Rest, the act of taking a breather and taking a break. Putting aside time to take care of yourself and look after yourself. It is a very important thing, even if it can be a matter of some debate in this day and age.
Especially in a world where productivity is king, many people brag and feel proud of the insane amount of hours they work, or the full nights they spend awake in the library studying. As proof of this, in 2018 half Americans did not use up all of their paid vacation time (US Travel Association 2018). Even if they had the opportunity to rest and recover while being paid, they choose not to, perhaps because they are afraid to take the time to themselves to rest, likely fearful of what others may think of them.
But why is this a matter of importance? Well, I would point to the impacts of what happen when we do not rest. You often feel depressed and exhausted. Your productivity drops massively, to the point you spend twice as long as you would normally getting a task done. You grow irritable and grumpy, an experience that anyone who had a terrible nights sleep can relate to.
These effects are not just tied to the workplace either, they affect you physically. You put on more weight due to stress, your immune system suffers and you feel weak (Besedovsky et al. 2012). The irritability also effects your social and romantic life, as you find yourself to be less patient and are likely less pleasant to be around as a result.
And in this age where many peoples mental health is suffering. It is no wonder as to why. Without taking any form of break, the build up of stress can be overwhelming, work can feel all consuming. With no feeling of escape, and work hours increasing as it can often follow you home, mental health suffers (Alfonso et al. 2017). This can lead to frustration which can all to easily turn inwards towards yourself, as you have a much more difficult time working, at even getting simple tasks done. Even if the main cause for that is simply pure exhaustion.
Taking Time to Sharpen the Axe
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”Abraham Lincoln
I am going to use the analogy of sharpening an axe to illustrate the importance of rest.
When we are exhausted and tired, we are basically trying to chop down a tree with a blunt axe, perhaps even trying to cut it down with a hammer if we hit the point of pure exhaustion.
It takes twice as long to get the same task done, as the axe, representing ourselves is worn out and dull from constant non-stop use. It is much more difficult and exhausting trying to cut down a tree with a blunt axe. It can lead to a sense of hopelessness, that despite swing after swing, the tree is still a long time away from being felled.
But, if instead of constantly hacking away. If we take time to sharpen the axe, to give it a razors edge. Suddenly the task at hand will get done much faster, without half as much physical and mental effort, after all it is much easier to fell a tree with a sharp axe. And with a sharp axe, you can do that without the build up of frustration, exhaustion and stress both mental and physical, that comes with hacking away for days at a very thick tree, with a very blunt axe.
But, today many people do not feel they have time to sharpen the axe. As they are much to busy hacking and chopping away in order to do so.
But I would say that the reality is that we do not have time, not to take care of ourselves. Even if it may slightly reduce what you can do in the short-term, it will greatly help in the long-term.
Our time in life is finite, we do not have enough time to spend all of it hacking away with a blunt axe. Doing so will take forever, and cause us to miss out on many other parts of life, be it relationships or simply being able to take the time to enjoy life.
Finding the Time to Rest.
So then, how do we find time in this busy world to rest up and sharpen the axe? I have listed below a few potential ways that you can carve out some time in order to do so.
- Make staying sharp a priority.
Self care is something people often put at the back of their to do list. So one way to help start might be to bring it forward on your to do list. After all saying you will do it later when you have the time never ends up really working, as in life there is always something that can come up to claim that time.
So block out time for resting, self care and staying sharp. You may initially feel guilty about doing so at first. But from my own experience with those feelings, I would say it is worth reminding yourself that by resting and taking care of yourself, you will become more effective at what you do, and more useful to those around you.
- Take a break from social media and your phone.
Even when we are trying to rest, we often fall into the trap of ending up in the endless scrolling of social media and watching every single story in the news. But this is not the most effective form of rest, as all it does is build to the stress as you feel increasingly frustrated at the world around you due the endless outrage and controversy on the news.
It is easy to fall into this trap, I have personally done so during my life. But instead of resting it just added to the stress and exhaustion. If something you do at home, in your free time no less, is only making you more irritable and stressed, one way to make more time for yourself is to stop that thing.
- Start Small
As with all things, starting small helps. While it might be impossible to imagine spending 2 hours a day in order to take care of yourself, it is much more possible to imagine and therefore take just 5 more minutes a day in order to do so. While this may seem small, this will add up over time. Once you take your first step in making time for yourself the other steps will come much easier.
I would also say it is often easier to carve some time to take care of yourselves either in the early morning or at night. As they naturally tend to be the more peaceful parts of the day, with less e-mails, people and other distractions which might interfere with this valuable part of your day.
- Use your Holiday time.
