Best Practices: Why Rest?

So often, our “24/7” lifestyles (24 hrs/day, 7days/week) leave us feeling overworked and unable to balance all facets of life. The urgent takes precedent over the important. We may feel guilty if we take time off. Many books and articles discuss how to better manage our time to reduce stress, but few suggest that the answer is more rest!

Call me crazy, but I advocate taking a 24-hour break each week from normal work activities and incorporating four aspects of holistic rest—physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.

Physical rest for our bodies includes sleep, of course, but it also means a change of pace during our waking hours. If our work normally keeps us idle, resting would involve physical activity. Once we are physically rested, we can recharge emotionally. Paradoxically, when we take time to rest, we realize we have control over our time and that there is more to our lives than being workers. We don’t run away from our work, but we cease letting work and productivity control us. We can embrace time as a gift rather than viewing it as something to be managed.

Next, intellectual rest, or rest for our minds, helps us gain a larger perspective and our place and purpose in the world. When we are rested we can think more objectively and creatively. A nonstop lifestyle does not allow time for reflective thinking about the big picture or long-term goals and purposes. In contrast, setting aside workday problems allows us to reflect and renew our minds. It also allows us time to count our blessings. Psychologists have found that happy people regularly reflect on what they are thankful for and this builds contentment that carries over into many areas of life.

Finally, spiritual rest is rest for our souls. On a day off when we aren’t beholden to alarm clocks, traffic lights, deadlines, or to-do lists, we can experience peace by just being and not doing. Spiritual rest is about relinquishing control of our lives and relinquishing trust in the security the world offers in the form of power, money, and prestige.

What hinders rest? For many of us busyness is a “badge of honor.” We feel driven to accomplish something all the time. If our sense of importance is measured by how much we have to do, we overbook ourselves, and it’s a never-ending cycle. Further, we may worry about our financial security if we don’t work as much as possible. And yet psychologists have found that people who strive for wealth, fame, and image have lower self-esteem, are less self-actualized, and have more depression and anxiety than people who place a greater emphasis on friendship, personal growth, and community.

I end with some advice and exhortations. First, start with small, simple lifestyle changes. As current responsibilities end, say “no” to new activities that might impinge upon your day of rest. Realize your limits and question your motives for taking on too much. Second, don’t go it alone. Involve friends, family, and coworkers. Help others so they can rest too! Third, plan ahead. Use time during the week wisely. Otherwise, this becomes simply another stress-reduction tool added to your to-do list. Psychologists have found that leisure can be as taxing as work and even vacations offer little long-term respite. Only if people embrace a lifestyle that includes a 24-hour break each week will it be truly and holistically restful. Fourth, don’t be legalistic about what you do or don’t do on your day off. The broad principle here is to take a break from your “normal” work routines.

Finally, give yourself and those around you permission to say no to working all the time and to being controlled by work. Say yes to recreation time, family time, serving others, and filling your soul. Only if the boss rests can the workers rest! It’s misleading to say your company is family-friendly and supports work-life balance if employees must reply to email or pagers 24/7.

Aids to Holistic Rest

  • Experiencing beauty in nature and man-made creations
  • Meditating on religious writings
  • Journaling
  • Pleasure reading
  • Leisurely meals with family or friends
  • Corporate worship
  • Solitude
  • Physical activity—but not at a strenuous or training pace
  • Naps
  • Serving others—this keeps the process from devolving into self-absorption

Lisa Surdyk is Associate Professor of Economics at Seattle Pacific University. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Washington in 1991.