Redefining your work / rest relationship

In today’s fast paced society we often see the need for rest as a weakness or something that comes with a healthy dose of guilt if taken in lengthier quantities. Those who work long hours and rest little, are often given the virtuous label of ‘passionate’ – an unrealistic bench mark for those that do care, but also care about the other aspects of their lives and their wellbeing. If working long hours at an intense level works for you then GREAT, but for many people, getting in real, quality rest outside of work is really important. Finding the time to do so is often much easier said than done, as no matter how hard you work, it always seems like theres something that needs doing. 

I’m in full time employment and am one of the lucky few who has a job that respects and honours my contractual hours. I do know however from previous experience and from conversations with friends, family and my clients, that this isn’t always the case. Working A LOT correlates for many of us with our perceptions of success and for many people, success feels like a race against time. It’s a niggling ache that wants to remind us of why we need to work hard and keep working until we reach…well i’m not sure what we’re reaching for but i’m pretty sure many of us are stumbling up the ‘climb’ (sometimes crawling or falling off all together, let’s be honest).

What we do know now, more than ever, is that rest in itself can actually make you more productive, creative and emotionally stable than we previously acknowledged.


There’s more scientific evidence than there ever has been to show that work and rest when used effectively together, can help you get the most out of life.


Previously we’ve looked at work and rest as opposites, as individual principles that work against each other. But what if you changed your focus and re-evaluated the value in rest? What if you built a new relationship with ‘rest’, if you knew it that actually having more of it, if used in an effective way, could actually help to benefit your time working and your lifestyle in the long run?


Sarah Joy - Redefining the work/rest relationship

So basically, what you’re saying is, I need to take more ‘duvet days’?


When we’re talking about the work/rest relationship; rest is essentially the time you’re able to escape from the mental aspect of work as well as physically being away from the work place / environment. Studies have shown that the higher your level of detachment from work, the more restorative your time off is.

So yes, duvet days are pretty cool and necessary sometimes (particularly if you’re hungover and feel like you’ve been hit by a bus) but there are also other forms of rest which can be highly effective.

To break it down, there are essentially two types of rest, both of which have their benefits but are important to consider when you are looking at how you can step away from work into a space of rest more often:


Active rest – This is being aware of things you are doing on a conscious level. Things like learning to play an instrument, painting, socialising, reading or playing a particular sport for example.

Auto pilot rest – This is doing things without being aware of that activity (you are unconsciously aware of the activity). In psychological terms, this can be referred to as automaticity and includes activities such as walking or watching TV. After an activity is sufficiently practiced, it is possible to focus the mind on other activities or thoughts while undertaking an automatised activity.


As mentioned, sometimes an active activity can become an auto pilot activity, once you become more practiced but essentially, it is important to have a balance between both forms of rest.

Some forms of rest should offer creativity, deep play and an opportunity to challenge yourself or experiment outside of the working context.

  • Engaging in active rest helps to provide phycological detachment whilst stimulating brain function. Rather than being passive, active rest like exercise or participating in sport helps to encourage neuron connections in the brain which helps to improve brain plasticity.

Other forms of rest should simply provide stillness and restoration in both the body and the mind.


Sarah Joy - Redefining the work/rest relationship

Why is this all so important?


Chronic over work and pressure for an extended period of time is shown to result in burn out. And ain’t nobody got time for that! Burn out is a state of chronic stress that can lead to:


• physical and emotional exhaustion – chronic fatigue, insomnia, depression for example.

• cynicism and detachment – loss of enjoyment and isolation for example

• feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment – lack of productivity and increased irritability for example.


Your health and wellbeing is SO important. You can only be the best version of yourself if you take care of the home you will always live in – your body.


Sometimes it takes a little reminder to step back and tune in. Ask yourself:


  • What does your work / rest relationship look like?
  • What kinds of rest are you engaging in?
  • If you think you need to find a better balance, what one thing could you do to help you make an improvement?


A couple of things to remember


Get to know your limits

If everyone around you works long hours, then usually, you come to think of this as necessary and normal. I’ve experienced this myself in previous employment and know the pressure that employees can feel – especially when you are starting up, working towards a particular role or if you’ve set un-realistic bench marks in line with your role requirements and/or targets. But where do YOU draw the line? This is something completely personal and individual so I’m not imposing the idea that you always leave on time for example (sometimes things require further time or you want/need to stay for a particular reason) but just ask yourself:


Where are your limits?

What limitations would work for you long term?

What might you need to do if you need to make any changes now?

Who might you need to speak to?


Learn to switch off

We carry the weight of work around with us in our pockets and many people feel that they need to be accessible and responsive at all times. But you don’t. No really, you don’t need to set yourself those incredibly high expectations to respond to working e-mails, messages or calls at all times. Understandably, you may need to be ‘on call’ with some jobs however, there also needs to be limitations with this too. What happens if you are on holiday for example? When are you not ‘on call’?

Just remember, the real value in rest exists when you detach from the context of work.


Finding a balance between work and rest is an individual journey and for each person this will look different. When honouring your own work/rest relationship, keep in mind that the resting mind can provide insights to ideas and concepts to your work in a unique and invaluable way. Never underestimate how effective a holiday can be or a weekend away from your e-mails or simply a good few days where you leave on time from work. I believe that if we spend a little more time respecting the relationship between each aspect, we can all find a sustainable and happy set up.


S/Joy x


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