The 7 Types of Rest We Need As We Emerge From The Pandemic


Life has been a lot for us recently.  

Many of us have just been pushing through the last 12 months – what else can you do right?  There have been few opportunities to rest, recover and catch our breath. 

That alone is a huge issue but there’s something else that, if we’re not careful, won’t help us to recover from the impact of this pandemic.

There’s a really unhelpful expectation that if we’re doing well in life we’re always in high positive energy – achieving goals and getting stuff done.

The reality is that true high performers are never only in the Performance Zone.  Let alone if they’re trying to combine work and motherhood in a pandemic.  It’s not sustainable to stay in that zone – it has to be balanced by moving into the Recovery Zone. 

As this image from The Energy Project shows – true sustainable success comes from moving between the Performance Zone and the Recovery Zone (the right hand side of this image).

Recovery Deficit

But for most women the last 12 months hasn’t given us much opportunity to move into that Recovery Zone.  The truth is that most of us weren’t probably getting enough time in the Recovery Zone before the pandemic hit, let alone during it.  We were likely to be in a ‘recovery debt’ – not having banked enough recovery to balance out the demands of our lives – before March 2020.

When we’re in a recovery deficit we’re more likely to move over to the left hand side of this quadrant.  Over on the left we experience a more negative quality to our emotions

In the top left Survival Zone quadrant it’s more about high energy.  Here we might feel irritable, frustrated, angry, defensive and anxious. But it can mask itself as the Performance Zone as it has a similar energy quality to it but it’s fueled by adrenaline and cortisol, which aren’t a long-term sustainable source of energy.

It’s then very easy to slip into the bottom left quadrant of The Burnout Zone- here we begin to feel exhausted, sad, lethargic and even hopeless and helpless.

So what’s the answer if you find yourself on the left hand side of this diagram?   The answer might be slightly different to what you expect.  Yes it’s about recovery but if you’re anything like me I used to think recovery was sleep.

I couldn’t understand when I started to hit my own burnout experience why it was happening.  I was getting good quality sleep so why was I burning out?!

In reality I was missing out on the other types of recovery that we need as humans – particularly in the world we now live in.  As Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith highlighted in her TED Talk, The Real Reason We’re Tired and What to Do About It I was missing out on the other types of rest I desperately needed.   I’d unhelpfully assumed that sleep and rest were the same thing and incorrectly confused the two.

Dr Dalton-Smith argues that we don’t understand the true power of rest and so we’re living in a culture of rest deficit.  Which is creating a culture where too many of us are high-achieving, high-producing, chronically tired and at risk of burnout.

She argues that there are in fact seven different ways to help move us into the Recovery Zone.  That if we want to feel like we’re able to access the Performance Zone that we need to understand these seven different ways to rest to create that sense of restoration in our life.

Seven Types of Rest

1) Physical Rest

The first type of rest we need is physical rest, which is probably the most understood type of rest in our culture. Even if we’re not getting enough physical rest most of us understand that the quantity of our energy is influenced by this. Physical rest can be both passive or active. Passive physical rest includes sleeping and napping.  Whereas active physical rest means restorative activities such as yoga, stretching and hands-on therapy (e.g. massage or reflexology)

Physical Rest Opportunities:

  • Eating regular nutritious food 
  • Getting good quality sleep 
  • Purposefully moving your body each day
  • Taking regular breaks during the day 

2) Mental Rest

The never ending to-do-lists?  The constant unclosed loops in your brain?  The never-ending browser tabs left open? The multi-tasking?  The being in mum, work and teacher mode simultaneously?  All these are a huge drain on our mental energy which is the focus of our energy. If you find yourself struggling to get to sleep at night or focussing on any one task then there’s a good chance you’re in need of mental rest.

Mental Rest Opportunities:

  • Schedule short breaks throughout your day
  • Monotasking rather than multitasking
  • Reducing distractions – turn off phone and computer notifications
  • Preventing work creep into evenings and weekends

3) Sensory Rest

Bright lights.  Computer screens.  Email notifications. Social media notifications – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Whatsapp.  Zoom meetings.  Your children speaking to you at the same time.  The constant needs and requests from others.  The clutter building up in your home from having your family living in it 24/7.  We live in an overstimulated world at the best of times, but over the last 12 months it’s easy for our senses to feel overwhelmed.  

Sensory Rest Opportunities:

  • Closing your eyes for a minute in the middle of the day
  • Consciously unplugging from electronics
  • Creating intentional moments of sensory deprivation

4) Creative Rest

If your job requires you to come up with ideas or solve problems this type of rest is especially important.  When our brains are so focussed and we’re bombarded with constant distractions it’s difficult to tap into our creativity.  This type of rest supports our ability to learn and adapt.

As author Tom Kreider wrote in the New York Times:

“The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

Creative Rest Opportunities:

  • Changing your work environment or making it more inspiring
  • Getting yourself into nature
  • Using art and images for inspiration 
  • Listening to music
  • Connect to a childlike sense of play and wonder

5) Emotional Rest

If physical rest supports the quantity of our energy, emotional rest supports the quality of our energy.  Over the last 12 months it’s likely that your emotions will have had a more negative quality to them – see the left hand side of the diagram above.  The competing demands of family and work in a pandemic may have triggered feelings of worry, irritability, impatience and anxiety. If you’ve been shouldering the emotional load for your family while also not having the connection to all the people and things that bring you positive emotions, then it’s pretty damn likely that you’re in need of emotional rest.

Emotional Rest Opportunities:

  • Be honest with how you’re feeling – a truthful “I’m not OK” can help validate your emotions
  • Be aware of people pleasing 
  • Pay attention to what triggers and drains your emotions – focus on reducing or eliminating the things that are you within your control

6) Social Rest

Although we are by nature social animals, each of us has a different capacity for social connection.  And the pandemic has really impacted our ability to connect in the ways we might want and need. 

Our capacity for social connection isn’t just influenced by where we sit on the extraversion/introversion scale but also by the types and quality of interactions we have with others.  It can be useful to differentiate between those relationships that revive us (I call these people radiators) from those relationships that exhaust us (I call these drainers).

Social Rest Opportunities:

  • Become aware of people in your life that you find enthusiastic, supportive, kind and easy to be around. And on the other hand become aware of the people you find draining, demanding and exhausting to be with.Where possible limit the interactions with people who drain your social energy and create more opportunities to be with the people who energise you.

7) Spiritual rest 

The final type of rest is spiritual rest, which is the ability to connect and feel a deep sense of belonging, meaning and purpose.  It’s about leaning into a sense of something larger than yourself. It can be an act of trust to rest – as we step away from the certainty of doing lots of things.  The space and quiet can be a little unnerving if we’re not used to it.  But connecting to a deep sense of meaning and purpose in our lives can connect us to our human spirit which has enormous power of renewal.

Spiritual Rest Opportunities:

  • Reflect on your personal values and find ways to live more in alignment with them
  • Identify the things in life that create flow for you (where you find you’re in your sweet spot – where you feel effective, effortlessly absorbed and fulfilled) and find more ways of doing them
  • Perhaps engaging in meditation, prayer or community involvement

Rest Revolution

Sleep alone can’t restore us to a point where we feel completely rested and renewed. So after the last 12 months in the pandemic it’s vital for us to get the type of rest we really need so that we can emerge from this challenging time feeling like we’ve recovered and can become stronger and wiser.

Are you in a rest deficit? What type of rest are you jost in need of?

Drop me a note I always love to hear from you.


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