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Running on Empty? Here’s How to Recharge…

Chris Langer, Communications and Scheme Intelligence Manager at CIRAS talks about the importance rest and relaxation, essential in preventing fatigue-based problems

“Our minds must relax: they will rise better and keener after a rest. Just as you must not force fertile farmland, as uninterrupted productivity will soon exhaust it, so constant effort will sap our mental vigour, while a short period of rest and relaxation will restore our powers. Unremitting effort leads to a kind of mental dullness and lethargy.”

The quote above wasn’t written by the latest health and well-being expert, but by Seneca, a Stoic philosopher, who lived around 2,000 years ago.

At CIRAS (confidential reporting for health and safety) around 15 per cent of all the reports we receive are about fatigue. And many of these reports cite ‘inadequate rest’ as a contributory factor which could become safety critical for frontline staff performing safety critical roles.

It might be glaringly obvious, but we all need to rest. Here, I am not talking about getting enough sleep. In some ways, sleep is the easy way out – just hit the pillow when you’re exhausted! By that stage, the only alternative may be to prop your eyelids open with matchsticks.

No, I mean stopping completely, whilst fully awake, completely forgetting that shedload of ‘must-dos’. Not many of us have time to properly rest these days with all the competing demands for our attention. If I’m honest, it’s probably been a while time since I achieved that restful state of mind. But failing to rest often enough can leave us feeling run down and worn out. It may even make us ill.

When was the last time you totally forgot about planning, going somewhere, or achieving something? That restful state of mind is hard to achieve in practice. We want to attain that sense of just being, without the ‘thought baggage’ of things not completed on time – with no stress, or pressure.

But to become more resilient, to toughen up for the challenges ahead, we need to rest. Rest can put us back on the road to achieving our goals, however counterintuitive this may sound. Our personal bucket lists can wait. Paradoxically, it may take some work to rest.

It takes work because we often must challenge our own beliefs about having a rest. These may include beliefs that others will judge you, you’ll let somebody down, or that you’ll fail to keep up with everything. Underpinning those beliefs, there may be a central belief that it simply isn’t ok to rest – this needs challenging. Give yourself permission.

Clocking out

Resting involves ‘clocking out’. In this state of mind, you are no longer on task. You can give up being accountable to anyone for a while. The good news is that you may only need to nudge yourself into resting at opportune moments during the day. Your mind frequently needs to replenish itself. This can be done in lots of ways – for example:

  • Remind yourself of your key purpose in life when you wake up
  • Pause for 30 seconds after your breakfast and gather yourself before moving off again
  • Notice that space in breathing between the end of an inhalation and the beginning of an exhalation
  • Give yourself a few moments of peace once you finish a task, before moving to the next one
  • Encourage your mind to rest by refusing to engage in ‘chatter’ about yourself or other people
  • Sit in silence for a minute each day

There is clear difference between rest and sleep. In the land of nod, where we are unconscious, we have no choice where our mind takes us. Conscious effort is needed to rest purposefully, but this can pay dividends in re-energising ourselves for the challenges ahead.

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