Is there such a thing as rest?
“When we traveled in the States, we thought it was strange that Americans are always rushing around to get house projects done and squeeze trips in on the weekends. We use the weekends to relax,” a German friend told me when I was visiting last month in Frankfurt.
It may be easy to judge when you get six paid weeks of vacation, but his comment stuck with me.
Ever since I was a child, weekends have been a time to get things done… make trips to Home Depot, clean the house and meal prep. Relaxing was a guilty pleasure saved for Christmas day and July 4th holidays (if we weren’t hosting a bunch of guests for a party).
Needing to stop and take a break implied that you were weak or even lazy. Naptime was for babies…timeout was a punishment. Rest clearly had a lot of negative associations for me – can you relate?
Work hard play hard, right?
We typically have fewer vacation days working in America than European workers, so you would think we would take and savor each one. A 2017 Harris Poll of Americans who get paid days off showed that on average, people are only using 54% of their days off!
The same poll found that 2 out of 3 Americans are working on their “days off”. Are you guilty? (I am!)
This insanity is so ingrained in our culture we barely even notice that there is anything wrong with this.
When I spent two months in Germany earlier this winter interviewing people about wellness culture and habits, the topic of rest came up again and again as one of the biggest differences between American and German mindset around staying and getting healthy.
In this conversation with a retired engineer from the German auto industry, notice how he says that when Germans take 2-4 weeks off work to rest and recover from stress and stress-related complaints – their colleagues don’t even get jealous or give them a hard time. (P.S. This time off is on top of any vacation and sick days).
Can you imagine?
Rest is essential for healing
In the incredibly international city of Berlin, I had the chance to talk to people from around the world about what their go-to solutions for headaches were. I was hoping to discover some different herbal remedies or combination of tricks to get rid of them, but interestingly nearly everyone replied that when they started to feel a headache coming on they would take a break and relax or lay down for a while.
This sounds so simple and obvious… and yet different what I had done for decades. I would always just take some medicine and carry on with whatever I had planned. Rest didn’t even seem like an option.
How about you, if you feel a headache or a cold coming on – do you clear up your calendar and rest or do you pop some OTC drugs and push through?
A lunch break isn’t supposed to be “catch up on email” time
Even with the growing popularity of mindfulness practices and yoga culture, we have a long way to go to make rest and taking breaks socially acceptable again.
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a coaching client, who after at least 3 conversations about taking a small break during her workday, finally called me to tell me that she had taken 10 minutes to go outside after eating lunch and her whole afternoon was more productive and energized.
Instead of taking away time from her work, she noticed that the break gave her a renewed focus for the rest of the day. Sometimes you just have to experience it to get it. Still, she is struggling to change the culture of her office where it is par for the course to work straight through lunch without a break at all.
Do you face the same battle?
As a society, we need to regain an appreciation for the mental and physical benefits of resting. Athletes like runners and weightlifters are familiar with the benefits of a rest day, to let your tissues repair and recover. They know that they will be stronger and faster if they respect the rest days. The mind needs a break too!
Creativity is boosted when we take a break
Have you ever had a brilliant idea come to you in the shower?
We actually need some space and silence (including silence from social media updates) to process thoughts and make new connections.
Yesterday I shut off my laptop and put away my phone for 15min to lay down and enjoy the warm sun on my skin. I wasn’t intending to think about anything, but I had all kinds of creative ideas for my business and had to go get a notebook to write them down!
The same thing happened when I was “trapped” on a 7-hour train ride without Wi-Fi. After the initial frustration of not being able to work on what I had planned, I started cleaning up my desktop and files. After clearing the clutter and resigning myself to staring out the window for a few hours, I had a sudden burst of creativity and thought of solutions for things that had been nagging me for a long time.
Sometimes we need to space and the quiet to unleash our creative problem-solving side. Instead of bouncing from one activity and project to the next, we need to carve out time for rest and quiet.
How about you? What kind of feelings come up when you think about resting and taking time for yourself?
Are you able to relax and enjoy it on a regular basis or do you feel guilty?
Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments – I hope that together we can start a movement to stop treating rest like a bad word. Maybe we need to call it a “Siesta” or “Ruhepause” to get over the 4-letter word status 😉