The importance of rest
A reflexology treatment is a fantastic way to enable you stop, hit the pause button and rest. I’ve talked about the importance of sleep before but making time to take a rest is just as important, and it's much easier to do than you might think!
'How are you?' 'I'm sooo busy.' Nowadays, being busy is worn as a badge of honour, we don’t see rest as a treat, and often feel guilty for taking time out from our never-ending list of jobs and responsibilities. But taking time out for a rest isn't a sign of weakness, it's essential for our physical wellness and mental well-being. Resting enables our body to heal itself and is a basic biological need, along with food, water and air. It helps your muscles and organs relax, reduces stress, improves your mood and increases mental clarity. It helps you sleep better too.
I saw Ruby Wax on her Frazzled tour earlier this year and she talked about how rest has become a dirty word and that the only time we're able to legitimately rest is on the loo! She’s right, we push ourselves to have it all and fill every minute doing or thinking about those seemingly important tasks. Our value and worth has somehow become wrapped up in how busy we are and how little time we have – but we can make a change! Here's some key things I’ve found helpful in terms of making time for rest:
- Remember that your to-do list will never, ever, be done. You don’t have to cram every minute with something to be a decent human being! Instead of trying to plough through every single thing you feel you have to do today, pause for a moment and pick the most pressing three things on your list, finish them and then stop for a rest. Far better to do a handful of things well than a load of things half-baked. You’ll feel more productive and less stressed as a result.
- Share responsibilities with others if you can, and accept and ask for help. If someone offers to get something from the shop for you, say yes. Take up offers of lift shares for after school clubs. Ask your partner to help you with something instead of being a martyr!
- Drop the perfect! If your house could do with a clean and you’re feeling exhausted it can wait. Instead of spending all your time and energy on social media uploading pictures of your apparently amazing life, go out and connect with people in the real world! You have nothing to prove to anyone, we all have flaws, and accepting this enables us to prioritise what's really important.
- Notice what happens to you when you do start taking on too much. Do you get a niggly shoulder? Do you get irritable? Do you feel run down? Being aware of your own feelings and triggers enables you to better understand when you might be getting overwhelmed and need to stop take a rest.
So what counts as rest?
There are all kinds of ways you can rest and it doesn’t have to take hours out of your day. We’re all different but do choose rejuvenating, intentional rest rather than mindless rest. Sleep specialist Dr Matthew Edlund regards watching TV as passive rest which although allowing for some downtime means that the brain will still be buzzing. He describes four different kinds of active rest which can be beneficial:
- Social rest. Carve out time for social activities, fun with friends, hanging out with family, chatting to colleagues – sex counts too! Social rest is crucial for our survival, with sociable people at a reduced risk of heart disease and other serious illnesses. Connecting with others also helps to ease depression and reduces your levels of stress hormones.
- Mental rest. The idea behind mental rest is to get so engrossed in something simple that the big stuff no longer bothers you. Reading is great, as is a relaxing hobby, and a quick technique I love – called guided imagery – is something that can help. Get yourself comfortable, close your eyes and picture yourself in a relaxed environment, e.g. the beach, a sun-dappled wood...whatever makes you feel this way. Imagine yourself in this environment and take a mental note of what you see, feel, smell, hear and taste – make it as real as possible. Stay in this state for as long as you want to/can.
- Physical rest is about actively calming your body and mind, and the best way to do this is to stop and take a few really good deep belly breaths which fill the lungs and send oxygenated blood around the body. A quick technique I use with my clients is 3-3-3, where you breathe in for three seconds, hold your breath for three seconds and breathe out for three seconds, and then repeat as needed. Another excellent form of physical rest is to nap (for 15 to 30 minutes) if you're feeling tired. Reflexology is awesome too!
- Spiritual rest. Brain scans have shown that people who meditate are able to increase the amount of brain matter that controls concentration, attention, focus and problem analysis. Mindfulness, although being very cool at the moment, is fab because it’s free and accessible to everyone – as Ms Wax says, you don’t have to do it on a gluten-free cushion! Mindfulness is simply learning to pay attention, and concentrating on the here and now, to draw your mind away from those nagging inner voices. A simple way to do this is to focus on something physical. If you find that a trip to the loo is the only time you can have some peace, go with it! Feel your feet on the ground, your bottom on the seat, your arms on your lap, notice how all your fingers and toes feel. Breathe calmy. Once you’re in your body (instead of your mind) everything calms down and you will start to get some rest.
Essentially the overall message for us all is to do less! That doesn’t mean neglecting our essential responsibilities, it's more about taking stock and working out what's really important so that we have time to rest and recharge. I keep reminding myself that time is a precious resource that’s running out and everything I do is a choice. We all have the power to take back our time (even in small ways) and having this knowledge is priceless!
Earlier this week I spent a couple of hours at Enys Gardens in Penryn, near Falmouth, with a family friend from years ago. Looking at this beautiful carpet of bluebells was wonderfully soothing for my soul.
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As a reflexologist, I've seen first hand how powerful the simple act of touch can be. The importance of this innate human connection can’t be underestimated; it's vital to our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.