What’s Rest to You?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

My favorite rest activity is alone in bed with a good book. There is nothing like immersing yourself in the imagination of others, taking you out of your world, and worries. Thus the expression “lost in a book.”  This trance-like state may be what people experience tweeting and why doctors’ offices post, “Turn off the cellphone,” to get people’s attention. I’m selective in my choice of book-bedfellows, seeking something to soothe my psyche.

Seventy percent of 18,000 people who took part in an online global study in 2015 said breaks throughout the day were necessary.  The Rest Test looked at what rest means and the inner experiences when resting. Seven of the ten who answered were women. In general, men think they are less rested, but it turned out they were getting more rest. Older and retired people were more rested than younger people, those with higher incomes, and people with caretaking responsibilities.  

Busy-ness for some is a badge of importance. Fill their calendars with activities and travel and then lament they need rest. As a mother of young children, I felt guilty when I took time off with girlfriends even though I knew we would all benefit. Didn’t Matthew 5:16 say that work earns you place in heaven—”let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good deeds…?” Then again, Jesus said, “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin.”  

But rest means different things to different people. For example, while I equate rest with mind and body pause, reading, and knitting, others see it as high-intensity activity. For some a vigorous workouts provides reprieve from the mind chatter.

The Rest Test study included people from 134 countries, most in Great Britain. It showed that rest is a pressing issue in our fast-paced societies. Intuitively, we know that lack of chill time overheats our immune system and can interfere with our sleep. But we don’t see it as important enough to work it into our schedule. So the problem is not ignorance of the need for rest time, but taking rest seriously, as we would eating enough plant food. Your doctor may tell you to take it easy after a bout with illness, surgery, or physical injury. Even so, our penchant for running around makes it a chore, or we live a lifestyle that doesn’t have space for it or value it.

The study asked people how much rest they had the previous day. It was up to them to decide what constituted rest. The average was three hours and six minutes. Then they were presented with a long list of activities to identify the three most restful. The clear winner was reading, followed by spending time in nature, and third spending time alone. In other words, our choices for rest are activities we do alone. Henry David Thoreau was on to something when he said, “I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” 

I asked my FB friends, what is rest for you?: 

Debbie wrote, “Intentional silence…clearing my mind…the busy-ness, clutter, sound, distraction, voices, expectations, responsibilities, just let it all go for a bit. Rest.”

Janet posted, “Spending time just for yourself.” 

Soma: “Me alone in my house with a book. Did I say alone…as in nobody else there?”

Kathy: “For me, it’s sewing or knitting. I find it zen-like. You focus on a single thing and block out all else. I like to do it to soft instrumental music.”

My sister, Stella: “My own company, outside working with my flowers, or inside knitting and listening to audiobooks.”

Nadia: “Reading, and engaging in creative endeavors, like writing.” 

When Roberta wrote, “Quiet time,” I asked her if it meant alone. “It does mean alone time and preferably outdoors. No music, no talking—maybe reading.”

Fifty-one comments and not a single person deviated from the study’s findings; we rest best when we are alone. When raising children, I’d wake before daybreak for a few alone minutes. When I’d hear stirring from the kids’ rooms, I’d chant like a hostage negotiator on the brink of a resolution. Just five more minutes, God. Five more minutes alone. Please. Please. Please.”

But seriously, if we are getting enough sleep, does it matter if our rest time is lacking? It seems like the list of what we should do at age 70 according to various experts, keeps growing: weight training, balancing postures, eat flax meal and turmeric. Of course, best we don’t forget the green tea and walking an hour. Soon, all the “what you should do” takes most of the day.

That said, this robust study did show that lack of chill time does impact us. Of the people in the study, those with fewer hours of rest scored lower on a well-being scale. “In fact, people who don’t feel in need of more rest have well-being scores twice as high as those who feel they need more rest.” Other restful activities included showering, meditating, being with animals, gardening, etc. Watching television was further down on the list; fewer people saw it as a rest activity. Sitting outside listening to the birds or reading a book is rest, playing with our smart phone not so.

Understanding what fills my cup is like knowing that drinking more than one beer will cost me in sleep quality and time. It also means when my morning walks are with friends, I need alone time when I get back home. The Rest Study’s findings, confirmed by FB friends, reminds me that my brain, like my MacBook Air, needs a reboot from time to time. Rest restores order, offers a more accurate perspective, and a better me.