By Jeremy Godwin
Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health; I’m Jeremy Godwin and every week I look at one aspect of better mental health and I share practical and straightforward advice that you can apply immediately to improve your wellbeing.
Today I’m talking about the critical role that rest and relaxation play in your mental health — so get comfortable, and Let’s Talk About Mental Health…
Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the full transcript.
Watch Episode 47 of Better Mental Health on YouTube — in this latest episode I’m talking about how to prepare for a vacation so you can have a proper rest (which is essential for your mental health!).
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This podcast episode was originally released on 12 December, 2021.
Hello and welcome to Episode 109, and thanks so much for joining me!
This week I’m talking about rest and I’ll be covering what rest is (and what it isn’t), why quality rest and relaxation matters, and how to rest and recharge in a healthy way. So, let’s talk!
This episode could have very easily been called ‘Let’s Talk About… Exhaustion’ because I most definitely hit a wall last week (and the week before that) in terms of my energy levels. Why? To put it simply, I wasn’t making enough time for quality rest and relaxation, and there is only so long that you can run at full speed for before your fuel tank dries up; I can tell you very honestly that mine was flashing “empty” and that ding, ding, ding noise was going off like when your car is about to run dry.
Last week on my YouTube channel, Better Mental Health, I did a video about the value of rest and it was an opportunity to talk openly about how exhausted I was and share what I was doing to manage the situation in a healthy way; talking about it in that video (which you’ll find linked in the podcast episode description) got me to reading some research articles about the role of rest in mental health (I know, what a nerd!) and so I decided that it was actually a really good topic to cover in more detail here on the podcast because I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets like that sometimes.
Today’s podcast about rest is a continuation of the conversation I had in that video, and it’s actually about a whole bunch of different things that we all need to consider: rest, relaxation, recharging and, most importantly, self care. These are all basic aspects of better mental health which, frankly, it can be all-too-easy to ignore, but doing so can cause you to hit a wall in terms of physical and emotional energy, and even, potentially, to burn out… but, of course, I come prepared today with simple and practical ideas for how to look after yourself better!
Before we get into all of that, let’s start with some definitions and let’s talk about…
What rest is (and what it isn’t)
To put it simply, rest is about having downtime; it’s about allowing yourself time to relax, reset and recover, whether that’s from your work or home life, or both.
At a basic level, it’s also about the absolute fundamentals of looking after yourself: getting enough sleep on a regular basis, drinking plenty of water, eating well in order to put the right types of fuel into your body (and the right amounts), and moving your body with at least moderate exercise. These are the absolute basics of keeping your body going; anything less than that and you’re likely to run into physical or mental health issues (or both).
The terms ‘rest’ and ‘relaxation’ are often used interchangeably (and even I’m doing it in this episode), but there are some slight differences to be aware of; ‘rest’ is about sleeping or stopping completely to recover your strength, whereas ‘relaxation’ is about refreshing your mind and body by engaging in activities that we enjoy in order to reduce stress and improve your mood.
But beyond those broad definitions of rest and relaxation, there’s a bigger type that we don’t really talk about enough: emotional rest. I’m talking about switching off mentally and emotionally from all of the pressures and demands on us on a regular basis so that you can just be for a little while.
The reason why I bring this up is that it is an important consideration for your wellbeing, since exhaustion can do a lot of harm mentally and physically. According to an article by Healthline (and this is a long quote, so bear with me), “Mental exhaustion is usually the result of long-term stress. When you’re continually dealing with things that activate your body’s stress response, your cortisol levels remain high. Eventually, this begins to interfere with normal body functions, such as digestion, sleep, and your immune system. Physical exhaustion, which is an extreme state of unrelenting fatigue that leaves you physically drained, is a side effect that can be brought on by mental exhaustion. A 2017 review of 11 studies noted that mental exhaustion impairs physical performance and can make even simple tasks or exercise feel considerably more physically taxing and demanding.”
And you’ll find the link for that article in the transcript (https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-exhaustion#vs-physical-exhaustion), which is available for free at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes.
Rest and relaxation can often be frowned upon as being indulgent, lazy or frivolous, especially with the way we all seem to be expected to be working at high speed all the time and cramming as much as possible into every single day, and honestly I just don’t get it. Whose stupid idea was that?!
Because the thing is that rest is not an indulgence; it’s a basic necessity.
Why? Great question! So let me move into the next part of the episode and let’s talk about…
Why quality rest and relaxation matters
And the reason why is that it is just not physically (or mentally) possible to be ‘on’ 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can try, but I doubt you’ll get too far before you feel the urge to scream or cry (or both, and possibly at the same time).
