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Why learning how to rest is the cure to stress and anxiety.

Updated: Oct 13, 2022

We as a society don’t do rest well. To rest is to be lazy, to not be living to the fullest, and to be wasting our life away. Rest is not in our DNA, as our ancestors had to constantly be on the lookout for danger (lions, tigers, food scarcity, etc.) and they had to be prepared to immediately face whatever came their way.

Historically though, there were periods of down time, as animals hibernated, they could live off the animals they killed and they could consume the foods they planted and harvested. While stress at staying alive did exist, it only lasted for a short time. Somehow though, we transferred that preparedness for danger into a nonstop assault on our senses. Whether it be checking our emails every 5 minutes, binge watching the “it” show, logging onto social media or even doom scrolling so that we don’t miss anything.

Because to miss anything would mean what? That we are not prepared. Our bodies and minds were not designed to be constantly stimulated and inundated with information. And there is a correlation between all of this overload and our anxiety and stress. Are we surprised? It’s not an innocent gesture to just pick up your phone and check your email or scroll on social media.

Your brain has to process what it’s taking in a decide what to do with it. Now you have a deadline on the brain, a birthday gift to think about shopping for, hearing that someone has gotten sick, that someone has just gotten engaged. Our brains are wired to seek danger and so it goes to work at preparing for the worst. It’s too much and we don’t take the time to stop and give ourselves a break from it all.

The reality is that when we rest, we are in the best position to prepare for the best and the worst AND live our life to the fullest. My guess is that our ancestors discovered fire and invented the wheel when they were at rest.

I recently spent a week at the beach with my son and we spent hours running in and out of the water, running away from the incoming waves and picking up seashells. There was beauty in waiting for the waves to come onto the shore, running away from the waves, and feeling the salty water rush across our feet. But then when the waves receded, we were excited to see what was left behind - a beautifully colored shell, a wonderfully shaped pebble, slimy seaweed and a crab among other things.

It was in those few moments when the waves were not crashing down, that we discovered all kinds of surprises. And within those surprises, we wondered where these things came from, we wondered what their story might be. And we had a few seconds to ponder their story while we waited for another set of waves to come to shore and splash across our feet, joyfully feeling the spray of the ocean on our face and on our feet.

The point is, we were enjoying moments of pause, and we discovered things when there was “nothing” going on. And it was in those moments that neither stress nor anxiety showed up.

In our everyday, as we are living our lives and planning all the stuff, it is as if we are constantly being hit in the face by waves. It was fun and exciting to see the waves, but I imagine that if we kept getting pelted by the waves, non-stop, we’d be tired and it would no longer be fun.

Plus, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to see what surprises were left behind for us. And we would become stressed because we would not know how to handle the abundance of waves. And we’d become anxious and dread the waves because we’d worry about the size of the waves and how to find solace from the nonstop assault of waves.

So why is it ok for us to be go, go, going, all of the time? And if you truly wonder about your purpose in life and finding joy, when would you have time to find it, when you are so overly scheduled that all you have time to do is pass out and do all the things all over again.

There is a natural balance to life that we can learn from. Life is about ebb and flow, up and down, in an out. The seasons change, with winter offering nature an opportunity to rest and get rid of things that do not serve it.

Spring, offers new life to come froward and begin to offer its’ new life to others. Summer offers nature its’ opportunity to absorb the sun and grow to its’ optimum. Fall offers nature the opportunity to harvest the fruit that it has created and begin the transition to rest. Consider that our ancestors used Fall and Winter to rest and prepare for the seasons of activity.

In our non-stop go, go, go world, we don’t ever have seem to have a quiet season. And we wonder why we are so stressed and burnt out.

Rest is crucial for our well-being and crucial if we want to have a truly transformative and well lived life. Here are some tips to contemplate fitting more rest into your life.

1. Limit or stop altogether your doom scrolling and social media presence.

Do you really need to know which Beverly Hills housewife is dating who and what they just recently purchased? Do you need to know EVERYTHING about that politician that just did something awful or illegal?

Do you need to know that there was an accident on the Turnpike last night and that someone died? It’s one thing to stay informed, but staying informed every hour does not make you more prepared for what’s going on out there.

Replace that time with something that replenishes you and fills your cup.

2. Get outside and be curious.

Pause and notice what is going on around you. Most of us drive or walk by our neighborhoods and never notice some of the quirks. Do you know where the fire hydrants are?

Could you find your way back home if someone dropped you in the middle of another neighborhood. Focus on being present on what’s actually around you. Be curious about the story of that house, or that flower or that street.

3. Take mini breaks throughout the day.

Check in with your energy. Check in with your stress levels. On a scale of 1-10, notice when you are feeling most calm and when you are feeling most stressed. Is it consistent? Does it happen only at certain times?

Ask yourself if there are things you can do to reduce that stress or things you can do to increase well-being.

4. Write out your To Do list for the week.

Ask yourself what is a should vs. what is a responsibility vs. things that you want to do. Explore how many things are in each category and identify if there are things you can reduce or eliminate.

Notice if there is nothing on your list that is what you want to do. Notice if something has been on your to do list for the past few weeks. Ask yourself why that is. If you seek to eliminate something, do a deep dive about why you can’t or won’t eliminate it (i.e. someone will be disappointed or will be upset).

Recognize that you cannot live your life for others and that you too are deserving of space for yourself. If it is something that you truly dislike but cannot eliminate it, ask yourself if you can give yourself a deadline.

5. Do breath work.

Take 5- 10 minutes to sit and pay attention to your in and out breath. Notice the pauses between the in breath and out breath. See if you can hold the pause for longer and longer. Ask yourself what you need right now, in this moment. It might be water, a nap, a phone call. Or maybe absolutely nothing. And that’s ok.

Remind yourself and repeat to yourself that the joy comes in the pauses. Check out a guided meditation I did on the 4-4-8 breath.

To rest can be difficult and often against the norm, but you are those you love are worth getting a person in their life who can truly be present and available.

My name is Eddie and I am a mindfulness-based therapist in Bordentown, NJ who specializes in trauma, anxiety and Mom stress. I provide online counseling throughout the state of NJ and specifically in Mercer and Burlington County, NJ (Bordentown, Chesterfield, Robbinsville, Hamilton and Princeton). Find me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

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