Tag Archives: rest

Resting Hard

Over the years I’ve had many rounds of getting ill and/or exhausted, being obliged to rest and then having to try and rebuild strength and stamina. This spring has already been really tough, with the impact of heavy bleeding leaving me anaemic. I’ve spent a lot more time horizontal than I wanted to, and of course it has cost me in strength and stamina.

In the past, when I’ve got to the rebuild stage, I’ve focused on the physical activity I could add to the mix. I have an indoors trampoline, which is great for a number of things. I have small weights, and resistance bands, so even if the weather isn’t good enough for walking, I could still exercise. Before I messed up my previously hypermobile shoulders, I used to swim as well. I did Tai Chi. I danced.  That I’m not very fit, or strong, or slender is not from lack of trying – and I mention this because so many people assume that body shape is just about your lifestyle choices and really it isn’t.

This time, I’m going to try something different. I will of course get back to all the active things I can do, and I’ll try to do at least something every day. However, I am also going to try resting hard. I have been doing all sorts of things to try and improve my sleeping – with some success. I’m working out what kinds of things are good for me as down time – reading and crafting are particularly important. Also cat snuggles. I’m putting more of that into my day. 

It doesn’t work to try and go flat out all the time whenever I’m well enough to get away with it. Sooner or later, I get ill. That may be going to happen anyway, but I think I can be better resourced if I plan more rest time into my life.

All too often, activity is framed as an unequivocally good thing while rest is treated as lazy, indulgent and unproductive. I’m going to change my language use. I’m going to rest hard. I’m going to have rest plans for building up my health. I’m going to be highly motivated to rest regularly. Resting gives me more resources, and if I pair it with things that feed my brain, I am ultimately making myself into a more functional and probably more productive person anyway. 

Exhaustion and burnout are hardly efficient, nor do they result in good thinking, wise choices and quality output. Working people to exhaustion isn’t about productivity at all, it’s about subjugation. It’s time to reject that relentless work hard, play hard model. Work wisely, play happily, rest hard.


Be gentle for midwinter

I’ve not made much effort to be festive this year – the yule badgers were about it. Midwinter invariably finds me tired. Some years I have the willpower to push through that. This year, I don’t. 

Christmas can be a lot of work. The planning, the shopping, the packing, the food prep, the cleaning. This is all work that traditionally falls to women, and if you’re a mother you may be doing it with help from a child or three who are over-excited and going to lose it entirely at some point. I’ve been that person, although not recently, and never again.

It’s worth thinking about who we expect to do what on our behalf at this time of year. The unpaid labour. The emotional labour. The demands we make on retail staff. The low paid folk who take the brunt of frustration and shopping rage. It is not a season of goodwill to all – especially not when we’re shopping.

The idea of the perfect Christmas is something we’ve been sold. We know what it’s supposed to look like. All those Christmas related adverts showing clean, orderly houses stacked with food and gifts… it creates a lot of pressure. But then, that’s the whole point. The more inadequate you feel, the more you’re going to buy to try and make up for it.

We could be gentler with ourselves. We could be kind, and expect less of each other. We could spend less and consume less and rest more. Rest is cheap, which is no doubt why we aren’t encouraged to do it, when we could be wearing ourselves out trying to meet impossible standards. Rest is also essential and not some sort of bonus luxury you only earn when you’ve done every imaginable thing.


Contemplating resilience

I’m writing this on a Friday morning. This is part of a new cunning plan about how I organise my time, and it has paid off well. I’ve shuffled about so that I don’t have to be online at any specific time in the morning. Anything that needs to happen before lunchtime is set up the day before, or earlier. This has worked out well. It means if I have a sleepless night, or am otherwise ill, I can get to the computer whenever, and nothing is messed up.

This shift also means that if I’m having a bad day for concentration, I’m under no pressure. This is as well – this is a blog post brought about by being short of useful ideas, written on a day when I’m in a lot of body pain and don’t have much energy. It’s a slow process, having ideas and writing.

I’ve become much more possessive of my time and energy. I’ve had to, there just isn’t enough of it to go round. I’ve started asking ‘what’s in it for me?’ What do I want? What do I need? These are not questions I am good at answering, but I’m going to keep asking them.

