*cue phone alarm at 8 AM* You lean over with half-open eyes to find and shut it off. If you’re lucky, you’ve hit “Disable” and shut it off until your body’s natural REM cycle brings you to consciousness for the day. If not, you’ve hit “Snooze” and the repeated blaring of an all-too-familiar ringtone persists for the next few hours until you finally drag yourself out of bed. Regardless, you constantly feel either mentally or physically exhausted (or both) until you return to your nightly routine of:
1:00 AM - “Just one more episode…”
2:23 AM - “7 minutes? Okay I’ll sleep at 2:30.”
3:05 AM - “Eh… I’ll just take one last scroll through Instagram…”
Eventually you get your eight hours of sleep (however questionable the hours of the day this activity takes place). But it’s no use. Even during the day, you continue to ask yourself, “Why am I still. so. tired?”
You’ve seen the stats before. Better sleep leads to better academic performance, less stress, and provides many other health benefits. But as most college students know, this seems pretty much impossible. There’s too much the world is asking of us and too little time to figure out what it is that we’re asking from ourselves. This article won’t be here begging for you to catch some Zzz’s. All-nighters? Been there. Done that. (Multiple times.) This article is here to offer you a different perspective on what it means to find rest.
As many of us know, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people across the nation to tune into a new lifestyle schedule. Adults may find it reminiscent of the college days that current students understand well – days consisting of naps in between classes, sleeping in until your first class at 1pm, taking breaks whenever and however frequent you deem necessary, etc.
According to the COVID-19 Pulse Study, administered by Evidation Health, there has been a 20% increase in the time spent sleeping post-declaration of the outbreak as a national emergency, and a 30% drop in physical activity between March 1st, 2020 and April 1st, 2020. In tandem with these statistics, 49% of the 88,509 surveyed individuals have reported increased feelings of anxiety within a singular week during the month of March this past year. What if I told you that what we truly desire a break from isn’t just physical work, but the mental challenges that come with our day-to-days? Perhaps this comes as a surprise to some, but the term “rest” does not always have to be synonymous with “sleep.”
Oxford English dictionary defines “rest” in a few ways. As a verb, “[to] Cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength” and “[to] Be placed or supported so as to stay in a specified position.” We live in a time filled with charged social and political unrest, an ongoing global pandemic, and uncertainty for what lay ahead in the futures of many individuals. The “strenuous and stressful activities” are not affecting our bodies right now, but our minds. “Sleeping it off” doesn’t seem to be cutting it anymore.
Whether it be doing actual schoolwork, endlessly applying to new jobs and internships, or thinking up the next best way to fight systemic injustice, the gears in our minds are incessantly churning. Sometimes it feels as though we are not allowed to catch a break for fear of falling behind or for being left out. Yes, you have more FOMO than you realize. More often than not our “breaks” consist of additional mental stimulus. Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Tiktok. We fill our time with more media and more interaction with people, online or offline. What about taking time to just… stay still?
No, I don’t mean to “stay still” as in stay in your bed binge watching all seasons of Stranger Things for a day. “Are you suggesting that I take a break from watching Netflix right before I go to bed?” Perhaps. “What about in-between studying? No scrolling through Instagram at all when I pause from the dry, soul-sucking words of my textbook?” The goal isn’t to extinguish media from your life altogether. It’s about making room for you to care about yourself, and not about what the world or any social media influencer tells you to care about (just for a little while, at least).
The idea of being alone with your thoughts even for five minutes may scare you. But practicing stillness shouldn’t be daunting. It’s not a first date. It’s a conversation with yourself. And honestly, it might take some practice.
Here are some of the practices I use to find rest:
1. Take a WALK
This sounds counterintuitive after everything that was just emphasized on stillness. But remember, we’re focusing on stillness of the mind rather than physical stillness. We spend all day in our chairs and in front of our laptops. If you’ve managed to stay focused doing two full hours of work, I commend you. You are pretty much a superhuman.
