Rest for the Weary

Do you ever feel exhausted even though you’ve been getting plenty of sleep? Are you drained or sluggish, uninspired in your work, but you can’t figure out why?

You may be suffering a specific type of fatigue. Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, author of “Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity,” has spent years researching the ways we become fatigued. Her work has identified seven different areas in which we can become depleted: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, social, sensory, and creative. Doing one thing, like sleeping more, won’t necessarily fix other areas where you’re deficient. It’s critical to first identify the area where your energy is depleted and then implement strategies to restore yourself.     

Physical fatigue is what most people think they’re experiencing when they feel tired. And it’s a good starting point for tackling tiredness. There are two components to physical rest, and both need to be addressed.

  1. Passive rest involves sleeping, napping, and the things you’d normally associate with getting physical rest.
  2. Active rest encompasses actions that improve circulation, like walking, yoga, stretching, using a foam roller, and massage therapy. It includes the ergonomics of your work environment, which can cause bodily fatigue when equipment isn’t set up correctly.

Many of us struggle with mental fatigue because our brains won’t shut off and let us rest. Do you have trouble remembering things? Do you struggle with focusing on a single task? Are you not able to clear your thoughts so you can sleep? These are signs of a mental rest deficit.

Multitasking is a primary cause of mental rest deficit. Multitasking doesn’t allow us to focus on one thing. We train our brain to move from one thing to another without retaining information, but our brains ruminate over those unfinished items later. Worrying falls into this category—for example, those ubiquitous concerns about money that plague many small business owners.

To address mental fatigue, meditation is helpful, as are other activities that help you focus on something different, like taking a walk, exercising at the gym, or playing music.

If you have a busy brain that won’t let you sleep, try a mind map. Write down a list of all those busy thoughts, which gives your brain permission to release them. “When you’re ruminating over information, your brain is telling you it is important, so you’ll retain it,” says Dalton-Smith. “It’s trying to hold on to it even at the expense of sleeping. By writing it down, you’re letting your brain know that the information has been recorded so it can relax.”

We all have a need to belong and to feel that our lives have purpose. Spiritual rest deficiencies happen when we feel that what we’re doing has no meaning, or we aren’t making real impact on the world.

Participating in faith-based communities is a common way to replenish your spirit, but there are many options beyond organized religion. Many people restore themselves spiritually by working for causes that are meaningful to them. Look for community groups or charities that bring you fulfillment and a sense of spiritual connection.    

Emotional fatigue has received attention recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It remains an area of struggle for many adults who aren’t accustomed to talking about their feelings.

Sensory overloads can be exhausting, particularly for creative entrepreneurs like photographers who have a heightened attention to sensory input as part of their work.

To experience emotional rest, you have to find a place where you can honestly share what you’re feeling, says Dalton-Smith. A therapist, a supportive group, or a trusted friend could represent your safe space for sharing. It’s important to have a confidant who allows you to share what you’re feeling without trying to minimize those feelings or sugarcoat them. “It’s important to allow yourself the vulnerability to talk about your emotions, to express authentically and truthfully how something affects you because doing that allows you to release the emotional labor associated with holding onto everything,” she says.

Social rest concerns the people in our lives. Everyone around us either positively pours into or negatively pulls from our social energy, Dalton-Smith explains. It’s important to evaluate how different relationships affect our social energy.

The people who pull from our social energy are often the people we love the most, those people we feel called to serve—our family, coworkers, and clients. They’re the people in our lives who need something from us. A person who pulls from your social energy isn’t necessarily a negative person. It’s simply the nature of the relationship.

To combat social fatigue, evaluate and balance out your relationships. If you recognize that in your family, you’re the person everyone comes to for help, then offset that dynamic by maintaining relationships with people who don’t need anything from you. Allow those people to pour back into you, so you’re not always giving without getting anything back.

Sensory overloads can be exhausting, particularly for creative entrepreneurs like photographers who have a heightened attention to sensory input as part of their work. That heightened sensitivity can be useful when creating visual art, but it can also expose you to sensory overload because it’s hard to turn off.

Be aware of your sensory environment, particularly at work. Do you work in a place with a lot of noise, people coming in and out, distractions? You may learn to tune out these distractions, but even though you’ve consciously tuned them out, you’re still responding to them subconsciously.

“If you find yourself agitated, upset, grumpy, you could be dealing with sensory overload, which is a kind of sensory rest deficit,” says Dalton-Smith. “Simply put, your agitation changes your personality and your behavior when your senses are overwhelmed.”

For a sensory reprieve, Dalton-Smith recommends introducing some sensory rest tactics in your routine. This could be as simple as limiting the stimuli around you, such as reducing the number of notifications enabled on your phone. Or you can give yourself a sensory break by spending time in a quiet, dark room. Bottom line: Take back control of the stimuli you’re allowing into your life.

Creative energy depletion is another common ailment affecting photographers, who exert a lot of creative energy in their daily work. And the issue may extend beyond work. If you’re constantly being called on to solve problems, even in your personal life, that problem-solving thinking requires creative energy. If you’re being creative in your work and then coming home and exerting creative energy to solve problems, you can easily become depleted.

It’s important to understand not just that you’re tired, but where you are tired. Is it physical fatigue? Mental? Spiritual? Emotional? Social? Sensory? Creative?

Creative rest is the rest we experience when we allow ourselves to experience beauty in any form, explains Dalton-Smith. Getting creative rest could be as simple as looking at an image that restores you, or it could be as immersive as spending time surrounded by nature. The key is that you’re seeking creative rest, not doing creative research. Studies on this area show that people are more often replenished by creative inspiration that is outside the area in which they work. For photographers, this could mean watching dance, listening to music, or doing a different art form, like watercolor or drawing.

“All of these types of rest are just as important as sleep because rest isn’t simply about getting more sleep, it’s about restoring the areas within you that are getting drained every day,” says Dalton-Smith.

It’s important to understand not just that you’re tired, but where you are tired. Is it physical fatigue? Mental? Spiritual? Emotional? Social? Sensory? Creative? “Where is the energy draining out?” asks Dalton-Smith. “Once you can identify the type of exhaustion you’re experiencing, then you can begin to take back the power to recover your life from burnout, restore your energy, build your resilience, and be more effective in your work.” 

Jeff Kent is editor-at-large. 

Tags: creative