Flexibility helps. Giving myself more wriggle room for the really bad days, helps. Slack in the system helps. We live in a society that prizes efficiency, but, what efficiency really means is nowhere to go if something goes wrong. Efficiency doesn’t give you enough hospital beds in a pandemic. It doesn’t give you resilience in face of sudden change. It doesn’t give you options. Working when ill isn’t as efficient as taking time off to recover, but an overly efficient system won’t let you have time off. Ironically, trying to be efficient isn’t efficient as soon as the situation changes. There’s a lot to be said for trying to be resilient in the first place.

For me, resilience looks like being able to afford to stop and rest whenever I am too tired to continue. Days off at need would be helpful, but I’m not quite up to that, yet. I can work very short days when I need to, and on the day of writing this post, I’m contemplating that choice. I could push on with an interesting piece of work I have on the go, but I’ll do a better job if I’m not so tired. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t tired, but it was probably more than a year ago.

Working hard doesn’t save anyone. It just grinds you down and reduces your quality of life. If your financial situation is so bad that you have no choice but to work long hours for little pay – that’s truly awful. I’ve done some of that kind of work, and I know that we need radical political change. No one should have to break their physical or mental health to be able to afford to eat. No one should be worked to death so that the billionaires, the shareholders and the people who profit from other people’s labour can keep doing that.

I want everyone to be able to take time off when they need it. I want everyone who is ill to be able to afford to rest and recover. Financially vulnerable people working when ill have certainly been part of how covid is getting around and a kinder, fairer system would have protected us all from the consequences of that.


Doing Nothing

I’m not naturally good at doing nothing. I am happiest when my hands are busy, or I’m using my brain, or both. However, it is possible for me to achieve a level of exhaustion where I can’t do very much at all. Sitting on the sofa either gazing out of the window, or with my eyes shut, has become a regular feature of my life.

It is restorative. There are degrees of being wiped out where it’s the only feasible answer. I’m used to being able to push through pain and weariness so it is still very alien to me to find I can’t – that I am also out of the resources that allow me to push when my energy is depleted.

Compared to many people with energy problems, I’m in pretty good shape. I can count on getting a few good hours most days. Compared with how I used to be, it’s pretty grim. I don’t know if I can slow or counter this decline. It isn’t hard to imagine that in a few years, if I keep deteriorating at this rate, I won’t be able to do much at all. I’m trying not to let that happen, and the best tool I have is to do nothing.

Sometimes that feels counterintuitive. We live in a culture where ‘doing’ is usually the proffered answer. Do more, try harder, try new things, take things, do yoga… except that doesn’t help. Doing less, and doing nothing does help. Not letting my unwellness be a commercial problem to solve by buying something, definitely helps. Resting rather than striving reduces the panic that having no energy causes, and panicking while having no spare energy is a really ugly combination.

Most mammals rest. Your average mediaeval peasant had more time off than your average modern person does. We are not designed to run and run forever, and trying to do that has consequences, even for people who were well to start with.


Time out

Rather excitingly, I’m poised to have a week off. I didn’t manage to take a whole week off at any point in 2020 – one of the problems with the kind of work I do is that I have to do all the same work ahead of time to get a week off, which is arduous and I don’t always have the energy for it.

I’m in the process of changing how I work. My aim is to have my work life be less exhausting in the first place. I’m also looking at things I can do to reduce pain and improve sleep. I live in hope.

I’ve got the blog set up to post in my absence – thanks to contributions from guest bloggers it hasn’t been too difficult to keep up a content flow while also taking a break. If you’d like to guest blog with me, I’m always open to that sort of thing.

Time off is essential for mental health, for quality of life, for creativity and functionality. The UK government has been making some ominous noises about cutting worker’s rights now we are out of the EU. As someone who is self employed, I don’t really have those rights, but I am more than prepared to stick up for the people who do. The way I’ve been living is not optimal and I have no desire to see anyone else stuck in the same kind of relentless work grind.


Rest and healing

We live in a sleep deprived culture, and most of us do not get enough rest. However, in terms of healing, recovery, managing problems, dealing with the impact of stress on the body and supporting mental health, sleep and rest are essential. People who are ill or in distress tend to need more time to sleep and rest.

Where this gets complicated is if you are dealing with a long term chronic condition. How much rest is a good idea if healing and recovery aren’t going to happen? How much time do you devote to this kind of self care when it’s going to be an everyday issue, and how much do you push through? If you want some kind of life, to be able to work, maintain relationships and take care of your home then you can’t rest all the time, even if your body wants to.

