When was the last time you did something restful? Something that allowed you to take a break, switch off from the daily grind, forget your worries and feel truly relaxed? If you’re struggling to remember, you’re not alone.
Claudia Hammond is an award-winning broadcaster, author and psychology lecturer, who says rest is something we all need to do more of. You might know her from All In The Mind, BBC Radio 4’s psychology, neuroscience and mental health podcast – or Health Check, her weekly show on BBC World Service. Her fascinating new book, The Art Of Rest, examines the science behind our struggles to relax. In it, she argues that we need to stop thinking of busyness as a sign of success – or feeling we’ll be judged as lazy if we take some time out. She shares some brilliant insights on our attitudes to downtime, the activities most likely to help us switch off, and what the benefits are for our health, wellbeing and productivity.
Rest means different things to each of us. For some, it might be sitting down with a magazine, for others it might be a hobby or craft. Many of us even find it’s getting active, perhaps going for a walk or run, that’s most restorative. Interestingly, although perhaps not surprisingly, using tech doesn’t feature in the top 10 restful activities listed in Claudia’s book (gleaned from a large-scale global survey she was involved in), she concluded that using our phones, tablets and laptops at home often just feels like an extension of work. Tasks like booking tickets or scrolling social media can be enjoyable, but not restful. All the form-filling, ‘invisible tasks’ and ‘life-min’ we have to do on screens just eats into potential rest time.
Claudia speaks in particular about the appeal of listening to music, watching TV and reading – how each of them can be used consciously and strategically to help us unwind. Personally, I love sitting down with my family to connect over a good film or TV show and reading Claudia’s book has made me determined to do it more often and to appreciate it as quality time. I also loved her idea of a ‘vinyl club’, where you get together with some likeminded music fans and listen to an LP together, in full, then chat about it afterwards. As a music fan, that sounds like my idea of bliss and worlds apart from the instant gratification of streaming songs in a random order.
She also discusses the modern-day fear of boredom, how many of us find it hard to do nothing, and why daydreaming is never a waste of time. Instead, when your mind wanders as you’re listening to music or even reading, that’s part of the experience. Lots of studies suggest daydreaming is your mind’s way of making connections, consolidating and organising your thoughts, practicing for future experiences – and it’s great for creativity.
Here are six of the key recommendations Claudia shares for a more restful life:
- Find your own prescription for rest. That means any activity (or inactivity!) you find relaxing, that helps you switch off and forget your worries for a while. Then prescribe yourself 15 minutes of this guilt-free rest time each day.
- Don’t fetishize busyness. It’s not a sign of status or badge of honour.
- Stop overestimating how much free time you’re going to have in the future. It’s unlikely you’ll suddenly become more organised or have less to do. So work with what you have now.
- Reframe ‘wasted time’ as rest time. Take advantage of that train journey, delayed appointment or Post Office queue as time for yourself (and resist the temptation to take out your phone). Look out for these moments and seize the opportunity to just stand and stare.
- If you’re asked to do something that’s way off in the future, imagine it’s actually happening in two weeks’ time. Do you still want to do it? If not, say no now.
- Don’t accidentally give up the most restful thing you do. It’s all too easy when life gets busy to think you have to cancel that cinema trip/art class/afternoon cuppa and chat. But rest makes us more content and productive in the end.