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How I’m Learning to Rest

Updated: Jul 18, 2021

I wanted the world to stop last week. I wanted the ping of work emails to stop. I wanted to stop stumbling out of bed, half-rested, half-heartedly glued to my computer trying to be productive. I wanted the killing of Black people, and especially Black women and little Black girls like Ma’Khia Bryant to stop. And despite persistent recycling of our grief and trauma, I often apologize for being human, for needing a minute or a week to rest and recover.

We are not machines, although capitalism may have convinced you otherwise. People aren’t built to grind all day every day, and still function as healthy and whole beings. I know that’s not how I’m built. But it took a global pandemic and a year and a half of personal and collective loss for me to realize that I don’t know how to rest. Rest feels uncomfortable, like a beautiful, but itchy wool sweater that I desperately want to wear, but that I can’t stand to keep on for too long.

I’ve never thought more about rest than I do right now, and I know I’m not alone. The concept of and the need for rest as Black women has been a hot topic as this country faces a social justice reckoning, in which Black and brown people are sick and tired of being sick and tired. Emphasis on the tired. Black women and femmes especially, are constantly expected to produce, to protest, to educate, and to uplift everyone, including the people who cause us harm. We are supposed to be superhuman, invulnerable, cape wearing saviors whose sacrifices make the world a better place for everyone but us.

It’s time to repair our relationship to rest. If you’ve been thinking about how you relate to rest, I highly recommend following the profound and honest teachings of Tricia Hersey AKA The Nap Bishop, who espouses the belief that “Rest is resistance.” And it is.

But rest is more than a pretty notion, it’s a life-saving practice, one that requires intention. And while rest still feels unfamiliar to me, I know that it is one of the keys to thriving and not simply surviving. So here are three ways that I’m learning to rest.

Honoring My No’s

No. Not right now. Not today. Not at this time. However you say “no,” it is a complete sentence. It’s not a negotiation. I’m learning to honor my “no’s,” even the quiet, uncertain ones. I can’t think of a time that my intuition has ever steered me wrong, and I’ve regretted it every single time that I didn’t trust my inner voice telling me to say no to something or someone. Every time we ignore the quiet inner voice that tells us we don’t have the desire or capacity to engage in a particular conversation, take on another work task, or show up for someone, it’s a form of self-sacrifice. You can’t pour from an empty cup, and if you are always giving your time and energy to everyone and everything, you’ll end up with nothing to give to yourself. It’s time to start honoring your no’s.

Set small boundaries

Boundary-setting and honoring your no’s, go hand-in-hand, because sometimes you can’t stop completely showing up, for work, for family, for your partner(s) or friends. And if you’re like me, “no” can be hard to say, because I want to hold space for my loved ones, while also working on my passions and doing the best that I can at work; so sometimes the word “no,” gets stuck in my throat. And lately, I’ve been working through that by setting small boundaries when I know I’m at capacity to give of myself. For me, that has looked like setting time limits on how much social media I consume, being honest with my supervisor when I’m overwhelmed with my workload, and being honest about when I do and don’t have space to process other people’s emotions or experiences.

Boundary-setting in small ways starts with being honest about how you’re feeling and assessing how you can begin to slowly refill your emotional cup. Maybe that means asking a friend if you can be a listening ear tomorrow instead of right this moment, maybe it means not responding to work emails past a certain time, or unfollowing people on social media who make you feel shitty for whatever reason.

Stop making everything urgent

Capitalism places value on constant productivity and hustle, so we’ve been led to believe that everything is urgent. It’s not. We live in a hyper-connected world, so every email, every text or Instagram notification, or phone calls feels urgent, like if we don’t answer right away, we’ll spontaneously combust.

I’m learning to slow down, because there’s no need for speed, in learning to make rest a practice. Boundary setting and honoring my no’s both help in slowing down, and operating as if time is abundant. There is plenty of time to respond to that email, to call your mom back, or to finish that assignment. And if something is time-sensitive, ask for an extension when possible. I’ve realized in the past year, how often I try to do multiple things at once, and always at a breakneck pace. But when I slow my life down, I have room to put more intention and care into the things I do: be it work things or showing up for the people I care about.

Urgency is a scam that

convinced me that I needed to be a master at multitasking, when really all it did was cause me to be in a constant state of distraction, never really giving my full attention to anything. And forcing myself to work through emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual exhaustion.

We won’t repair our relationship to rest overnight, it’s not a race. But there are small opportunities every day to incorporate more moments of rest into my life and yours.

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