Cognitively, we know we need rest for our well-being. But as Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD, reveals, it’s a bit more nuanced than that. As part of TED’s “How to Be a Better Human” series, Dalton-Smith illuminates the 7 Types of Rest That Every Person Needs: physical, mental, sensory, creative, emotional, social and spiritual.
What, exactly, are these types of rest? And how can they make you succeed as a professional?
This is the type of rest we think of most commonly. Passive physical rest describes activities like sleeping, while active includes “restorative” activities, like stretching and yoga.
Most of us have experienced a lack of physical sleep, when no matter how hard we try, we can’t fall asleep — or we’re forced to pull an all-nighter. Without crucial sleep or rest, our brains don’t function as they should, and we suffer consequences like impairments in our thinking. This, of course, affects our ability to work at our best performance.
While the occasional night of poor sleep won’t interfere with your work too much, it’s better for your performance to try to achieve 7-8 hours per night.
Mental rest is what it sounds like — giving your mind a break. The opposite of mental rest is that racing mind, where you can’t turn your thoughts off and have trouble simply taking a break.
To improve your mental rest, Dalton-Smith suggests scheduling short breaks during the workday. They will remind you to “slow down” during an inevitably hectic schedule. Having trouble turning off your thoughts? According to Dalton-Smith, you can work through this by writing them down on a notepad at bedtime.
The third type of rest we need is sensory rest. Bright lights, computer screens, background noise and multiple conversations — whether they’re in an office or on Zoom calls — can cause our senses to feel overwhelmed. This can be countered by doing something as simple as closing your eyes for a minute in the middle of the day, as well as by intentionally unplugging from electronics at the end of every day. Intentional moments of sensory deprivation can begin to undo the damage inflicted by the over-stimulating world.
Tasked with coming up with new ideas? How about problem-solving? Even for people in professions that aren’t deemed especially creative, creative rest is important. It “reawakens the awe and wonder inside each of us” — the kind of awe and wonder you experience when you experience the arts or natural beauty in the world. And giving yourself the means to experience that kind of passion, such as by decorating your workspace with images that inspire you, will help you generate ideas and find inspiration.
Emotional rest is the kind of rest you achieve when you can truly take a break from “people-pleasing” and express your true feelings. This doesn’t come easily to everyone — some of us don’t want to let others down, so we are constantly appeasing others rather than being considerate of ourselves. But it’s critical for both your personal and professional life. It will allow you to be more authentic at work and avoid becoming the person who’s constantly having to pick up the slack because others over-rely on you.
We all have those friends, the ones who just, frankly, drain us. Many of us have coworkers like that, too. But social rest is important to achieving positivity in our lives. When you surround yourself with people who support you, rather than tearing you down, you’ll feel more engaged and focused — at work and beyond.
Of course, we can’t always pick our colleagues, and we’re not suggesting you quit immediately because of one or two bad apples. But the more positive relationships you can cultivate, the better. Why not search for that confidant at work, the one who gives you encouragement, for example?
Spiritual rest doesn’t have to refer to religious peace, although for some, that’s a central facet of their lives. It simply means feeling a “deep sense of belonging, love, acceptance and purpose.”
How do you achieve spiritual rest? Perhaps it’s through meditation or giving back by volunteering. This type of rest will carry over into other aspects of your life, including work, where you may very well feel more confident and purpose-driven.
Rest isn’t just important for work, of course. It affects our lives in myriad ways, and once you find ways of achieving these seven crucial types, you could find that you’re feeling more positive, compassionate and capable.