5 Ways to Make Room for Rest

“It’s a little high,” the nurse commented as she unstrapped the blood pressure cuff from my arm. “Any unusual stress lately?” I shook my head no—not that I wasn’t stressed, but that it wasn’t unusual. It was also self-induced, stemming not from the usual culprits of money, people, and health, but from the daily choices I made as to how I filled my time. Case in point: in the two hours leading up to my routine doctor’s appointment, I’d crammed enough tasks and to-dos to reasonably fill twice the number of minutes.

Even before my BP confirmed it, I’d known my constant busyness couldn’t be good for me. Though it had happened gradually and, for the most part, unwittingly, the end result was the same: I’d succumbed to society’s breakneck pace.

The ill effects that most concerned me, however, weren’t physical. Though I had no test to measure it, my frazzled mindset and fragile grasp on peace revealed that my lack of rest also negatively impacted my mental and spiritual health.

It all called for change, beginning with an examination of the issue. What drove me to such busyness anyway?

Like most women, I wear many hats, moving throughout my day from chauffeur to mompreneur to PTA president to chef and laundress. And, like most women, I tend to believe that my success depends on doing all these things well. Saundra Dalton-Smith, M.D., author of Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity puts it this way: “We wear our busyness as a badge of honor.”

And that, actually, is where the more insidious motivator creeps in. “We are driven to busyness when we equate our value and worth as something earned instead of received,” says Shelly Miller, author of Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World and founder of The Sabbath Society, an online community of women who purpose to weave regular rest into their lives. “We all long to be loved, and busyness is the universal badge of proof that we are loveable. But busyness doesn’t satiate desire, it leaves us hungry. A harried life functions from a false narrative: What I do is who I am. And when I am successful at what I do, I am worthy of love.”

One indicator that we are falling into this trap, Miller says, is when we feel guilty for taking time to rest. “It’s a sign that our identity is defined by productivity; a sign we need to stop and remember why God made the Sabbath a commandment.”

Here, then, are five ways we can make room for rest in our lives.

  1. Create margin. When Alexandra Kuykendall wrote her book Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me, she discovered that a key ingredient to loving her life was increasing margin. “Decide what is your capacity as a person and as a family,” she advises, “and then plan less than that. You have to under stretch in order to leave room for the urgent that comes up.”
  2. Schedule rest. Well-rested women prioritize self-care by enforcing personal boundaries. According to Dalton-Smith, this includes avoiding people-pleasing behaviors like saying yes when you really want to say no. Then make and keep self-care dates on your calendar. “When a woman honors her self-care needs, she demonstrates an understanding of her self-worth and how replenishing herself equips her to be her best in every area of her life,” Dalton-Smith says.
  3. Listen for excuses. “The voice of shame in rest resounds with a lot of shoulds,” says Miller. “I can’t rest because I should be folding the laundry, should be doing the dishes, should be responding to emails, should be volunteering, should be cleaning the car. Ask yourself if the voice you are listening to is God or guilt and condemnation. The more you pay attention to the inner voice, the truth will begin to sound a lot like freedom.”
  4. Identify the type of rest needed. “Many women think all rest is created equal,” Dalton-Smith says. “It is not. There are seven distinct types of rest: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, sensory, and creative. The problem is the type of rest we often participate in is not the type of rest we really need.” Real rest brings about restoration, reviving and restoring whatever is being depleted.
  5. Prepare. Only by preparing for rest, Miller says, will it become a reality. Otherwise, it remains an ideal. “Take baby steps toward rest by choosing a small window of time set aside once a week,” she recommends. “A quiet fifteen minutes alone on a park bench, a few hours strolling through an art gallery. Choose being over doing, and restoration comes quickly.”

Ultimately, cultivating meaningful rest has the potential to improve not only my life, but that of those I’m called to love and lead. For one thing, as Miller points out, “Peace is attractive to a world built on hustle. And rested people cultivate peace wherever they go.”

When we are rested, we reap physical and practical benefits as well. “Research shows that those who honor their body's need for rest are actually more productive than their workaholic counterparts,” says Dalton-Smith. “We have made rest synonymous with laziness when in reality it’s the key to more energy, greater productivity, better creativity, increased happiness, and a thriving life.”

And finally, there’s this obvious truth: “I'm nicer when I'm rested,” Kuykendall says. “I have more patience, which impacts everyone I come in contact with. But I also have clearer thinking. When I consider my legacy, I don't want to be thought of as the woman who crammed a lot into her day and forgot the people around her. I want to be thought of as a leader who had time for those right in front of her while getting to other things God called her to. Because God has called me to both.”

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What kind of rest do you need?

Contrary to popular belief, not all rest is created equal. Saundra Dalton-Smith, M.D., has identified seven distinct types of rest: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, sensory, and creative. “The problem is,” she says, “when most of us say we are going to rest on the weekends, the type of rest we get is not the type we really need.” She explains that for every depleting activity in your day, there is a reciprocal restorative activity that will bring about a greater sense of rest.

Dr. Dalton-Smith created an online, comprehensive rest quiz to help you identify your type of rest deficit. You will be scored on all seven types, allowing you to quickly see which areas are lacking, so that you can then focus on getting the type of rest you need.

Go to RESTQUIZ.COM to take the quiz today.

Photo by Gianni Zanato on Unsplash