connecting with something larger than yourself. It can be a respite from getting caught up in personal issues or persistent thoughts about things we can’t change.
Anything that helps you to “zoom out” and shift to a broader perspective can be a form of spiritual rest. A walk-in nature or a laugh with your child can reconnect you to what really matters.
Social rest is about pursuing positive, energizing, and supportive social connections, or taking a break from draining social interactions. We need to get our social needs filled so that we have the reserves to expend social energy.
Depending on your level of extroversion, and the quality of your relationships, the amount of social rest you need will vary. Paying attention to how you feel after social interactions will help you to learn who to reach out to when you are in need of a connection that fills your bucket. We usually either leave social interactions either energized or depleted.
Creative rest is about exposing yourself to things (art, ideas, nature for example) that provide inspiration, without feeling the need to produce a creation.
Increasingly, more of us are doing work that requires creative output. This can be very fulfilling, but we need to keep in mind that creative output requires inspiration. Depleting your creative reserves without replenishing them can lead to burnout.
Physical rest is sleeping or doing activities that restore your body, which looks different for all of us.
Most of us are pretty good at getting physical rest. When we are physically tired it is pretty hard to ignore the need to stop moving. Ironically, often our way of getting physical rest ends up depleting us in other areas. For example, flopping down on the couch after work to watch the news might rest your body, but it can be mentally and emotionally draining, leaving you tired in a different way.
So where is your deficit?
Take some time to think about what kind of energy you are expending throughout your day. If you are not actively doing something to rest and refuel the type of energy that you are most expending, you will end up feeling depleted.
As an entrepreneur who is creating a business that requires creative, social, and mental energy, it has been helpful for me to think about these inputs and outputs. I am starting to look at rest as fuel, and feel less guilty about taking time away from work to fill up. High-quality output, with only minimal input, just doesn’t add up in the long run.
Researcher and Silicon Valley consultant Alex Soojung-Kim Pang writes on the importance of balancing work with rest, and how the two actually form an important union.
Pang explains that in order for work to work, there also must be rest. “Rest is not this optional leftover activity. Work and rest are actually partners. They are like different parts of a wave. You can’t have the high without the low. The better you are at resting, the better you will be at working.”
Dalton-Smith points out that we are all using all seven types of energy daily, but often there are one or two areas where we expend the most energy, and those areas need to be consciously rested. If you are having a hard time identifying your top energy expending areas, try this quiz that she has developed.
How to get more rest
Once you have identified your top deficit areas, tackle those first by planning out scheduled rest time into your days. Focus on the types of rest that fuel more than one of the seven areas. For me, running outdoors fuels me in almost all seven ways, but if I were to run on a treadmill at the gym, I would not be getting sensory, spiritual, or creative rest. The combination of exercise and nature gives me a much bigger dose of rest.
Just being aware of the types of rest we need can make it easier to get them. I often get sensory overload, but I still listened to music or podcasts while running because that was my habit. Now I make that time quiet, and it helps replenish my capacity to deal with sensory input.
The key is to proactively fuel yourself with rest so that you don’t get to the point where you feel totally drained in any one area.
Unfortunately, many of us already are drained. That wall that everyone talked about hitting a few months ago was because we used the last of our energy reserves. It’s time for a big refuel. The combination of a culture that highly values productivity, along with a pandemic, has left us running on fumes. Things that we normally do on autopilot, like grocery shopping, have required mental energy and have even felt threatening. Tasks that used to require one hour of work, now require three because we can’t meet in person.
It’s exhausting to be stretched in multiple ways at one time. It makes you feel thin and weak in some areas, and those are the areas that need to get rested. One positive aspect of all this disruption in our routines, is that it is a great time to build new routines. Feeling depleted is a call to action to start valuing rest and making it a more important part of our lives.
Thanks for reading,
Aimee O’Neil LLMSW