The power of rest

By Asalah Youssef

I never quite understood the power of rest until early last year when it hit home for me. As an advocate, I was getting caught in the whirlwind of fast and mindless activism. I felt the need to constantly produce and take more on, thinking that was the efficient way to do it. Well, my proverbial cup just kept getting emptier and emptier until I came close (or perhaps did), burnout. The moment I reminded myself that I am not a machine on a loop of non-stop work and gave myself permission to pause and recharge, is when my advocacy became more authentic, effective and whole. I’m still learning, and I still forget to pause all the time, but the more I do, the more I realize that it’s crucial for me to keep going. I realized that taking part in advocacy work for the long haul meant that I had to offer myself more care and rest throughout the journey so I could stay well and receive joy from what I’m doing. When I practice rest I am able to sort through the clutter of the mind and return to the root of my values and purpose.

As much as social media is a tool for inspiration and connection, it’s also great at draining us and influencing our ways of being in the world much more than we may think. I’m sure I’m not alone in getting random urges to start entirely new and impulsive projects, even though I’ve already got ten others on the go. I can get caught up in the cycle of the need to be busy, and constantly doing in this society that praises busyness. I have to cut myself some slack! How exhausting! I am learning that to live is to be and not always to do. Making space for rest allows us a switch off from stress and is an intentional time of recharging our minds, bodies and hearts. I also should note that when I’m more rested I'm much more of a pleasant human being around family and friends. Stress and burnout kicks us off-centre, deregulates our nervous system and plays with our mood.

We often make rest our last priority; we’ll do it when we feel accomplished or when we’ve checked off many boxes from the (never-ending) to-do list. The thing with this is that rest can then become an afterthought, (and one may go days without ticking everything off the to-do list (understandably) which ends up in a lot of missed rest time. Rest is also categorized as a reward. What if it was just part of the process? John Spencer says that, “Rest is not a luxury you earn when you are finished with creative work. It’s a discipline you cultivate to make you more creative.” A study done by the University of York and the University of Florida discovered that 40% of our creative ideas are activated during moments of rest and break. If we switched our way of thinking about rest, and made it part of our work and creative endeavours then we could fully show up in all that we do.

A key step on your path to embracing more rest is to identify what is restful for you. Despite the common understanding of the word, rest can be an active thing. As much as sitting on the couch watching Netflix all day can be restful for some, it is only a sliver of the different possibilities of what rest looks like. Rest is what you make it. It could be intentionally stepping away from work to brew a good cup of coffee and sip it slowly, spending hours in the forest, going for lunch with a friend or spending some time in your veggie garden. Carving out time for the rest that you need in the moment is critical.

Along with intentional rest, there are also a lot of mini moments throughout the day that are opportunities for rest. Waiting for the water to boil on the stove for example, or standing in line at the grocery store...these are opportunities to be still, to be present, to let our minds rest and perhaps connect with the world around us, yet so often we feel the need to fill in these gaps with stimulus or “work”. “Oh I have 5 minutes while waiting for the water to boil, why don’t I check my mail” is definitely a thought that runs through my mind as soon as it gets the chance throughout the day. Let this be an invitation to allow those everyday in-between moments to be unfilled and simply a time for you to just be.

These are some gentle ways I’ve been implementing rest into my everyday: 

- Making rest a priority: In whatever way serves you best, remind yourself to take time for rest. Whether that’s putting it on your to-do list, or putting a reminder on your phone. Giving ourselves permission to practice self-care can go a long way.

- Practice setting rest boundaries: Saying you will get back to an email tomorrow or letting a friend know you don’t have the capacity to go to lunch because you’re tired is totally valid and can inspire others to do the same.

- Removing the guilt from rest: Oftentimes practicing rest is easier said than done because of the guilt that kicks in. Resting is not only vital for your well-being, it allows you to maintain healthy relationships, reduce stress, cultivate creativity, work efficiently and improve overall happiness. If you are feeling guilty for taking time for yourself remember that it benefits others and the planet as well, making it in fact a very productive thing to do.

- Seeking your unique ways to rest: In moments when you are feeling uneasy, frustrated or in need of a break it’s helpful to know what will lift your spirit. Create a rest plan by journaling activities or things that bring you joy so that when those moments arise you can lean on the list for support. Rest doesn't come in one shape or form, it’s diverse and can look different for everyone. For some, time spent laying on the couch is rejunativing and for others a long forest walk does the job. Acknowledge what recharges you and do it often.

I gratefully acknowledge that I live, create and explore on the ancestral, unceded territories of the Kwikwetlem First Nation which lies within the shared territories of the Tsleil-Waututh, Katzie, Musqueam, Squamish and Sto:lo Nations. The people of these nations are the original caretakers and have stewarded these lands since time immemorial and continue to today.


Our Merge favourite books to embrace slowing down and pausing: 

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