After an incredibly stressful 2020 (for non-COVID reasons, believe it or not!), anticipating an even more stressful semester for Spring 2021, after weeks of poor sleep (I cannot seem to get into Deep Sleep for the life of me), and after the incredibly insane, violent, and horrifying traitorous mob storming the Capitol last week, I decided that I have only one goal for 2021. I want to learn how to rest.
Rest and I are like oil and water. Peanut butter and zucchini. Orange juice and peppermint. We can coexist, but we are deeply suspicious of one another.
I’m a bit of a workaholic. I love doing things, accomplishing things, seeing things, etc. I’m also VERY possessive of my time. I feel so, so good after getting things done, and love the feeling of working hard during the day and the feeling of “having earned” some down time in my evening. Even though I like to sit in that feeling in the evenings, I am not good at just resting. I feel like I need to use that down time to write something in full, to finish a book so that my total book count for the year goes up, or to update all my lists in my phone (groceries to buy, things to clean, things to purchase for our new apartment, meal plan for the week). It’s hard for me to not feel like I need to be using my down time to accomplish more things. “Rest” never feels satisfying and I always feel guilty doing it.
I took a week off between Christmas and New Year’s and found myself getting depressed early in the week. This depression led me to not do anything fun at all, which then led to an even greater bout of depression. It sucked. To stave off depression, instead of doing the things that actually help (go for a hike, SUP in Kaneohe Bay, find a new swimming spot), I threw myself into busy work to make me feel worthwhile again. I worked out every day (sometimes twice), wrote a bunch, tried out new recipes, put together our new apartment, and read like a mad woman. The reading wasn’t always for fun, either. It was kind of motivated by a desire to finish books, to accomplish a “read” book. Last year I really tried to structure my reading goals to preclude falling into that state, so I was disappointed to see it rearing its ugly head at the end of the year. But I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised.
Then the first week of January, my body kind of quit on me. I got two kinds of sick (neither one of them COVID, thankfully), I could barely do one pullup (compared to the previous week where I had been doing 6 or 8 in a row), and I was more depressed than ever. My body was screaming for rest and I finally gave in. This past weekend I forced myself to relax. No running, some fun eating, and a couple naps. It was glorious, but also super anxiety-inducing. I couldn’t stop thinking of all the things I should be doing, not because those things needed to be done, but because I felt like I should have been accomplishing something.
I desperately want a better relationship with rest. I want to fit it into my life so that I can take the rest my body needs without suffering a decrease in my mental health (however temporary or a sign of deeper problems). I want a relationship with rest that doesn’t involve me avoiding it to the point of burnout. I want to learn how to sleep better. I want to enjoy weekends that are relaxed. I want to learn how I best rest so that I can best plan out all the things I have to do every week in order to get all the important and necessary things done while preserving my mental health. Rest + work is such a frustratingly difficult balance to strike, and I know it’s the kind of balance we are forever trying to find, but for the first time in my life I’m prioritizing rest over accomplishment. At least, I’m going to try.
Am I making “rest” an accomplishment to attain?! This is either genius or I have failed before I’ve begun. Ha.
REGARDLESS, I have a couple things I am going to try to learn how to rest.
- Make a point to schedule fun things for the weekend and plan them early in the week with the husband. I always have a lot of work to do on the weekends, and tend to go a little selfish and forget to schedule time for him and me to have fun together. I am a big planner and Chris is all about spontaneity. He hates being locked into plans and I hate having my expectations for an afternoon interrupted at his whim (and I hate the feeling of not knowing which afternoon he’ll come bounding up the stairs saying “LET’S GO GOLFING!”!!). I also hate the struggle between “do I honor what I want/need?” vs. “do I honor the connection he wants in the way he is asking for it?” This all sounds way more dramatic than it is, but I just want to find a way to make sure I’m expecting us to do fun things together, allow him the space to be spontaneous, and give me the space to not feel anxious over potential interruptions in whatever rest I try to plan.
- Regular check-ins with the husband. To the above, my therapist recommended that Chris and I do a check-in at the beginning of the week to share what we both are hoping to accomplish that week, to offer support for anything the other needs, and to talk about something we hope we can do together that week to connect. For a couple that suuuuuuuucks at communicating (if only I communicated with my husband as well as I dump stupid thoughts into a blog post), this has been life-changing. Needs, support, and hopes. Covers all the important and “I feel seen” relationship boxes and is forcing us to practice communicating about vulnerable things. I swear this isn’t a tangent — I think this will help some of my rest a bit, because I tend to obsess about things I wish I could say but don’t know how to. All stress interrupts rest.
- Make good sleep a priority. I recently watched Dr. Matthew Walker’s Master Class on The Science of Better Sleep and decided to test out some new changes in January. I’m going to limit myself to one cup of coffee in the morning, rather than two. I’m going to put my phone away by 7pm. I’m taking melatonin. And I’m giving up alcohol during the week. While my drinking is certainly not a problem in any sense, I keep reading about how alcohol totally messes with sleep. Work Week Dryanuary it is! (PS – I tried this last week and it had literally NO effect on the quality of my sleep. Still missing that crucial Deep Sleep stage. FFS. But I’ll keep on doing this for a while to see if I can at least get into a good rhythm with good sleep habits.)
- Be proactive about combatting stress. I get a free Headspace account through work, so I’m going to try to begin three of my weekly work days with a 10-minute meditation. I’ll be curious how my Work Week Dryanuary will affect my stress, as well, since I tend to turn to wine when I’m feeling particularly stressed, as a way to calm down my racing heart, which is not the overall best method of stress management. Maybe I’ll have to limit wine to just Friday nights or something. I am eager to find other ways to calm me down in the moment. Breathing, stretching, taking a walk — all the “get present in your body” things.
- Thematic menu planning. Because I loooove food, I’m making this a separate blog post! I am very pleased with what I’ve come up with (it’s not at all groundbreaking, but I think it will be helpful for me) and I’m looking forward to having dinner time be less stressful in general.
And with that, I am going to turn off my computer, take the fryer chicken out of the fridge to come to room temp, crack open a book that I will feel perfectly fine completing tonight or three months from now (A Canticle for Leibowitz, if y’er nosy), and rest. Wishing you lots of rest as you head into 2021 and we wait to see if there are actual consequences for trying to murder elected officials and overturn a fair election. America is all kinds of fun these days.