When you think about rest, you might envision a nap on a Saturday, a Friday night in, or a day off from work. In other words, a whole bunch of time spent relaxing and/or sleeping. While nothing feels better than physical rest, the notion that there are actually seven different types of rest is taking off on TikTok. And for good reason.
Beyond physical rest, author Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith believes that you also need mental, emotional, spiritual, social, sensory, and creative rest, as she discusses in her book Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity. The idea took off when TikTokers like user @DrJessicaKatanga shared their thoughts on this topic, and then thousands of others started jumping on the self-care bandwagon.
While some types of rest might stand out to you more — and you might crave one or two more often than the others — the idea is that they all add up to play a role in how you feel every day. Without partaking in all seven types of rest, you might start to feel burnt out, says Dr. Betsy Chung, a clinical psychologist. “Rest is extremely important to our overall functioning because humans aren't robots, and we require constant refueling to work properly,” she tells Bustle.
Just about everything you do expends energy, and that energy needs to be restored, Chung explains. When you don’t take the time to rest physically, mentally, socially, etc., she says you can eventually start to experience the symptoms of burnout like chronic fatigue, irritability, a lack of desire to do things, and creative blockages, just to name a few. Read on below to learn more about the seven types of rest, ways to interpret them, and how to get more of each one.
The 7 Types Of Rest
1. Physical Rest
What It Is: Physical rest is the act of rejuvenating your body and energy levels by napping, sitting, sleeping, taking a load off — basically anything that allows you to chill.
Why It’s Important: According to Dr. Janelle S. Peifer, LCP, a psychologist and founder of The Center For Inclusive Therapy & Wellness, physical rest helps your body function effectively and enables you to maintain a baseline to engage in your daily activities. It also prevents you from wearing down and getting sick.
Signs You Need It: It’ll be clear you need more physical rest when you’re fatigued, sluggish, dizzy, or if you have muscle tension, Chung says. And also — surprise! — if you feel tired or keep getting sick.
How To Get It: Get a dose of physical rest by listening to your body and pressing pause whenever you’re tired — or, better yet, before you get tired. Chung recommends getting more sleep, adding rest days between workouts, and taking days off whenever possible. You can also do mini rest breaks throughout the day. Think: sitting on a park bench or taking a lunch away from your computer.
2. Mental Rest
What It Is: Mental rest is all about giving your brain a break.
Why It’s Important: This offers space for clarity, Peifer says. “Giving our mind a chance to turn off can help us avoid anxious loops and rumination and often allows us space to come to solutions we can't just force our way through,” she tells Bustle.
Mental rest will also make it easier to concentrate, to see life with clarity and objectivity, and to tackle big tasks without feeling overwhelmed, Chung says. “It’s important because it impacts the type of mental state that we're in,” she says. “The more mentally stressed we are, the more our fight or flight response is activated.” (And that’s a quick ticket to burnout.)
Signs You Need It: Get some mental rest if you’re struggling to focus or feeling easily frustrated, Chung says. It’s also good to take a mental break after you spend a lot of time thinking or processing, she adds, like once you finish a big project.
How To Get It: Chung recommends stepping away from a task, getting some air, and coming back to it once you’re refreshed. You can also bulk up your mental stores by setting a sleep schedule and by methodically tackling a to-do list so you don’t get overwhelmed. This applies to your side projects, hobbies, work, etc.
Pro tip: “Have clear boundaries around your work schedule and practice respecting them,” Peifer says. Even if you can’t set aside large chunks of time to reset, she says you can always take a quick walk or practice being more present by focusing on the senses around you as a mind-clearing alternative. Of course, therapy can also help you deal with mental burdens.
3. Social Rest
What It Is: Social rest is about striking a balance between being around others and making sure you have time for yourself.
Why It’s Important: “We all need space to process our thoughts and feelings privately without influence from others,” Chung says. Social rest allows you to reconnect in a meaningful with yourself as well as your community, Peifer says. It also gives you the capacity to identify when you need even more time to yourself.
Signs You Need It: “You might need a break from socializing if you're easily annoyed by others, you're only partially engaged in interactions, or you find yourself avoiding social situations,” Chung says. These are all signs you’ve had enough, that you have too much going on, and that you need to step away.
How To Get It: Chung recommends being more intentional about the social events you commit to. If you’re doing too much between work, friends, relationships, and volunteering, try to cut back.
