29th August, 2023

Why You Don’t Need to Earn Your Rest

With Rachel Morris

Dr Rachel Morris

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On this episode

So many of us are caught up in a vortex of busyness. We end up working harder and harder without doing anything that re-energises us, all because we feel like we have no other choice.

As healthcare professionals, we feel like rest is a reward for good behaviour, but it’s a basic human need, and a professional responsibility. Why? Because rest makes us better at our job, and – frankly – we deserve it.

In this quick dip episode, Rachel explores ways we can give ourselves permission to rest and remind ourselves that it’s not something we need to earn. When we give ourselves that space, our wellbeing and productivity will improve.

Nobody else is going to give us the time or permission, so we need to do this for ourselves. It will inevitably come with some guilt, but we can acknowledge that, then put our own wellbeing first and make it a professional priority.

Reasons to listen

  • To learn about rest and how it affects our brains
  • To understand the different zones that we operate from, and how they impact our performance
  • To get tips on how to prioritise rest and make time for it in your daily life

Episode highlights


What happens when we rest


Threat zone, drive zone, and rest zone


If we fail to rest


Why we find it so hard to rest


Giving ourselves permission



Episode transcript

[00:00:00] Rachel: I was doing a Shapes Academy masterclass last night. And in this master class, we were looking at the vortex of busyness, how we just get caught up into this spiral of working harder and harder when the work builds up and we don’t end up doing anything that reenergizes us. And as part of this masterclass, we did a bit of an audit on our wellbeing factors. And I did this audit myself and I found that actually the bit of wellbeing. That I get wrong all the time is a bit about rest. That bit was particularly low for me. And as it turns out, For lots of the other members of the Shapes Academy too. Because rest is something we get really wrong as healthcare professionals. And we end up with this idea that we can’t rest until we’ve earned it, until we’ve earned the right to have a cup of tea, or we’ve earned the right to have a lunch break, or we’ve earned our holiday. And then what happens in holiday season is we work so hard to get on a holiday, spend the first week recovering, spend the next week thinking, oh my goodness, I’m feeling so much better, but if my life was always like this? And then we go back into it again.

[00:01:14] Rachel: And so many comments recently have been about the fact that people have been giving themselves a glass of water as a reward for getting through the next few patients. People feeling guilty for taking a 20 minute lunch break, or even taking a day off or giving home on time. This is what we get so wrong about rest. We feel that rest is a reward. The good behavior, but actually rest is not a reward for good behavior. Rest is a necessity is a basic human need. And I would also add that I think rest is a professional responsibility.

[00:01:52] Rachel: This is a You Are Not a Frog quick dip, a tiny taster of the kinds of things we talk about on our full podcast episodes. I’ve chosen today’s topic to give you a helpful boost in the time it takes to have a cup of tea, so you can return to whatever else you’re up to, feeling energised and inspired. For more tools, tips and insights to help you thrive at work, don’t forget to subscribe to You Are Not a Frog wherever you get your podcasts.

[00:02:22] Now many of us can talk about what happens when we don’t rest. We become defensive. We become very easily triggered by things. We just feel dreadful, don’t we? We feel exhausted and our performance really goes down. But not many of us can talk about the real benefits of resting. We all know how important sleep is and when we sleep what happens in our brains is that we lay down memories that we’ve made during the day. We also process stuff that’s happened so that’s what’s happened while you’re having your REM cycles when you’re dreaming, The real benefit of rest for me is what happens to your brain when you switch off.

[00:03:02] So normally when we’re working, our brains are in focus mode, so we are focusing hard on something. Our brainwaves are very linear. We are looking at stuff, but we are very focused on one particular thing. Now, when we rest, when we switch off, for example, making a cup of tea, our brains go into default mode. We, we start using our default mode network, and here our brains start connecting across the hemispheres. We start solving problems in ways that we can’t when we’re in focus mode. That’s why I tend to have all my eureka moments when I’m in the shower and I come out thinking Oh my goodness, that was so important. I just discovered this thing. And actually it’s only because I’ve had my brain switched off and whirring on in the background that I’ve been able to solve those problems. So, making sure that your default mode network is active several times a day will increase your creativity, will help with your empathy, your compassion and the way in which you work.

[00:04:00] Now there is another good reason to rest. A lot of religions prescribe a day of rest every seven days. Because we were designed to take some rest. We weren’t designed to work 24 7. And the way that many religions talk about this is that that day of rest, the Sabbath, starts the week off rather than finishes. And I’ve heard people talking about the fact that we need to work from a place of rest, not the other way round. Now here’s why.,

[00:04:34] I’ve recently been looking at some work by Paul Gilbert, who explores compassion focused therapy. And he talks about three different zones, which we operate out of. Number one zone is our threat zone, our fight, flight or freeze zone, our adrenaline sympathetic nervous system zone. I call that being in the corner and I’ve done lots of other podcasts about being in the corner. Now your threat zone is modulated by adrenaline. It’s very important, it keeps us safe. We’re often in this threat zone, however, and one of the, sort of, hallmarks of stress and burnout is we’re in this zone far too much.

