I’m always looking for ways to restore my wonky work-life balance. We’re all capable of working too hard, but I often teeter on the edge of burnout and as a freelancer I really feel the pressure of having all my responsibilities on my own shoulders. Also, when your home and office are the same place, it’s far too easy to blur the boundaries between work and rest spaces, making switching off even harder.
My mental state is constantly lifting and dipping and this winter has been one of the dips. I’ve struggled to be inspired and have felt exhausted at times, despite sleeping well. I throw myself whole-heartedly into my work, but then it ends up taking over and my body has to force me to stop.
I was messaging my good friend Jeni about this recently and she sent me a post by Nicola Jane Hobbs, who’s a stress and rest researcher. Nicola defines rest as “anything that makes our nervous systems feel safe enough to switch off our stress responses so our minds and bodies can move into a state of recovery, restoration and growth.”
There are many different types of rest and Nicola says we should match them to the kind of stress we’re feeling: “I like to ask myself: What type of stress have I experienced today? What kind of rest do I need? If we’ve been in a loud, overstimulating environment, we can offer ourselves sensory rest with loose clothing and gentle music. If we’ve been busy all day working through our to-do lists, playful rest – romcoms, board games, making pizzas – will help us recover.”
This really resonated with me because my concept of rest had been purely physical. I consider myself lucky that I’m a heavy sleeper, but sleep is only one of the ten distinct types of rest that Nicola outlines in her post:
- Physical rest – sleep, stretching, mindful movement
- Mental rest – non-thinking activities eg baking, gardening
- Emotional rest – crying, journaling, sharing rather than suppressing
- Psychosocial rest – hugs, solitude, intimacy
- Sensory rest – soothing scents, loose/cosy clothes, silence
- Spiritual rest – meditation, prayer, rituals
- Creative rest – drawing, reading, cake decorating
- Playful rest – anything fun and unproductive eg watching films, board games
- Ecological rest – walking, wild swimming, car-free days
- Altruistic rest – giving without expecting anything in return eg volunteering, random acts of kinds
As much as I try to move away from my to-do list and take breaks, it doesn’t happen as often as it should. Rest isn’t indulgent. It’s not generic either, and should be tailored to our needs.
A big problem area for me is my eyes. If I’d been born a century earlier, I’d have written my book on a typewriter or even by hand. Instead, I spend the majority of each working day staring at a screen and have the headaches to prove it. Using Nicola’s model, I should increase the amount of sensory rest I get, so one of my resolutions for 2023 is to take more breaks with my eyes closed, use a heat mask, and write more by hand. It’s slower, but kinder to my eyes and so much more fulfilling.
Mental health is as important as physical health and I’m pleased it’s gaining more awareness in mainstream media, but there’s still not enough. Making little lifestyle changes like focussing on different types of rest is a way of integrating mindfulness into our daily routines.
I hope you find these tips as useful as I did. Some day maybe I’ll take my own advice and look after myself a little better. One step at a time!