Shifting your perspective on rest for better health

Nourish your body with food and water, move joyfully and appropriately, manage stress, and rest. These are the four basic tenets of any preventative health regimen or recovery plan.

Yet the majority of health professionals and mainstream media focus on the first two principles and neglects the last two, with the exception of sleep, of course.

But there’s a reason I didn’t name sleep as the fourth tenet of health and opted for “rest” instead.

Sometimes I find sleep gets so much attention, that dealing with the uncontrollable inevitability of lack of sleep (as in parenting, traveling, pregnancy, apartment living, you name it) becomes extremely stressful and thus the focus on sleep is counterproductive.

Rest, on the other hand, encompasses more than the number of hours we spend in bed each night. It can be seen in our daily attitude and behaviors, it involves both doing and not doing, and focusing on it often has the side effect of improving the other three areas of health; stress management, physical strength, and nourishment.

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For some of you this might sound counterintuitive. Surely productivity, performance, hard work and action are the bread and butter of good health.

On the contrary what we’re finding is that chronic stress leading to chronic inflammation is at the root of a lot of poor health outcomes. In fact, the research suggests that weight stigma (belief that those in larger bodies are less valuable than others, and the discrimination they receive because of it), stressing about food intake, caloric restriction, overexercising, high degrees of mental stress and time pressure, and a maxed out lifestyle lead to higher circulating cortisol levels and a greater degree of inflammation than any “junk food”, sedentary period, or stint of sleep deprivation.

So how do we combat this conundrum? In the face of greater and greater pressure to “do more, eat cleaner, and exercise for longer,” we choose rest.

What does it mean to rest as a believer

Rest as a believer means more than sitting on the couch and numbing out to Netflix (although I certainly love a good Netflix series). Rest is an active reliance on the Lord as our provider, sustainer, healer and comforter.

Rest is a fight to stay at peace when the world says you should be stressing and taking matters into your own hands. Rest means doing the one thing in front of you and waiting on the Lord for the next thing, instead of making the wrong things happen in our impatience.

Rest can be really stinking hard. Trust me, I know. I’ve been there and I still visit from time to time.

Not only do we experience the cultural pressure to do more, be more and take control on a daily basis, but the environment we live in makes it hard to rest as well. With the wonderful advent of the internet and social media and the not-so-wonderful advent of the credit card, more is available to us to do and say and consume than ever before.

Besides, looking at a screen all day, scrolling through instagram feeds and the pressure to respond to 20 different texts, emails, and direct messages the moment they arrive leaves our brains frazzled and distracted. Our single focus muscles (for lack of a better term) are weak from disuse.

Do you find it hard to sit down and read a book for more than 15 minutes? 30 minute? Was it always this way? Do you remember being able to focus on one task for hours as a kid or young adult? I know I do. But now it’s different. My brain isn’t used to being present, to concentrating for long periods. My body and mind are no longer practiced at being still, quiet.

All of these cultural and environmental factors culminate in an urge to be doing something or occupying our brains constantly. At times, disordered eating serves this function, distracting our mind with calorie/macro counting, meal planning, or thoughts of restriction or binging can feel comforting in the uncomfortable stillness of our thoughts/emotions. But if those things aren’t serving to connect us more deeply with our values, or with our heavenly father, then they’re like a bandaid hiding a festering wound beneath.

So how do we do it? How do we shift our perspective, control our environment, and practice resting?

Go to the source of Rest

First, we do the one thing that has all the power. We seek God, we pray and ask him for help in this area. Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest “ (Matthew 11:28). He promises that if we will lay our cares down at his feet, he will take our burden upon himself, guide us and give us rest.

Second, we actively renew our minds with God’s word, which has the ability to transform our perspective on work and rest.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

The world says work and earn, but Christ says, come to me, receive my grace, learn my ways and rest.

Finally, we practice.

As I alluded to earlier, our mind and body can become de conditioned from rest, making it hard to sit still, be present, and focus for any period of time.

Practicing rest might look like increasing the time spent in meditation, prayer and reading by one minute each day. Starting small and building up. Kasey Shuler walks readers through this process in her transformative book Rest and Rise. If this is something you want to begin I highly recommend you get the book!

Replace Distractions With Engagement

If you’re in eating disorder recovery or just finding it very hard to NOT count calories, or move around, etc. try replacing those actions when you have the urge to do them with reading scripture, journaling or praying or deep breathing. You will be working towards reliance on the Lord instead of distracting yourself with behaviors.

Additionally, try disengaging form social media, blogs, screen time by setting limits on your phone and replacing that time with something that requires dedicated focus, like reading, writing, drawing, knitting, etc. Creative activities can be so healing as they require us to get out of our thoughts and into our bodies.

If you are at a place in recovery where gentle movement is appropriate, try stretching, yoga, hiking in nature, or anything that allows you to gently move your body and focus in on the present. Note this works best when done without a phone for distraction.

If your body is signaling to you a need for greater rest, remember that recovery and healing take time. Keep finding your rest in Christ, allowing him to transform your thoughts and asking him for help with nourishing your body. There is no right way for every person. You are on your own unique journey, one that is between you and your creator and his desires for you are always good— to heal you and not to harm you, to give to you and not to steal from you, to bring life out of death!

I hope this encouraged you today! If it did, please feel free to share.

As always, if you’re at a place where the “next right thing” is reaching out for one-on-one support, I would love to be that for you or to point you in the direction of someone else who can. Please don’t hesitate to reach out about coaching by scheduling a free 15 minute discovery call. This is a time for us to chat and for you to see what coaching would look like, there is never pressure, just information.

Until next time, stay nourished (and well rested), body, soul and spirit!