The most challenging (and rewarding) self and Self* care practice I’ve integrated…

Why is rest so hard? The head injury I sustained at the start of the year has massively expanded my perspective. This week’s focus is on the benefits of rest, including results of the Rest Test…

*that highest, wisest, truest, wildest, most miraculous part of yourself

Expanded view of Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick, Co Mayo, Ireland from Bertra Beach via a drone, January 2023

While still sometimes struggling to be patient and compassionate with myself as I have to slow down and rest more still, I see the time in hospital and recovery as my body’s way of coaching me to do better moving forward.

As the head heals, the early nights, breaks and common sense that I hadn’t been applying have now become habitual.

Even now, when I overdo things, the concussion headache comes back as a reminder to… rest.

I’m not the fastest learner on the planet but am getting there.

Rest is good for business

I’m taking regular breaks and still napping as much as possible / needed. The concussion headache that re-emerges when I overdo things is coaching me here, too.

Some companies have become better at encouraging proper breaks for employees. A 2021 North Carolina State University study found that even regular 5 minute breaks can be beneficial not just in avoiding burnout but in increasing productivity.

But my point with this post is that we’re not machines.

We shouldn’t need to be endlessly productive in order to feel worthy.

I’m working on (playing at?) countering this endless capitalist society conditioning in myself.

Being my own boss, am finally building in the breaks I couldn’t have managed back in 2004.

Cross addiction

Do you ever use being busy as a way to self medicate when being present and feeling all the feelings feels too much?

To numb yourself?

A little?

A lot?

Looking back, I see that when I stopped drinking alcohol in 2001, I immediately moved my focus to seemingly endless trainings while starting my coaching practice and freelance writing career from a standing start at the same time.

All while living with a chronic pain condition that had made this enormous life change and all the trainings essential (I was my first client).

Other people called me a workaholic but I was earning so little for so long, I didn’t fit the image I had of one.

It was like, when I started working with my perfectionist tendencies many years ago, feeling like I hadn’t been a PROPER perfectionist as I was so far off from perfect. At anything.

In my imagination, workaholics were more successful with high powered lives and fancy homes and suits but none of that really interested (or interests) me.

Still, I was definitely using work and the endless workload involved in starting a new business as a way to manage feeling more feelings sober. And my work and all the trainings were helping me learn how to navigate life sober by healing my past.

Even now, having been actively self-caring and Self caring for DECADES, I massively struggled with the first few days of doing nothing with my feet up for 10 minutes.

Because I start every single morning, since 2013, with even a little yoga and meditation, I thought it would be easy.

But I also thought it was important to use the 10 minutes not for additional meditation, as I often do extra throughout the day. But to Do Nothing? *breaks out in hives*

I needed help so, having enjoyed Kate Northrup’s Do Less when it came out, I downloaded some audio books about rest so I could rest better? More easily.

Knowing why I’m doing something (apart from the obvious wish to avoid ever collapsing and hitting my head again in the future) always helps motivate me.

The Rest Test

Claudia Hammond (author of Emotional Rollercoaster) is a delightfully accessible psychologist and broadcaster so I wasn’t surprised to enjoy her The Art of Rest so much.

One of the researchers (with Gemma Lewis) behind the Rest Test, Claudia Hammond goes into each of the top ten results to explore why they work.

According to this largest ever survey into subjective rest habits, with responses from around the world, these were the top 10 ways to rest

Which of these sound good to YOU?

How might you schedule (I know, I know) more rest into your life in a way that feels good and, well, relaxing?

10) Meditation or practising mindfulness? – For me, my first thing in the morning meditation and mindfulness practice essential to helping me FUNCTION in the world. I then do additional practices throughout the day and if I wake up in the night as needed or wanted.

How about you? If meditation and/or mindfulness appeals, how might you fit more into your life?

9) Watching TV – this result made me so happy. Obviously, it depends on what we choose to watch but I love having a wide range of things I’ve recorded as well as from streaming services (although sometimes, the choice feels far from restful) to choose what’s right for a short or longer break and different moods.

How about you? Do you watch enough TV? Too much? As with everything on the list, the balance and moderation element was important. People who had no choice (health issues etc) but to watch lots of TV didn’t experience the same benefits as people who relax in front of the TV after doing other things.

8) Daydreaming – I used to work on trains and Tubes and buses but now, while I still bring work, and of course, at least one book, I spend an enormous amount of time looking out the window, marvelling at my good fortune to be living in such a beautiful part of the world. Having got into endless trouble at school for daydreaming, I felt vindicated to hear Claudia Hammond encourage us to make MORE time for the things we were told not to do at school – daydreaming, doodling etc.

How about you? When is your mind most primed to wander?

7) Taking a shower or a bath – I love baths and hired the builder who did ALL the work on my house before it was ready to move into based soley on his easy, ‘Yes, we can get a corner bath in’ (into my seemingly too small bathroom). I didn’t even get QUOTES from others as most of the work was invisible (reparative) and this was essential for me. I add food colouring for DIY colour therapy and Rainbow MagnifiCat usually joins me on the edge and I use my foot and the warm water to give her punk hairstyles while she purrs away. After my previous home meant sharing the shower with at least 7 spiders, showers here or at various swimming pools feel especially luxurious. I imagine the water washing away any and all energies that are no longer needed.

