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The Seven Types of Rest and How to Achieve Them

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Physician and author Sandra Dalton-Smith recommends seven types of rest: physical, mental, social, creative, emotional, spiritual, and sensory. That is, you have seven routes to restoring your mental, emotional, and physical health.

If you repeatedly continue to the point of exhaustion, you may suffer fatigue, loss of concentration, wild emotional reactions, an inability to come up with solutions, poor decision making, depressive and suicidal thoughts, aches and pains, and health problems that might range from repeated colds to a heart attack. If instead you attempt at least one of the seven types of rest, you can begin to restore your mind and body.

Here are a few SMaRT strategies for achieving physical, mental, social, creative, emotional, spiritual, and sensory rest:

  • Physical rest is added by at least 7 hours of sleep. If you wake up tired, try light exercise (the emphasis is on light) during the day; for example, yoga, tai chi, or qigong. Accept help with or cut back on your daily tasks—this is a good time to practice delegation. Get a massage. Talk to a nutritionist about eating better. Get a checkup from your primary physician, especially if no amount of rest seems to restore your body or improve your aches, pains, or fatigue.
  • Mental rest may occur in small increments; for example, by taking a short break between every hour of work, if only to walk to the restroom. Turn off the electronic devices that overwhelm you with information—that includes your phone and TV—at intervals during the day and at least 1 hour before bedtime. Most successful leaders view their emails only two times a day, in the morning and just before leaving work. Try meditation and other SMaRT mindful relaxation practices, such as focused breathing.
  • Social rest depends on your ability to say “no” to future engagements and to cut back on present engagements. You need time to yourself—take a walk by yourself, shut the bathroom door and take a long shower, play your favorite music with earphones on, or listen to your favorite audio book during your commute home. Increase your interaction with positive people who support and listen to you, and try to limit your time with negative, demanding people.
  • Creative rest gives you a chance to exercise your creativity in any way that revives you—photography, drawing, storytelling, writing, woodworking, and so on. But if you are running out of creative juice, try a new hobby, book, or destination. Creativity is all about making new connections, and new experiences spark innovative patterns of thought.
  • Emotional rest removes you from the areas of emotional conflict or stress in your life and allows you to experience happiness. Use visualization to help you imagine a more emotionally grounded and joyful future. When you are in the midst of emotional overload, you will find relief by confiding in a mental health professional, support group, or trusted friend. Chronic anger, stress, or anxiety, thoughts of depression or suicide, and acts of harm to yourself or others require immediate attention. Go to your emergency room or call 911.
  • Spiritual rest can be found by practicing your religion, reading your bible, or reaching out to clergy. It may also be found in acts of kindness, volunteering, or enjoyment of nature. Spiritual rest blossoms when you express gratitude or forgiveness—to yourself and to others—either person-to-person or through journaling. 
  • Sensory rest is often difficult when we are bombarded at home, work, and in between by noise, odors, tastes, and touches from other people, our work, electronic devices, and our own daily habits and chores. You may find sensory rest in a walk, book, afternoon nap, or concentration on a favorite hobby. But you may also find rest in reviving your senses by taking time to enjoy them; for example, smell your morning coffee or tea, slow down at mealtime to appreciate taste, immerse yourself in the color and texture of your favorite shirt, and close your eyes to better hear a bird’s song. 

Another way to look at rest is to give yourself a chance for solitude, permission to not be helpful and to do something “unproductive,” and a connection to art and nature. You need time to laugh, time to play, and time to be cared for or pampered. You also need time to reconnect with those you love who may be stressed by your stress and aching to give you the support you need most.

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