In our fast-paced society, busyness has become a badge of honour. However, just because a person is perpetually busy does not mean they are being productive. In fact, the opposite may be true. Being constantly busy may seem impressive but it can lead to reduced effectiveness and burnout. Instead of trying to cram as much as possible into each day, it is important to prioritise one’s time. Taking the time to rest should be among these priorities.  

According to US Board-Certified internal medicine physician and sleep expert, Dr Saundra Dalton-Smith, sleep and rest are not the same thing, and the way people rest looks very different from one person to the next. Rest can be seen as any behaviour aimed at increasing physical or mental wellbeing. It can be active, such as taking a walk or doing a yoga class, or passive, such as taking a 10-minute power nap or taking time out to meditate.  

Dr Dalton-Smith contends that every person has different rest needs and that while sleep is a vital component of physical rest, it makes up only one of the seven types of rest needed for each of us to flourish. The seven key areas of rest are: 

1. Physical Rest
Physical rest includes both active and passive components. The passive component includes good-quality sleep, and the active component involves revitalising activities such as yoga, stretching, and massage. A lack of physical health has negative consequences such as fatigue and body aches and pains.

2. Mental Rest
Mental rest means taking a break from forcing your brain to work hard and giving it time to process information, make connections and cement memories. This is essential to learning and processing new information. A lack of mental rest can lead to having trouble with short-term memory or being unable to quiet a racing mind while trying to fall asleep. Here are some red flags that indicate a person needs mental rest:

  • Constant tiredness: Feeling fatigued even with adequate sleep
  • Lack of focus: An inability to concentrate or recall information
  • Apathy: A loss of interest or decreased motivation to undertake normal activities
  • Irritability:  A short fuse and strained personal relationships
  • Poor sleep: Tossing, turning and waking frequently
  • Mental fog: Struggling with basic tasks that are typically easy

3. Spiritual Rest
Resting as a spiritual practice is deliberate and can be practiced in community or alone. An individual experiencing a lack of spiritual rest may feel that they are on a meaningless treadmill and their life and work lack purpose. Taking spiritual rest allows people to connect with their higher purpose. It can also be seen as relating to human beings’ fundamental need for belonging. Here are 4 ways you can participate in spiritual rest:

  • Engage in spiritual practices: Participate in activities that align with your belief system, such as attending religious services or engaging in rituals or meditation. 
  • Read uplifting books: Reflective reading can provide guidance and deepen spiritual understanding. 
  • Connect with a like-minded community: Join a supportive community or group with shared beliefs. Attending gatherings, discussions or retreats can foster meaningful connections and provide great support.  
  • Practice gratitude: Cultivate a sense of gratitude by expressing appreciation for the good things in your life. Paying it forward, engaging in acts of kindness and service to others can bring a sense of connection and purpose.  

4. Emotional Rest
Getting emotional rest precipitates the type of calm a person feels when they are among close friends and loved ones with whom they can be real and authentic. At the other end of the spectrum, emotional exhaustion is a state of feeling emotionally worn-out and drained as an outcome of accumulated stress from one’s personal or work life. Emotional exhaustion lies at the heart of burnout. Here are 3 practices toward achieving emotional rest:

  • Become mindful of your emotions: Practice observing how you are feeling to get in touch with your emotions. Check how you feel throughout the day. Has there been a trigger for a change in your emotions? Pay attention to where a particular emotion is showing up as a physical feeling in your body and what it feels like. Observe how you act when you are experiencing certain emotions, and how this affects your day-to-day life and relationships.  
  • Stop comparing yourself to others: Too much comparison leads to unhappiness and low self-esteem. When you compare yourself to others, it is likely you focus on what you are not good at, rather than on your strengths and accomplishments. When you compare yourself to others who are more successful or talented, it becomes easy to feel overwhelmed and discouraged, which can negatively impact your mental health. 
  • Surround yourself with positivity: Avoid negative people as much as possible. Being surrounded by the wrong crowd or working in a toxic environment can contribute to emotional stress. When seeking emotional rest, it is imperative that you immerse yourself in a positive environment and surround yourself with people who bring positivity.  

