There’s a lot of pressure out there on social media to be productive and learn new skills during this time of isolation at home. The narrative being that if you aren’t learning new skills (read: being a productive member of our capitalistic society) you are lazy and ungrateful and basically a garbage person. Well.. let’s go ahead and forget that narrative because it’s not rooted in anything helpful or true, and is based in a lot of social constructs like privilege and classism… which is outside the scope of this particular blog post. This is not a time to be your most productive self, but I will say it might be time to relearn one skill in particular: rest.
“Well, Nick, I already know how to rest. I gave myself time off to binge watch Tiger King,” you might say to me.
And I am likely to tell you that’s not rest.
Remember what is happening in our mind-body connection, especially during this pandemic. The nervous system in most of us right now is keyed up. It’s on edge. It knows something is wrong and that there might be danger. How does it know this? You aren’t in your routine. You’re also watching the news and getting online where everything is telling you about the fear in the world. Your nervous system is a really outdated operating system in your modern tech savvy body. Arguably, it knows one kind of danger and responds accordingly: something is about to attack you. This would be helpful if there was a visible, growling COVID virus charging towards us bearing its teeth that we need to run away from, but there’s not. This imperceivable threat coupled with stress from jobs and families and any other aspect of life is leading to a strong sense of discomfort. And what we know about discomfort? We want to avoid it because it’s not comfortable… it’s in the name! So this resistance to discomfort is happening and our brain looks for distractions to awareness from the feelings we don’t like. But what happens with the discomfort?
It’s still there, behind your obsession with the season finale of Schitt’s Creek. (OMG, EW, Discomfort!)
You: “So if that’s not rest, then what is?”
You: “But I don’t like that.”
Think about running on a treadmill. You’re on it for a good twenty minutes at a fast pace and you step off of it without cooling down. Think about that feeling that the world is moving even though you’re standing still. You know, if you just kept running it would stop. But you’re also tired. So you let it catch up and dissipate. You sit in that weird feeling, acknowledging it for what it is.
That’s rest. That’s stillness.
Think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Right now, safety is feeling uneasy because of the stress related to the pandemic. We, as mammals of 2020, have all kind of options to try to supplement these need with others. So we set up webcam happy hours and watch Netflix and learn to crochet. But we aren’t working to secure the base. You can’t secure the need for safety with recognition for your new skills on IG.
The base needs often get taken for granted, because they are assumed (for many of us with the privilege of routine access to such things) except for sex (which may be another blog) and sleep. And what is sleep if not rest. And what is hard if you have an anxious mind that you’ve been distracting all day instead of letting the discomforting feelings catch and dissipate? Sleep.
Is it making sense now?
Rest is HARD because stillness is UNCOMFORTABLE because it means SITTING IN YOUR DISCOMFORT. And who wants to do that? Literally no one. That’s why this is a skill to practice, and I would say, is the one skill to practice over this quaran-time. Take some time as you can, when you can, and see how long you can be still.
What you end up practicing is mindfulness. Let the chatter of the mind happen. Notice it for what it is - a process of a busy, stressed, frontal lobe - and don’t beat yourself up for not being able to ClEaR yOuR mInD. Let those things pass by after they catch up to you.
You’ll probably notice worries about things from weeks or months ago. That’s okay. That’s normal. You might notice emotions you through were resolved. That’s okay. That’s normal.
You don’t have to do this all at once. You don’t need to sit and wait for everything to come to you. Take a break from rest, too. Go do something soothing like watch YouTube cooking videos (Shout out to Maangchi and Hila Cooking for being my personal faves.) The point is to make more time for this. The more time you set aside for stillness, the less time it will take for things to catch up. The discomfort will become more comfortable.