Kait Vanderlaan, LCSW
It’s Okay to Rest Without Shame
Updated: Mar 6
Rest is just as important as productivity. In fact, it may even be MORE important. We, unfortunately, live in a culture that often forgets the value of taking breaks and puts a huge emphasis on the hustle and constantly doing. Who has worn being constantly busy as a badge of honor? I know I have! I used to think that my worth was defined by how much I did in a day or what I was able to accomplish. I proudly talked about how much I worked and every chore I was able to complete. I associated rest and taking breaks with being lazy and unmotivated. I kept pushing myself, even when my body was screaming to slow down and take a break. Until I finally crashed.
I wish that I could say that was when I was finally able to rest, but, unfortunately, that was not the case. Yes, I spent a lot of time doing nothing, but I also spent that entire time shaming myself for not doing enough and for “wasting time.” I couldn’t focus on enjoying any down-time because I kept thinking about what I should be doing instead. Sound familiar?
It’s so easy to get caught up in the “shoulds" instead of listening to our mind and body and tuning in to what we actually want and need. Should is “could” with shame attached to it. Sure, you could fold laundry today, but is that what’s best for your mental health? If you are guilting or shaming yourself the entire time for taking a break because it’s “not productive enough,” then you aren’t actually resting. If you feel chronically tired and exhausted all the time, this is probably why -- because you aren’t actually allowing yourself to rest without guilt. You are not lazy or unmotivated; you are a person whose body is screaming for rest. What would it be like to honor that?
“Rest is anything that makes your nervous system feel safe enough for your stress response to switch off so your mind and body can recover.” - Nicole Jane Hobbs. Rest is a biological need, not a weakness. Rest is not just taking a nap or getting a good night’s sleep; rest is also what gives your mind and body a break. This may look like going for a walk, turning your phone off, baking, journaling, ordering take out, watching TV, meditating, seeing a friend, not seeing a friend, reading, or just doing nothing. How often do you allow yourself to truly take a break?
Check in with yourself and ask “what would be most satisfying right now?” Satisfying may seem like an odd choice of word, but I use this word because it creates space for what we want, need, and, yes, even the pesky ‘should.’ I used to beat myself up for not folding the laundry right away. I would shame myself constantly for not folding it. And guess what? It still never got done. Shame is rarely an effective motivator. When I started checking in with myself about what would be satisfying, I noticed a shift. There were days that I felt like it would be really satisfying to fold the laundry and have everything put away so I could easily find things and not have clutter on the floor. I folded the laundry because it felt good to do it rather than because I felt like I HAD to or like I SHOULD fold the laundry.
Of course, there were still plenty of days where I was emotionally or physically exhausted and what was satisfying was to not fold the laundry and continue to live out of a clean pile of clothes. But, instead of guilting or shaming myself for it, I accepted that it wasn’t going to happen that day and gave myself permission to rest instead. I was able to take a break and enjoy another activity without it looming over me, and there was so much freedom in that. Because I was actually getting rest, I then had more mental and physical energy to do tasks on other days, including folding laundry!
The key to checking in with yourself about what would be most satisfying is actually giving yourself full permission to listen to and honor your body’s wants and needs. This may take practice and be hard to do at first because it’s a total shift from what you’re used to. That’s normal. Your body is wise and can communicate when you need rest; it’s okay to trust it and listen to it. It may also be uncomfortable to experience downtime in the beginning. When we aren’t constantly busy, sometimes thoughts and emotions surface that we’ve been too distracted to notice. As much as it can be uncomfortable, emotions need space to be felt and expressed, and rest will help emotions move through.
If you don’t rest now, you will very likely burn out later. Sometimes it feels like there just isn’t time for rest in a day with work, tasks, and responsibilities building. I encourage you to find those small moments of rest throughout the day, even on the most chaotic days. Take a few deep breaths to calm your nervous system, belt out your favorite song during your commute, turn off your phone during dinner, take a few extra minutes in the shower to simply do nothing, or give yourself permission to skip something. Ask your body what would be satisfying and find tiny ways to do that.
You deserve rest, no matter what you did or didn’t do today. You have permission to take a break today, however small. You are allowed to rest, without shame.
- Kait Vanderlaan, LCSW, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
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