There was an unusual amount of forced rest among people I love this week, and they didn’t love it at all.
My husband hurt his back and couldn’t do his morning exercise or enjoy his regular daily routine without pain.
My dad’s wife broke both her elbows (yes, both elbows) in a fall and wound up in splints from her wrists to her armpits while she waits for surgery once the swelling goes down. When I went by to make dinner for her and my dad, she didn’t relax quietly in the living room like I thought she might, but instead bustled around the kitchen, grabbing the pan and the knife out of the cupboards for me and taking the empty containers to the garage for recycling.
I tried to get them both to take it easy, but neither of them wanted to. It was only the pain that slowed them down.
I get it. I’ve never been good at doing nothing, and don’t even like taking naps. But twice this week, I zonked out for hours in the afternoon. My body knew what it needed, and, by golly, it was going to get it whether I liked it or not.
Why do we resist resting?
For me, there’s a sense of not wanting to miss anything. I’ve also bought into the nagging belief that “doing nothing” is not okay; that it’s either a waste of precious time or even morally wrong: being idle, or lazy instead of productive.
Society, school, and work reinforce these beliefs. Imagine getting caught napping at your desk—you could be scolded in front of the class or fired from your job! Both would be like suffering social death.
Why we should allow ourselves to rest
While to the naked eye it might look like you’re doing nothing, when you sleep or nap or even rest in a chair, your tens of trillions of cells are busy exchanging information and “remaking you with extreme velocity,” according to Matthew Edlund, M.D., a sleep researcher and the author of “The Power of Rest.”
“Even in such ‘passive’ rest like sleep,” he says, “you’re entirely rewiring your brain; creating new neural pathways and slowing down or ending others; learning; remembering; thinking out new responses to problems; remaking your athletic capabilities; renewing and remaking your bones and muscles; and rapidly growing new skin, far faster than when you’re awake.”
When we rest, we rebuild. Resting is an investment in our well-being. Relaxing is a source of energy. Sleep is necessary for healing.
So now what?
If you share Warren Zevon’s philosophy, “So much to do … I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” allow yourself to re-think it. Grant yourself the rejuvenating gift of a nap or simply checking out for a few minutes in the middle of a busy day. Pretend you’ve been given a permission slip to go snooze on the cot in the nurse’s office.
Your cells—and your spirit—will really appreciate it.