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Burnt out? Why you should look at rest as a skill

If you struggle to rest and often feel burnt, read on...

Sal here. At the end of last year, I felt depleted. Sluggish, bone tired, apathetic. Coming off the back of writing a book, working part-time, producing a podcast, growing a community, talking about the heavy topic of grief most of the time… I’d overworked myself. And it was entirely my own doing. 

Like everyone, the last few years had blurred into one long, heavy stretch. But 2023, for me, hit differently. It was my year of reckoning with something that I had pushed far, far away: rest

With a tight book deadline, edits and work pressures, taking a break was impossible, but getting it all done did. I’d adopted a working pace akin to the roadrunner, constantly in a state of doing and deadlines and going through cycles of pushing myself so hard that I’d spend the next week feeling utterly depleted. I’d lie on the sofa feeling like a dead weight. Off the pack of one push period, I remember going to the doctor and asking for blood tests to check my iron levels. Yet deep down, I knew I’d overdone it. I’d taken on too much, said yes when I wanted to say no and kept an entire schedule morning, noon and night, cramming it all in!

I recently read this Instagram post by Psychologist and stress and rest researcher Nicola Jane Hobbs about how it can be helpful to think of rest as a skill. Actually, she says, learning to be unproductive is something we can cultivate – but it’s not always something that comes naturally to us. 

As someone who’s always struggled to stop and sit, this concept struck a chord with me, as I’ve never thought of resting that way. I’d always assumed something was wrong with me for finding it difficult to switch off. For the last 20 years, I’ve been on a constant path of striving towards goals and milestones – get a degree, move up the career ladder, move overseas, get married, get citizenship, launch a podcast, write a book – the term ‘unproductive’ felt against my core way of being. It felt lazy.

Nicola says that framing rest as a skill lets us set realistic expectations about how challenging letting ourselves be unproductive can be. It also means we can go easy on ourselves when resting because we won’t be very good at it. 

We can be hard on ourselves when we’re not always in a state of doing or constantly kicking goals. So, we try to do it all. But the only thing that happens is that we do ourselves in.

What’s helped me is knowing the things that ease me from ‘doing’ to ‘being’, like:

  • Being realistic about what can get done in a day. If there’s no time, it can wait.
  • After dinner, my phone goes into aeroplane mode.
  • I end the workday with a short meditation or yoga practice to decompress.

Rest isn’t about doing nothing. It’s about being realistic about what you can and can’t do in a day. It’s about giving yourself some grace – and space – to replenish your energy reserves, which are quickly emptied when contending with grief.

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