Sometimes, it feels like we’re the “tired generation” – how many times have you heard from people around you that they’re feeling exhausted, or that they are struggling with insomnia and anxiety or something similar? The list is by no means exhaustive.
Not only do I hear these things, but I find myself saying some of them quite often as well. There are many reasons why people struggle with tiredness. Regardless of the cause, we can agree that the symptoms are most likely the same – brain fog, lethargy, fatigue, sleeping problems, just to name a few.
Also, living in a highly connected world does not help matters. Our smartphones are considered an extension of our arms. We battle with endless to-do lists, overstimulation, and little or no time to unwind. With the current glamorization of busyness and working extensive hours, is it any wonder that our brains get used to being in such a hyper-alert state?
Living in a state of stress is to live in survival mode constantly – it means the body is out of balance. And let’s be honest, existing on high alert all the time is physically and mentally depleting.
A stress response is what the body does to make itself go back to order. However, the human body can only tolerate short-term stress. Staying in prolonged periods of stress can have lasting damage and be hard to escape.
The Types of Stress and States of Living
There are three types of stress: physical, chemical, and emotional. Physical stress may be related to traumas, physical pain, injuries, accidents, etc. Chemical stress is connected to heavy metals, bacteria, viruses, hormones, blood sugar levels, and so on. Emotional stress can be triggered by many things, like overwork, traffic jams, relationship issues, parenting, financial worries, and many more.
The human mind and body can only live in one of the two living states: either creativity or stress. You’re either in emergency mode (stress) or growth and repair (creativity), but you can’t be in both at the same time.
If you’re wondering why we can’t live in both of these states at once, the answer is simple: humans, and everything else in the Universe, are made of energy. Meaning that we can easily become overwhelmed when we overload our plate with too much and in turn run out of steam, or energy.
The World is in a Rush
I've heard people saying that they wish we could have a 30-hour day, so they could add more tasks to their endless to-do list. We live in such a hectic world, we simply don’t have (or don’t find?) the time to rest and relax. Some people search for quick fixes and magical solutions to end their stress, anxiety, and exhaustion but, more often than not, these efforts just don’t work.
The thing is, when someone gets to a point of burnout, chronic fatigue, or even panic attacks, taking a one-size-fits-all approach is not the answer. The reason people don’t get better and are slow to heal is that they want to treat long-term exhaustion with just one week off and five (5) minutes of meditation per day.
The circumstances and stresses we face are individual,
which means the remedy should also be individual.
The Burnout Culture
In the not-so-distant past, I used to feel guilty for taking a day off or needing time to rest when my body was asking me to do so. Our culture praises those who are constantly on the grind; we seem to be steadily living in a race for the future, and busyness is seen almost as a status symbol.
On the flip side, those who are balanced, or even who sit on the other extreme – those individuals who are more relaxed and don’t have overcommitted calendars – are oftentimes seen as “lazy”. Thus, comes the feelings of guilt for having taken a day off.
Along with this race to the future, sits our busy and overstimulated minds. When we overwhelm our bodies and minds with more information than they can actively process, it affects us both physically and mentally simultaneously.
When we get to a point of sensory overload where the body is addicted to constant dopamine hits, to be still, relax and rest becomes a very difficult task. Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, a physician and the author of “Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity,” explained why some people feel miserable and unmoored as they try to take a break:
“For some people, rest is almost uncomfortable. It’s almost as if their psyche fights back against it because of the new sensation.” She would never, she says, recommend a three-day silent retreat to a completely frazzled patient.
“For someone who is actively burned out, that’s almost traumatic.”
Dr. Dalton-Smith is also thoughtfully critical when it comes to supporting preventative approaches, considering them band-aid perks. Instead, she recommends focusing on the root cause. She also emphasizes the wellness industry, “a billion-dollar industry, we have special pillows, weighted blankets, all of this stuff,” and as it turns out, it doesn’t solve the issue, most of the time.
The Seven Types of Rest
In her book, Dr. Dalton-Smith also explains why some of us still experience a lack of energy and fatigue even after getting enough sleep. The answer, however, is simple. Sleeping and resting aren’t synonyms. Sleep is just one part of the resting equation. We’re suffering from a rest deficit because we don’t understand the true power of rest and how it works. The book’s author says that we should think in terms of restoration in seven key areas of our lives.
Before diving into them, it’s important to stress that Dr. Dalton-Smith’s goal isn’t to miraculously make you feel sharp nor does she promise instant healing for those high-achievers, chronically tired, stressed and anxious individuals.
The idea of the seven types of rest is to make people more aware of themselves, their bodies and whichever areas are most neglected. It is also about incorporating enough moments of rest to stay functional and stop relying on adrenalin, caffeine, and fogged brains that are scrabbling to function.
The first type of rest listed by the author is physical. It sounds intuitive and basic, in fact, it is. However, a large number of people still don’t get enough physical rest and are struggling with sleeping problems.
Physical rest can be active or passive. Passive physical rest includes sleeping and napping, while active physical rest is a restorative practice, such as massage, yoga and stretching. Dalton-Smith advises that small, mindful, 5-10 minutes breaks throughout the day is already a good start.
Mental fatigue may be tricky to handle because it’s mostly attached to idle and small activities. Things like checking WhatsApp messages, social media or replying to emails in the middle of an activity may sound productive because of multitasking, but it disrupts focus and concentration.
To avoid that foggy-brain feeling, irritability or forgetfulness, avoid menial distractions and instead schedule short breaks to occur every two hours throughout your workday.
Do you know which sensory input exhausts you the most? To me, it’s loud noises and crowded places. But many other things can cause our senses to feel overwhelmed, for example, computer and smartphone screens, bright lights, and even multiple conversations. To counteract feelings of exhaustion, you can reduce, or cut off completely the activities that drain you the most.
Identify which one depletes you and intentionally unplug yourself from that for a certain period of time – for instance, you can switch off all your electronics at the end of the day or close your eyes for a couple of minutes in the middle of the day.
This type of rest is especially important for anyone whose work requires them to problem-solve or brainstorm new ideas. Taking creative rest frees up space in the mind whilst reawakening the awe and passion within us. How can we expect to feel excited and motivated about something when our environment and activities are filled with boring, repetitive tasks?
Creative rest can be things like appreciating art, turning the workspace into a colorful and inspiring place or taking yourself on a date.
People pleasing, not saying no, and not setting boundaries with others may drain one’s energy. The author suggests identifying the things and people that exhaust you. Emotional rest requires the courage to be authentic and honest with ourselves.
If you’re in need of emotional rest, you probably have a social rest deficit too. Dalton-Smith explains that, in this case, taking social rest isn’t only about restraining yourself from social encounters – instead, it means spending time around people with whom you can be your true self, as well as those that are positive and supportive.
This kind of rest can be considered the most personal. Meaning, you don’t need to follow any religion or believe in certain dogmas in order to connect with your spirituality. The author says: “At the core of spiritual rest is that feeling that we all have of needing to be really seen, of feeling that we belong, that we’re accepted, that our life has meaning.”
To me, spiritual rest is to meditate, connect with my inner self and the Universe, pray and be grateful for the things and people in my life.
Camila Santiago is a content writer and strategist specializing in health and corporate wellness, including extensive experience writing SEO-friendly content. She writes, edits and proof-reads content on wellness topics spanning physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, and does so for organizations aiming to improve overall employee wellbeing and professional excellence.