The concept of “The 7 Types of Rest” (from Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith’s book “Sacred Rest”) has become quite popular in the wellness world, so I wanted to cover it here on the blog from my perspective. A huge part of the work I do with my therapy clients is helping them identify their needs in various realms of life and introduce self-care practices into their routines that aim to fill those needs.
In today’s fast-paced world, we need time to rest and recover in order for the mind and body to work at their best. To maintain optimal health, we need our two nervous systems to be in balance – the sympathetic nervous system that energizes us to action, and the parasympathetic nervous system that supports digestion and restoration. Most people operate from an overly activated state which can lead to stress, difficulty sleeping, low libido and other mental and physical health problems. Getting adequate rest gives the mind and body the opportunity to restore a state of balance and ease.
I’ll walk you through why each type of rest is important, signs and signals that you need that type of rest, ways to get that type of rest and what you might feel like after you get an adequate amount of that type of rest.
1 | Physical Rest
Our bodies are working hard for us day and night, regulating many body systems without our conscious awareness. The heart pumps non-stop. The diaphragm muscle keeps us breathing. Our digestive system makes sure that we extract vital nutrients from the food we eat. The eyes focus and take in visual information for our brains to process.
You may need more physical rest if you feel fatigue, difficulty relaxing or cravings for caffeine, sugar and other stimulants. Ways that you can give the body physical rest include doing lighter workouts on days when you feel tired, doing a “body scan” or “progressive muscle relaxation” meditation, reducing physical output on bleeding days and asking for support with childcare. After getting adequate physical rest your body and muscles should feel at ease and relaxed.
2 | Mental Rest
Our minds are constantly active, whether it’s at work, keeping our homes running smoothly or caring for children. In today’s world with the 24-hour news cycle and social media, our minds are taking in and making sense of more data than ever before. The mind is even highly active even while sleeping, at it is busy sifting through the content of the day and deciding what gets stored as memory and what is forgotten. The mind needs periods of adequate rest to operate optimally.
You may need more mental rest if you find yourself more forgetful than usual, if you feel overwhelmed or if you have difficulty focusing or making decisions. Ways that you can give your mind rest include reducing social media use, taking a vacation or practicing mindfulness throughout the day. After getting adequate mental rest your mind should feel calm and clear.
3 | Social Rest
Humans are social beings and live in the context of relationships, whether that be family, friends, colleagues and even the fellow humans we interact with at the grocery store. Relationships follow complex rules and can elicit strong emotional responses, both positive and negative. We need strong connections in order to feel safe in the world, yet relationships can also be the source of stress and discomfort – maintaining healthy bonds requires effort. Because of this, sometimes we need a break from socializing.
Introverts and Highly Sensitive People especially need periods of alone time to recharge their “social battery.” People with codependency issues also require more social rest due to the high demands often placed on them by themselves and others. Signs you may need social rest include irritability, tiredness, canceling social plans, resentment, guilt or simply a strong urge to be alone. Ways to obtain social rest include reducing work calls and social engagements, seeking childcare, saying “no” to favors asked of you, increasing time alone and communicating to a partner or roommate a need for silence. After getting adequate social rest you are likely to feel more energized and more comfortable with people.
4 | Spiritual Rest
Spiritual exhaustion occurs when we feel like we have to do everything on our own to create outcomes in our lives or when we’re not inspired by our work and our relationships.
Spiritual rest and rejuvenation, on the other hand, occurs when we practice trust and allow for grace, guidance and support (whether you believe that comes from a higher power, or simply from other people.) We can also feel spiritually rejuvenated when we believe we are doing something meaningful and that we have a positive impact on the world.
Ways to practice spiritual rest include meditation and prayer, asking for help from a higher power or others, acting in accordance with our values and connecting to what brings us joy. When you’ve had adequate spiritual rest you will feel more connected to your purpose, your work and the people in your life.
5 | Creative Rest
Even if you don’t consider yourself a “creative person” or have a creative job, humans are constantly creating, whether it’s putting together a presentation at work, doing playful projects with a kiddo, solving a dilemma in a relationship or even deciding what to cook for dinner tonight. It can be fatiguing producing all the time, especially if there is a deadline to meet, a critique involved or a need for our ideas to be unique. Those who have a creative component to their career (or side hustle!) might feel this type of creative strain even more.
