Achieving and maintaining optimal health seems like such hard work these days!
Eat your vegetables. Drink plenty of water. Exercise at least three times a week. Don’t eat sugar/fat/carbs/salt. Cook your food at home, and remember to stretch and stay active throughout the day. Oh, and don’t forget to sleep eight hours every night, AND make time for the family.
Whew! What a lot to do – sometimes it seems like staying healthy is a never-ending slog.
All this pressure makes it easy to overlook a vital component of optimal health — REST.
That’s right, good old R & R. For you, that might mean relaxing in the woods. Or fishing. Or sprawling on the couch with a good book. Whatever YOU find calming and restorative.
American culture places value on hard work, productivity, and efficiency. The “American Dream” epitomizes this – if you just work hard enough, you could be the next Donald Trump (without the funny hairdo, hopefully). Periods of inactivity are perceived as wasted time. Anyone who’s pulled an all-nighter can tell you – physical well-being takes a major backseat to work deadlines or final exams.
If you’re sick, or have cramps, or enduring a painful personal event, you’re expected to suck it up and work anyway. In today’s society, we call that a “good work ethic,” even if it comes at the expense of your physical and emotional well-being.
Without adequate rest, the body is unable to assimilate everything that’s happened throughout the day. Your brain is deprived of the chance to shut down and organize data. Sleep is just one aspect of this. If you’re not sleeping enough, one reason could be that your day is too jam-packed with work and activity for you to properly wind down at the end of the day. Also – if you’re always on the go, you’re more likely to rely on stimulants like caffeine and sugar, which can disrupt sleep.
Inadequate sleep is definitely a problem, but it’s almost always a symptom of a bigger problem – some imbalance in your lifestyle that affects your ability to sleep.
So what’s the solution? First of all, don’t stress out about being stressed out – that just makes it worse!
You can start by reconsidering your attitude toward rest. Are you prioritizing downtime in your day-to-day? Why not? What if rest and downtime were just as important as eating greens, or drinking water, or meeting your deadlines at work? Consider how different your lifestyle might be if you were to make rest a priority. Usually, this requires the use of a very special little word:
No Tom, I’m sorry, but I can’t help you build your deck this weekend. Sorry mom, we won’t be able to come for dinner next Friday. I’d love to get together with you, [nice person I don’t know very well], but my schedule is full right now.
You don’t need a whole story, or a good excuse, or a guilt-ridden apology. Just no.
Sounds simple, right? Or maybe it sounds absurd – saying no to your own mother like that.
It’s not easy to say no. But it’s the first step in creating a balanced, healthy lifestyle for yourself. If you’re locked into certain commitments right now, just start wherever you can. Baby steps.
What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to resting? Share your thoughts in the comments!