On learning how to rest


I am coming to the slow realisation that I have spent a large proportion of my 30s feeling tired…

On the one hand, there are lots of good and very reasonable reasons for this; juggling my first child alongside the pressures of working, running a household and having very little wider family support close by.

But honestly, tiredness is a new experience for me.

I guess I have always been the type of person who likes to stay busy, and it’s in my nature as an Enneagram 3, highly task-focused and achievement  orientated.  I’m also an extrovert so I recharge better when I’m with other people, and there’s also a part of me that has always been driven by a fear of missing out (FOMO ), a fear of life somehow passing me by whilst I’m somewhere else ‘resting’.

To me ‘resting’ has basically always sounded, well … a bit boring.

But the problem is that I am getting older and I can no longer keep up the same pace of life that I once did. But even when my body, my mind, my emotions, and my husband are all telling me to stop stressing, to slow down, to rest more and just relax, I still find this an incredibly difficult thing to do.

Why is it so hard to rest?

Why is it that I have almost reached the halfway point of my life, but I have still never really learned the art of resting well anyway? I’ve been reflecting on this for a while now, and if I’m honest, some of my tiredness is not just physical.

If I’m honest, I think that a lot of my personal tiredness and stress is caused by an inability to switch off, unplug, get offline, and snatch any personal downtime in my life. Am I alone in this? I very much doubt it…

Too often I find myself exhausted at the end of a busy day and crashing out in front of Netflix, or surfing the web reading about news stories that I can’t influence or change, or aimlessly scrolling through Facebook reading about other people’s lives, or researching about stuff I don’t need and can’t afford.

Rest for the mind

What has become ‘rest’ to me may be physical rest; it may be sitting on a sofa, rather than rushing around or working through a ‘to do’ list – but it is rarely rest for the mind and soul.

A dictionary definition of ‘rest’ I found said that it means: ‘to cease work or a specific activity in order to relax and recover strength’

But the problem is that we’re living in a digital age, characterised by a constant overload of information and electronic stimulus.

So in spite of having more wealth and leisure time than any generation before us ever did, we also have more mental health issues than ever as well. Is this a coincidence? Most of the experts don’t think so.

Ever felt distracted or harassed by an endless to do list, and streams of tweets, texts, emails, direct messages, those interesting articles on Facebook, snapchat photos and more?

What the digital age has essentially created is a world where the mind is constantly bombarded, meaning that it’s incredibly hard to mentally rest.

Mental overload

Most marketing and advertising experts now agree that we’ve gone from being exposed to about 500 ads a day back in the 1970’s, to living in a world where we’re exposed to anywhere between 5,000 – 20,000 adverts and targeted messages every day now.

In 1976 there were just 9,000 different products in the average food store; nowadays there’s about 40,000, meaning you’re having to filter out tens of thousands of brand choices every single time you step into your nearest supermarket.

Are you on twitter? Every second around 6,000 tweets are posted, which equates to over 350,000 tweets per minute, or 500 million tweets per day. (Source: Twitter)

Do you use Facebook? Every 60 seconds 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded. Every day a mind-blowing 4.75 billion pieces of new content are shared between users. (Source: Facebook)

Is it any wonder we feel tired sometimes, even without actually having done anything very productive at all?

Doing ‘something else’

Recently it’s been dawning on me that although a lot of my evenings involve physical resting like sitting on the couch, often I’m still continuing to consume more information via my phone or TV set.

But maybe in our age of information overload, the art of resting well is less about doing ‘nothing’ per se, and more about doing ‘something else’; something more restful for your mind.

Because often the things that bring the most rest to my soul are the things that allow me to be mentally stiller, and more present in the moment. Things such as learning to play the guitar, cooking a meal, getting into the great outdoors, taking some exercise … or yes, just having an early night.

Slowing down

Also, have you ever gotten really angry about something trivial? Lost it with your partner or shouted at the kids then wished you hadn’t, and found yourself wondering ‘what is wrong with me? I do this all the time when I’m tired, and then wonder ‘Why is my fuse so short?’

But if rest is about mentally as well as physically unwinding, maybe all that stress and pent up emotion comes from days and days of moving too fast from A to B.

And maybe those emotional outbursts or meltdowns that we can all be prone to, come from never really having the time or headspace to stop and process our feelings as events actually happen.

Maybe we just need to slow down a bit …

Practising sabbath

I guess that observing the sabbath is something that most modern christians would say that they still do. But honestly, I think that the early Jewish and Christian communities understood and practised ’sabbath’ as day of rest much better than we do today.

Because for them, it was not just as a day for going to church instead of work, but a day for actually stepping away from the schedule, the ‘to do’ list, and the busyness of whatever we normally do, in order to rest and re-energise – body, mind, and spirit.

