“Come to me, all who are weary and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
Anxiety is no joke! Symptoms and experiences range but I imagine most people will agree that anxiety is NOT something they desire for themselves or others. Yet it is so prevalent. According to Mayo Clinic there are over 3 million cases in the US each year. I was a pretty anxious kid. I missed over 30 days of school in 2nd grade for upset stomachs and in 5th grade was diagnosed with an ulcer. Although I was never diagnosed with anxiety and did not receive professional help, I can now look back and easily proclaim that I had major anxiety. I was fortunate to be symptom free from my early teens to my late twenties. But life events in 2009-2010 rekindled childhood experiences of extreme worry, feeling nervous, tightness in my chest and increased heart rate. I would obsess about certain things and catastrophize others. I was fortunate to have so many tools available to me, to reach out and get support. I started therapy. I discovered yoga. And I had a supportive husband and friends to confide in and to support me. I also had a spiritual director who encouraged me to rethink my prayer life. I began to pray the verse above, especially at night, when my anxiety was most intense. I just wanted to sleep. I just wanted my mind to slow down, to be still.
Rest is an interesting thing. At this peculiar time in life, I’ve been thinking a lot about rest. As our world began to change in March, I found myself energized. My daily life really wasn’t changing too much. I’m not navigating working from home or homeschooling children. Although I have missed teaching and practicing yoga in the community, our family is not reliant on that income to survive. I’m used to spending lots of time at home. So for a couple of weeks I made lists, lots of lists….all the grand plans of things I would do while the world was shutdown. And I did some of them. And then something shifted. I slowed down. I was tired and moody and unmotivated. I was watching a lot more Netflix and endlessly scrolling through social media. I blamed it on an unusual week of rain in SoCal. But then the sun came back and I was still lethargic. So I started listening to my body and began to rest. Sometimes I just sat in the backyard listening to the birds. Other times I took a bath or read a book. Many times I just crawled back into bed to sleep.
At times I’ve resisted rest. I’ve equated it with quitting or being lazy. My perfectionism and fear of failure made it difficult to choose rest. There was a need to keep going, to strive, to produce and to accomplish. Rest meant I’d have to work harder later. Won’t I get rest when I sleep? “But even sleeping isn’t restful for the person who can’t rest when they’re awake,” says licensed psychotherapist, Sarah McLaughlin. “If the brain is in a constant stress-state during awake hours then, in many cases, it is losing or has lost connective pathways that tell it to decrease or stop the stress response.” This may result in the stress hormone cortisol being released during sleep.
McLaughlin defines rest as ceasing work and worry, as “being, rather than doing.” Rest is possible when we shift from the external to the internal, making time and space for our inner selves, our minds and our creativity. It requires our whole being–mind and body–to be engaged in a restful state and to be present to the experience of rest. Here are just a few ideas on how you can truly rest.
Get curious. Begin asking yourself why you’re not resting, about the thoughts and feelings that drive your need to stay busy. Maybe explore one of these questions: If I weren’t so busy, would I feel like a failure? Would I fear losing the approval of others? Would I fear becoming stuck?
Understand and value rest. The majority of people are in a constant state of stress. McLaughlin notes that 70% of visits to the doctor are due to stress-related health issues. Rest is the only way to engage the part of our nervous system that allows for relaxation. It helps us show up for others and ourselves.
Practice Mindfulness.Take 5 minutes to sit outside. Engage all your senses. Feel the sun on your skin. Notice the colors that surround you and the sounds you hear. Allow yourself to be completely present in the here and now. Or, say to yourself, “I’m going to rest now.” Be intentional. Take several long, deep, slow breaths. Really focus on your breathing and connect with your mind and body in the present moment.
Focus on yourself. Take the time to discover how you’d like to rest. Focus on what grounds you, helps you feel alive and connects you to your true self. This will be different for everyone. Some find cooking meditative, others absolutely dread it. Maybe you like to journal or draw. Maybe sipping coffee in the quiet is your thing. For others it might be practicing yoga or watching the sunrise. Whatever helps you shift from absorbing external stimuli to tuning into your own body, thoughts and feelings…..DO THAT!
Many of us have forgotten how to truly rest. Our negative narratives have caused us to replace true rest with superficial, stimulating activities like scrolling through social media and playing games on our smartphones. The good news is, we can rediscover how to rest fully and wholeheartedly.
It’s not surprising to hear that during this pandemic prescriptions for anxiety are up 34%. People are sad, lonely and scared. These are unique and challenging times. There is help out there. You are not alone.
If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others
I’d love to hear how you are dealing with the stress of life these days. What does rest look like for you?