Rest and recovery
Who has the time to rest, anyway?
Everyone is very busy these days. Taking time off to rest may seem like a luxury only the retired can afford.
When I was in my last year of Ph.D. training, I decided I wouldn’t work on Sundays. Instead, I would go to my favorite coffee shop, buy myself an almond croissant and a latte and read a book that had nothing to do with the topic of my dissertation. I really enjoyed my Sundays in Ithaca Bakery, but I felt a bit guilty about all this and kept it to myself, lest I got judgmental looks from colleagues who believed that rest and sleep are for losers.
This belief that it’s a weakness to “slack off” and that we have to pack our time with as much activity and achievement as possible gets us into trouble, though. It had gotten me into trouble, for sure. This is how I realized that Sundays are for almond croissants. But it took me three years of working myself to exhaustion to arrive to this conclusion (and this is how I got interested in stress and its not so pleasant consequences).
We should think of rest as an investment into productivity, well-being, and happiness. There is a reason we have a seven-eight hour “official” working day. The reason is that if we work longer than that, our productivity will fall drastically. So from that point of view, working long hours is actually inefficient use of your time! Well, of course if you only work late for a few days to meet a deadline, or once a week to catch up on things, you may get more out of yourself, but as a life-style, long working days benefit no one. Not even your boss because well-rested and happy employees get more done and with more enthusiasm.
What does it meant to rest and how do we do it? In the section on brain hygiene we talked about “doing nothing”, but what does it really mean? Our brain is always doing something. So is our body – the heart is pumping blood, kidneys are filtering it, and so on. I know I am risking losing you here if I ask this because you might start thinking about it and never come back, but still, I am wondering: which part of us is doing nothing when we are doing nothing?
Are you still with me? Then let me tell you about the largest study of rest that was done a few years ago. In 2016, BBC made a series of programs about rest. Really interesting if you want to know more about the topic and learn how rest is related to creativity. As a part of this project, in collaboration with scientists, artists, and historians, they did a survey to find out more about people’s attitudes to rest around the world. One of their findings was that the activities ranked as most restful all involved either being away from other people (reading, being on one’s own) or being away from buildings (looking at or being in a natural environment). Surprisingly, these activities were at the top of the list regardless whether the respondents were introverts or extroverts. This is an unexpected finding because the definition of an extrovert is indeed someone who gets energized being around other people.
Time we take out for ourselves is an investment. It replenishes our mental resources. Those exact resources that we need to be engaged in our work and to take care of our families. Why do we have so much resistance towards the idea that time off is how we get to be our best selves?