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February 26, 2021

Do Nothing: Scientific Evidence that it’s Okay to Rest.

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Do you feel guilty for resting?

Me, too! In fact, this is difficult for me to do. Partly why I like to talk and write about self-care and me-time so much is that I need the constant reminder that it’s okay to rest. I need the reminder that it’s actually good for me.

If you feel the same, we are not alone. Our society has a huge productivity bias. We are rewarded for being busy and doing all the things. We’ve been instilled with this sense of obligation that makes us feel lazy if we dare to take a break.

Resting the body and mind has significant advantages:

Physiological

Rest plays a critical role in the health of your endocrine system, which directly affects the immune and nervous systems. Melatonin, a hormone that is associated with sleep, is synthesized by the pineal gland and released in response to a darkened environment. With shorter days and longer nights during winter, it is only natural to need more sleep.

Instead of struggling against the flow by muscling your way through your to-do list, allow yourself to follow the signs of nature and rest more.

Lack of sleep can lead to hormone imbalances and keep your body from being able to regulate stress hormones as well as blood glucose levels. Getting adequate sleep keeps your hormones balanced and also plays a crucial role in a healthy metabolism, immune function, learning, and memory.

When you are sleep-deprived, your body tries to compensate in whatever ways it can. The signals can get crossed, and all it knows is that there is not enough energy. This can lead to overstimulation of the hunger response, leading you to feel like you need to eat when really you need rest.

Not only is rest important for the physical body—brain and muscles alike—it is critically important for the heart. The heart depends on the rest time to slow down. It works hard pumping blood throughout your body against gravity during all your waking hours. As a muscle, it requires seven to eight hours per night, and rest in between, to get some much-needed downtime during which it does not have to work quite so hard.

Psychological

We are often led to believe that the most successful people are workaholics—that to be successful, we need to do more. However, some of the most well-known, successful, and greatest geniuses only worked a few hours a day. In between these bursts of productivity, they rested. They understood that in order for their creativity to flow and their ideas to flourish, they needed to constantly rebuild and renew the mind.

Even in our brain’s resting state, those moments when we are not directly focused on a task, it is still active.

An article, “Why it’s Okay to Rest,” explains it as such:

“The ‘unfocus network’ or Default Mode Network (DMN) is the mode of functioning your brain goes into when the “focus” mode of doing work turns off. When you allow yourself to rest and shut off this intense mode of focus, your brain has space to retrieve memories, make connections, and produce new ideas. In other words, your creativity surges. Ever heard the phrase ‘boredom breeds creativity?’ Yes, this is scientifically supported too.”

We can think of it similarly to singing or running. When you allow yourself to rest and shut off the intense mode of focus, your brain has the space to make connections and produce new ideas. You can get that spark of creativity to solve problems that seemed difficult. Resting is the best way to activate this DMN.

Research has also shown that productivity typically begins to burn out at 90 minutes.

“If you have a day of work, set a timer for 90 minutes (it is shown that productivity typically begins to burn out at 90 minutes), and allow yourself at least a ten-minute break to rest. In this time, take a nap, go on a walk, or listen to music that inspires you. This short break will recharge your brain, making you better able to acquire new information, consolidate existing information, and recall past information.”

Meditation can provide your brain with this relaxation response. When you meditate, you follow the breath, mantra, or visualization, and give the thinking mind a break. This can allow you to connect with this mode of less intensity and support the ability to tap into your own creative space. Meditation seems like it takes time, but it actually gives you time by creating the space your brain needs to work more efficiently.

Confession: I had slipped from my regular meditation practice. Yes, it can be challenging to keep up, and I had let it go for several months. I started adding back in a 10-minute meditation before bed and noticed a huge difference after just a few days. I started sleeping better, waking up more refreshed and inspired, and started to see solutions to some problems that had been weighing me down. Try a simple 10-minute seated meditation upon waking or before going to bed or break up your day at lunchtime with a short walking meditation.

It’s powerful. I am reminded over and over again every time.

Do No Thing

We know that rest and recovery is important for physical training. This is why we have “leg day” and “arm day.” We need a break in between! We can break up the day and chunk our tasks and commitments in a way that will build in these 10-minute bite-sized moments of rest. It helps you feel less overwhelmed and more capable. More resilient. More you.

So instead of feeling guilty, enjoy your rest! Trust that you will be even more productive when you’re ready to be, and you’ll be feeling physically and psychologically rejuvenated.

I would like to share with you a 20-minute relaxation session that will help you move into your body and release tension, then start to allow your mind to take a rest as well.

 

 

 

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