Why is it so hard to rest?

My body is trying desperately to tell me something.

Last week I developed a terrible pain in my wrist. I wrapped it up and got on with life. This week it’s almost completely better and I’ve been feeling so proud of my little hand. Then this morning I woke up with shoulder pain.

Nothing catastrophic. It just really hurts when I try to turn my head to the right.

I’m sure it’ll be gone in a few days. It’s really annoying to get an injury when the only thing that stands between me and rapid mental decline is my daily workout. I don’t know for sure that I would immediately fall into a dark, existential depression without my morning HIIT, but I don’t want to risk finding out.

When you start getting random aches and pains, it’s normally your body telling you to chill the hell out. These kind of musculoskeletal pains are just a gentle warning. A brusque slap on the wrist before the big guns come out. It’s best to heed these gentle warnings early on.

Rest is really important. I know that, you know that…so why is it so hard to actually do it? Even when I’m lying in bed past eight on a Sunday morning (which everyone knows is a day made exclusively for lie-ins, brunch, daytime TV, red wine and kettle chips), the guilt starts to creep in. I stare at the ceiling thinking of all the things I need to do: all the things I’d like to do, or could be doing if I was better at life.

You know, go for a hike somewhere beautiful I’ve never been before; crack on with writing this novel I’ve been tormenting myself with for over a decade; clean the flat; do that freelance task with the deadline looming; work out; sort out my terrifyingly messy box of important documents; get my guinea princes some grass. Endless things that would be more productive than lying in bed.

And so with these anxious thoughts running through my head, I remain lying immobile in bed without actually reaping the restorative benefits of lying immobile in bed.

I can’t rest because when I rest, I feel guilty.

Recently my life has ramped up in pace. I have some new freelance copywriting clients on top of my full-time job, I’m about to start a new job after 5.5 years at the same company, and there are some other big changes coming over the next few months that I’m really excited about but which also scare me. Everything is unknown, which is at once thrilling and a bit daunting.

I think the slightly heightened level of stress inside my head is translating as muscular tension and imbalance in my body.

The fact is, in all our lives there’s always going to be something to do. I recognise now that finding time to rest without guilt is just as important as finding time in the day to exercise. I recognise it, but I still find it impossible to do.

For a supposed yoga teacher, I’m not that great at sitting in the moment. I actually find it easier to meditate while walking, because at least then my body is occupied too.

I’ve decided to compile a list of ways I need to rest, and I hope that these can help you too:

Creative rest

For people devoted to creating (crafters, musicians, writers, artists), stepping away from the work-in-progress can feel impossible. You want to get it done! What if you lose your flow? What if you never finish? But taking a break from your creative work can actually help refresh you and refill your creative tank so you can return with more motivation and better ideas than ever.

Physical rest

If exercise is a coping mechanism for you, as it is for me, you’re going to find it hard to skip your workout. You might let that critical voice sneak in, telling you you’re lazy, you’re going to put on fat, you’re losing fitness…but physical rest, literally spending a day napping and lolling about on your sofa, could do your body a world of good. It’s a chance to repair muscles and restore your glycogen levels so you can come back with even more energy and strength.

Mental rest

You don’t always have to be mentally stimulated by books and screens. Sometimes it’s ok just to stare ponderously (or even vacantly) out of the window. When we daydream, our brains are busy building important neural connections behind the scenes. Take a few hours to do nothing much: lie down in the sun, go for a gentle walk, or meditate to some nice music.

That’s all I’ve got for you tonight. I just had a long soak in the bath to try to soothe my shoulder (also a good way to rest) and now I am going to switch off my brain and refuse to think or make decisions for the rest of the night. Goodbye.

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