Yet, actually rest is active – for example when we sleep our brain is busy processing the day’s events and repairing our body. Getting good sleep is crucial to healthy functioning: physical and mental health is optimised by 7-8 hours sleep. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible for all of us. The NHS does offer CBT-I for insomnia, and the Sleepful app and work originating from Loughborough University, makes this more accessible. This might not necessarily mitigate the effects of having to get up to feed babies, or for other reasons, but tools like Loughborough’s daily sleep diary can allow us to understand where our problems lie so we can take some action.
Research in Psychology shows that there are long term negative consequences to ‘incomplete’ recovery’ – i.e. not resting during and at the end of the day. Specifically, setting boundaries around work – making ourselves stop working and giving ourselves time away from work – reduces the load that we have to carry into the next day (See Meijman & Mulder in Psychological Aspects of Workload (1998)). If we think about this as an actual physical load that we are putting in our bag to take with us and wear through work the next day, then each bit of stress adds up into a kind of physical weight on us. If we’re not giving ourselves time away to put that load down we end up carrying it all – and we get tired, stressed and burnt out (amongst other possible effects).
Giving ourselves permission to rest
According to Soojung-Kim Pank rest is actually a skill, we can learn to do it better. So if:
- rest is a skill we can work on, and
- the idea of work and rest as binaries is a historical construct, and we would in fact work better if we took rest…
what can we give ourselves permission to say no to, or yes to, so we can get some rest? Either during the working day or after it?
- What tasks take our attention away from the important stuff and make us pile up work for later? Are there any non-essential or limited benefit tasks we can drop?
- Are there any ways that we can collaborate with our colleagues to lighten our load?
- Barrett et al (2021) advise to avoid decision fatigue by making our most important decisions first thing in the day.
- What do we need to tell ourselves to give ourselves permission to stop working and indeed take time off?
- What rules should we be setting around our working time? (Particularly so we can minimise distractions and interruptions which may end up in work piling up later). Soojung-Kim Pang suggests that bursts of time (4-5 hours) uninterrupted can allow us to concentrate on our cognitively demanding tasks – this might be difficult to achieve, but could the principle of working in uninterrupted bursts help us?
- How can we effectively detach from work? What do we need to stop doing or leave behind? What do we need to start doing?
- Where might we disconnect from phone and email to help give ourselves a rest?
Some things that we can try and do to help us rest are to ‘recharge’ and ‘refocus’. For recharging we can think about ‘What gives us energy?’, ‘What do we enjoy doing, that we could try to do a bit more of?’ Perhaps we love swimming or going to the theatre, or talking walks across crisp frost. This can help us refocus. We know that rest is a skill we can work on, and by doing this it improves our capacity to work. So actually we don’t need to feel guilty about undertaking activities such as this that take us away from work. We’re actually allowing ourselves space away from work so that we can work better.
So as we approach the Winter break, let’s set down our heavy work bags for a moment and give ourselves some time to