Letting Ourselves Rest

I have struggled as an adult to rest. To me, it is hard to find a place and time to just let myself “do nothing”. Since I always have so much to do, if I take a day off, where I literally do nothing, I have to fight immense feelings of guilt and even shame. I am not quite sure when that started happening, but I identify it as an issue that really intensified when I became a mother. For me, when I became a mom, there was a sense that I HAD to be responsible 100% of the time. Because it was not just about me now, it was about this beautiful little child and I needed to be able to do and have certain things if I was going to be a “good” mother. I had to be “on”, and I had to be productive ALL the time. I can identify that this is probably not where it started, but this is when it got more obvious. I could never just have a day to myself, a day “off”, or a day to do absolutely nothing.

As I have grown and worked through the many issues that have come up for me over the years, I have consistently identified one issue that I needed to tackle – being able to have a “nothing day” and not feel terrible about it. Why do we, as human “beings” feel the need to be “doing” something (anything) all the time? Some experts say this is linked to shame and low self-worth – the idea that if I am not “producing”, then I am not “creating my own worth”. The idea that I have to “prove” that I am worthy by “doing it all” is silently circulated among all walks of life – moms, dads, students, teachers, employees, even children are expected not to be “lazy” and to “hold their own”. I feel this has created a pseudo “un-selfish” culture that is exhausted and resentful. Because, let’s be honest, when we are run ragged ALL the time, we don’t feel accomplished, we feel drained and that has to be somebody’s fault, right?

Today, I know I am falling into this trap when I start to feel really crabby all the time. I have learned over the past several years to listen to myself and to just let myself have time. During my practicum to finish my masters, my supervisor encouraged me to adopt the attitude/mantra that “it will all get done” and to try and leave it at that. Try not to worry about your giant “to-do list”, don’t get mad at yourself for being tired and when you feel spent, that means it’s time to set some boundaries and cancel some plans. Yes, we all have things that we need to get done, but if we cannot learn to take care of ourselves, those things will feel more like torture.

Don’t get it twisted, I am not encouraging you to “zone out” on TV or play video games for 14 hours. Rest also does not have to mean “sleep” (although for parents, it often does). I feel like this is one of those issues that can mean so many different things. Maybe rest looks like gardening, reading, or coloring. Doing something that nourishes your soul. Maybe rest means mediation and reflection and/or prayer. Maybe it means being alone, or being with your spouse, or your children. Maybe it means taking an afternoon nap and then ordering in, instead of stressing about the laundry and dinner. Maybe it simply means “not doing work”. Think about what “rest” looks like for you and think about the last time you had any.

For some reason, even though I am a therapist – this is still hard to do (I suppose it is because I’m human). It is hard to feel like I am still a good mom and good person, even if I took a whole day and did zero, zip, nada. It is hard to sit still and be “with myself”. Maybe this is why we, as a collective society, accept the constant “go”. Maybe, it is a way that we can all remain “numb” and “distracted”, but is it really a sustainable solution? So, I encourage you – even if you need to schedule these days in, focus on having a time where you GET to do nothing, even if you are scared you might not get it all done. Let yourself recharge by saying “I’m sorry, I have plans that day” and taking that time to just rest.

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