According to Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, a board-certified internal medicine physician, we should be thinking about seven key areas of restoration.
A physician with a full-time medical practice and mother of two young children, Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, an internal medicine physician, knew she had reached a burnout point. She focused on improving her sleep, but even when she slept eight to nine hours a night, she still woke up exhausted. It prompted her to think about the gaps in how we evaluate fatigue. So she spent the next decade researching different types of rest, as well as restoration strategies for specific rest deficits.
Dr. Dalton-Smith is now a work-life integration researcher, CDC Wellness Series speaker, and best-selling author. She is the founder of Restorasis, a professional development agency dedicated to restoring well-being in the workplace.
“To be the best version of ourselves, we have to understand our bodies’ need for restorative processes,” says Dr. Dalton-Smith. “We haven’t yet placed the value on rest that it deserves.”
Dr. Dalton-Smith defines seven different types of rest:
Physical: Physical rest can be passive (sleeping or napping) or active (a restorative activity like yoga, a massage, or setting hourly reminders to get up from your desk). Signs of a deficit are body aches or pain.
Mental: Mental rest ranges from scheduling short breaks throughout the work day, or keeping a notebook handy to help quiet your mind. Struggling with concentration or recall, or feeling exhausted after a full night’s sleep are indicators of a deficit.
Sensory: Sensory rest includes avoiding bright lights and background noise, turning off notifications on your phone, or simply closing your eyes for a few minutes during the day. A deficit can result in feelings of irritation and anger or a sense of being overwhelmed.
Creative: Creative rest is what we experience when we appreciate beauty in any form, whether it’s heading to the ocean or listening to music. Struggling to problem-solve or brainstorm is associated with a lack of creative rest.
Social: Social rest involves spending time with people who revive your energy rather than exhaust you. Signs of a deficit are the feeling that you need a moment for yourself, or that your contributions to others’ lives aren’t being reciprocated.
Spiritual: Spiritual rest needs vary depending on your belief system, but at its core, this type of rest connects to a sense of meaning and belonging. Apathy about your work or feeling disconnected from your community often point to a deficit in spiritual rest.
Emotional: Emotional rest is what we experience when we have the space to freely and authentically express our feelings. If you constantly feel like you need to keep your emotions in check or are hesitant to share your true feelings, you may need more emotional rest.
“To be the best version of ourselves, we have to understand our bodies’ need for restorative processes. We haven’t yet placed the value on rest that it deserves.”
We talked with Dr. Dalton-Smith, author of Sacred Rest — a book about staying well-rested despite life’s demands — to understand the true meaning of rest, how to identify our own rest deficits, and how to take a proactive approach to restoring our energy. Here’s what we learned.
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Dr. Dalton-Smith: It was very organic. I was practicing medicine and had two toddlers, but even after prioritizing my sleep, I still felt completely drained and depleted. I started looking at more specific ways to address fatigue and noted a number of recurring themes from my patients. The seven different restorative areas I identified seem to cross all barriers — they don’t depend on socioeconomic status, gender, education, or background.
Dr. Dalton-Smith: If you don’t feel like you have the energy to accomplish the things you want to do in the day, there’s a deficit somewhere. Most people don’t see it as burnout, they just describe feeling tired and drained.
Read more: How to Combat Workplace Anxiety and Burnout
Dr. Dalton-Smith: I’ve identified sleep as just one of the various types of rest because it’s a cessation activity — it stops the drainage of energy, but doesn’t put anything back in. The other types of rest actually fill you up and restore the places that have become depleted. We focus on sleeping, but you can’t experience high-quality sleep in a body that doesn’t understand rest.
Dr. Dalton-Smith: Focusing on seven of anything isn’t realistic, especially if you’re already feeling maxed out. I created an assessment to help people narrow down and become more self-aware of what they’re experiencing in the moment. Until we can recognize when we’re experiencing a deficit and take a proactive approach, we run the risk of staying depleted.
Focus your attention on improving the type of rest that is most depleted. As one bucket starts filling back up, you’ll have more energy to do additional restorative activities. Try to incorporate rest into the things you’re already doing. For example, if you walk every day and identify you need mental rest, opt for quiet instead of listening to a podcast.
Dr. Dalton-Smith: It shifts depending on what’s going on in the world, but mental and sensory rest deficits are consistently the most common. In the past, mental rest topped sensory, but with the increase in using devices during the pandemic, sensory took over and stayed at the top for more than two years. Today, it’s a bit more equal.
The easiest to overlook is creative rest deficit. A lot of people don’t think of themselves as creative and might discount the energy they use in that area. But if you’re problem-solving or innovating daily, whether at home or at work, it’s easy to become depleted and not think to fill back up. It’s important to remember that the energy we get from being inspired by natural beauty around us, or experiencing art or music, has real value in our lives.
Read more: How Creativity Makes Us Happier
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