Finding time to rest can sometimes feel impossible. Here, therapist Anna Mathur shares five ways to give your brain space to relax when you feel like you don’t have time to slow down.

We all know just how important getting enough rest is. Not only does it help our bodies to recover and promote muscle growth, but it’s also a crucial part of looking after our mental health too.

Sometimes, however, it feels impossible to get enough rest, especially when life is moving at a million miles per hour. Trying to fit in work, socialising and exercise can leave us feeling like we don’t have any time to slow down, sleep or even take a breath to decompress.

“We are bombarded with ways to fill the time we have,” psychotherapist and author Anna Mathur tells Stylist, whether that is by scrolling on social media, getting our steps in or making our way through the latest TV series. 

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Mathur also says that rest isn’t valued in the way it should be by most people, which means it falls to the sidelines when life is busy: “We live in a culture where productivity is applauded and encouraged, and therefore rest feels pointless and wasteful,” she says. “Rest is a challenge of identity for many of us. Due to low self-esteem and self-worth, many feel guilt and feelings of unworthiness around stopping and slowing.”

There are also some genuine, practical reasons why you might not be able to rest: maybe you’re caring for children or family, or have to work very long hours and don’t have enough time to get enough rest.

Whatever it is, it doesn’t feel good when we don’t have time to slow down. “If we don’t rest enough, we run at a deficit, and this becomes unsustainable, leading to exhaustion and burnout,” Mathur explains.

Rest is what allows us to feel energised, mentally and physically, which helps us function in other areas of life. “We require energy to rationalise anxious thoughts, to respond to our families, kids and bosses in a way that we want to rather than with a stress response. We even need energy to be able to laugh, enjoy life and make conscious decisions,” Mathur adds.

This is a topic Mathur addressed in a recent episode of her podcast, The Therapy Edit. In the episode, she shares five ways we can rest when we have no time, to help you feel the best you can as often as possible. Here’s what she said: 

Limit how much information you’re absorbing

Rest is as much for our brains as it is for our bodies, as constant scrolling and sitting at a laptop all day means our brains can get exhausted quickly. Mathur therefore recommends trying to avoid overstimulation, when you can, to help your brain rest.

Have you ever found yourself looking at your phone to take a break from work? This could actually be making you feel more exhausted. “Whether you’re reading the news, reading your messages or flicking through social media, your brain has to process all of that. So even if you feel like you’re mindlessly scrolling, you’re still taking in a lot of information,” Mathur says in her podcast. “When you consume things, your brain needs to process that information.”

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This means that you’re not only processing whatever else is going on in your life, but all of the information you’ve quickly consumed on your phone too. To combat this, try to find other ways to take breaks that don’t overstimulate your brain, whether that’s a walk, stretching or simply lying down.

“Start to notice what you are taking in. Even just visually, what are you exposed to that your brain is having to spend more mental and emotional energy on absorbing?” Mathur recommends asking yourself, advising that you should turn off notifications and maybe even the music or the radio you have on in the background while working or doing other tasks.

Input boundaries to help you compartmentalise

“Set boundaries around what you do and how long for,” Mathur says. “There are many things that we have to do that take up emotional, physical and mental energy – how can you limit those things?”

If there’s an event you have to go to – maybe you’re hosting or have agreed to go to a work night out – set a boundary about how long you can stay for or what you can offer there. Maybe tell your friend you actually don’t feel up to cooking tonight or tell your boss you need to leave at a specific time so that the occasion doesn’t require quite as much energy as it might have done previously.

We need to rest even when we’re busy

Slow down

In a bid to be efficient and productive, you might often find yourself doing five different things at once, which although might feel helpful in the moment, is probably making your brain feel tired. “The reality is you’re using so much more energy and brain power by doing this,” Mathur says. “Every time you divert your attention, this takes energy.”

So, try and remind yourself to slow down. It’s easier said than done but be conscious of the way you’re acting and if you find yourself walking unnecessarily fast or frantically replying to emails when, actually, you don’t need to be moving so quickly, stop and slow down. “You might have to rush later on but think about the moments when there is time to slow down,” Mathur says, adding that you should, “be restful in your business”.

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Connect with others and find outlets

Often when you don’t have time to rest, you also don’t make space to process your feelings, which is an important part of looking after our mental health. Mathur recommends that you find outlets to release emotional stress – whether that’s through a long walk, a rant to a friend or a workout.

“Feelings get pent up as energy, and if you don’t release it you’ll feel snappy and irritable, which might cause collateral damage that you then feel guilty or shame about,” Mathur says. “Carrying emotional weight is draining – so how can you release some of that energy?”

How you effectively release this stress will be personal to you – maybe it’s verbal and means finding a friend or family member to confide in. Maybe you can offload your stress creatively, by journaling or drawing. Or maybe you’re feeling the physical stress of dealing with your emotions, and a run or a yoga class is what you need to shake it off – a dance around the kitchen to your favourite song could do the job too.

Delay, delegate and ditch

You probably feel like you need to be constantly rushing around to get everything you need to do ticked off your list. But Mathur explains that doing things quickly doesn’t necessarily help us get them done more efficiently and slowing down is one of the best ways to help your brain get that little bit of extra rest.

“Look at your to-do list – what can you delegate? What corners can you cut? What can be demoted to another hour, another day, another week when you will have benefited from that rest and will have more resources?” Mathur recommends asking yourself.

“Try and accept that ‘done’ is better than ‘perfect’,” Mathur says, explaining that you’re buying yourself energy by thinking like this, as it will give you time to recuperate. “This doesn’t have to be forever – but just for now,” she adds.

For more wellbeing tips and ideas, head to the Strong Women UK Instagram page.

Images: Getty

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