Everyone is tired. After two years of pandemic life, this makes a whole lot of sense. 

Teetering on the edge of burnout, we’re trying to manage lives that have been pummeled by change. Looking at my life as it was even two years ago, almost everything has changed: my body, my brain, my family system, career path, job responsibilities and requirements, parenting needs, technology, friendships – even my pets are different than they were two years ago. These transitions do not count the changes in my neighborhood, community, city, and the nation as a whole. 

In the midst of all of this transition, it is common sense that we need to rest. We need to give our bodies and brains time and space to absorb and integrate the changes that have occurred. All too often, though, rest seems impossible – at best, resting feels challenging and difficult. 

Let’s step back and be curious for a moment. Rest feels challenging – what’s up with that? Why is it so hard to rest?

Keeping Busy is a Trauma & Grief Response

Any level of change can set off previous trauma and grief experiences, because these experiences live in our bodies when they go unprocessed. And by and large, the echoes of our trauma and grief experiences are alive and well, and show up as trauma responses

Why do I assume that our collective trauma and grief experiences are unprocessed? Because we are taught to NOT process them, as a rule. In fact, I teach people trauma and grief recovery because we are not taught to grieve nor do we honor the process in our culture.

The same goes with trauma. There are dozens of experiences that we don’t recognize as grief or trauma because our cultural systems tell us that we need to “get over it, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and get to work.”  So trauma and grief continue to live on in our bodies and our brains, easily triggered by changes in our lives. 

One way to keep going – at least for a short while – is to keep busy. Don’t stop moving. If we keep moving and going, then we feel like we can outrun the feelings and consequences of the trauma and grief built up in our systems. This strategy, however, lasts only so long, and often backfires.

Distractions & Temptations

While constant activity is a trauma and grief response, so is shutting down and numbing out. One easy way to shut down AND keep going is through the myriad of distractions provided to us every single day.

When the pandemic started in March 2020, I could barely move. I felt frozen in place, unable to process the reality of what was happening, along with the associated emotions and feelings. I turned to distractions to try and help ease the numb feeling. 

What distractions? Starting with whatever you’re reading this with – computer, phone, tablet. Doom scrolling became a consistent activity for a while, partly in an effort to stay connected with my people when we couldn’t meet in person. I also did some online shopping – remember pandemic rompers? – and while I didn’t bake bread, I made a lot of cake. My household binge-watched a lot of shows, and we had a few more cocktails than usual

All of these distractions are draining, and some of these habits are tough to break. While these activities can be relaxing and soothing when we choose them in the best of times, they can be draining when we’re trying to cope with heaviness and confusion and change. Hopping from one drain to another isn’t restful, and pretty soon, we’re empty.

Our Culture is Built Around Productivity

We are programmed in our culture to believe that our value is tied to our productivity. Our status is derived from a clean house, a good job, a lot of nice stuff, how hard we hustle, being a girlboss – the list goes on.

Your worth does not come from how productive you are.

I will say this again: Your worth does not come from how productive you are. I fall into this trap again and again, because I am a passionate person who gets a big dopamine kick from working, especially on trauma and grief related projects. And, coming from a trauma background, I learned that I could be “loved” for being really good at my work. But it all messes with my self-worth in negative ways. In fact, my therapist recently asked me, “What’s this about how your self-worth is tied up in what you are doing?

And guess what? It’s never enough. 

There is never enough work that will fill that hole inside of us (that’s what she said) that needs rest and love and self-care. Over time, the dopamine kick will not be enough and we will feel so tired. And if you try to find the bottom of your to-do list, you will discover that it also never ends. This all leads to burn out

On the other side of this coin, resting becomes a “waste of time,” because it’s “not productive.” Living a life that has downtime is discouraged, and we often feel *shame* about “not doing enough.”

Resting is not “wasting time.” The distractions and busy-ness that we use to cope are more a waste of time than doing restful activities that are restorative and help heal our nervous system.

What Does Rest Mean?

Why is it so difficult to rest?

Because we don’t really know what “rest” means. We think we do, and then we try doing the things above that we think are “rest,” and then we’re still tired. To frame it simply –

Rest is restorative.

Restorative activities give instead of take. Thought of as “restorative,” the idea of what’s restful can be based on our own personal needs, not on what someone else thinks. 

For example, rest can be a nap, but it can also be movement. We all have energy – emotions and feelings and thoughts – that need to move. What kind of movement does the current energy need to bring a restful state? Does it need stillness, or does it need to move in some way? Is the movement emotional or physical? Do we need physiological healing, and what kind? Do we need to focus inward or outward? Do we need people or solitude?

Put in these terms, rest can mean different things to different people, because what restores me doesn’t necessarily restore you. 

The last two years have been exhausting. We are all feeling it, balancing on the tightrope of burnout. 

If there was ever a time to rest, that time is now.

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