It comes as no surprise that people across the country are more stressed than ever. Today, 83% of US workers suffer from work-related stress, and 44% of Gen-Zers report that the main cause of their stress comes from work. While stress is inevitable, these record-high levels prove a need to counteract it with proper rest.
So what is “proper rest”? According to board-certified internal medicine physician Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, it’s not as simple as getting eight hours of sleep every night. Dr. Dalton-Smith explains that there are seven types of rest -- physical, mental, emotional, social, creative, sensory, and spiritual. Only when we establish a balanced rest regimen that addresses each area can individuals start to see shifts in energy, productivity, and stress levels.
This explains why after a full night’s rest, a person can still wake up feeling sluggish. While sleep can restore a person’s physical rest deficit, it cannot compensate for a deficit in the other areas. The same principle applies to vacations, which are often misunderstood as solutions to burnout. Studies have shown that taking a vacation only postpones burnout, the feeling of emptiness and mental exhaustion due to workplace stress, and does not resolve it.
Mental downtime is essential in our overstimulated and overstressed world. Neglecting mental rest can manifest into loss of control of your thoughts, overthinking, relationship difficulty, and even poor self-care. Symptoms of mental exhaustion include changes in sleep patterns, headaches and muscle tension, changes in eating, frequent colds, and high blood pressure. Journaling in the morning and at night can help address and release nagging thoughts, reduce anxiety, and manage stress. Meditation and mindful breathing impact the activation in the brain’s structures that are linked to thinking, feeling, and behavior. Paced breathing can bring us back into awareness and ease the mind.
Dr. Dalton-Smith refers to emotional rest as freely expressing your authentic emotions with a trusted individual. When emotions are suppressed, negative emotions are stored in the body as physical stress. Practicing vulnerability has been proven to contribute to a greater sense of worthiness, greater levels of hope and trust, more forgiveness, and improved work performance.
Our relationships with others have the potential to uplift us or bring us down. Studies show that people in negative relationships are more likely to demonstrate lower self-worth and confidence. Unhealthy relationships can also cause chronic stress when the connection does not improve over time. Individuals in these types of relationships are more susceptible to self-doubt, fear, insecurity, anxiety, paranoia, lower motivation, and lessened productivity at work.
At the same time, feelings of loneliness can also contribute to problems. Loneliness has been linked to disrupted sleep, higher blood pressure, increased cortisol (stress hormone) and can affect your immune system.
When looking at healthy relationships, however, the data takes a dramatic shift. Positive social connections can decrease stress, facilitate healthy behaviors, contribute to a greater sense of purpose, and increase longevity.
The COVID-19 pandemic ushered a transformed sensory environment, which historian Mark Smith has titled the “sensory revolution.” Masks have warped the way people interpret faces and expressions, scents, and even spoken words. Social distancing, quarantine regulations, and virtual meetings made the shift to more in-person activities more difficult and unusual than they once were.
To prevent sensory stress, find moments of stillness to engage with each of your five senses during the day.
1. Sight: Close your eyes, reduce the brightness of your device, and turn off all the lights and screens around you before dozing off. Be conscious of how often you are looking at a screen, and unplug when you need a break.
2. Hearing: Turn down the volume of loud devices and opt for soft, relaxing music when you need a break from the noise around you.
3. Taste: Take note of what types of food you are consistently eating. Are you consuming lots of salty, sugary, processed foods? Make sure to balance your intake with natural, whole foods while maintaining proper hydration.
4. Touch: It can be as simple as changing into sweatpants, putting on some fuzzy slippers, or petting a dog once you get home from work. Soothing fabrics and textures can soothe the mind.
5. Smell: Avoiding overwhelming smells can be difficult if you’re living in a busy city, but implementing aromatherapy practices and pleasurable scents into your home can reduce stress.
Tapping into your creativity has proven health benefits that can help ease day-to-day stressors. Research shows that being creative boosts the immune system, increases intelligence, boosts mental health, decreases the risk of dementia, and increases happiness. Creative practices have been compared to meditation due to the positive impacts of being in a state of “flow.”
Physical rest can be divided into two groups: active and passive. Passive recovery requires no physical activity whatsoever, allowing you to let your body relax while sitting or lying down. Examples of passive physical rest include sleeping and taking naps, which help reduce fatigue, prevent chronic disease, and even maintain a healthy weight.
Active physical rest allows for better blood circulation, reduced anxiety and stress, better self-esteem, and improved mood. This can include going on walks, doing yoga, stretching, cycling, or swimming.
Spiritual rest is dependent on personal beliefs and practices. Dr. Dalton-Smith explains that this type of rest is more than partaking in spiritual rest as prayer, meditation, church, or congregation as it relates to a religious belief system.
This type of rest is more about the connection between the mental and the physical aspects of life to generate a sense of community, love, purpose, and belonging.