Signs that you need creative rest are lack of inspiration, feelings of rejection, considering a less creative career, comparison with others and procrastination. Ways to get creative rest include increasing collaboration with others, spending time on a completely different craft, traveling and seeking natural or human-made beauty. Think of creativity as a cycle, wherein the person needs phases of receiving and inspiration, followed by a phase of ideas and creation. After getting sufficient creative rest you may feel the desire to start a new project.
6 | Sensory Rest
We all know about the 5 senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch) but most don’t know we actually have 8. The last three are vestibular (sense of movement,) proprioception (sense of space and pressure) and interoception (the body’s internal sensations.) Our bodies are picking up sensory information from the world every second of every day and making sense of what to notice and what to respond to.
Some people are highly aware of their senses and can become easily overstimulated and need rest from the sensory world. Others are less connected to the senses or in a less stimulating environment and need more. Some examples of being overstimulated include being turned off by touch, having headaches or migraines, or high sensitivity to environmental stimuli (lights are too bright, smells are too strong, etc.) Examples of being under-stimulated would be boredom, listlessness, feeling disembodied, dissociating or “checking out” from your environment.
Someone who is overstimulated can meet their need for sensory rest by reducing sensory stimuli through putting on noise-cancelling headphones, closing the blinds or avoiding chaotic environments. For those who need even more sensory rest, they can try out something called floatation therapy, which is a therapy in which you lie down in a no-light, no-sound chamber in a shallow bath of body temperature high-salt-content water that causes you to float. The whole idea is to reduce sensory input, discomfort and distraction as much as possible to allow the person to enter into a deep state of relaxation.
On the contrary, someone who is under-stimulated would benefit from increasing stimuli such as going outside in nature, getting vigorous exercise or being in the sunlight.
Either way, after getting the right type of sensory input, the body and mind should feel alert yet peaceful.
7 | Emotional Rest
Humans experience a wide range of emotions (both pleasant and unpleasant) and a wide range of the intensity of these emotions. In order to be fully present and engaged in our lives, we need to be emotional resilient -- meaning we can feel our emotions and process them without becoming overwhelmed by them.
Emotional rest can come in two forms. For those who tend to hold their emotions in, emotional rest could look like expressing themselves more freely and authentically. This catharsis can help the individual feel a sense of relief and freedom, as hiding from or pushing own emotions requires much mental exertion. Ways of meeting this need involve reaching out to a friend to vent, making an appointment with a therapist or even watching a sad movie that helps you release tears.
For those who are much more comfortable expressing themselves, emotional rest may come in the form of what is referred to as “pendulation.” Pendulation is a technique used in body-based therapies in which the therapist guides the client away from emotionally difficult content for a brief period of time to connect to a more pleasant emotion, physical sensation or memory to feel more grounded. This can be done on one’s own by thinking about a loved one, a pet or visualizing a favorite place. After getting enough emotional rest, one will feel light and empowered.
Ultimately, whether you use the 7 types or not, the purpose of this article is to empower you to identify your needs and meet them to the best of your ability. If you’re having trouble identifying and meeting your needs and think you need additional support, I encourage you to seek a therapist or life coach. If you live in California, feel free to reach out for a free consultation. I hope that you found what you read here useful. Thank you for reading and for your input in the comments. As always, take what works and leave what doesn’t. Be well.
Now I’d love to hear from you:
Have you ever heard of the 7 types of rest?
Which types of rest do you tend to practice most? And the least?
Is there a type of rest that surprised you to learn about?
What are some easy ways you can integrate more rest into your routine?
If you need help right away, please utilize the following crisis resources.
This post is meant for educational purposes only and isn’t a substitute for diagnosis, assessment or treatment of mental conditions. If you need professional help, seek it out.
About the author
Hi! I'm Natalie. And my passion is helping ambitious, creative millennials achieve everything they want in life, career and relationships. I provide in-person therapy in Pasadena and online therapy throughout California. Click here to get started.