Don’t just take my word for it; according to Mental Health America (and I quote):
“…making time to unwind and enjoy life is an important part of maintaining good health… [if] you aren’t getting enough time to relax, you may find yourself feeling tense and stressed out. Long-term stress, if not addressed, can cause a host of health issues, including chest pain, headaches, digestive issues, anxiety, depression, changes in sexual desire and the ability to focus.”Source: https://www.mhanational.org/rest-relaxation-and-exercise
And the link for that is in the transcript.
One of the main things we all need to be mindful of is that if we don’t spend enough time relaxing, physically and mentally, we can find ourselves becoming fatigued, which can have a negative effect on all areas of your life. You might find yourself becoming overwhelmed, having brain fog, not being able to fully concentrate or work through basic tasks, having trouble sleeping, becoming irritated or impatient with other people, and, in general, just feeling constantly exhausted. Sometimes that can be because of physical stuff (such as your work) or it can be mental stuff (like emotions you’re dealing with), or it can be a combination of both; mine was definitely both.
Let’s talk a little bit more about emotional exhaustion. Some of the signs may include:
- feeling cynical or pessimistic
- not caring
- feeling detached
- feeling angry
- experiencing hopelessness or dread
- having a lack of motivation
- having a decline in productivity
- finding concentration difficult
- experiencing depression or anxiety (or both)
There are also physical signs (like headaches, stomach issues, body aches, changes in appetite, chronic fatigue, being more susceptible to illnesses like colds and flu, to name just a few) as well as behavioural signs like poor performance at work, withdrawing from social activities or isolating yourself, being unable to keep personal or work commitments, calling in sick more frequently, etc.
And those points were adapted from the article on mental exhaustion by Healthline that I mentioned earlier, which I’ll link to in the transcript (https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-exhaustion).
That last bit, about calling in sick more often, is definitely something I know about from personal experience. When I was working for other people I have had many, many days where I could not physically or emotionally bring myself to leave the house; often I was genuinely sick, because I was so overwhelmed that I was constantly picking up every flu, cold or stomach bug going around, and sometimes it was because I just couldn’t find the emotional and mental strength necessary to face the world, let alone my workplace. In hindsight (and most things tend to become a lot clearer with the benefit of a bit of distance between you and it), I can definitely see that was a very clear sign of my anxiety and depression manifesting itself as a total inability to do anything because I had reached a point of exhaustion. Even now, with my depression pretty much under control and my anxiety being a lot milder and more manageable than it was, I still have days where I just cannot do it, no matter how hard I try (although, thankfully, those days are few and far between now, and mostly just triggered by family issues or having a heavy workload).
The key is in making your rest and relaxation a priority, because it is the thing that helps you to restore your physical and emotional strength. How do you do that? Well, let’s get into the how-to part of this week’s topic and let’s talk about…
How to rest and recharge in a healthy way
OK, so let’s begin with…
Make it a priority — alright… prepare yourself for an avalanche of clichés, people: you cannot fill from an empty cup, you can’t run on empty, put your own mask on before you help others, a change is as good as a holiday, Rome wasn’t built in a day, colours of the world (spice up your life!) etc. etc. Do you know why we say all of these things? Because they’re true. Although that last one was just an excuse for me to work a Spice Girls quote into this episode, because it’s been a while! In all seriousness, I hope by this point that I’ve made a fairly clear and convincing case for why rest and relaxation are essential in terms of your mental health and wellbeing, and so if they’re that important then you need to actively prioritise them… because if you don’t, nobody is going to do it for you (look, I managed to work in yet another cliché!). If you want to look after your wellbeing then you need to actively look after it; it won’t just happen because you listened to a podcast or read a book. One way you can do that is with my next point…
Plan your time thoughtfully — and by this I mean being conscious of incorporating plenty of time for rest and relaxation (and, again, that means ‘plenty of time’ as in ‘it’s a priority, so make it a priority’!), and it also involves being considerate of when you are at your most productive when you’re scheduling things. For example, I juggle many different jobs and I know that I’m much better at writing in the morning; by the afternoon, that creative part of my brain turns to goo and I struggle with writing, so that’s a better time for me to work on different tasks. When you take the time to set up a routine that is more aligned with your natural rhythms and preferences, you’ll find you’re better able to tap in to your productivity when the time is right (and you can then use the less productive times for activities that serve to recharge and restore you, like binge-watching Kelly Stamps on YouTube). OK, so my next point is…
