The power of rest: how to get the seven types you need

Do you know that feeling when you’re so exhausted that even thinking feels like too much work? Well, you’re not alone. Almost everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes. To make matters worse, we aren’t getting enough rest! 

Between February to April, I took a leave at work to prioritize my well-being. It’s also why I haven’t posted anything in a while. My physical and mental health was not in good shape. 

So for the last two months, I made a point to use my time off to focus on rest and restoration, and address the areas in my life where I was rest-deficient. 

We downplay rest but it’s so critical to our health and well-being. In this post, we’ll explore the benefits of rest, the different types humans need, and the ways we can incorporate rest into our lives.

Why rest is so important

We all know that need to rest sometimes. But why is that? Why is rest so important?

Think of it this way: when you’re driving your car, you don’t typically let the tank get all the way down to empty before you fill it up with gas. The same idea applies to rest. Finding ways to replenish your energy throughout the day will keep rest deficits from getting out of control—and will leave you feeling more rested and productive (when you need to be!) in the process.

Even though 2020 taught me the importance of rest, my circumstances in 2021 made it a constant struggle to practice. Over the last two years, I worked in a department that was understaffed amid this continuing pandemic and the state of the world. On top of that, I started grad school. And I was struggling in some of my relationships. 

Our bodies have a way of communicating with us, and if we ignore it for too long, we suffer the consequences. I was anxious and stressed all the time. I was losing sleep. There were days I felt I would die from my chest exploding. It took my breaking point in January to finally listen to my body and take a break. 

I knew that I was struggling but it took crashing to truly acknowledge how burned out I was – I was chronically exhausted, unmotivated, making more mistakes at work, and just feeling shitty all the time. I saw that I needed to make some changes or my health would get much worse. 

I’m a pretty conscientious person and a chronic people pleaser so asking my employer for this leave was no small feat for me. I didn’t want to let my team down or appear that I was “weak”. 

I now know that I wasn’t weak at all. When I broke the news to my team, they were supportive of me. Those in my corner reminded me that I was strong for advocating for myself and prioritizing my health. 

Throughout my break, I kept reminding myself of one of my mottos: I cannot and will not be my best if I do not rest. But what does that rest look like?

The 7 Types of Rest

When most people think of rest, we think about sleep. But that’s only addressing one type of rest – physical rest.

We actually should get rest about 42% of the time in any 24 hours according to educators Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., and Amelia Nagoski, DMA. They speak to the science behind this ‘42% rule’ in their book, Burnout: the secret to solving the stress cycle. They argue that the 42% rule can help you recover from burnout, stress, and feeling overwhelmed.

Photo cred: bhg.com.au

When you break it down, that accounts for about 10 hours in a 24-hour period. That may seem like a lot in our busy and overpacked lives but it’s really more like 8 hours of sleep + 2 hours of restorative activities. Those activities could be spread over a few days per week if daily is too much. You just have to start somewhere. 

Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD, doctor, and author of Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity gives us a framework that complements the 42% rule to address this issue. Through her research, Dr. Dalton-Smith has identified 7 types of rest that we all need to be physically and mentally healthy. 

When I learned about the 7 types of rest and the 42% rule, it truly changed my life. It now made sense why sleep wasn’t fixing my problem of exhaustion before I took my leave. I wasn’t just physically exhausted. There were other factors at play. 

Rest is one of the most overlooked health principles but it’s vital to our physical and mental health. That’s why understanding the 7 types of rest and the 42% rule is so important. Approaching rest holistically allows us to heal and feel restored in all facets of our lives. 

So how do we make sure we’re getting the most out of our rest? First, we need to be able to determine what types of rest we need to factor into the 42% rule. So let’s talk about those 7 types of rest. 

Physical rest

One of my cute cats 🙂

This type of rest focuses on the body. The main goal is just to relieve the body of physical stress. Physical rest may look like naps (passive physical rest) or an active activity like exercise (active physical rest).