As mentioned earlier, a great deal of people do not use their paid vacation time. This is defiantly one way in which you could find some time, even if you are unable to travel halfway around the world. Additionally taking a short vacation has been shown to improve stress levels in certain population groups. (Blank et al. 2018)
- When you hit a wall, sharpen the axe.
A great way of being able to tell that you need to take a break, is when you begin running headfirst into a metaphorical brick wall. This can be in terms of focus, where your eyes just glaze over and you end up in a state of staring at the book you need to read, instead of actually reading it. It can also be in trying to come up with ideas or plan a project, where no matter how hard you try and how many hours you spend, you keep running into the same wall.
In times like this, it is a sign you need to walk away for a moment, and sharpen the axe. By doing this, when you return to the task at hand you will be doing so sharper and with more focus. Being able to begin studying again, without just staring at the page. Or perhaps being able to suddenly come up with a novel idea to a problem at hand, simply because you took a break and where therefore able to see the issue more clearly, and potentially from different angles than you where able to before.
The Areas to Focus on During Rest.
Of course, in order to rest and sharpen yourself. It is important to know what areas of yourself to focus on. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey suggests that that we four primary domains that we should focus on these being, Physical, Spiritual, Mental and Social/Emotional.
All of these dimensions are interconnected, an improvement in once aspect will help all of the other aspects. By being able to identify and focus on our needs in these domains, which I go into more detail below, will help allow us to be the best versions of ourselves possible.
To sharpen and work on your physical health, helps ensure that you have the strength and vigor to face the day. After all, if you are tired and sick all of the time, it will be extremely difficult to be productive no matter how hard you work.
At a minimum it is important to focus on eating right, getting enough exercise and sleeping enough hours. When life gets hard it is often much to easy to loose track of any one of these, but they are extremely important to try and keep on top of in order to preform at your best.
This domain focuses on your sense of purpose in life. It acts as the core of who you are, and often acts to guide the “why” of your actions though life.
Failure to take care of this part of yourself, can leave you feeling burnt out, cynical and jaded. It is very easy to neglect this part of ourselves, due to the fact it is less concrete than a lot of what else that happens in life, and as such can feel less important.
There can be many ways to help build upon this aspect of life. These include, but are not limited to: Reading, Practicing Self-Examination, Meditation, Spending time in Solitude and writing in a Journal. They can also have a more religious aspect if you are that way inclined.
A lot of work in the modern day is mental work. Though like the body during physical work, your mind can also be dulled if you preform mental work all of the time without break.
Usually the best way to help rest the mind, is not to just try to turn it off, which can be incredibly difficult. But to instead use different parts of it, parts of it that are not the ones being constantly ground down at work. Hobbies and pastimes can often help with this, be they writing, painting, cooking or any other hobby that you may have. Things that force you to take a break from the issues of work, allowing that part to rest while you use another part to focus on a different sort of task entirely.
We are social creatures, and this ties in very closely with our emotional needs. And while they are written this way in the book, they can also be separated out if that helps.
Taking time to help your social life is important, as it allows you to get the connections and relationships that help make life more meaningful. And also help you not feel as alone in the struggles of life, and overwhelmed as a result.
Emotional balance is also important. Being able to keep your emotional balance in order, allowing yourself to feel while also not allowing yourself to be entirely controlled by your emotions is needed to live a happy and healthy life. Take time to soak in the positive and beautiful parts of the world, and potentially meditate, using journals or a trusted friend or therapist can also help you process your emotions in a healthy manner. Though, as with all of the ideas mentioned for the other domains of life, it is best to experiment and figure out what works best for you.
So, to conclude when you feel like you are hitting a brick wall in life. When you feel like you are just going in circles trying to overcome an insurmountable obstacle in life. Step away for a moment, take time to breath and rest and sharpen the axe. Take care of yourself, and therefore be able to come back stronger for it.
Alfonso, P., Fonseca, M., and Pires, J. (2017) ‘Impact of working hours on sleep and mental health’ Occupational Medicine Vol 67, Issue 5, Pages 377-382. Available online <https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqx054>
Besedovsky, L., Lange, T., and Bron. J. (2012) ‘Sleep and immune function’ Pflugers Archiv. Available online <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256323/>
Blank, C., Gatterer, K., Leichtfried, V., Pollhammer, D., Mair-Raggautz, M., Duschek, S., Humpeler, E., and Schobersberger, W. (2018) ‘Short Vacation Improves Stress-Level and Well-Being in German-Speaking Middle-Managers—A Randomized Controlled Trial’ International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Available online <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5800229/>
Covey, S. (2004) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
US Travel Association (2018) ‘Time Off and Vacation Usage’ Available online <https://www.ustravel.org/toolkit/time-and-vacation-usage>