When we feel burnt out we tend to focus on sleep. The truth? R&R actually comes in many forms. It’s time to start taking rest seriously.
Feeling burnt out? Snap. We’re all exhausted according to a recent study by Glassdoor and its economic researchers, which revealed that reports of burnout among British workers increased by 48% to record levels over the past year.
And the world of medicine is finally listening to the worn out masses, with The World Health Organisation finally recognising 'burnout' in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD) for the first time in 2022.
You might think that when you’re feeling tired, hunkering down under a duvet and boosting the number of hours you sleep would be the solution. But even after a solid eight hours, it sometimes feels as if you are never fully rested. What’s going on?
Enter Dr Saundra Dalton-Smith, a physician and the author of Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity: "The problem is assuming that sleep and rest are the same thing - they aren’t.
"Sleep is only one part of seven types of rest: mental, spiritual, emotional, social, sensory, creative and physical.
"Rest is about restoration: pouring back into the places where you depleted energy through your day to day. Just doing any type of restorative activity - like sleep - doesn't necessarily meet the need of where you have a deficit.
"The result is a culture of high-achieving, high-producing, chronically tired, burned out individuals."
‘For many people, the pandemic has led to a blurring of our work and life boundaries, so that work invades home life and vice versa. This can make it harder to switch off and detach,’ explains sleep expert, Dr Sophie Bostock.
National lockdowns put a laser focus on how important these different types of rest are: ‘Going to the gym, brunch with friends or going to the theatre are all different ways of resting that became impossible under restrictions,’ explains Subira Jones, life coach and corporate burnout prevention consultant known as 'The Corporate Hippie'.
"When these options were no longer available during the national lockdown, people were not only faced with a decreased sense of autonomy and direction in life - but they also became increasingly depleted in some of the types of rest."
The first step is evaluating what kind of tiredness you’re experiencing. "Just like pain - there’s no cure-all pill you can throw at the problem to remedy it," says Dr. Dalton Smith.
"You can then assess the rest to prescribe yourself to ensure the self care activities that you do and the ways that you restore yourself are in alignment with the places where you actually have an energy depletion, so that you are hitting the target and actually seeing results."
We asked the experts to break down each type of rest and how you can realistically achieve them when life can’t just grind to a halt.
Feeling physically exhausted is an easy one to spot. "This type of rest can be split into two categories. The first is passive, which includes sleeping and napping, and the second is active, which includes restorative activities such as yoga, stretching and massage that help improve the body’s circulation and flexibility," explains Dr. Dalton-Smith.
"Sleep is essential for us to lower our stress hormones, consolidate memories, repair damaged cells, regulate the immune system and to manage our emotions, among other things," explains Dr Bostock.
The NHS recommended that adults get seven to nine hours per night.
If you’re working at a desk and have an aching back and shoulders, Dr. Dalton-Smith suggests that physical active rest can look like setting an alarm on your phone to remember to stretch or move to boost circulation or being intentionally still for five minutes without sleeping.
"If you’re often irritable and forgetful or have a difficult time concentrating with a mind that races and keeps you awake at night, you could have a mental rest deficit," suggests Dr. Dalton-Smith.
She suggests scheduling microbreaks every two hours throughout your workday to remind you to slow down and keeping a notepad by the bed to jot down nagging thoughts that are keeping you awake.
Similarly, a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests writing a journal for five minutes before bed about your to-do list for the next day can help you fall asleep an average of nine minutes faster.
First things first: Dr. Dalton-Smith is very clear that you don’t need to be spiritual or religious to crave this type of rest.
"The main purpose of spiritual rest is re-establishing your sense of belonging. How you do this is very much dependent on your personal beliefs," says Jones.
"Prayer, meditation or something more secular like community involvement or volunteering can all be added to your daily routine to refill your cup."
Research shows that doing something altruistic is associated with enhanced wellbeing, including improved life satisfaction, increased happiness and a decrease in symptoms of depression.
If you’re the type of person who can’t say 'no' to a favour - even when you want to - and ends up feeling under appreciated, emotional honesty is key before you become emotionally drained.
"Emotional rest requires the courage to be authentic," explains Dr. Dalton-Smith. "If you're an emotionally rested person, you can answer the question: 'How are you today?' with a truthful 'I’m not okay'. This opens the door for you to then say some hard things that would otherwise go unsaid."
Can’t say it? Writing it down for yourself to acknowledge your feelings would work too.
"If you fail to differentiate between those relationships that revive us from those relationships that exhaust us, you can become completely socially drained," says Dr. Dalton-Smith.
But this isn’t about cancelling plans and spending time alone. Far from it. ‘To experience more social rest, surround yourself with positive and supportive people who will refill your tank,’ says Dr. Dalton-Smith.
Even virtual interactions can help - but a Zoom call with the camera on is better than a phone call, which is better than Whatsapping. ‘Being able to see the person’s face allows you to engage more fully and really focus on who you’re speaking to.’
Sensory overwhelm can creep up on you with screens, bright lights, background noise and multiple conversations - whether they’re in an office or on Zoom calls - all contributing.
"This can be countered by sensory deprivation. Doing something as simple as closing your eyes for a minute in the middle of the day, as well as by intentionally unplugging from electronics at the end of the day can make a difference," suggests Dr. Dalton-Smith.
Some people are more triggered by light, while others are triggered by noises or jostling crowds - knowing your triggers is key to avoid sensory depletion.
"If your work involves problem solving or being creative then this type of rest can reawaken the awe and wonder inside you when it’s running low," explains Dr. Dalton-Smith.
Spending time in nature to look at the ocean, the mountains, or simply going for a walk in your local green space can help.
One Danish study suggests that spending time in nature can boost the creative process.
Can’t get outside? Bring the outdoors indoors with nature-inspired backgrounds on conference calls while WFH. Seriously. Research revealed that after just a few minutes it could have the same effect as actually going outside.
Words: Amelia Jean Hershman-Jones
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