The biggest way to address physical rest passively is by getting enough sleep. Most people need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep (as an HSP I need closer to 9 because of my sensitive nervous system!). 

Good sleep is a type of rest that we all need as many of us in the United States are chronically sleep-deprived. That is unfortunate because sleep can help us to deal with stress. Plus, we can’t function well without it.

Another way to address physical rest is through active physical rest. That would be any activity that improves your physical well-being, like yoga, dancing, a light walk, acupuncture, or even a nice massage. 

Mental rest

Do you ever get to a point where you’re constantly distracted, overwhelmed, or mentally tapped out? *raises hand* 

A lot of us felt this way during the pandemic. It took a mental toll on us. Not only were we dealing with the pandemic, but we were still living in our overstimulated, multi-tasking modern world. That’s why mental rest is vital.

Mental rest is a type of rest that is important for our brains. Our brains cannot function well with too much activity. Mental rest can get us to calm our minds and relax, which can help us to deal with stress and stay focused. 

You can get mental rest in many different ways, from scheduling short breaks during the day, meditating, listening to your favorite album, going for a walk to let your mind wander, or reading a good fiction book.

For some (like HSPs), sitting in silence in a dark or low-lit room provides that space to rest your mind. Journaling is also a great way to get some mental rest too.

There are many different ways that you can rest your mind. The most important thing is to do whatever works for you.

Emotional rest

This type of rest is an important one, especially for HSPs, empaths, people-pleasers, and those in the caring professions. Sometimes we hide how we’re truly feeling, whether that is because we need to act “professional” or because we’re people-pleasing. However, that can negatively affect us over time.

Emotional rest involves tending to your emotional needs. That can look like having the space to be your most authentic self, sharing your true feelings, and having boundaries.

The thing with emotional rest is that it requires the courage to be authentic. Instead of answering “How are you?” with “I’m fine.”, you should answer with how you’re really feeling. 

I’ve realized that even though it is extremely vulnerable to share my true feelings, it feels better than hiding my authentic self. When I open up, I feel more seen with those closest to me who have shown that they can hold space for all of me. 

So emotional rest can look like taking “yes” breaks and saying “no” more. It can look like expressing your true feelings (the good, the bad, and the ugly) with a friend or journal. It can look like going to therapy. 

It’s all about refilling your emotional tank.

Social rest

Dr. Dalton-Smith emphasizes that this type of rest is closely connected to emotional rest. If you have an emotional rest deficit, chances are that you also have a social rest deficit. That can be the result of not being able to distinguish relationships that energize us vs. relationships that zap our energy.

Social rest is when you’re able to take a break from your busy schedule and enjoy the company of positive and supportive friends and family. Social rest can also mean needing alone time. Sometimes your social meter has reached its limit and you need to take a break from socialization. 

Introverts and HSPs can reach their limit quickly because we’re more energized when we’re alone than when we’re with others. That doesn’t mean that we don’t crave social interactions. We just need the right balance between “me time” and “social time”.  

Social rest helps us find that balance. When you have social rest, it will allow you to prioritize relationships that replenish you and limit exposure to those that deplete your energy (even if they are your loved ones). The key is boundaries. 

Sensory rest

This type of rest is one that people often don’t realize they need. It’s wild that we don’t when our senses are constantly being stimulated, whether it be strong smells, bright lights, computer screens, phone notifications, city noise (if you live in the city like me), or office chatter.

Our senses can get overwhelmed over time. And it can manifest in our bodies. I know for me, I’ll get more anxious, have headaches, or just feel a general sense of overwhelm. Some people can reach that threshold sooner than others. This is where sensory rest comes in. 

Sensory rest is simply getting away from our senses. We don’t watch television, we don’t listen to music, and we don’t use technology. We take a break from all of it. 

Sensory rest can look like doing a digital detox, something most of us could use anyway. It could be 30 minutes of putting your phone on “do not disturb”. Taking breaks during the day to close our eyes and focus on our breathing can give you that pause too. 

