Patterns of activity and rest are endemic to many species of animal. Humans are no exception. We have evolved to balance ourselves between period of light and dark, and during the dark periods (night), we sleep. Sleep is a state of deep rest, in which our bodies stop external activity, and refresh internally. We have also evolved to use energy in cycles. We run for a while, then get tired and rest. It’s natural.
One problem many of us have, is that we forget this balance. We think we are an exception to the rule. We keep on working, for instance, well past the time when our bodies would naturally stop us and have us rest. This can cause ill-health. If we don’t get a good sleep, then our blood pressure rises, the level of toxins rises, and we can end up in a state of semi-permanent stress. If we don’t rest between activities, then our bodies get more wear and tear.
Why don’t we rest enough? A big problem with those prone to anxiety is difficulty in letting go of problems for long enough to relax. When life gets difficult, the adrenal system gets going, and, encouraged by the mind’s obsessive playing out of problems, can’t switch off. A hyper-alert state perpetuates itself in a vicious spiral. Those with trauma know this well. It can take very little to revive the hyper-alert state, and become, yet again, unable to switch off.
We need to return to a better mastery of our cycles of activity and rest. We need to understand that, just as we go for a run, and then rest our bodies, so, in all areas of life, we do an activity, and then we rest. Rest can take many forms, depending on the nature of the preceding activity. In general, we are beings that balance ourselves. So:
- If an activity has a lot of socialising in it, then appropriate rest could be being alone for a while.
- If an activity has a lot of conceptual thinking, then rest could be watching TV and being a bit passive and brainless.
- If an activity has a lot of emotion and empathy in it, then rest could be a peaceful environment, protected from the emotional demands of others.
Should I be busy or resting? To answer that question, we need to get used to listening to our bodies and minds. We can try to be aware of what stresses we feel, where we feel tired. Then we can seek out something which relaxes the bits of us that feel stressed or tired.
More examples of rest are:
- For someone who socialises a lot, a bit of time alone
- For someone who is been alone a lot, socialising for a while
- For someone who has been on their feet a lot, sitting down
- For someone who has sat down a lot, walking around
- For someone who has fulfilled others’ needs, fulfilling one’s own needs for a while
- For someone focused on fulfilling their own needs, thinking of others for a while
In other words, try to do, as rest, the opposite of what you have just been doing. Learn which activities compensate for other activities.
We can stay mindful of our cycles of activity, and where in the cycles we are. In particular, we can be mindful of our ‘activity opposites’, and learn to be flexible enough to apply them. If we are always running late, then we can give ourselves a rest by being early for our next activity. If we are always worrying about things, we can give ourselves a rest by learning forms of meditation where we learn to let go of such thoughts.
The answer to ‘should I be busy, or be resting?’ is this: where am I on my cycles of activity? Is it time to balance one type of activity with another? This requires a good deal of psychological understanding and self-empathy. Above all, we can listen to how healthy we feel. Our minds and bodies are designed to alert us, via pain or unhappiness, if we have got the balance wrong. If we become good listeners to ourselves, and good designers of compensating activities, we can cope better.