It’ll also help to schedule “me time” into your week so that you know a break is coming up on the horizon. If you can’t take a day off, Chung points out that it’s totally OK to step away from social situations that feel too overwhelming for mini breaks — pop into the bathroom, take a deep breath, and you might feel ready to engage with others again.
If you aren’t as social as you’d like to be, this type of rest can also entail engaging with others more often. Peifer suggests carving out structured time with friends, developing meaningful online communities, and/or saving time each day to send a few texts to someone you love or care about.
4. Spiritual Rest
What It Is: According to Chung, spiritual rest is about carving space that allows you to find meaning in what you do.
Why It’s Important: Spiritual rest “pours into our cup and helps us connect with our values and vision for our life,” adds Peifer. “It helps us engage with deep existential questions of what matters to us and what our purpose is.”
Signs You Need It: You could probably use more spiritual rest if it feels like you’re just going through the motions or if life feels stagnant. The same is true if you feel a bit empty or at a loss for what to do next. “By giving yourself spiritual rest, you may be more intentional about the choices you make in life and feel as though you're guiding your life instead of others,” Chung says.
How To Get It: Try meditating or doing nice things for others, Peifer says. It might also feel good to practice yoga, read books on topics that interest you, or talk with a mentor or therapist. This is also where a gratitude journal could come in handy, says Chung.
5. Creative Rest
What It Is: Creative rest allows for “play” and the space to generate, Peifer says.
Why It’s Important: This type of rest helps you solve problems and feel more in tune with a project or goal you’re working on. It’s also fun! Creative rest is the perfect cure-all whenever you’re feeling “blah” or bored.
Signs You Need It: Get some of this type of rest the next time you experience a creative blockage (like writer’s block), feel stuck before starting a project, or experience self-doubt, Chung says.
How To Get It: “Take time to paint, explore an aspect of creation that makes sense for you — like a coloring book or tinkering in the shop — take a class and learn a new skill, or experiment,” Peifer says. You don’t have to be “good” at a project to be creative. Just have fun with it and enjoy yourself.
It’s also possible to take creative rest by stepping away from a project, like that book you’re working on. Go for a walk, clear your head, give your brain a break, and soon you’ll get the creative juices flowing again, Chung says.
6. Sensory Rest
What It Is: Sensory rest is associated with environmental stimulants, Chung says — examples include loud noises from traffic, incoming text alerts, and a blaring TV.
Why It’s Important: “It allows us to reclaim control over how we experience our world,” Chung explains. “Having enough sensory rest will result in an overall calmer presence.” And it’ll also help you stay comfortable.
Signs You Need It: Go ahead and take a sensory break if you’re agitated or tempted to hide in a corner, says Chung. Those are signs you’re overwhelmed, tired, and stressed out. (Or that something’s officially annoying you.)
How To Get It: “You can protect yourself from sensory overstimulation by practicing grounding exercises, such as slow breathing, removing yourself from stimulating environments, or giving yourself enough alone time,” Chung notes.
It may also help to plan ahead by taking regular screen breaks and ensuring your rest and sleep spaces are as serene as possible, Peifer says. If you can’t do anything about noise in your home or work environment, she suggests slipping away to nature or going on a walk to get some peace and quiet.
7. Emotional Rest
What It Is: “Emotional rest has to do with our capacity to care,” Chung says. And this includes caring about yourself and those around you.
Why It’s Important: According to Chung, emotional rest affects your ability to relate to others in a healthy manner. It also restores the connection you have with yourself, Peifer says, which impacts (and deepens) your relationship with others — and the world.
Signs You Need It: “You might be experiencing emotional burnout if you feel numb, impatient with loved ones, or if you’re being more judgmental in general,” says Chung. Take that surge of frustration as a sign you need to step away.
How To Get It: “Journal, talk with a good friend, process your thoughts in therapy, log your emotions, or get into a daily practice of checking in with yourself,” Peifer says. Noticing how you feel will help you stay connected to yourself and reveal when you need a break.
If you’re going through a tough time, you’re tired, or someone’s leaning on you emotionally, it might help to set a few boundaries or limits. While not always easy to come by, Chung says that emotional rest will actually help you be more compassionate and naturally kind in the long run.
Asif, N. (2017). Human immune system during sleep. Am J Clin Exp Immunol. PMID: 29348984; PMCID: PMC5768894.
Dr. Betsy Chung, clinical psychologist
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