Creative rest

My vision board session (2021)

Creative rest is one of the most important types of rest. This type of rest is especially important for people who use creativity in their jobs – from graphic designers to business consultants to nonprofit professionals.

There are days you may feel uninspired or have a creative block because you’ve used up all of your creative energy. When that happens, you may just need some creative rest. 

Creative rest is where you tap into the awe and wonder around you. For some, that happens through being creative themselves but it doesn’t have to be. You can experience creative rest by going to an art museum. You can immerse yourself in Mother Nature. You can even get lost in a book or magazine.

These are all forms of creative rest that we can get in our lives. Creative rest allows you to bring back awe and curiosity about the world.  

Spiritual rest

The last type of rest we’re going to look at is spiritual rest. Spirituality is a state of being where we are connected to a higher power. You don’t have to be religious to experience spiritual rest. 

It’s an experience of peace and of being connected to something bigger than ourselves. For some people, that’s God, for others that is nature, or even the belief in the good of humanity. 

When you’re in spiritual rest, you’re attuned to your spiritual needs. You’re doing things that give you a sense of purpose or meaning. It is a time to connect with your inner spirit so that you can truly let go of the stresses of the day and find peace.

Spiritual rest lets us connect to our sense of purpose, and feel a sense of belonging, love, and acceptance.   

Spiritual rest can look like prayer, being a part of a faith community, volunteering for a cause that is meaningful to you, creating art, or even practicing loving-kindness. 

How to incorporate rest into your life

Now that we’ve covered the 7 types of rest, let’s talk about how you can incorporate them into your life to satisfy the 42% rule. 

  1. Reflect and take inventory of where you’re lacking 

The areas where you expend the most energy are likely going to be the areas where you need to prioritize rest. This quiz by Dr. Dalton-Smith can help you figure out what that looks like for you.

  1. Target your most impactful rest deficit first

After taking the quiz and seeing the areas you need rest in, focus on one of the top ones on your list. Trying to tackle all the areas at the same time can feel overwhelming. So take it day by day, identifying one or two things you can do to tackle your most impactful rest deficit first. 

  1. Intentionally schedule restorative activities

It may sound counterintuitive but resting is not a passive process. If you want to feel well-rested, it actually takes some effort. You have to be intentional about it. I realized I needed more mental rest so I would schedule walks or mediation breaks during my day. 

  1. Schedule rest breaks into your workday

To replenish your energy through the workday, you need to schedule rest breaks. It can be as simple as scheduling 10 minutes a day of a restorative activity or going on a solo nature walk to end the workday (or with a friend if that gives you emotional rest).

Lessons learned

Rest is caring for your mind, body, and spirit. When we do so, we’re able to live a more balanced life. It’s not something we just add to our to-do list but is something that we approach as a way to maintain a healthy and enriching life. 

I know it isn’t easy to unlearn the capitalistic culture in the West that values productivity and being “useful” above everything else. I often feel guilty for taking the time to care for myself. Despite the guilt, I continue to make the effort to prioritize rest because it is so powerful. 

Like many things in life, deliberate rest is a practice and a discipline. It is also our birthright. We were not made to grind. Even God took a day to rest in the Christian creation story. 

When we prioritize rest, we’re saying that we are worthy of it. We are connecting to ourselves. We are connecting to our spirit. We are connecting to our bodies. We’re claiming what’s rightfully ours. 

My leave ended on April 6th. It’s been a journey the last few months and I’ve learned a great deal about my body, mind, and spirit. Two months hasn’t fixed all my issues but it’s given me a break to prioritize myself and build the foundation needed to care for my physical and mental health when I do go back.

I’m no longer adhering to the narrative that says that as a Black woman that I have to put others before myself. I’ve seen the light and I’m not going back. 

Rest is essential for our health and well-being, and it’s something we all need more of.

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