Why We Avoid Rest to be Busy
Why We Avoid Rest to be Busy
When I was a teen I loved resting. I would sit on the front porch with a book while the afternoon sun warmed me, unaware of how much time had passed. I was still busy with school work and daily music practice but getting some rest helped me to keep going. These days my life looks very different. When I attempt to rest, I immediately feel discomfort. I’ve realised that this discomfort is fear: fear that I’m secretly lazy, fear of inadequacy, fear that having time to reflect will reveal things about myself that I don’t want to face. The impact of this discomfort is that I avoid resting altogether and choose, instead, to be busy. This negative relationship to resting seems to be common among us – we go to great lengths to avoid it.
For example, surveys have found that the vast majority of people who own a smart phone check it within 15 minutes of waking up, check it before going to bed, and some even use their phones during sex. If this wasn’t bad enough, a recent study found that, given the choice between doing nothing and giving oneself a mild electrical shock, the majority of participants will opt to give themselves the electric shock – just to avoid doing nothing! Researchers suggest that these findings indicate a problematic relationship with the present moment. It seems that resting causes discomfort, which we try to squash and stamp out using whatever we have at our disposal: often social media, but sometimes drugs or alcohol.
Being busy is not, in itself, problematic. Learning, facing new challenges, and devising ways to overcome challenges are all great for health. The problem with avoidance of rest is that it inevitably catches up with us. Again, research tells us that it’s the stress of the daily grind that steadily builds up over time. Unchecked, it can tip us over the edge into ill-health. I know because I’ve been there. Over the past 4 years, I’ve been burning out roughly every three months. I’ve pushed and pushed and pushed myself, taken on as many new responsibilities as possible while studying full-time and working. I’d eat breakfast and feel like I needed another 8 hours of sleep. Responding to e-mails felt impossible and I’d neglect my friendships. I’ve called this ‘burnout’ but, let’s be honest, burnout is just the socially acceptable term for mild depression and anxiety. For me, depression and anxiety was becoming my go-to state of being. The more I tried to avoid resting, the longer I’d have to spend recovering. It’s no way to live.
This brings me to the present – burned out once again. As much as I enjoy being busy, I’ve come to realise that ‘busy’ is not a badge of honour. There’s no point keeping up the appearance of being happily busy when it affects my own health and my relationship with those I love. Instead of avoiding rest, we need to make space for rest – even if it’s uncomfortable. It seems simple but, think about it, when was the last time you actually disconnected from everything, sat down, stared out into nothing, and truly rested?
Today, I deliberately set aside time to rest. It’s scary and a slow process but, ultimately, I know that staying in discomfort is worthwhile because it means that I can direct my thoughts to be more self-compassionate, act in ways I value, and maintain my health.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post where I’ll be giving a primer of how to stay in discomfort.