 5. Sensory Rest
In today’s technology-driven world there is a constant influx of sensory stimulation – sometimes without people even realising they are being bombarded. It is easy to feel exhausted and experience sensory overload. Sensory rest means giving your senses a break from all the stimuli around you — blocking out the noise, lights, screens and constant chatter.  During sensory rest, the brain can relax and become less active, allowing it to recover from sensory overload. Here are 3 ways you can get sensory rest:

  • Find quiet time for yourself: Set aside a few minutes each day to enjoy time out in a quiet, peaceful place. It could be on the couch at home or in your garden. Just let yourself relax and enjoy the silence. 
  • Take regular screen breaks: Reduce your screen time by introducing regular breaks on workdays. During work hours, set an alarm every 45 minutes to take a screen break – this includes all screens, including your phone. 
  • Take longer screen breaks on your days off. Time in the beautiful outdoors can do wonders for a person’s wellbeing. Whether you choose to walk, hike or pack a picnic, being out in nature with your phone off will allow you to recover from sensory overload.  

6. Social Rest
Social rest does not actually mean pausing social interactions. It entails finding rest in your social interactions. To find the right balance between the relationships that drain you and the relationships that nourish and inspire you, reach out to people who make you feel good about yourself, and try to spend more time with them.  Here are 4 ways to get social rest:

  • Learn to say no: If you are feeling depleted, turn down an invitation or two and spend the time getting the rest you need.  
  • Enjoy a change of scene: If you usually meet up with friends for dinner or drinks, try doing something different. Go to the theatre, meet up for a cooking class or play a game of tennis. You can also have social interactions with smaller groups of friends at a time.  
  • Focus on quality time: When you are spending time with friends, silence and leave your digital device in your pocket.

 7. Creative Rest
Whether you earn a living from being a professional designer or writer – or work as an accountant who loves numbers – everyone needs creativity. Creative rest is the practice of allowing beauty to re-fuel your soul; to let it feed your imagination, fuel your gratitude and fill you with joy. How can you seek out creative rest if you only have a few moments in your day: 

  • Revel in nature.  Whether it is in your garden, in a park or around your suburb, mindfully notice something in nature that is beautiful. Take time to really look at it and notice all the features that make it beautiful.  
  • Listen to music.  Are there songs that make you cry or want to get up and dance? Music can transport us to another time and place. Sung lyrics can touch places in your heart the spoken work cannot reach. It is important to regularly stop everything and listen to music that inspires you.  
  • Do the thing that you enjoyed when young.  As a kid, did you love riding your bike or going ice skating? Did you love singing along karaoke-style to your favorite songs?  Was art your favourite subject at school?  Remember the things you loved to do and do them now.    


Rest is not an optional activity to fill the time we are not working. Work and rest are partners. 

Our bodies and minds are not designed to keep going without rest. We need down time. And the better we rest, the better we will work. In this way, rest is linked to productivity. Spending regular periods of time out during the workday not only protects us against burnout, but it can also stimulate creativity, help concentration and make work time more efficient. Rest is also good for our personal relationships. When we are exhausted, it is difficult to focus on deepening our relationships. When we focus on becoming healthier individuals, then we can enjoy healthier relationships, too.  

Over to you for sharing your comments and experiences.

About the Author: Kerstin Jatho

Kerstin is the senior transformational coach and team development facilitator for 4Seeds Consulting. She is also the author of Growing Butterfly Wings, a book on applying positive psychology principles during a lengthy recovery. Her passion is to develop people-centred organisations where people thrive and achieve their potential in the workplace. You can find Kerstin on LinkedIn, Soundcloud, YouTube and Facebook.

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