Ask a Therapist: On Physical Rest
Q: I am having difficulty feeling rested and energized in my body - what can I do to take better care of my physical energy needs?
A: Our physical bodies are restored in two distinct but interconnected ways: through movement and through sleep. In her book, Sacred Rest, Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith describes these two components as passive and active physical rest.
Generally, when people feel tired they look to the passive form of physical rest as the first thing needed to combat their exhaustion. Perhaps they try to go to bed earlier or they add a nap to their day. In order to get adequate and restorative sleep, clients often review their sleep hygiene to look for areas where they might be able to improve the quality of their rest. Simply put, strong sleep hygiene - the care and conditions you place around getting a good night’s sleep - will serve you well in terms of attending to the need for passive rest.
If you are not getting enough rest at night consider implementing some of the following strategies to improve your sleep:
set a consistent routine for bedtime and waking time
avoid caffeine and alcohol after 5 pm
put away all screens a minimum of one hour before bed (two hours is better)
take all distractions out of your bedroom to create an atmosphere of calm create a personalized and predictable relaxing pre-bed routine that soothes the body and relieves stress (consider things like hot baths, meditation, stretching, journaling, reading, diffusing essential oils etc.).
You will not regret prioritizing your sleep as it is one of the most important predictors of overall health and well-being.
Under the category of physical rest, the body also needs activity. This might be counterintuitive because movement requires energy, but we all know that exercise also restores energy. Sometimes high-intensity activities can be too stressful for a body that is depleted and exhausted so we like to suggest gentle exercise as the primary form of restorative self-care. This might include walking, stretching, yoga, swimming, slow dancing, reasonable weight lifting, or other slow-paced, low-stress physical movements. When you are exhausted, you want to move your body in a way that helps it to recover, increase circulation, and to improve your lymphatic system. This is not the time for pushing beyond reason in your physical activities as it may actually distress the body further and thus not achieve the restorative benefits you are seeking.
If you would like support to build a comprehensive restorative self-care plan that fits your particular needs for active and passive physical rest (or any other rest for that matter) please do not hesitate to reach out to a therapist for support. Improving your sleep hygiene and gentle movement will significantly improve your mental health.
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