“Oh, she’s in bed, again!”
Familiar words, often uttered by my family, and normally with a tone of disapproval. Well, I’m here to tell you why my approach to life is the right one, and why we should all be resting more.
I recently saw an archive clip (1960s ish) of a BBC reporter, who was visiting Spain and discussing the ‘appalling way’ the Spanish don’t eat three meals a day at the ‘correct time.’ He said their love of snacking on tapas, and awful breakfast (cake dipped in coffee, not the proper full English breakfast) was the reason they had to laze around and sleep in the afternoon. Wrong, and another fine example of English exceptionalism. Having a siesta is just part of their culture, as it is in many Mediterranean countries, a way to escape the hot sun, and they often make up for it by staying up later at night.
“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” Ovid, Roman poet.
A study by the University of Athens Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health showed that people who have a siesta have a lower risk of dying from heart disease. Another great excuse for a nap. But what if you don’t need sleep, you just need some downtime to recharge? The Rest Test survey (conducted by Hubbub at the Wellcome Collection) showed that 68.4% of respondents wanted more rest. When asked to rank the most restful activities, respondents said reading, being in the natural environment, spending time alone and listening to music. Interestingly, most of these are activities that you do on your own. And this was the case for both introverts (those who find being around people tiring) and extroverts (those who gain energy from being around others).
I believe there are three reasons we don’t get enough rest:
- Adhering to ‘acceptable’ behaviours
- Negative associations with time spent on your own
Although all three have one thing in common — cultural and societal expectations. Nine per cent of the survey respondents said they associated rest with guilt or even being stress-inducing. But, as those who’d had less rest the day before had lower wellbeing scores, perhaps we need to reassess our attitude to rest. So, where does this guilt come from? Mainly from the assumption that there are more important things to do, that being successful equals being busy, and that somehow you are more valuable to society if you are constantly on the go. Work, looking after the family and housework are all important, but none of these can be done effectively if you’re knackered all the time.
So how can you get more rest? There will always be times when you need a little ad hoc rest, but in the main, I feel it is important to schedule your rest (with a little flexibility, it shouldn’t feel enforced). A friend of mine who works from home adds an extra half hour to the beginning and end of her workday for rest time. Her family know this is part of ‘her day’ and leave her to do her own thing. Another friend books out whole days every couple of weeks. Two quite different ways of fitting in rest. Why not experiment and find out what works best for you.
“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer, since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power of judgment.” Leonardo Di Vinci.
I’ve long understood the need for my mind and body to rest and I regularly take time out for myself. I’m a big fan of an afternoon kip, but also enjoy reading, writing, or just sitting in the garden with a drink and watching the birds. Afterwards, I feel relaxed and recharged, and any brain fuzz is gone and I can start my next activity knowing I’ll be more productive (and a nicer, less grumpy person!). I’m working on my family, some are more accepting of the need for rest than others, it appears to be a generational thing, my grandparents worked long hours in their business, rest is alien concept to them. But my cousins and younger aunts all recognise the need to rest and regularly schedule time to themselves for the sake of their wellbeing and mental health.
We need to rest regularly, and we need to be accepting of those who need more rest than us, it really is an individual thing. We also need to be honest about rest, our need for it and what works best for us. The Rest Test showed that while most respondents preferred resting by doing something less active (reading, listening to music), there were others who saw doing something active as rest (gardening, walking). Find out what works for you and let your family and friends know why your doing it.