However, the human body was never made to sit all day long. When was the last time you enjoyed a walk around your campus without the sole purpose of rushing to your next class, or party, or event? While it may not be the most relaxing thing to take a walk during the rush hour between classes, try to find that one path you know where you won’t run into your archenemy or a professor.
If possible, set aside time to be away from the busy campus life. One of the many good things about going to a school in the suburbs of Massachusetts was that not too far away, exists a park with a trail right in our backyard. And in case you haven’t seen New England in the fall, trust me when I say that I couldn’t think of a better way to get away from campus right after my classes. If taking a walk isn’t for you, this next tip may seem more appealing.
2. LAY on your bed (or the floor) & DO NOTHING.
“Are you giving me permission to be lazy?” Yes, yes I am. Sometimes this is all you need to be at rest with yourself and your mind.
During my sophomore year in college, I very ambitiously became involved in multiple on-campus activities. I was volunteering with a local fellowship, I was starting up a dance organization on-campus, I was part of another dance org off-campus, and I was still active in many cultural orgs, all while taking a full class load. I was exhausted and I burned out. It was not until my senior year of college, when I finally let go of the many of the activities I had poured my time and energy into, that I understood the joy of actually spending time in my college dorm room.
However thrilling it may feel to be involved in everything, never get to the point you feel as though you are not allowed to say “no.” Go back to your room, lay on your bed and try not to fall asleep right away. (But if you must, I promise I’m not judging. In fact, I suggest making sure you stay comfy while you’re at it.) Think about how you’ve been doing. Think about whether anything has been draining you in particular. Learn how to process your thoughts. If that’s a little too much for you right now, maybe this next tip will help a bit.
3. LITERALLY THROW AWAY your worries
I’m a big fan of journaling. I would say it’s not the same as “Dear Diary,” but it kind of is. When you are able to put your thoughts on paper, no one else can tell you how you are and are not allowed to think and feel. Sure, you may look back on it years into the future and cringe at the naiveté of your early twenties, but that doesn’t invalidate how you are feeling now.
Grab a piece of paper and a pencil. Write down everything that has been weighing on your mind. It can be one word. It can be a full on paragraph. Write it ALL down. Now you have two options:
One: you can save it and keep it somewhere hidden so that you can look back in the future and see just how far you’ve come. It might surprise you how these worries actually appear in the grand scheme of things.
Two: take the paper, crumple it up, and throw it in the trash. You’ve verbalized your frustrations. Now it’s time to let them go, and move on. That’s it. It may seem silly at first, but remember, this is a practice. Give it a shot, or two, or three. It may surprise you how much more calm you may feel afterwards.
4. Do something that EXCITES YOUR SOUL
Perhaps the most important one of all: Do something that excites your soul.
Believe it or not, you are allowed to spend time trying something new outside of your usual daily schedule of waking up, checking Instagram, checking LinkedIn, and then sitting down in front of the computer. Think back to the time you used to have a hobby. If you still have access to it, give it a go. Dig up that project you meant to start ages ago but never had the opportunity to. See if there’s something new that you can bring to that experience now.
Personally, I love cleaning up my space. It feels counterintuitive to do something physically strenuous while resting, but a cluttered space never makes for a comfortable work or even non-work environment. Set a timer and give yourself 10 minutes. You’ll be surprised just how many stray papers and receipts can be cleared off your desk. And the pile of clothes you move from the chair to your bed every night? 10 minutes and I PROMISE you can live easier by finally putting them away.
What else do I enjoy? Dance, art, music, baking. Too many things, actually. Will I go on a walk, come back to relax, and then write down everything that raced through my mind? I’ve done it. Will I clean the area around my bed to make space for my 20 minutes of “doing nothing”? Of course. No one can tell you what sparks your mind, only you know that. And you have permission to own it.
Obviously this list is not exhaustive. But the great thing about it is, there’s no right or wrong way to practice stillness. Find the thing that reignites your mind. Lean into the thoughts that you actually want to think, not just what the media tells you to. You may discover something new about yourself. Above all, remember that rest should never be regarded as the enemy of success. If anything, it is the fuel for which new ideas are born.