I would love to hear about your process in realizing you need to “step back” and care for yourself. What happened to cause that? What has changed in the way you go about doing things?
Those lines are from an email I received from a college student we know.
I laughed when I read her email. I’d just been up half the night before having a panic attack. I’d laid in bed, mind racing, breathing hard, every muscle firing. Finally, so as not to disturb my sleeping husband, I went downstairs and walked around, forcing myself to breathe deeply.
Why? Once again, I’d done too much. I’d been home all summer with four young children, shuttling them to various activities. We’d taken two family “vacations,” which involved packing for six and arranging dog care and disrupted sleep patterns. We’d had guests in and out of our house for months. We’d hosted dinners and events. And I’d been experiencing a series of minor, irritating health issues.
All of that (except the health) is good stuff. It was, by any measure, a wonderful summer. But I’d let too much good stuff pile up. I’d said “yes” too often. I’d forgotten that I’m an introvert.
I’d neglected my relationship with myself.
I don’t mean that in a selfish way — and the fact that I feel the need to immediately clarify this explains why it’s so hard for us (everyone, but women in particular) to take care of ourselves. We equate self care with self-centeredness, and nobody wants to wear that label. So, to paraphrase Bono, we give ourselves away.
Here is my hard-learned advice: YOU (yes, you) NEED TO REST. Because you do have a relationship with yourself; it’s your job to take care of you. And if you neglect your own mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health, then obviously you’re going to be unhealthy. And that’s going to negatively impact ALL of your other relationships.
All summer, I was ordered to rest — by my husband, a best friend, two doctors, and my pastor. But I had no idea how. My reaction was: “I’m not really that stressed. This is just the normal wear-and-tear of life. So, how can I change that? I mean, I can’t give away one of my kids, right? I just need to cope better.”
Listen to me: Life will never be easy, but we excuse too much in the name of “normal wear-and-tear.” If you are having panic attacks or suffering from a series of illnesses, for instance, that’s not normal. You might step back and assess whether you’re resting enough. Our culture considers busy-ness a virtue; our stress validates us. (I still fight the need to explain myself whenever I’m in public with fewer than my total of four children, because I’m afraid that my life looks “too easy.”)
So, what is “rest?”
When I hear “rest,” I usually assume it means “sleep.” I’ve never loved sleep. I function pretty well on 6 hours of sleep a night, and having children hasn’t helped; what quiet time I have comes after they’re in bed, and because I want to make the most of that time, I drag my feet.
But “rest” isn’t “sleep,” although sleep is very important (and I need to get more of it.) The dictionary definitions of “rest” include: “a bodily state characterized by minimal functional and metabolic activities,” “peace of mind or spirit,” and “something used for support.” I think those all work.
Rest should be something that restores you, something that gets your mind, body, spirit, and emotions into a healthy state. Obviously that’s going to look different for everyone on different days. Read a book. Take a walk. Sit in a cafe. Go to a museum. Write a blog post (okay, that’s mine.) Pray. Paint. Plant.
How do I rest?
That’s different for everyone, too. In my case, I’ve learned that I have to put rest on my calendar. At the moment, here’s what I’ve arranged with my family:
-I get one “mom’s night out” a week. Sometimes I go to my book club, or have dinner with my parents, or go for a long drive. Sometimes I just sneak away to a quiet room in the house. It’s all good.
-I get one “mom’s weekend out” a year. This is really important. A few hours away are great, but they’re quickly negated when I re-enter the house and see Legos all over the floor and dishes in the sink. A weekend away means one or two nights at a retreat center, a hotel, wherever, all by myself. So that I can hear myself think again.
This may sound impossible to you. You may think it’s too expensive, or nobody will watch your kids, or your kids won’t want you to go. In response, here’s a favorite quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea (a great rest-read): “If women were convinced that a day off or an hour of solitude was a reasonable ambition, they would find a way of attaining it. As it is, they feel so unjustified in their demand that they rarely make the attempt.”
Why is rest so important?
I could give you all sorts of reasons, like how continuous stress causes your cortisol levels (that’s the “fight or flight” hormone) to remain elevated, which triggers an inflammatory response in your body, which can make you physically sick. Or how God rested on the seventh day. Or how we should model good self-care habits for our children.
But here’s my favorite: My pastor pointed out that in the well-known line from Psalm 23, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures,” the word “makes” actually implies some degree of force or coercion. Like how I have to “make” my own children go to bed.
I was fascinated by this, so I looked into it a little further. It turns out that sheep don’t like to lie down, because they’re afraid. Only when a shepherd gives them enough security, when they feel safe, will they consent to rest.
When you rest, it’s an act of trust. You’re telling yourself and the universe that it’s going to be okay: The world will go on fine without you for a time. Lie down.