The Toxic Guilt of Rest
We all have them. Those days we just can’t seem to find motivation or drive to do what we think we 'should'. We tell ourselves “I need to (insert some obligation)” or “I should (insert some self-imposed/society imposed obligation.” We busy ourselves with cleaning, laundry, working on some project, or pushing ourselves to exercise when every cell in the body seems to be screaming “I'm so exhausted! I don’t want to!” Let’s face it, we live in a rise-and-grind, hustle-to-succeed culture mindset. It’s been passed down through generations and is practically ingrained in our subconscious core beliefs. And when we don't want to do the obligatory task, or perceived obligatory task, we beat ourselves up. Our inner critic starts telling us we're lazy; we're no good; we should really be more productive; something is wrong with us. I'm here to tell you, it's BS.
We all need rest. And I’m not talking just about the binge-on-the-couch-zoning-out-to-your-favorite-tv-series-after-you've-totally-depleted-yourself-after-a-long-day type of rest (although that's appropriate sometimes too!). I mean the kind of rest that helps us TUNE-IN to ourselves rather than tune-out. I mean real, meaningful rest. But what does that even look like? Do you even know what kind of rest your body, mind, or spirit are seeking? If not, that's okay! So many of us don't know what rest is because we live in a culture that devalues rest and instead values the hustle and prioritizes being 'impressive' and 'successful'. We are used to going, going, going and when we find ourselves on the edge of burnout, or worse full blown drowning in burnout, we beat ourselves up even more! We compare ourselves to others saying things like "So-and-so has WAY more on their plate to manage than I do, so what's wrong with me?" So we just keep pushing to DO MORE! We look for a new job, we try a new diet, we find a new exercise class or yoga practice that, per our hustle and bustle culture mindset, will cure us of all our unease and discomfort. THIS will be the solution that will re-energize us and we will find that motivation we've long lost! But then a few weeks in to that new diet or routine, you find yourself still tired, still drained, still miserable and burned-out.
So, I want you to ask yourself, is another diet, exercise routine, new side-gig, or additional activity truly what you need? I encourage you to sit with that question. More than that, I encourage you to feel into what things are adding to your exhaustion and burnout? Really tune-in to yourself. Write it down. Acknowledge what it is that you are NOT ENJOYING about life - and be HONEST with yourself. When you feel guilt come up (I find this especially with parents) just acknowledge that guilt as an insight to what subconscious beliefs you might hold. And be patient. It takes time to really explore and admit what is not serving you because you've been programmed to feel guilty about these things.
When you come up with a list of all the things adding to your burnout, ask yourself "What is it that I need?" More often than not, the answer doesn't lie in a new self-help book or a new exercise plan, or even a new job (although, if the job you're in is truly adding to the burnout then this might be part of the equation!) Consider for a moment - just humor me here - if what you really, truly, deeply need is plain and simple REST.
Or maybe I should say, not so plain and simple. Because we DO live in a society that considers working anything less than a 40 hour work week, while taking the kids to their sports practices and games, and being able to cook, shop for, and plan healthy meals, and being able to stay physically fit if not unsustainably thin, while also being able to socialize and attend all the family and friend functions, while also being able to keep up with the latest fashion trends, while also being able to buy that house with a nice backyard, while also being able to date or have sex with your partner, while also being able to be emotionally available for others, while also making sure your tracking your steps or calories or macros, while also being able to plan for retirement, while also being able to afford expensive healthcare, while also being able to have disposable income so you can take those much needed vacations to somewhere tropical just so you can escapse the day-to-day madness, while also keeping your living space clean and impressive, while also making time for self-care - JEEZ!!! I think you get my point. Even typing that made me feel exhausted. And the list goes on! And this, my friends, is also the expectations of the 'privileged'. Make no mistake, there are millions of people living on a minimum wage that doesn't even cover the rent for the month. Those who have to work two jobs at 80+ hours a week, barely seeing their children if they have them, just to put food on the table, pay for ever-rising rent prices, gas prices, retail prices, etc; those who face racism, sexism, ableism, cis-gender stigma, fat-stigma, language barriers, and more. But the barriers and hardships the underprivileged and oppressed face are beyond the scope of this blog. Still, I want to acknowledge that there are people who face far more barriers to rest than others. Still, we ALL DESERVE REST!
