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Prioritizing Rest

June 20, 2022

by Nikki Smith, Program Partner

This year I have been learning about ‘rest.’ Even as I write the word, it feels silly. But I’ve been seeing a lot of things posted online or in articles about how we should treat rest as a right, not as a reward. As a perfectionist and chronic people-pleaser with a little anxiety sprinkled in, I have never allowed myself the luxury of resting until everything was done and everyone else was taken care of. In this culture of side hustles and glamorizing the grind, rest just sounds lazy and childish. Who has time for that? What will people think if I don’t get everything done or if I say ‘no’ to someone so I can, what? Nap?

I recently graduated from college. I’m 37 years old, and I turned my whole life upside down to go to school. Because of that, I wanted to do well. If I was going to take on a load of student debt, you better believe I was planning on getting A’s. And I did. I graduated with honors. I made the Dean’s list every semester. I am very proud of myself for that. But, if I hadn’t just told you that, you would never know. You aren’t looking up my college transcripts. No one is. So, I’ve been asking myself this year if it was worth it. Don’t get me wrong; I am a firm believer in trying your best. But, as we say here at Inclusive Communities, we strive for progress, not perfection. I wanted perfection. And it almost killed me.

I got sick in February 2020, and for two years, I struggled with relapses of sickness that would leave me feeling exhausted beyond belief, among many other debilitating symptoms. I went to numerous doctors to try to figure out why I wasn’t getting better. I even thought I might have an autoimmune disease. But every blood test came back normal. By the Fall of last year, I was so discouraged and burnt out. My mental health took a major nose-dive. I wanted to quit everything. The collective world trauma of enduring a global pandemic definitely did not help. But this past February, I went to a specialist who more or less told me he thought that I had just bee so stressed that my body was never able to fully fight off the virus that I’d had. He told me I needed to prioritize a healthy diet, REST, and exercise. OUCH! So, you’re saying I did this to myself?

It only takes a quick Google search to find endless articles about the negative effects of pro-longed stress on our mental and physical health. I got my degree in Social Work where we discussed how stress and trauma affect our bodies in practically every class. I should have known better. I was living in the collective global trauma of COVID, going to school full-time, and working at a pulmonary clinic. So ya know, I had just a little stress in my life. But every time I thought about making changes I felt guilty. I just needed to “push through” and I could take a break later… Without getting into the details, I will just say, that mentality nearly cost me everything.

So, this year of 2022 I am on a journey of discovering what it means to slow down. To say ‘no’ without feeling guilty. To find ‘rest’. Not just a quick cat-nap, although I am a huge fan of those, but to find things that bring joy to my soul. I am learning to listen to my body and my intuition, and this means carving out space for sitting still and being quiet. This means prioritizing myself even though growing up I was taught that was selfish. But what I realize now, is that if I am not ok how can I show up for the people in my life that I love and care about? How can I keep doing this work?

So no, rest is no small thing and certainly not silly. It takes work and intentionality. It means shifting your priorities and maybe giving up things to make space for something better. It means learning to set boundaries or changing existing ones. It means letting go of guilt and learning to trust yourself. All of that that can be really uncomfortable for a while. But if I learned anything from COVID, it’s that life can change in an instant. Who or what am I not showing up for because I am prioritizing the grind when I should be focusing on rest?

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