Things seem to be getting busier these days. Faster, even. It feels as though there is no escape from being constantly "switched on", even if we manage to leave the country for a break in the sun. The world expects an instant response, or at least, it can appear that way when we work for ourselves.
But is it the world that's busy, or our minds? Do we perceive that we must always be alert, available and responsive when actually, it's not the case at all? These are important notions to ponder during a month that is often quieter than most.
Give yourself permission to rest
It's crucial to remind ourselves that we must rest. It's not an indulgence; it's essential for our wellbeing. We certainly shouldn't feel bad about taking time off. Because one thing I hear a lot from professionals in the creative industries is the worry that if they stop, they might miss out or feel guilty that they're not doing anything. But that's counter-productive. Without proper rest, you'll only lead yourself to burnout and then you won't be helpful to anyone, let alone yourself.
"If you want rest, you have to take it. You have to resist the lure of busyness," says Soojung-Kim Pang in his book Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less. "Make time for rest, take it seriously, and protect it from a world that is intent on stealing it."
Find peace of mind
"We know the world only through the window of our mind. When our mind is noisy, the world is as well. And when our mind is peaceful, the world is, too. Knowing our minds is just as important as trying to change the world." These are the wise words of Buddhist monk Haemin Sunim, author of The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down. He believes that calming the mind can help us slow down.
How do you achieve that if meditation isn't your thing? Taking a deep breath, observing what's happening right now, going for a nature walk, leaving your smartphone in another room, having a cup of tea, taking a bath... we all know how to relax but sometimes we need reminding. Take some time out every day to just be in the moment. No distractions, no work, no stress.
Learn how to quieten those whirring thoughts
It's easier said than done, finding peace of mind when you have so much going on in your life. How can you ever "switch off" and rest if your brain is full of negative thoughts and worries? The key lies in tackling the underlying issue. To recognise that we are in control of our own emotions.
"It is the mind’s job to protect and take care of you, to solve your problems and make sure you’re safe," explains Sharon Rose Summers, author of Meditation – Deep and Blissful. "So, if you feel a surge of emotional upset, it moves into action, trying to help, looking for the source of the upset – for the problems – and generating solutions.
"Under these conditions, the key to getting the mind to go on standby – to stilling the mind’s compulsive thinking – lies in recognising, accepting, and working with the emotional upset. Once you address the emotional undercurrent, once it is no longer churning inside you, the mind can switch off and quite literally leave you in peace."
Control those emotions
Ride the waves, as they say. Don't allow yourself to go up and down with every challenge that life throws at you. You'll just make yourself sick from the upheaval. "Our emotions are capricious, like the weather in London," says our friend Haemin Sunim. "One minute, when someone criticises us, we are offended and furious. The next minute, when someone praises us, we feel proud and pompous. Unless we recognise the still point beneath the surface of our changing emotions, we will feel we are hostage to their whims."
Simply understand that an emotion is just that. Observe how you feel and move on. A great tip I learnt from someone was to imagine a train going into one ear, collecting all the negative thoughts into its carriages and then continuing out the other ear. carrying them away. This stupidly simple technique also helps me to sleep.
Make sleep a priority
In Why We Sleep, author Matthew Walker states that "sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day – Mother Nature’s best."
Eight hours is recommended. To restore ourselves and get the essential rest we need. It also helps to calm the mind and reduce stress, as Walker adds: "Concentrations of a key stress-related chemical called noradrenaline are completely shut off within your brain when you enter this dreaming sleep state. In fact, REM sleep is the only time during the twenty-four-hour period when your brain is completely devoid of this anxiety-triggering molecule."
Understand that rest helps us to learn
Whilst we're on the subject of sleep, it's widely recognised that sleep helps us to process information and clear our heads of anything we don't need. Brain cells actually shrink by up to 60% to create room for the stuff that matters.
"Thinking with a sleep-deprived brain is like hacking your way through a dense jungle with a machete. It's overgrown, slow going, exhausting," they say. "The paths overlap, and light can’t get through. Thinking on a well-rested brain is like wandering happily through Central Park; the paths are clear and connect to one another at distinct spots, the trees are in place, you can see far ahead of you. It’s invigorating."
Incorprate more rest into your life
You may roll your eyes with the "obvious" advice I'm about to give but I often remind frazzled friends much older than myself about the importance of rest. We're human. We forget how to relax. Life and all its "busyness" can get in the way.
So let me remind you, and myself too, to incorporate "rest" into our daily lives. Whether you take the timeout with a nice cup of tea, meditate, watch a favourite TV show, read a book (much better), enjoy a half hour walk, have a hot bath (adding lavender oil is a good shout) or potter about in the garden (hey, you're never too old to prune a rose bush). Find something that takes your mind off things.
If you're feeling particularly overwhelmed, say "no" to social arrangements and lay low at home until you've recharged your batteries. I sometimes dedicate whole weekends to rest. It's restorative. It's good for the soul. And, whatever you do, make sleep a priority – always aim for at least eight hours to fully rejuvenate.
Without proper rest, you'll be doing yourself a disservice – you won't function as effectively and life will unnecessarily feel like a constant uphill struggle. Make rest a daily priority, starting from today.
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