More Rest Than Rest

By Natalie Briscoe

I am tired.

Exhausted even. Some days I can’t get off the couch, and other days I find myself forgetful, unable to concentrate, fidgety, anxious, or short-fused. I find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning to go to work, which should be easy since it is just in the next room, but the daily pandemic grind and stress has worn me down so that I feel much smaller than I used to. I have fewer and fewer internal resources to hold relationships and show up for others, meaning it is difficult not to be short with my family, and my friends, and my coworkers, and everyone doing the good work of Unitarian Universalism right now.

I could sleep and sleep and sleep for days, however, and not feel rested. That’s because the kind of tired I am isn’t physical; it is deep down soul tired. And if the kind of tired that I am isn’t physical, it won’t be fixed by sleeping. If you find yourself feeling exhausted, but never feeling rested no matter how much sleep you get, you may need a different kind of rest.

Physical Rest is what we think of when we say, “I”m tired.” There are two kinds of physical rest. Passive Physical Rest is sleeping, napping, or lounging. I call this “having a slug day.” Active Physical Rest is activity that is still physically restorative, like yoga, stretching, and massage. Taking a short walk, stretching, eating a healthy snack, and laughing are all great forms of physical rest.

Mental Rest is a break from decision making and problem solving. When information about how we make decisions that affect so many people in our lives changes by the minute, we can experience what is called “decision fatigue.” It is exhausting to constantly integrate new information, make new decisions, and solve complex problems daily. Sometimes you need a break from making any decisions at all, from how to balance the physical and mental health of your congregations to what you’ll have for dinner. A trick for getting mental rest is to read a book or watch a television show that you have read or watched many times before. Another way to get mental rest is to complete small, routine tasks that involve zero decision making. Finally, you can preference convenience, choosing to prepare frozen dinners, have groceries delivered, or simply take an hour to make no decisions at all.

Sensory Rest is a break from input. In these days of so much screen time, it is easy to become overloaded with sensory input. A sensory break can be as simple as closing your eyes or sitting in the quiet for a while. Meditation is also a great form of sensory rest, but many of us don’t have an opportunity for this type of serious break in quarantine. For myself, at home with two young children, I have “closet time” during the day where I just go sit on the floor of my closet in the dark for a few minutes. Anything in a pinch, right?

Creative Rest is a break from the grind and routine of daily life. It is a chance to appreciate art, drink in beauty, and reawaken awe. Practicing art like drawing, painting, collaging, coloring mandalas, singing, playing or listening to music, or looking at visual art can all help you take a break from the pressure of the day to day.

Emotional Rest is having the time and space to freely express and process our emotions. Emotional Rest offers the opportunity to be free of people pleasing and get in touch with your own needs. It also helps you to gain clarity around your motivations and can help you decide what comes next. Journaling, talking to a trusted confidant, or spending time alone to feel all of your feelings completely are important forms of Emotional rest.

Social Rest is getting a break from people who deplete and exhaust you. This kind of rest means taking space from relationships which are particularly taxing. It could mean spending time alone to regroup with yourself, or it could mean spending time with people who fill and replenish you. It could mean reaching out to a cherished friend or having coffee with a confidant. It might also mean getting a good hour with a mentor, writing a beloved relative a letter, or doing anything that builds or strengthens a relationship that is meaningful and life-giving to you.

Finally, Spiritual Rest is the need to connect beyond the physical and mental worlds in which we exist most of the time. Resting spiritually means doing what helps you feel a deep sense of belonging, love, acceptance, and purpose. There are as many ways to rest spiritually as there are people; it is a very individualized type of rest. Some people pray, some people get into nature, and still others volunteer in the community. Any activity that helps you get in touch with what you find sacred and Divine is spiritual rest.

Rest is more than sleep in this traumatic time. We have to focus on how we will care for our whole beings for the long haul. Hoping that “getting back to normal” will fix how we feel is not realistic. We have to care for ourselves and each other right now, the way the world is currently. We can’t wait. We won’t be able to move thoughtfully and faithfully into the future unless we rest now and prepare for the journey ahead.