Choose healthy coping mechanisms — and yes, this is where I have to give you some advice that might sound a bit like a lecture (and maybe it is) but choosing unhealthy coping mechanisms is just going to lead to unhealthy results… sorry, I don’t make the rules; that’s just how it works. In case you weren’t aware, you actually can have fun without making a total wreck of yourself (who knew?!). And of course the whole ‘all things in moderation’ thing applies, however I encourage you to think about this: if you’re exhausted, physically or emotionally (or both), something has to give… and if you don’t prioritise your wellbeing, it will catch up with you sooner or later (to be fair, if you’re exhausted then it already is catching up with you). Eat well, drink lots of water, get plenty of good-quality sleep, move your body, limit the indulgences and make time for activities that serve to recharge your mind, body and spirit. Which actually leads quite nicely into my next point…
Have fun often — so I already made the point about ‘healthy’ fun in the last point, so I’ll try not to hit you over the head with it again, but in terms of doing stuff that you enjoy, the general advice is go for it and have as much fun as you can as often as you can. And it’s not just me saying that; there’s plenty of research to back it up. According to the Mental Health America article I mentioned earlier (which is linked in the transcript), “Making time to find enjoyment is also an important element of relaxation. Laughing decreases pain, may help your heart and lungs, promotes muscle relaxation and can reduce anxiety.” OK, so my next point is…
Make time for deep relaxation — and this is about practices like meditation, mindfulness, spending quality time in nature, even massage… anything that involves you spending a good chunk of time in activities that are focused on cultivating greater relaxation will have a lot of positive benefits. According to Mental Health America, “when practiced regularly [deep relaxation] not only relieves stress and anxiety, but also is shown to improve mood [and] has many other potential benefits as well — it can decrease blood pressure, relieve pain, and improve your immune and cardiovascular systems” (and, again, that article is linked in the transcript). So my next point is…
Say no — and I talked about this topic recently, in Episode 105, when I said that saying no to things that you just cannot take on at the moment is a way of valuing your own needs, time and priorities… because if you say yes to everything that is asked of you, pretty soon you’ll burn out (and I covered burnout back in Episode 18). Be very clear on your priorities and make sure they are covered before you even consider other requests, because if you can’t look after the fundamental stuff that matters most to you then you’re likely to find it has a flow-on effect later on down the track. Speaking of the fundamentals, my next point is…
Simplify — and this is about going back to basics for a bit (or for longer) so that you can do what needs to be done while also giving yourself the time and space you need to rest, relax and recharge. It’s OK to just focus on the basics, especially if you’re exhausted; for example, I have been very open about the fact that for a few weeks I am doing shorter episodes here on Let’s Talk About Mental Health because I’m prioritising my wellbeing after hitting that wall of exhaustion last week, and hopefully you all understand and accept that. It’s so easy to get caught up in the whole thing of trying to do and be everything to all people, but sometimes you just need to go back to bare basics so you can make more time for rest. I talked about simplicity back in Episode 63 if you’d like some specific ideas for how to do that, plus I covered the basics of good mental health in Episode 101 which might also be useful in terms of building a solid foundation for your own wellbeing.
And then one more piece of advice before I begin to wrap up today, which is if you feel constantly exhausted, see a doctor — because there could be lots of different reasons why, and it’s best to be safe. It’s better to talk to a medical professional than try to figure it out on your own, especially if it’s a chronic issue that has been happening for weeks or months (although, please don’t just leave it for months!).
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to rest and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: You cannot run at full speed indefinitely, and sometimes you need to slow down so that you can rest, relax and recharge… because if you don’t do it yourself, often your body and mind will force you to do it when you least expect it. Instead of letting yourself reach a place of total exhaustion, choose to make rest and relaxation a priority every day and invest quality time in your own wellbeing so that you can feel reinvigorated and ready to face whatever you need to.
The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will YOU make today?
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by Erica Layne, and it is:
“Rest is not idle, is not wasteful. Sometimes rest is the most productive thing you can do for your body and soul.”Erica Layne
Alright… that’s nearly it for this week. Next week I’ll be talking about satisfaction. I have spoken in many episodes about the idea of pursuing greater life satisfaction, but what does it actually mean and how is it different to happiness? Well, that’s what I’m going to be covering next time. I’ll be talking about what satisfaction is (and what it isn’t), why it matters, and how to cultivate greater satisfaction into your life to improve your mental health and wellbeing.
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday the 19th of December, 2021. And on Wednesday you’ll also find another brand-new episode of Better Mental Health landing on YouTube (so take a moment to subscribe to my channel using the link in the episode description) or head to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au where you can also join my free mailing list for my weekly newsletter (and my website is also linked in the episode description on whatever podcast service you’re currently listening to me on).
And, as always, find me on Instagram at @ltamentalhealth where I post extra content daily.
Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time!
Let’s Talk About Mental Health is proudly produced by Reconnaissance Media, helping you find gratitude and meaning. For more information visit reconnaissancemedia.com
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