BY DESI RICHTER, PHD
Academic work requires a great deal of effort, energy, and committed action. It also requires rest and recovery. We need space and time away from our work to decompress, connect with ourselves and others, and regulate our nervous systems.
Under the pressure of deadlines, high workloads, and competing responsibilities, we may not feel like we have time for rest and recovery. However, choosing not to rest creates the very conditions that can lead to ineffective work and burnout. We are taught to “push through,” but when we are exhausted, we do not do our best work. Nothing good comes from a state of depletion.
Choosing to rest can feel like an act of resistance. Yet, rest is foundational to your success as a writer—and not just the rest you get when you are asleep at night. Rest can take many forms, but real rest, as opposed to its substitutes, such as numbing or avoiding, leads to recovery. Rest replenishes you so that you can renew your focus and optimism. Rest also helps you return to problems with a new perspective so you don’t keep hammering away at old issues with potentially ineffective approaches.
To rest is to cease from work or movement. When we rest, we create space and stillness within ourselves. Consider the idea of resting in writing itself. Periods, commas, semicolons, and dashes all exist so that the reader will pause. These pauses give the writing shape and allow readers to digest meanings. In music, rests punctuate the melody with silence—they create a sense of expectation. Rests are what move both music and the written word forward. Just as a composer artfully infuses a rest into music, we can choose to weave rest into our academic work.
An Invitation to Rest
We invite you to put down your chapter, close your tabs, hide the articles, turn off text notifications, and rest—really rest. If you are ready to rest, consider the following practical ways in which you can learn to do so. Here are some suggestions to help you incorporate rest and recovery into your day-to-day life.
Define What Rest & Recovery Are for You
Rest and recovery look different for each person. In seeking to define what rest is for you, tune into your body. Notice if your nervous system is unwinding. Become aware if the gears of your thoughts are slowing. If you are resting and you start daydreaming, this could be a very good sign that you have switched tracks from the grind of the productivity mindset and are entering the realm of restful thoughts. Thoughts in rest are often less goal oriented and judgment filled. Restful thoughts are often mindful thoughts grounded in the present. When you are resting, you aren’t so much “performing mindfulness,” you just exist in the moment without concern for whether you are “doing rest right.”
Embrace the Paradox of Rest
Paradoxically, when we don’t feel we have time to rest, rest is exactly the medicine we need. If we feel like we cannot rest, then we are mentally and physically overtaxed. In these states, we lose the ability to work with clarity and purpose. Rest as medicine provides us with the space to re-evaluate our tasks and come at them with renewed vigor. Embracing rest when we feel like we don’t have time to do so requires trust, because in order to rest, we must surrender, even more so when it seems we don’t have time to do so.
Rest & Digest
When you are resting, you may find that uncomfortable emotions arise. Rest can help us create space to digest and discharge these difficult feelings. Academic work takes place within the context of our lives. Rather than splitting into two identities, the “academic self” who intellectualizes, and our “regular self,” who may allow emotions to surface, rest can provide a space for us to integrate these selves.
Emotional digestion requires our presence and willingness to gently feel our pain. This ability to feel is at the heart of the recovery process, but when we continue to barrel through our deadlines without digesting and integrating, we become driven and are more likely to engage in behaviors that actually sabotage our goals. When we allow ourselves to digest difficult emotions at rest, they are less likely to disturb or drive our behavior.
Give Yourself Time to Recover Your Ability to Rest and Recover
Learning to let go and receive the nourishment of rest and recovery is a journey. We can easily get frozen in patterns of not giving ourselves the rest and recovery we need, so we continually show up to our work “malnourished” and “dehydrated.” Thawing out of stuck patterns takes time. Thawing out can’t be rushed, but it can be supported and encouraged over time. No matter how long it takes, we encourage you to keep trusting that if you invest in rest and recovery, there will be a payback that supports your productivity and well-being.
Weave “Micro-R & R” into Your Day
Rest and recovery can come in small packages. Weaving rest into our daily routines via “micro-R & R” can help us work in sustainable ways. Pausing to notice what version of you showed up to work is a micro rest. You are pausing the action and noticing who is here. What condition do I find myself in? What is the internal weather like now? You are resting by observing yourself and allowing what is present (not easy to do but possible with practice).
Practical forms of micro-R & R include:
- taking deep breaths
- gazing out the window/daydreaming
- sipping hot tea
- lighting a candle or using an essential oil
- putting your hand over your heart
- listening to music that feels good to your body
- connecting with pets
- taking a technology break (including from your phone)
- journaling (no editing)
- lying down with a weighted blanket
- getting in the presence of someone who is good at rest (co-regulating emotion)
Which of the above might feel like rest for you? Can you take a moment to pick two or three of these items, or add some of your own, and plan times to weave micro-R & R into your days?
Plan for Larger Blocks of Rest
Micro-R & R helps us refresh ourselves throughout our workweek, but taking larger swaths of time away from our writing is also necessary. Planning an afternoon or weekend to connect to your rest is extremely important to your well-being as a writer. After you pass a milestone, such as turning in a chapter or defending your proposal, plan for larger times of rest. During these times, a change in the physical environment can offer you a needed reset.
This week, consider how you can incorporate real rest and recovery into your writing schedule. Make rest a practical part of your week. Put periods of both micro-R & R and larger blocks of rest on your calendar. Create a practice around rest this week and see what rewards you reap both in your writing and in other aspects of your life.