Monday, March 16, 2020

The Art of Rest

The Art of Rest, Claudia Hammond

I really enjoyed this book. In fact, just the process of reading it was immensely restful.

Claudia Hammond worked as part of a multidisciplinary team for two years studying rest. They covered research in numerous areas, as well conducting a survey called the Rest Test, of which over 18,000 people took part across 135 countries. This book summaries some of the findings, by investigating in detail the top ten activities that people surveyed found restful.

There is an acknowledgement that many people today do not feel they get enough rest:
“Modern work practices, modern lifestyles and modern technology have combined and conspired to make life in the early 21st-century ceaselessly demanding.”
Hammond does not include sleep as rest, but rather she means “any restful activity that we do while we’re awake”. For some, this may be active like exercise or gardening, for others rest might be more sedentary, perhaps listening to music, lying in the bath or reading. Some prefer it to have some mental effort like cryptic crosswords, others prefer to watch TV, or just sit quietly in nature.

She then counts down the top ten, starting with mindfulness, helping explaining what it actually is, and then turns to almost the opposite - watching TV:
“We could practice mindfulness, but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of mindlessness. Nothing wrong with zoning out rather than zoning in. Watching TV is escapist and easy…No practice needed. Just switch on the set and switch off the brain.”
She then covers daydreaming, a bath, a walk:

“So much of life these days is speeded up. Walking slows us down.” I found this chapter interesting as she looked at the relationship between rest and exercise, because for some people, including myself, exercise is restful, and it seems to have a double benefit:
“As well as finding the exercise itself restful, people who exercise tend to reward themselves with sedentary rest afterwards. A double whammy.”
Later chapters look at doing nothing in particular, not really something I find restful, but it was a helpful look into the chronic busyness of lives generally. Then came listening to music, where she notes “that listening to music is one of the most common self-care strategies used by people under twenty-five”.

The final three were choosing to be alone, spending time in nature and reading. That reading came in number one was absolutely no surprise to me - it is always my go-to activity for some downtime.

The team were also interested to observe the things that didn’t make the top ten, including catching up with friends and family, or time online. The majority of the activities could be, and often are, done alone, “it seems when we want to rest, we very often wasn’t to escape from other people”. Yet there is a fineline here, and she also explored ideas of too much rest, enforced rest, loneliness and boredom.

I appreciated how Hammond identifies numerous types of rest and how they might work, but acknowledges this is a personal thing,
“The fact is we are all on our own on this one. It is a case of self-diagnosis and self prescription. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from others. Everybody rests in their own way, but there are many common elements to the different ways we choose to rest.”
At the end, she considers what might the perfect prescription for rest. Some of these are obvious like make sure you rest enough, and do what works for you. But others about reframing your idea of rest were quite helpful - so give yourself permission to rest, keep an eye out for resting when you don’t realise it, and reframe your wasted time as rest (that time in line, on the train, etc). Then she moves into some life management tips for considering your own busyness - don’t fetish busyness, say no, and put breaks in your diary as well as appointments. Again, reasonably obvious, but it doesn’t mean we actually do it.

I found one comment particularly insightful here - that we often think we will have more time in the future, but we rarely do. So if you are asked to go to a two-day conference in 6 months, consider how you would feel in you had to fit it in in the next two weeks. If that thought fills you will dread at trying to fit in in, there is little chance you’ll be less busy in 6 months, so perhaps you should turn it down. Now, I know it’s not quite that simple, I often commit to things a long way out and then adjust my upcoming commitments because of that future choice, but I see what she is getting at.

All in all a very helpful book to consider rest as a whole, the things we might personally find restful, and it gives permission to see rest as important and necessary in our lives.

No comments: