Nancy: In Praise of Rest

Last week at this time, I was on day five of a virus from hell. A little less than three weeks ago, I was in a doctor’s office learning that, according to some X-rays of my hip, I have an issue that requires a change to my workout regimen for the foreseeable future. And a few weeks before that, I’d had a stiff neck/pinch nerved – possibly related to having my alignment thrown off by the bum hip – that made it difficult to climb out of bed. What all of these ailments have in common, other than making me feel like I’m approximately one hundred years old, is they were, to some extent, preventable.

Given these circumstances, a normal person might think, “What am I doing that’s making me so physically vulnerable?” I, on the other hand, thought, “When will all this be over so I can get back to my normal, totally unrealistic, and probably unsustainable schedule?” At some point, maybe it was around day three of the virus, I knew it was time to abandon my mind-over-matter mindset and listen to what my body, my orthopedist, and the universe were trying to tell me. Assuming you’re less obtuse than I, you can probably see where this is going.

It’s time to slow down a bit. Not forever. But for a while. And probably time to come up with a more sustainable long-term approach that builds downtime into my plans.

So today I present myself as a cautionary tale. Behold what happens when you set up unmanageable expectations. I’ve spent the past nine months riding hellbound for leather to reach a multitude of goals in 2018. And I’ve met most of them, so yay! But follow my lead at your own peril, because you could break something. Quite literally.

If you do choose to make your own poor life choices, at least consider building in time for rest. That’ a little trick I’ve known about for years, but sadly overlooked these past several months. You can endure a lot, from extreme work schedules to high-intensity physical training, if you wield the secret weapon of rest. There are three main types to consider. Use all three and you could win a special prize, which includes not needing to see multiple doctors to fix what you’ve broken.

Behold the Magical Power of Sleep

We all know we need a good night’s sleep to do our best each day. But according to the CDC, at least one third of American adults aren’t getting it. And everyone experiences sleep disturbances and their accompanying problems at least some of the time. If you’re a chronic problem sleeper, it might be time to work on your sleep hygiene.

Set up your bedroom as a place of rest. Not another office. Not a place where you watch the news or indulge in social media. Make it shrine to sleep. Make it as dark and quiet as possible. And while you’re at it, turn off your screens at least half an hour before bed. (I’ve had to break the habit of e-reading right before bed and have rediscovered the joys of nodding off with an actual book in my hand.) There are lots of places to learn about sleep hygiene, but if you suspect you have bad habits that are sabotaging your sleep, you can start here.

You also might want to learn your sleep chronotype (I’m a dolphin, which will surprise absolutely no one who knows me IRL). You can then build your schedule around customized sleep/wake/activity guidelines. Or just observe your own sleep/wake/tiredness patterns. Keep a sleep journal. What bed and wake times make you feel most refreshed? How much sleep do you need to feel well and productive? What time of day do you need to stop working or at least take a break? The answers are all inside you, grasshopper, if you’re willing to look for them.

Rest Is Not Just for Nighttime

The goal for this type of rest break is not sleep. It’s mental rest, keeping your physical senses awake and in the moment while taking your mind away from whatever stresses you’re enduring. To get optimal benefit, you need to practice not just every night, but also every day. Take some time, even if it’s just a few minutes daily, to relax and pamper yourself.

You’ve heard about the benefits of meditation. If you struggle with incorporating it into your daily routine or find yourself falling asleep instead of resting your mind, guided meditation might work for you. I like the Bhuddify app, but there are lots of apps and Youtube videos to explore. If meditation really isn’t your bag, how about stepping outside (or at least looking outside) for twenty minutes at a time? Yes, that should be a minimum time. Set a timer if you must. And if neither of those options work for you, at least try a five-minute break where you lie on your back on the floor with your legs propped up the wall and your eyes closed. A weighted mask over your eyes can help you relax in this position.

If you also want some daytime shut-eye, a nap might not be a bad idea. Just consider using a timer for this as well (especially if you’re doing it behind your closed office door at the day job), and scheduling it so it doesn’t interfere with your nighttime sleep. If you’re a dolphin chronotype, though, naps probably aren’t in your best interest. Then again, if you’re a dolphin, you probably already know this about yourself.

Maybe It’s Time for a Vacation

We all know the importance of vacations for improving productivity and morale. Those outcomes (OK and labor laws) are the reasons most full-time employers offer vacation time as a benefit. Getting away from the daily grind for longer than overnight or a two-day weekend can do you a world of good.

You’re also familiar with this concept if you’ve done any kind of intensive physical training program. It’s often called, aptly enough, the rest week. It doesn’t mean you stop working out all together, but that you do shorter and lower-intensity workouts, and maybe fewer of them for a seven-day period. One rest week for every four to five high-intensity workout weeks seems to be a good rule of thumb.