If you rest all the time, you lose muscle tone. Your body becomes weaker and your stamina deteriorates. Most chronic conditions will wear you out and exhaust you, but if you don’t put up a fight to maintain what body strength and stamina you can, you have less to start with each day. People who are largely well will tell you not to exercise when already in pain, but if you are always in pain and it doesn’t go away, when do you exercise? How do you maintain heart health? How much do you push and when do you rest?

There are probably  no experts to consult. It’s possible they exist, but they need to be experts in both your specific condition, and in fitness and wellbeing. Most people working professionally in health and wellness are likely to know less than you do about what might work for your body. They may also think they know more than you do. I have, for example, had to explain to several yoga teachers why yoga is a very bad idea for hypermobile people.  My Tai Chi teacher had not knowingly taught a hypermobile person before and while he was brilliant and supportive, it was a process figuring out what to do with me, and he was not initially able to advise me. Equally, I’ve had health professionals tell me to get more exercise for my mental health with no scope for even having a conversation about how to handle body pain around that.

There are no easy answers here. I’ve written this not to offer answers, but to flag up the shape of the issues. For the person struggling with their body and often surrounded by contradictory and unhelpful advice it can be difficult to trust that you may be the most capable expert where your body is concerned. It may also be an awful discovery, but the odds are there is no one better informed about your body and energy levels and how to manage it than you are. Any advice you get may be valuable, but needs understanding on those terms.

For people who do not live with ongoing pain and fatigue, the issue is of recognising what you might not know. People who are largely well don’t always respond well to invisible illness in others. What you think a person can do and what they can do are not the same things. What a person could do one day isn’t a reliable measure of what they can always do. It takes time and patience to truly support someone with ongoing pain and fatigue issues. Don’t be the person who makes that stuff harder by insisting that you know better, when you might not.

Also don’t be the person who tells someone they must rest and heal and cannot do the things until they are properly well. Some of us will never be properly well, and the decision as to what it is worth hurting for, should be a personal one, and not for anyone else to dictate.


Time off – some observations

I took last week off – sort of. I still wrote a few blog posts and checked my email most days, but compared to a normal working week it was minimal stuff. I used the time to look after my home a bit, to read, craft, walk, and rest.

By Friday of my week off, I was starting to feel a bit better. That told me a lot about how exhausted I’d been. I need to make some ongoing changes around rest and time off, clearly. Once I reached this point it was also noticeable that the anxious aspects of my thinking had toned down significantly. I would like to spend more of my time not so close to the edge, so this is something to explore.

I’ve spent some time thinking about what uplifts and restores me, and how to do more of that.

I’m going to keep notes on how long I’m working each day, so I can cap the length of my working week. There are some hazy areas around working and not working for me. Is rehearsing a mumming side work? Is doing technical support for a friend part of my work time? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not going to get bogged down in the details because the self employed life is sprinkled with speculative stuff that never turns into paying gigs, and fun things that turn out to be research. I can’t read a book without learning something, but that doesn’t necessarily make it work…

I want to be able to work a solid eight hours a day when my brain is sharp and fast. I want to have the rest of the day off to do domestic things and potter about. I know if I slide into longer days I become slower and get less done for the time put in. Creativity is dependent on having time when I’m not busily thinking about workish things –I’ve not been getting this balance right. I’m hoping this time off will have given me a reboot and that I’ll be able to change some of my working patterns.

And if it hasn’t been a successful reboot, I’m simply going to do it again!


Rest and Happiness

There is nothing like being exhausted to bring on the depression and anxiety. There is also nothing like pushing yourself to work when exhausted to lower self esteem and make you feel awful. Rest is a basic human need, and if for some reason you can’t have it over long time frames, your mental health will suffer, as will the rest of your body.

We need rest to heal, to recover from illness. We need time to draw breath, reflect on life, make plans, regroup and digest what we’ve learned. Life without this is stressful and feels like constant fire fighting.

I’ve done seven day weeks and twelve hour days – when you’re self employed and not very well paid the pressure to try and do some extra thing for whatever extra pay you can get, is vast. Some years ago I ditched hard work in favour of smart work. I started taking better care of myself. If I’m not teetering on the edge of burnout all the time, I’m faster, more effective, and more efficient. I’m also happier and better able to enjoy what I’m doing.