How about you? Are your baths and showers indulgent (while not wasteful) as well as functional? How might you make yours feel more restful?

6) Walking – I walk every day and am struggling to not be able to do my old usual 5km without it bringing on what I’ve come to recognise as a concussion headache. So I’m splitting it into two, as with my yoga practice so I can do less more often, get the mental health (and physical) benefits and not overdo things. Living out in the country, walking past two streams and several gorgeous mountain views, not to mention the donkeys, trees, puddles etc makes these walks especially enjoyable but I love the architecture and street art in cities and there’s ALWAYS a change in perspective that helps me untangle my brain and get unstuck with this simple, slow (am endlessly stopping to take photos) movement.

5) Doing nothing in particular – This one, listening to the audio book (while DOING nothing in particular) really resonated as some of my most restful days are those where I get loads done but in a really relaxed way, starting to clean the bathroom, getting distracted and putting laundry on, doing some batch cooking, reading, weeding, watching some telly, reorganising some element of my home, doing some easy work, chatting to loved ones etc etc but NOT ON SCHEDULE. Letting the mood dictate. It’s not that I enjoy cleaning (by any stretch) but I LOVE that sense of effortless accomplishment when I haven’t set the bar (my previous usual) too high.

What are your favourite nothing in particular things to do? This is NOT to formalise them and take the ease away but to help you notice what feels more restful.

4) Listening to music – I’ve always adored music, many different genres, but only recently discovered streaming (I know, I know. Am not exactly an early adopter). I often depend on music now to make so many things feel easier. I’ll often play music on my phone even when just doing the tiniest thing. I listen to it while cycling, I listen while working in the house or garden and even doing certain kinds of work. Since getting a piano last year, I listen with a partial ear to attempting to recreate elements of it myself later on and this (with no pressure on myself whatsoever. My playing the piano is pure play and indulgence) helps me listen more deeply. I’ve been moved to tears at concerts because the sounds are so phenomenal and I’m delighted that this came so high on the survey results. The only kind of music I DON’T like is that kind of ‘spa music’ that is the musical equivalent of someone barking ‘Relax’ and making me feel anything but. But music I choose for myself – what a time to be alive and have access to past greats as well as the magical creations of today…

What kinds of music do you find most restful?

3) Being alone – The survey results found that extraverts found being alone restful, too. As with everything, it’s about balance. Too much alone time can become stressful and lonely but while the lockdowns helped me realise just HOW peopley (ambivert, not quite extravert) I’ve become, I still adore living alone with the MagnifiCat. Having loved ones over, going to them, going out etc etc but then that ahhhhh.

Do you get enough alone time? Too much? What would be your ideal?

2) Being in a natural environment – Before moving to Ireland, I knew I needed the sea and mountains. A friend suggested Westport and it continues to take my breath away on an almost daily basis. I adore the wild landscapes of the west of Ireland. I get to see the Reek (aka Croagh Patrick mountain) from my bed, my doorstep and my yoga mat (in the hallway), weather permitting. And even on the days I don’t want to walk, by the time I’m on my driveway, surrounded by nature, I immediately feel its benefits. Because I now have nature literally on my doorstep, I get regular sea and mountain views and have to put more effort into finding woods. My last flat in London meant a daily (slightly scary but still stunning) walk through a wooded area to get to my local train station. And in Essex, even trips to a local garden centre often felt restorative.

What kind of natural environments are easy to make the most of for you? What are beneficial but that little bit (or potentially holiday destination) harder but even more soul supporting?

1) Reading – I love that this was #1! I used to always have my nose buried in a book, even standing on the Tube. I read so much for work, reading for pleasure is an extra special indulgence. It continues to astonish me that we can access so much wisdom and inspiration (memoirs are my favourite) through a series of squiggles on a page. Again, the restful quality depends on what you’re reading.

What do you love to read? What feels most restful to read?

What ELSE might you do?

My acupuncturist prescribed 10 to 20 minutes of putting my feet up each day between 1 and 3pm.

Initially, I was sleeping around the clock but as I got back to work, I started setting the timer on my phone for 10 minutes once in position in Legs Up Wall pose (using my high headboard as I don’t have any suitable wall space at home)

Picture on my legs and slippers before I set the timer one day

This is beneficial in terms of cardiovascular health, too as gravity gives the circulatory system a bit of a break, refreshing blood supply and getting more oxygen to the whole body including the brain.

Most days, the MagnifiCat climbs onto my belly and her purrs make it even more indulgent.

AND this continues to be a struggle for me most days as the 10 minutes of Just My Thoughts (no meditation, no nothing) is a bit unpredictable but increasingly restful and relaxing.

Seeing it as a prescription definitely helps me keep it up.

You are a wondrous being, not a machine

If you’re still struggling to recognise and prioritise the need for rest in your own life, you may fins some of these helpful (via @femislay)

What kind of rest are you going to prioritise?

Feel free to email to let me know.

And please do feel free to share this post so others who may find it helpful can read it.

You can also find lots of heart opening self care ideas from the book across my social media

With love,

Eve Menezes Cunningham self care coach therapist supervisor

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