Why Is It So Hard To Rest?

by Sarah Gottesdiener

The winter season reminds us of rest. This is a time to turn within and tend to our roots — nature, in the Northern Hemisphere, is nudging us towards rest. And yet, it's never been harder to make time to rest or to have the kind of rest that is radical and restorative, not numbing or dissociative. 

Rest is imperative. 
It's what we need to function. 
It's how we stave off burnout. 
Rest must be part of the creative process: mind/body/spirit.

Studies have shown how important it is to simply let our minds wander.
Without rest, our intuition flees and certain needed sparks flicker out. 

Our culture talks about rest constantly: so much so as of late, it feels like a collective obsession. 
Rest is Resistance, Tricia Hersey reminds us. Arianna Huffington and Andrew Huberman walk us through the science behind sleep and how to practice good sleep hygiene. We know we should: sleep more, scroll less, and carve out time. 

But why is it so hard? 

 

There are different reasons why we aren't resting as much as we need to be... unless you are a parent of a newborn, in which case, I send you my blessings and also, my condolences. ;)

Why It's So Hard To Rest

 
1. It's not prioritized or habituated. Most of us aren't in the habit of active radical rest or sleeping more; rest isn't a priority, so we don't do it. When we don't rest, we miss out on its benefits, can't experience its gifts, and stay on the hamster wheel of hustle. We've trained ourselves to run on fumes, or push ourselves past the breaking point. We've got to recalibrate our energetic baselines towards rest. 
 
2. Rest doesn't feel deserved. In our culture, doing nothing is earned. So much so, that we have books on how to do...nothing. If we are programmed towards productivity (which they tell us our worth is based on), and we are always behind on our to-do lists, we didn't "earn" our rest. What isn't valued isn't focused on. In our ableist culture, rest is often associated with laziness, which is one of the seven deadly sins. Rest can be correlated with shame or guilt, which isn't an encouraging association! 

3. We aren't engaging in radical, restorative rest. Most of us are sensorily exhausted. A distracted mind craves more distractions, a distracted mind creates exhaustion, and the cycle continues. Scrolling isn't rest. Socializing isn't always rest, either. There are different aspects of our life that may need a rest. Finding out what they are—whether it be physical rest, mental rest, emotional rest, or spiritual rest—and tending to those, over time, is what will ultimately help restore you. 
 
4. Trauma. Rest, joy, or play, can activate our nervous system, particularly if we have a history of trauma. Overworking and hustling is a distraction device that is an aspect of capitalist culture...but it's also a trauma response. We think that if we slow down...we'll get eaten...everything will crumble. Being on the move and undertaking overwhelming feats for years—or longer—is how many of our ancestors survived. When we rest, when we get quiet and still, a lot of stuff comes up. To the dysregulated nervous system, it could feel easier to just keep going. However, rest is one of the ways we recover from trauma. 

If you feel seen with any of the above, below are some suggestions on how to practice radical rest this season and beyond.

How To Rest:

Easy ways to practice radical restorative rest

1. Make rest a ritual.  Light candles, massage your body with oil, or lay palm stones on your chest. Put on a chill playlist. Make rest intentional and a treat.  

2. Titrate rest. If rest feels activating, start small. Can you rest your eyes or lay down for 5 minutes? Download our rest meditation; it's about 9 minutes. Or take small, intentional times during your day to stretch, practice some rounds of breathwork, or close your eyes, relax your jaw, and massage your temples. 

3. Find forms of active rest. Sometimes, you don't need to take a nap: you need to stop looking at a screen, working, or need to step away. A gentle hike, curling up on the couch with a book, or a puzzle could be some forms of active rest that might be more restorative for you. If you tend towards anxiety, gently doing something organizational—like reorganizing your closet or fridge—might be a form of active rest that makes more sense for you to practice. 

4. Parallel rest or scheduled rest. If rest feels uncomfortable, consider easing your way in with a friend or container. Ever heard of parallel play? 
For those of us with ADHD who find body doubling useful, it might be a good practice to invite a friend over for a "rest date". Or, find a yoga Nidra class in your neighborhood or on YouTube. 

Hopefully, these suggestions give you some ideas and make you feel
less alone.
Happy resting!