May 2, 2023

7 Types of Rest for my Weary Mothering Bones.


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In April 2019, physician and author Saundra Dalton-Smith delivered a TED Talk on the seven types of rest.

“Have you ever tried to fix your chronic lack of energy by getting more sleep—only to do so and still feel exhausted?”

She continues: “Sleep and rest are not the same thing—although many of us incorrectly confuse the two.”

In the talk and the accompanying article, Dalton-Smith argues that sleep is only one kind of rest. There are six other types that human beings need: mental, sensory, creative, emotional, social, and spiritual. She advises how to identify the need for each one, and how to satisfy those needs.

For example, if I find myself overwhelmed and unable to focus, it’s mental rest I crave. Dalton-Smith suggests scheduling short breaks throughout the workday to recenter.

Imagine I am a perpetual people-pleaser, have difficulty saying “no,” and struggle with feeling unappreciated: I need emotional rest, which looks like time to reflect on and express my own feelings and desires.

Have I been surrounded by screens and loud noises all day? Am I unable to hear my own thoughts? Time for a sensory rest: switch off electronics and seek a quiet environment.

Dalton-Smith’s article is informative, thought-provoking, and so desperately relevant in our fast-paced culture, one in which productivity is elevated to the highest form of moral superiority, and rest is—at best—relegated to the bottom of the to-do list, and—at worst—seen as laziness.

As a stay-at-home parent to four young children, scheduling breaks is not always an option. Airing my grievances is not always appropriate. There are no volume controls or off-switches.

Within all the lunch-packing, stair-vacuuming, and tiny-sock-sorting, I often find it inconvenient to take two minutes to pee, let alone make time to formally meditate or nap.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

How can I employ Dalton-Smith’s recommendations—even when parenthood feels all-consuming?

Physical rest: We all know the benefits of a good nights sleep. Choices are just trade-offs. Sometimes the latest binge-worthy series is worth it, sometimes it’s not.

Mental rest: In free moments, my head fills with shoulds. I should read that nonfiction book; I should finish the training I never completed; I should clean the house.

Stay-at-home caregiving can feel defeating. It’s not an esteemed career. Looking to prove myself somehow, I used many a nap time as an all-I-can-possibly-achieve-in-90-minutes sprint, only to feel even more depleted after.

A free moment can be free. It does not have to be an opportunity for self-development, knowledge acquisition, or producing something of social value. Reading a fiction novel in the hammock or doing a puzzle are worthy activities. The preparation of a tried-and-true recipe can be grounding. Coloring is of value; so is staring at a wall occasionally.

Moments of calm are a gift. I am learning to fiercely protect them.

Sensory rest: Escaping into a social media doom-scroll? Guilty. I may be sitting down while I swipe, click, and check-out, but this isn’t true rest. Bombarding my brain with more stimulation will not offer the rejuvenation I crave.

It is, however, just an arms reach away.

So, I set a phone alarm—to step away from my phone. I write; I walk; I sit in the backyard. These potent moments of silence ground me even as the house fills with shrill laughter, pounding footsteps, and the newest Imagine Dragons hit.

Creative rest: Dalton-Smith prescribes this for anyone who “must solve problems or brainstorm new ideas.” Hello, parenthood. She recommends getting outside.

So I walk. I appreciate the temperature of the air on my face, breathe in the smell of the redwoods, listen to the sounds of life around me, and return home feeling recharged.

Emotional rest: Some days feel like marathons. When I finally climb into bed, I hurt physically, I am empty mentally, and I do not have one more drop of patience to give.

I have learned to ask for help: from a partner, the school, family members, a fellow parent. Asking for help so that I can exercise to release anxiety, or take a long shower to cry, is not a sign of weakness but a show of strength in vulnerability.

Social rest: Some find it restful to be out socializing with other adults. Some find it rejuvenating to work out of the house. Some may find solace in calling an old friend or simply crave time alone.

I balance solitude with positive relationships and energizing social activities. Hikes, coffee dates, visiting the thrift store with a good friend: these nourish my weary mothering bones.

Spiritual rest: Every caregiver experiences similar challenges. Yet, parenthood can feel painfully isolating. The balm? Connection to each other, and to something greater than self.

Some attend church, participate in prayer, meditation, or parenting groups, frequent the community garden, or journal. I choose a regular yoga practice. Kindred company offers support, wisdom, purpose, and belonging.

Rest is not just a box to be checked but a component as vital to life as air, water, and nourishment. In the constant quest for a balanced diet, let us consider not just the foods we consume but the types of relaxation we seek.

And at the end of my day?

My kids and I enjoy my favorite kind of rest: the kind done together.

We play in the fresh air. We curl up to read a book, draw pictures, or pick out a movie to enjoy. We have a long dinner and enjoy each other’s laughter and conversation. We tidy our space and appreciate the energetic relaxation of a clean house. We cuddle in bed.

And then, we sleep.


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