I normally take weekends off. Sometimes I take afternoons off, or a day in the week. At the end of December I had the wonderful luxury of a whole week off. I plan rest and recovery into my week. As a consequence, I get more done and feel better while I’m doing it. I’ve also seen marked changes in my self esteem. I’ve spent most of my life with low self esteem, easily persuaded that my wants are irrelevant and that my needs aren’t proper needs anyway. Everything and everyone else has always seemed more important. In putting my own need for rest on the list I’ve challenged those beliefs head on. It’s been interesting.

Having made room for my own needs, I’ve become less open to people who want to run me until I break, or use me until I’m used up. I’ve chosen better, healthier and more supportive spaces to be in. This has also greatly improved my happiness and wellbeing.

When you suffer from low self esteem it’s hard to give any priority to your own happiness and wellbeing, or to get out of situations that aren’t doing you any good. Failure to meet basic needs makes you feel even less like a person. Something as simple as resting can have a massive restorative effect. Not only does it replenish the body, but you also affirm your sense of worth and personhood by doing it. You have the same needs as any other person and the same entitlement to meet them, and that can be a huge building block to better feelings about yourself and having better standards and boundaries that will serve you, not someone else.

Resting gives you the time to look at how your energy is used and to reflect on what’s working. The person who is run ragged all the time doesn’t get space to plan an escape route, or energy to question what’s happening. Rest enables reflection, and reflection helps us make much better choices. Not only does rest help with mental health issues, it opens the way to being actively healthier and happier. It’s not a quick fix – the more entrenched the problems, the deeper the exhaustion the longer it takes to get on top of this. To begin, you have to treat it like it matters, and that can be hard. If you can’t treat resting like it matters, there are some huge questions to ask about your life, and you’re going to need to make the time to ask them. No one can run flat out forever.


Do nothing, it’s lovely!

If you life is filled with noise and activity, then doing nothing can be one of the most beautiful gifts you can give yourself. To lie in bed for a few extra hours and just let your mind wander. To sit by a window and gaze out of it, and notice what goes by. To watch a fire, or enjoy candle light. Snuggle with a pet, a person, or interesting combinations thereof!

Many of us are under a lot of pressure to be doing. Be busy. Be productive. Make money. Spend money. If all you get to do is run round franticly, you’ll barely know who you are, how you feel and what you want. You can end up with an emptiness on the inside, and only more noise, activity and consumption to try and fill it with. Stillness and silence can be scary at first, if it means sitting down with yourself for a while. However, once you get past that fear, the gifts it brings are many, and large.

If we want to deal with the rampant consumerism that is killing the planet and that will destroy us if we don’t tackle it, we need to deal with the reasons we’re so fond of the consumerism in the first place. Stopping, being quiet, being alone with ourselves, being in an unstimulating place with others – is key to this. Talk to the people around you. Listen to them. Go to bed early. Turn off the noise, the lights, the distractions and listen to your heart for a while. Find out what you really need.


Lessons in self care

A change in the routine can really flag up the things that work, and the things that do not. When you mostly do the same things day to day, it isn’t always obvious what affect any given activity or strategy really has. A bit of chaos can be rather educational. Here are some things I’ve learned recently about what works for me. I have no idea how any of it would work for anyone else, so ignore what doesn’t suit and cherry pick anything you think might be helpful…

Quiet, dark spaces for sleeping in really aren’t negotiable for me. Without a peaceful and secure sleep space, I sleep badly, and everything else is much, much harder.

When I am exhausted I become emotionally overwhelmed. Everything becomes too much and threatens to make me cry. I need space and quiet time to rebalance myself. People I feel close to can help, but dealing with strangers gets really tough.

No amount of looking good makes it worth the toll taken by a day in uncomfortable clothing, or shoes.

Sometimes, doing nothing at all is wonderful.

Everything is easier when I’m in the company of excellent people.

Social media does me no harm at all. I feel no benefit being away from it. Too much crap in the news, and getting embroiled with trolls and drama llamas does me no good at all. Using social media to while away time when I’m bored or low isn’t good for me. The key is to use it well.

Good things also take time to process. Events require rest and recovery.

Populating a blog with 500 word pieces every day takes a lot of effort, so this week I may be writing smaller, pithier things. Sometimes, less is more.