Back to the question: what is rest? And more so, why would anyone deserve rest if they don't face additional hardships? What about those who have enough privilege that they feel GUILTY acknowledging their own exhaustion and burnout?
Well, as you may have guessed, everyone's needs are different. Sure, you may enjoy a quiet escape from the grind by retreating to a mountain resort or camping to get into nature. You might want to curl up in a warm bubble bath with your favorite music playing in the background. But often, these "self-care techniques" provide temporary, minimal, relief and let's be honest, they just usually don't happen enough. And once they're over, once the last bit of water drains from the tub, you find yourself right back into your stressed out, hustle-and-bustle mentality. Or worse, you find yourself feeling guilty for taking the time for yourself! Again, there is definitely room for these things in life. But what I'm talking about is more than self-care. I'm talking about the MINDSET OF REST. I'm talking about beginning to challenge the internalized cultural beliefs society has imposed upon you. I'm talking about having enough self-compassion and self-awareness to acknowledge that you ARE EXHAUSTED and knowing your exhaustion is valid. The cultural beliefs about hustle and grind might not be working for you. I'll be the first to admit, they don't work for me. And if you're one of the rare few people I've ever encountered who thrive off of being endlessly busy, then that's great for you. I support you. Keep doing you! But this blog isn't geared toward you. This blog is geared toward the majority of people I know who find this kind of living just down right stressful and exhausting. The people who feel bad about themselves for not living up to society's outdated, unrealistic (and down-right unhealthy) standards.
So, how do we switch into a different rest mentality? First, as I mentioned above, begin to identify what things are not working for you. Maybe a supremely well manicured lawn isn't something you care about. Maybe a dust-free living space isn't a big deal to you. Maybe making more money isn't actually the answer (although I think we can all recognize the income and wage disparities in this country are obscured, but I digress). Maybe what you need is to figure out what truly matters to YOU. What brings you joy? What fills your cup? Maybe you need more time for social engagement with friends and laughter. Maybe you need to allow yourself time to read your favorite fictional book, or make art (you don't need to be a great artist to make art - remember the days of just drawing and coloring just for fun?!?!). Maybe you need to decrease the workload and turn off your email alerts, set healthy boundaries with your boss, or minimize your expenses. Maybe you also just need unconditional permission to say "No" to events that you don't want to attend. Maybe you need more play and less work. Again, everyone will be different because what you find restful and rejuvenating might not be the same as anyone else.
The second step is to make rest a priority. This takes a lot of self-reflection and self-compassion to acknowledge the inner critic that is 'shoulding' you and ask yourself, "where is this should-talk coming from? Whose voice is really in my head pushing me to work on things I don't enjoy? Who am I trying to appease or impress?" And then allowing your own voice to be heard over the 'shoulds.' "What makes me happy? What brings me joy? What do I want more of in my life?" The more you challenge the inner critic by just being curious about it, the more your own inner voice will speak up. And I encourage you to listen to it. Third, if you are in a relationship, this re-prioritizing and mindset shift is something that you and your partner need to discuss. Maybe what's important to one partner isn't important to another. So it can be even more challenging to honor your values and what really matters to you. Talk about what things subtract from your sense of rest and see if that person is willing to take on the task if it is important to them, and vice-versa. Sometimes couples find themselve both working toward similar goals only to finally realize it actually isn't important to either of them. Then you both can choose to live differently. The benefit of having a partner is that sometimes this mindset shift can feel isolating because you might feel misunderstood by friends, family, or society, so having a partner who is on the same page as you can feel validating and affirming. On the other hand, if you're not on the same page, it can feel discouraging. That's why open, honest discussions about it are so important. Finally, if you come up against a roadblock, it might be time to seek support from an objective third party. Therapy can be beneficial in helping you identify long-standing, subconscious, negative beliefs so that you can begin to replace them with more self-aligned, positive beliefs. It can also be validating to receive emotional support during this time and to work on challenging the inner-critic voice inside your head. At the end of the day, this life is yours. You get to decide how you live it. And you get to decide what rest you need. Again, we all deserve rest. It's time to leave the toxic guilt behind and embrace rest as a right, not just a luxury. It's time for a mindset shift. You deserve it. Unconditionally.
If you need profession support, please reach out today at www.re-emergecounseling.com.
Cassandra Goar MA, LPCC, NCC
Re-Emerge Counseling LLC