[00:05:12] But there’s another couple of zones. The second zone, and this is another zone that in healthcare we are in a lot, is our drive zone, modulated by dopamine, getting stuff done, achieving things, being good at stuff, you know, getting through our to do list and performing our job and fulfilling our roles. These are all modulated through our drive zone,

[00:05:37] But there’s another zone, and that is the rest and digest zone, the parasympathetic zone. I like to think about a lion, a lion just lying around waiting for the next wildebeest that are going to want to pass. Lions and other mammals spend a lot of time in their rest and digest zone. I don’t think we spend much time in there at all. And particularly in healthcare, we go between our threat zones and our drive zones an awful lot.

[00:06:04] Now here’s the problem. If you fail to rest, what happens is that you spend a lot of time going straight from threat into drive. And so if you are going to your sort of drive achievement based zone from a place of threat, from a place of anxiety and fear, where you’re pumped full of adrenaline and you’ll feel like you’ve got to achieve, that is where you start to get problems with perfectionism, with competitiveness, with anxiety based decisions, fear based decisions, which are just to keep us safe, rather than a creative frame of mind, a relaxed frame of mind, a frame of mind based on love rather than fear, which you will get if you come from your parasympathetic zone, from your rest zone into your drive zone. That is why you’ll be much, much more effective if you are working from a place of rest rather than working from a place of fear and threat.

[00:07:03] And we get this so wrong. We go the other way around. So often we go from threat to drive. We should be going from rest to drive. That is where our compassion will come from. That’s where our empathy will come from.

[00:07:18] So why do we find it so hard? Why do we find it so hard to rest when we actually know it’s really good for us? Well, firstly, we feel guilty, don’t we? We feel that there’s always other stuff we could be doing, we should be doing, we ought to be doing.

[00:07:32] Now I want to give you a list of things that you do not need to earn. You do not need to earn a lunch break. You do not need to earn a drink of water or a cup of tea. You do not need to earn going for a walk, or chatting with a friend, or taking 10 minutes in the middle of the day to rejuvenate. You do not need to earn 20 minutes lying under a tree looking at the sky. You do not need to earn sitting on a sofa with a book or a newspaper. You do not need to earn watching a film. You do not need to earn an early night and good sleep. You do not need to earn a holiday.

[00:08:15] We have got ourselves so trapped on the hamster wheel of delivering, delivering and delivering that these things feel like luxuries that we do not deserve. So what do we do about all of this?

[00:08:30] Well, firstly, we need to give ourselves permission. We need to realise that rest is a necessity. It is not something you need to earn. You’re a human being. It’s the way you have been designed. And when you feel guilty for taking a rest, you need to acknowledge the guilt and embrace it and go, look at me, I’m feeling guilty. That must mean I am a good person and I’m spending some time on self care and celebrate it.

[00:09:01] Learn to live with a bit of guilt. Believe me, after a few minutes of sitting in the spa or sauna or reading a book, you’ll, you’ll get over it. Secondly, you could make a to rest list. So many of us have a to do list. Do you have a list of things that you are going to do when you rest? We are so used to being always on the go that a lot of us don’t know what we actually want to do to rest. Some of us have forgotten what it feels like and what we like to do. So make a to rest list. And some of us like to monitor how much exercise we do each week. How about allocating some rest points to each activity that you do that is restful?

[00:09:46] So it might be five points for yoga. It might be 10 points for reading a book and allocate how many points you need to hit every week. So 50 points a week for rest. And work out how you’re going to do it. Make a list. Make a plan.

[00:10:03] And finally, time block it. Because one of the biggest barriers, apart from feeling guilty, is people saying, I just don’t have the time. Now you do have the time. What’s happening is that you are not prioritizing it ,because we do make time for things that are important.

[00:10:21] Imagine if you suddenly had a flood in your house that you had to sort out. You have to get the carpets up, squeegee it up, borrow a vacuum cleaner. This happened to us the other week. The bathroom floor got flooded. It took us two or three hours to sort out. Now, if you’d said to me the week before, Rachel, do you have time to sort out a flood in your house? I’d have said, no. I’ve got no time whatsoever, but it was really important we got on and did it.

[00:10:47] And the problem is if you don’t prioritize your risk, you’ll get it in other bitty ways. You’ll find yourself just scrolling through your phone mindlessly or just watching rubbish on TV because you’re too tired to have actually made a plan to watch a decent film or actually download that box set that you really wanted to see. So prioritize it. And the best way to prioritize it is to block it into your diary. Just like you would block a physio appointment or a hair appointment or coffee with a friend. Time block your rest. When are you going to do it?

[00:11:23] So there’s a few suggestions. Embrace the guilt and give yourself permission. Write yourself a to rest list and time block it in your diary and make sure you do that every week. Because resting is not just about feeling better. Although, goodness me, I want everyone to feel better. I want everyone to feel at their best, but this is about being a human being. embracing our human limits and understanding that the wellbeing factors are what makes being human great.

[00:11:57] If we start to recognise that rest is a vital part of our self care, it’s a vital part of our wellbeing, and it is the thing that is going to keep you productive, help prevent burnout, and frankly, make you a nicer person, then we will start to prioritise it. We’ll start to prioritise it just as much as we might, say, prioritise exercise or eating well.

[00:12:24] So don’t wait until you have time because you will never have time. Nobody else is going to give you permission. Nobody else is going to put it in your diary. You need to do this for yourself, but there’ll be loads of benefits for other people. We all know self care isn’t selfish, but we find it really hard to do. So now is the time to understand that you do not need to earn your rest. You need to prioritize it as a professional responsibility.