I have a hard time slowing down and stopping. There always seems to be something more to do, another project to start or something to clean. I used to praise myself for this — or, at the very least, think that this was a positive attribute. I never stopped (get it?) to think about how this could be a defense mechanism and, what’s worse, harmful to me and my kids.
We recently moved back into our house after a renovation. Leading up to that move were a lot of smaller moves, which I primarily did on my own. Partly because Matt was on the road and traveling and we had to make a deadline, but mainly because I was too stubborn to wait or ask for help. I started joking that I refused to move one more box because I was sick and tired of all the “baby moves” I had done. Well, the day of the move, my body agreed. I woke up unable to lift my head or move my neck. I probably slept wrong and pinched a nerve in my neck. The result was that I couldn’t move.
I knew I wouldn’t let this stop me, even though I was in legitimate physical pain, so I left the house. I went to a meeting, one where I couldn’t lift my head to look at anyone because of the pain, and then finally got in to see a chiropractor. He confirmed I had pinched a nerve and recommended icing off and on every 15 minutes, plus rest.
So, what did I do? I went home and iced it like I was told, and once the aspirin and BioFreeze kicked in, I started helping the movers move some boxes. Now, three weeks later, I’m still in pretty consistent pain, and I’m still not fully resting. As I sprayed BioFreeze on my shoulder again last night, I realized I have a problem with rest.
I always feel the need to push myself — that if there isn’t pain, it doesn’t really count and I’m not working hard enough: “Your house should be cleaner; make sure you stay up late to do it. Even though the next day you will be exhausted, you can push through.”
Or: “You need to be getting ready for (fill in the blank) now. It may be two weeks away, but you shouldn’t slack. Your kids won’t mind riding in a car for hours running errands with you; if they’re complaining, it’s because they’re bad listeners. You should be a better mom.”
Or: “It doesn’t really count as a workout if you aren’t sweating and in pain. Once you hit Savasana (corpse pose) in yoga, it’s time to go. You don’t have time to close with that, just be quiet as you roll up the mat. Time for the next thing.” (Even though according to my friend Tara Swanigan who is a yoga teacher: “As we close our practice, Savasana is our final resting pose. Savasana seals our practice in gratitude, connected to and supported by the Earth, letting go of both physical and mental tension. We are able to take this peace with us as we leave our mats, refreshed and recharged.”)
The thing is, much like with Savasana, I am wrong. Rest is vital for physical health, for emotional health, for spiritual health. It is literally written into every facet of our life as a requirement.
Sport science has shown the importance of rest and recovery. As Cook, Kilduff and Jones (2014) wrote: “Recovery is marked by the athlete’s return to resting function and physical performance. … Clearly, recovering effectively is one of the most critical determinants of sport success.”
And Farris Jabr stated in a Scientific American article, “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.”
The Bible is full of passages about how rest is the actual goal of a relationship with Jesus: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
“And he said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest’” (Exodus 33:14).
“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2).
I am pointing out all these many examples as research and examples for myself. Despite what my subconscious thinks, it is not lazy or harmful or a weakness to take, or want, a rest. A year ago, I could understand that and was working on it. But I have definitely backtracked. I have to relearn that I don’t need to always push through, or keep going just to go. In fact, all my research seems to point to the fact that the most growth and the biggest changes can happen when, not if, I slow down.
I don’t know how effective I’m going to be at this. Perhaps my subconscious will be satisfied with the amount of effort and pain it’s going to take for me to stay in rest and to prioritize it. I just know I’ve had a healthier relationship with rest before, and I am hoping to get there again. It means I need to stay vigilant and realize that I need to prioritize rest and value it just as much as I value work and “pushing through the pain.” One is not more important than the other; they both have value and a purpose, and they are both needed.
If you would like to read more about the importance of rest for both physical health and mental health check out these articles.