Permission to Rest: Why You Need a Break and How to Take One Everyday

by | Apr 28, 2023 | Balance the Adventures of Your Life | 0 comments

When my children were in pre-K and kindergarten, their school day included a rest time. After lunch and outdoor recess, they would lie down on tiny cots with a blanket and a stuffed animal friend to listen to the teacher quietly read a story. The lights were dimmed and many little ones slept. When it was time to clean up from resting, students who had been quiet, calm, and relaxed would receive a “best rester” sticker. Then, they continued with the remainder of the school day, refreshed and ready to learn new things.

As a parent, I thought this schedule sounded wonderful! Even though no one was telling me it was rest time, I decided to give this after-lunch-rest-thing a try! I grabbed a book and a blanket, and sat down on my couch to read and rest. Five minutes later, guilt, shame, and long-held beliefs about rest crept into my mind. Did I really deserve to rest? Had I done enough work to earn rest time? Was I lazy or weak if I wanted to rest?

Sound familiar?

Rest is not (necessarily) sleep

First of all, what is rest? Resting could include a nap, but it doesn’t have to mean sleeping. Resting is something you do (or don’t do) to take a break, to unwind, to let go. It’s anything that brings you a sense of calm, peace, and restoration. Ideally, it leaves you feeling refreshed, focused, and ready to continue with your tasks.

Resting might mean turning off your screen and going for a quick walk. It could mean putting down the dust cloth and reading a few pages of a book. Maybe it means unrolling your yoga mat and doing your three favorite poses. How you rest is up to you. The important thing is that you take a break to experience something you enjoy!

Why is rest important?

Can you think back to the last time you pushed yourself to finish a project without taking a break? How did you feel (irritable, resentful, exhausted, uninspired, frustrated)? Did you think that if you just pushed through and got it done, then you’d earn a break? Did you tell yourself, I’ll rest later, when this is finished?  But, does later ever come?

Now, replay the situation above and visualize giving yourself permission to take a 10 minute break to go for a walk, do a few sun salutations, or read a book. How would you feel when you returned to the project? Would you have been able to complete the project, or would the 10 minute rest cause you to become a weak, lazy, unproductive member of society with no drive or ambition? 

It sounds ridiculous! But these are the types of unhelpful beliefs that keep us stuck in a constant state of overwhelm, exhaustion, and thinking we need to be “crazy-busy” in order to be successful.

Believe it or not, allowing ourselves a break can actually make us more productive. Taking time to rest helps us reduce stress and make better decisions. It can give us perspective and boost creativity. This study showed that quality rest can help boost our immune system. And, when we rest, we are activating our parasympathetic nervous system, which takes us out of fight, flight, and freeze mode and into a relaxed state. We may even return to our work with new ideas about how to solve a problem.

How to become a Steady Rester

Rest is a basic human need, like shelter, food, sleep, and touch. Yet, many of us think we need to earn it. How do we change our attitudes about rest and learn to believe that it’s as important as eating breakfast? Here are a few ways I’m working on adjusting my attitude toward rest…

Becoming someone who takes daily breaks (a Steady Rester) will require us to challenge and question our beliefs about rest. We’ll need to notice when our self-talk returns to outdated beliefs like, “I don’t deserve to rest,” or “The only way I can earn the right to slow down is when I finish everything on my to-do list.” Then, we can challenge the outdated belief with questions like: Is that true? What would happen if I took a 15 minute break to go for a walk or do some knitting? Will everything fall apart if I pause for a short time? What do I need right now?

Often, a shift in our mindset about rest can be helpful. When that internal boss tells us to keep going, you don’t need a break, or just finish one more thing, we can choose to reframe the thought with a new belief. Here are a few affirmations to try:

  • I am daring to rest.
  • I value my health, so I am resting.
  • I am taking intentional time for rest.
  • Resting is productive.
  • I choose rest.
  • Slowing down leads me to peace, patience, and _________.

Most likely, you’ve had the “I don’t deserve to rest” belief for a long time (years?), so reciting an affirmation twice isn’t going to magically transform you into a steady rester. Be patient with yourself, and notice how you feel when you take breaks versus when you push through. I wrote I am daring to rest on a sticky note and attached it to my laptop as a reminder to be rebellious and take a break! 

If you’re a planner, you might try to schedule rest into your daily routine. Is it possible to snag a few minutes after lunch, like kindergarteners do? If so, make an appointment with yourself to take a break. Otherwise, start to notice when you’re having trouble making “easy” decisions (should I wear the red yoga pants or the blue ones?) or when you’re feeling quick to react or irritable (that’s me!). Then, give yourself permission to take a break and return to the task. Notice how you feel now.

With some practice and encouragement, we can begin to shift the narrative from people who don’t slow down until they’re worn out, ready to collapse, or sick to people who make rest a priority. We may not earn a “Best Rester” sticker, but we can try to become someone who regularly incorporates breaks into their lives. Who’s with me?

Let’s practice resting together!

The yoga mat is a great place to practice noticing self-talk, asking questions, challenging outdated beliefs, and making rest a priority. Join me for a live virtual class or check out my on-demand library of classes.


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