Monday, February 6, 2017

2017 Renewal Challenge: Rest

One of my absolute favorite places in the whole wide world is my bed. I love laying down in my bed, reading in my bed...I've even been known to eat candy and cake and french fries in my bed. It's a place of comfort to me, where everything I need is right there at my fingertips and relaxation surrounds me.

Except lately. Lately I've been jumping onto my phone in the morning and at night and my pulse starts to quicken. We are a divided country and the things I see and hear and read keep me up at night, they inspire me to take action, they push my worries and anxiety into overdrive.

A little light reading before bed, yes Jen? How about getting drowned in inequality and rich man puppetry and shaming and removing the rights of others and fearing for your daughters' safety instead. Meh-heh-heh sweet dreams, Clarice! 

I've never really been one to just let things go. I completely suck at it, frankly. I dwell and obsess until the problem is resolved. This flaw of mine has an upside: it's instilled a sense of purpose to my life and I often find myself saying, "if you don't like it, do something about it." So I act a lot. Sometimes irrationally. Almost always reactively.

The activist within me hates to rest. The humanitarian within me feels guilty for resting. The young woman within me screams at me to get out and live before it's all over. And the mama within me shames me for not making the most out of my babies' childhoods while I still can.

Resting does not come easily to me. Resting is most definitely a challenge.

Release the guilt!
Everyone needs sleep and everyone deserves peace, even us well-off, white, suburban moms. My mind, recalling images of starving, war-ravaged children, often fights me on this. What do you have to complain about, Jen? What are you tired for? Do you have any idea how easy you have it? Are you appreciating your privilege enough? Are you getting lazy because it's "the American way?" What could you be doing instead of resting?

Every now and then, particularly when I'm around someone who validates a restful, relaxed lifestyle, I can coerce my brain into letting me shut down for a little while. But the guilt still seethes.

One of the only things that works for me is the reminder that without rest, I am acting with only a portion of my potential greatness. When I think about all the things I want to accomplish, when I actually envision myself on the ground, making things happen, I never imagine myself standing there with dark circles, a furrowed brow, and a hazy consciousness. Nope. The successful Jen in my dreams is always alert, quick-thinking, anticipating. She is confident, composed, ready. She most definitely is not yawning and snapping at her kids and bursting out in tears at ASPCA commercials.

The only way I can be the very best mom, friend, daughter, significant other, and Jen I can be is if I give myself permission to release my focus and zone out every now and then. Shut out the worries. Stash away the fear. Give my mind and my heart a break. Live fully in my privilege and realize that once I'm done resting, I'll get right back to working and passing freedom and privilege to others.

Have you heard of this yet? Hygge is a Danish word that kinda sorta means "coziness." It's an idea, or rather a collection of ideas, that purports our standard, ho-hum moments can be transformed into special, meaningful, delicious experiences simply by tending to the small stuff. Blankets, hot chocolate, soothing music, warm lighting, good company, long books, drawn-out meals....these are just a few things that can create hygge. The Danish have long winters with very little daylight, so they created hygge as a way to continue happy, healthy, appreciative, enjoyable lifestyles despite the bleakness outside. When we take the time to light candles, create warmth, and set the stage for comfort, we are forced to focus on that very moment - the attention to detail helps you appreciate the moment you've created for yourself and for others.

I tried my hand at hygge last week and wouldn't you know it? It was wonderfully restful. I lit a candle, I turned my TV into a cross-country train ride (check out SlowTV on Netflix), I brewed myself some tea, grabbed my blanket, and set out my seed catalogs. With each "settling in" step, I found myself anticipating the warmth, serenity, and relaxation ahead. My mind focused on creating a peaceful environment, one filled with things I love and find soothing. By the time I'd fallen into the beautiful abyss that is springtime seed planting, the worries I'd previously been obsessing over were shoved to the back burner. My mind was resting and it felt glorious.

Resting doesn't need to mean sitting on the couch watching TV. It doesn't need to mean sitting at all, actually. One of my favorite ways to rest is by way of creation. When I'm trying a new cookie recipe, I am resting. When I'm painting or coloring, I am resting. When I'm digging new seeds into the dirt, I am resting. Each of those things require a great deal of concentration and with every scoop of flour, splatter of paint, and sprinkle of seeds, my worries slip farther and father into the background.

