Usually when people talk about a successful and productive day they mention things like getting a bunch of work done at the office, completing a particularly difficult training session at the gym, or organizing and cleaning the entire kitchen. It isn’t typical for someone to say that they “accomplished a lot” by sleeping in late, listening to some music, taking a nap, and cooking a comfort meal of oatmeal and banana.
Sometimes though, this type of day can be exactly the sort of accomplishment that is needed; just because it doesn’t seem like much is being done does not mean that it is insignificant or a waste of time.
Since I’ve been traveling, I’ve realized just how underrated rest is and yet how important it is to take a break from the rush and craze of everyday life. Coming from the United States and from a society that is constantly imposing the message to accomplish more, to get more done in a shorter amount of time, that more is always better, it becomes easy to feel anxious when things don’t seem to be happening or when “enough” isn’t being done.
With the fear of boredom and neglect looming like dark clouds on my mental horizon, I would constantly look for ways to fill up my time. Even though I would feel accomplished, I often also felt very drained and depleted of physical and mental energy. It can be nice to feel tired at the end of the day, like a validation of the work you’ve done, but being totally worn out and exhausted is a difficult place to be day after day. Sometimes this type of fatigue originates from uncontrollable circumstances, but often it is from an internal fear of not getting enough done.
I struggle with this sort of anxiety a lot myself. When I’m impatiently waiting for a bus to arrive or when I become distracted from enjoying a walk outside by thinking about the work I should be doing, I am really encountering the fear of not accomplishing “enough” in my day.
From my own experience, I’ve found that especially when a pattern has been established around work it can be very easy to neglect the important act of rest. Working a job with regular hours has its benefits, but the pattern can also lead to an endless, energy-draining cycle. I wasn’t even aware of how run-down I would be until something would come along to change up the repetition, and then it was like a light-bulb turned on (or went out) and I realized what I really needed was a decent break from it all.
Stare out a window at the clouds. Take a nap, eat some toast, then take another nap. Go for a walk to a quiet park and just sit and listen to the birds. All of these things may not be crossing something off the never-ending checklist of things that need doing, but without them life becomes too crazy to enjoy the small wonders.
The human body was not designed to be constantly under stress and pressure; whether you need a physical break, a mental break, or both, it is important to rest, rejuvenate, and replenish your energy. For each person “rest” looks a little different. If you work at a desk all day, maybe going for a long walk in the woods is a restful activity. If you’re standing all day at a cash register, maybe sitting in a park and reading a book for an afternoon is better.
Traveling has given me a whole new appreciation for rest and how essential it is for my physical and mental health. When I first began traveling, I dreaded the long bus rides from one place to another, but over time I began to appreciate how I was forced to sit and do nothing for hours. In the places I visited, I was always on the move, wanting to see everything I could, going for long walks, staying out late with people I met, and in the time in between working and writing to make enough money to move on to the next place. Often, I would be running on an insufficient amount of sleep, but I didn’t notice right away because of the adrenaline and excitement of being in a new location.
When I got on the bus, suddenly there were hours ahead of me with nothing but the passing Brazilian countryside, clouds moving across the sky, and the hum of the air conditioners overhead. I felt like my mind finally had a chance to catch up on all the things that had happened to me in the past days or weeks, since usually in the moment so much would be going on that it was mentally impossible to process it all at once. Instead of being bored, I found myself loving the relative silence and lack of activity.
Energy and discovery are wonderful things, but they also take a toll over time. Usually I wouldn’t realize just how tired I was until circumstances forced me to take a break. A rainy day would come along and instead of going on the long hike I was planning on I had to stay inside. I was surprised by the relief this change of plans would bring. While I would be disappointed about not getting to go out on the adventure I was expecting, my body and mind were craving rest.
Over time I became more aware of my limits and learned how to figure out if I really had enough energy to go out and do something or whether it was my drive to discover overriding my need to take a break. Saying “no” to a long walk or going out at night would be difficult, but in the end the reward of feeling rejuvenated instead of run-down and beat-up was worth it.
In modern society it is easy to be influenced by the message that any moment spent not “accomplishing” something is a moment wasted. People are always looking for ways to fill time, rushing from one appointment to another, working long hours, and in between becoming distracted with things like social media to fill up the gaps.
Totally taking a break from it all, doing something like letting your mind go blank and staring out a window, is usually associated with boredom or downright laziness, not health and wellbeing. I believe that this is a dangerous, and potentially harmful assumption to make; doing “nothing” can often accomplish more than constant frantic activity and can be an essential part of a healthy disposition.
Of course, as with anything, rest can be taken too far, and instead of being a healthy and energy-replenishing act, it can be a way to avoid problems or justify lack of motivation. Work, activity, and rest need to find a balance; each is an essential component, and none can exist in a healthy way without the other.
A good way to find this balance is to experiment. Figure out your own boundaries for activity, when it is the time to push through the exhaustion and when is the time to stop. Maybe on some days when you’re feeling tired and like you don’t want to do anything, don’t. Stay in bed, make a cup of your favorite tea, read a good book. In the end, you might have more energy and better concentration to work more effectively and enjoy the times of activity in your life.
A passionate writer and traveler, Ki Lindgren decided to leave behind the regular routine of steady employment to explore the world. Fueled by a desire to learn about new perspectives, meet people from other cultures, and share life stories, Ki’s writing is both a way to share experience and preserve memories.