In Matthew 11:28-29 (The Message), Jesus says this: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”

And how exactly did He do it? When Jesus physically lived on planet earth in a normal human body just like ours, he would have regularly observed the sabbath as part of the normal rhythm of Jewish family life. And as He grew older and stepped into His ministry, we see that He regularly withdrew from the crowds and the busyness to be on His own with Father God too.

And if the Son of God needed to rest like that when He walked upon this earth, how much more do you and I need to do so too?

10 slower, restful rhythms for soulful living

I am very much still a novice at all this, learning on the job, but lately I have been trying to develop better ‘rhythms of rest’ in my life that will help me learn to live better. And if any of this resonates with you, why not have a go trying to adopt a few of them too?

  • Turn off social media. If like me, you struggle to unplug and unwind, why not decide a time that you will switch off your phone/laptop/tablet etc each evening and not look at it again. Maybe that’s during meals, maybe it is after 9pm, or a no phones in the bedroom rule. Figure out what will work for you, set a rule and then just stick to it. Don’t let social media steal away your time and your peace.
  • Cut out the late nights. Sounds obvious, right? But have you ever intended to have an early night but instead find yourself distracted by something and suddenly it’s almost midnight? Sleep can be such an overlooked facet of rest, especially if you’re parent to a young child. So have some discipline, set an optimum bedtime for you, and then stick to it. Don’t flit away precious sleep hours on Netflix binges or scrolling on your phone. 
  • Create reflective time. Every night before I go to sleep I try to reflect over the day and to release any negative experiences, thoughts, hurts, emotions. If my son has driven me round the twist, if a friend has offended me, if my husband and I have argued, or if something has stressed or upset me… Some people do this through prayer, others through meditation or journaling. Whatever works for you, try to mentally unload the emotions from the day so that you don’t carry them into the next.
  • Invest in your important relationships. One of the side effects of the digital age is that we’re constantly distracted, spread too thinly, never fully present. Ever sat with someone and felt like they’re more interested in their mobile phone? To counter this reality, try to prioritise regular quality time with those you love. Are you married or dating? Set a regular date night that is ‘just us’ time to re-connect. And then guard it fiercely! Are you single? You can try practicing this concept with close friends or family too.
  • Live lightly. Don’t clutter your home or your mind with too many things that you don’t need. It’s just more stuff to worry about, tidy up and clean. And it’s mental energy you don’t need to waste. So get some bin liners out and bag up everything you don’t regularly use, and/or don’t really love. Give it away to someone who needs it more than you instead.
  • Slow down. Try taking less on in the first place by saying no to some things. If you’re a high capacity person, this can be difficult to do. But if life feels too busy, too stressful and too frantic, or if you find yourself constantly complaining you never have enough time for you, then you probably need to slow down, and let some of the less important stuff just slide.
  • Learn to be more present. Although this comes more naturally to some people than others, it really is something we can all learn to do. Practice activities that help you to relax and be more in the present moment; things like gardening, baking, walking, cooking, yoga, playing music, arts and craft, journaling, or mindfulness.
  • Choose authenticity. I am also learning that I need to stop hustling, spinning or stage managing everything in my life and to be quicker to recognise and admit to weakness. Yes reputation management is a part of my day job, but I am not a multi-million pound company or organisation. So I need to start being more human, and more honest with myself, my family and friends by being quicker to say when I am feeling overwhelmed, and better at asking for help.
  • Improve your diet. When you’re feeling tired, low on energy, running on empty… it’s so easy to fuel up on coffee and sugar. But try not to give into the cravings. A cleaner, lower sugar, lower carb diet is something my husband and I have only just started embarking on, but it really does give you more energy and leave you less sluggish.
  • Get more active. It can be hard to get into an exercise routine – especially if your life is already pretty full, but it’s so, so important. Especially if your working day is fairly sedentary like mine. Because although exercise is sometimes the last thing that we feel like when we’re tired, paradoxically it tends to make us feel more energised, thanks to the endorphins it releases. So find something you enjoy, be that running, dance, cycling, swimming, gym classes, or a team sport … and then do it regularly. It’s much easier to stick at, if you choose a set time each week.

Good luck, and let me know how you get on ….

5 thoughts on “On learning how to rest

  1. Hi Anna,
    I completely agree with you. I think we already know this subconsciously but until it’s written out like you have and re-digested modern life disguises it and we can’t naturally process it. I think also with the increasing speed in with technology devolvops we can’t evolve quick enough to keep up with it!

    Look forward to your next blog!


  2. I loved reading this, Anna! I really struggle with it, too! I am very guilty of taking too much on…and actually get excited when I notice a gap in my diary because it means I can have a rest! As for the exercise and good diet, I can’t agree more. I have a new found love of it – fancy going to a gym class?? 🙂 xx


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