Think of something enjoyable that challenges your brain and requires total focus. It could be swimming. It could be writing. Heck, it could be playing an online hidden object game. Write them down or save them to a note in your phone. Next time you find yourself getting overwhelmed and in need of rest, whip out that list and pick something, anything, to give yourself a break. The things you need to worry about will be there waiting, so give yourself permission to walk back to your problems refreshed and ready to tackle them with a clear head.

A Life of Seasons
Our world cycles back and forth, round and round, from sunny summer days to freezing winter nights. Our lives are no different. Sometimes we are stuck in a season of stress and inconsistency and worry. Sometimes we are flying high in a season of security and potential and excitement. Each season calls forward its own set of needs, including needs centered around rest and renewal. Sometimes we can go a whole week without needing a time out. Other times we need to take 10 time outs a day.  Your seasonal swings are natural and they are ok.

If you're not able to cope today, don't cope. Take care of the bare minimum obligations and then get out of your head for a little while. When your mind is telling you it can't do it, listen. Give it a rest. These sleepy, exhausted moments can carry on for a couple days - let them. You don't need to "make up for it," the next day, that will happen naturally once you've regained your strenth. Sometimes I can look at the world with a sense of awe and inspiration. Other times I see nothing but sadness and darkness. What goes up must come down.....every storm runs out of rain.....and change is the only constant. Allow yourself to circle round and round and accept the seasons of your life. The hard times create the contrast we need to truly recognize the give yourself a break and rest up when you're feeling down.

It's not easy to clear our heads from the clutter of the day. I'm not going to lie, most of these posts I write here on this blog are for me. I can't tell you how many times I've revisited the blog and tried to remind myself of what I just the one about being too busy living to be busy in any other way, or tips on how to stress less. I've read the dealing with judgement gracefully post more times than I can count. I write these things down to serve as reminders to myself. My head is at its peak darkness right before I rest. One of the very first things I do when I get to the point where I am about to explode from anxiety is (and this is gonna sound insane.....because it kinda is insane) I get on Google. I get on Google and I type my problem right in the search bar and I read. I read for perspective. I read for comparison. And once I've gotten my fill of internet insanity, I start to wean down my content into pieces that distract me and make me feel good.

You don't need to read blogs (although, let's face it, they're pretty dang fantastic). You can read poetry. You can look at pretty pictures. You can listen to music. You can watch funny videos. The point is to find content that is not social media (you cannot control or predict social media content) and use the content to propel you into a more restful state. Sometimes escaping to a good book or a 22-minute-long video of The Office outtakes is all you really need to center yourself. True story.

Resting does not come easily to some of us. This week's challenge is to find new, sustainable ways to rest so we can all operate during our active phases at our full potential. The monarch butterfly rests in that cocoon for two whole weeks before emerging in all of her beautiful glory.....pretty sure we can take a half hour to watch cats on YouTube, sip on tea, read a good blog post, and laugh.

What are your favorite ways to rest? Do you struggle to let go and really immerse yourself in relaxation? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below. As always, thank you so so much for reading :)

Looking for some unique ways to feel renewed? I've got you covered :) Check out the other posts in my 2017 Renewal Challenge:
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  1. Wonderful post, Jen. You're so right, often it's hard to allow ourselves the mindful intension of rest. I've found that when I propel myself into constant business There Is Something Wrong. This is avoidant behavior for me and I'm learning to Stop Drop and Roll through my head in search of whatever I'm trying not to deal with. My plan is to give it a little bit of time and then let it go as, more often than not, I have absolutely zero control over this menace lurking in the back of my brain. Then I meditate (that's a story for another day) and do some yoga. I so agree, rest can be found in so many different forms and in that fact I find so much joy! We can do whatever we want - whatever works for us and brings us to that peaceful place. How wonderful is that! Thanks for this great reminder, Jen!

    1. I do the same avoidance behavior thing!! I love the stop drop and roll method - need to start implementing that and the "sitting with it for a minute" concept. I have yet to conquer meditation, my brain gets so distracted and I completely end up failing at the "rest" part hahah! But like you said, we each find our own ways to rest and I haven't given up on meditation yet. Might just be for another season in my life. Lovely to hear from you as always :)