But this one is tricky for creative types. If you’re a writer, let me ask you: when is the last time you spent an entire week (or writing gods forbid, two!) not writing? Not researching? Not cogitating and note-taking and plotting away in your diabolical little writer’s brain? For many of us, the answer is “I can’t remember such a time.” Especially if you’re working the DDJ (dreaded day job), vacation is just another name for the opportunity to write full-time for a week or two. Weekends are scheduled writing time. Even sick days are probably at least partially spent writing through whatever ails you. But just like forgetting to schedule your rest weeks during high-intensity training can result in injury (trust me on this), not taking downtime away from the writing to refill the creative well can make the process harder, less efficient, and certainly less enjoyable.

This is the time in my post about rest where goal-oriented Nancy, stubborn Nancy, bound-to-get-hurt Nancy would tell you to do as I say, not as I do. But in the interest of closing out 2018 on a healthier note, newly-enlightened Nancy will invite you to join me, especially during the end-of-year rush to finish All the Tasks and the pressure to participate in all kinds of holiday merry-making. Today, I challenge you to schedule some downtime for yourself. Step away from the writing for a few days. Start a daily meditation practice. Determine how you can make regular rest – and the rejuvenation and better health it brings with it – part of your life in 2019.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some work to do. But first, I’m going to finish one more chapter in the book I’m pleasure reading, then center myself with a ten-minute meditation. Later today, I’m going to leave the house and actually enjoy Outside for 10-20 minutes. And tonight, I plan to turn off all the electronics by 10:30 and get to bed by 11. OK, maybe midnight. Like everything else worthwhile, it’s a process, people!

5 thoughts on “Nancy: In Praise of Rest

    • Well, I also kept punting projects forward in my monthly planning threads because I wasn’t getting anything finished as quickly as I’d planned/hoped. So while it looked I was working on oh so many projects, I was usually working hard on a couple and stalling on the rest. I tend to be an over-optimistic planner ;-).

  1. LOL, you know I think all that horoscope stuff is hoo-ey, and only useful as a prompt to figure out what we really need. But . . . times like this . . . I am nodding in complete agreement about your problem, and your analysis, especially as a fellow Virgo.

    Some random thoughts:
    Interval training. It might be perfectly fine to do some fartlek writing — hell-bound for leather as you say, but not for nine months. For a week or two. Then I must take some time off to recuperate and restore — and not just the fatigued brain, but the computer-stooped shoulders and the snack-clogged innards. For a week or two. (The mailbox version of fartlek, according to Wikipedia, is “run very hard for two mailboxes, then recover for three mailboxes, then run very hard for three mailboxes, and recover for two mailboxes”. I am not quite sure how this can be adjusted for scenes, because I like to go hard all the time when I’m writing, and I tend to do absolutely nothing except “serendipity research” ((non-directed internet surfing)) when I’m resting.)

    YouTube is a great resource for all sorts of meditation and yoga. Particularly, I am enjoying this yoga nidra for daytime: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7H0FKzeuVVs and this one for before bed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9jIuZ_1I8c. These are especially good when I’ve been exercising, and my muscles are sore and distracting.

    For general before-bed meditation, I really like Michael Sealey’s videos. Some are about healing, some are about setting intentions, some are about conquering anxiety. He’s got a few shorter ones for daytime mindfulness, as well.

    And I like a good chakra-clearing video for a ten-minute power nap. I don’t know if it clears my chakras, but I do feel more relaxed after doing it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qs_DuZigRzY I like her accent very much!

    ProLifeTip: set the alarm for five or ten minutes past the video length if you need to get up and about. I often fall asleep during these things; I’ve read that 20 minutes is the best length for a power nap, and I’ve found that to be a really good length for me. Enough to rest, not enough to make me woozy — and not enough to reduce my evening sleepiness.

    I really have been balancing a lot of stuff lately — and my writing has fallen by the wayside. I took up studying Japanese again (I’d like to finally break out of my semi-literacy), there’s my uke (which is my passion right now), and work has been about creativity lately — coming up with new lesson plans. All the while, the stories are on the edge of my brain, reminding me that they are still there, too. I’d love to get back to basics (sleep, food, shelter) for a week, but there’s so much to do . . . . Overwhelming.

    I hope you find balance. I have to say, you’ve had an amazing year from the things I’ve read. Take that break, and then don’t be afraid to go hell-for-leather again (at least for a fartlek or two).

    • Fartlek training sounds like the foundation of a lot of the ‘couch to 5k’ running programs out there. I think interval training is pretty universally recognized as getting the most bang for your buck (training time), especially when you’re new to a sport. I hadn’t really thought of writing that way, but maybe it’s not a bad idea!

      Although, using the vernacular Jeanne introduced to us, I’m a chunk writer, so I’m rarely able to sprint. But maybe some quarter-marathons instead of full ones, at least, are in order.

      • Yeah, I’m not a sprinter, either. Twenty minutes at lunchbreak does not suit my style of writing at all. But, I seem to think I need two hours every day for a month to get something significant done, when really, two hours once a week would get significant things done (not in a month, but maybe in seven months — the numbers on that look really reasonable, especially after the lousy writing year I’ve had).

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