As a person with almost boundless energy and a nearly insatiable appetite for “experiences,” I’ve never been particularly good at self-care or rest. During my busy 20s, rest just seemed, well, too boring and not worth the time it took out of my schedule. I also struggled with feeling unproductive and almost guilty for not spending time “getting things done.”
Then, my 30s hit, along with three kids and a career shift from teacher to stay-at-home mom and writer, and I found myself paying dearly if I didn’t take some time for rejuvenation at least once a week.
Instead of making time to enjoy a candlelit bubble bath or guided mindfulness exercise, I’d be so tired in the evenings that I’d collapse in front of the TV (or, let’s face it, zone out in front of my phone), and I wouldn’t actually get any of the refreshment I so desperately needed.
Here’s what I’ve learned after doing “rest” poorly, and how to do it better.
The weekends are usually full of chores and other preparations for the busy week ahead, and sometimes those can feel like a second job. Instead of dreading my to-do list and hating the process of meal prep, laundry, and cleaning, I reframe my mindset: I tell myself that, by doing these things on the weekend, I’m making life easier on myself during the week. Tackling chores on the weekend leaves me with more time to do things I like on the weekdays.
Sure, folding laundry on a Sunday afternoon doesn’t really qualify as “fun,” but it’s a whole lot better than frantically searching for clean underwear early on a Monday morning. I put on an audiobook or podcast, and fold clothes or chop veggies (without urgency!) as a way to give myself less stress in the upcoming week. This perspective shift changes my whole attitude.
Netflix, in moderation
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with snuggling up on the couch with a great movie or TV series, but after a long and stressful week, it’s tempting to go straight to the couch and end up staying there far longer than I intended.
Instead of binge-watching anything straight away, I first try to spend some time in nature, even if it’s just a few minutes in my backyard, or a quick walk through my neighborhood that includes passing by my neighbors’ trees and grass, which totally count as nature! Once I’ve done something that involves fresh air and moving my body, I often still want to watch something, but I’m not as likely to stay on the couch as long.
The goal is joy
When I put rest into my “something I have to get done” category, I’m much less likely to enjoy it. As someone who’s very active, sitting in silence for a few hours can sometimes feel just as much like drudgery as my normal daily tasks, and doesn’t often satisfy my need for refreshment. Instead, I designate one day on the weekend to do things I enjoy.
For me that includes DIY projects, gardening, bike rides to my favorite coffee or brunch spots, long walks — either alone or with a friend—and other active pursuits. These things bring me joy, and while they are sometimes things to “get done,” (i.e. repaint my kitchen or transplant a shrub — both things I truly enjoy doing), I make sure not to put any pressure on myself to get them done — this is an “only things I want to do” kind of day.
When I go into my ‘rest’ day holding a goal of joy and delight, I feel more refreshed and rejuvenated, having made space for myself to do things that make me happy, with no deadline. I’ve been using this routine and mindset since the pandemic shifted my entire life from somewhat out in the world, to completely, 100% at home. My kids have since returned to school, and life has begun to resume outside of my four walls, but I’ve found that I’ve kept up with my newfound ways to care for myself. Rest is something I now look forward to, savor, and plan for, and I’m a much more refreshed and balanced person because of it.