A23-year-old client tells me: “I feel tired all the time. I am eating healthy and sleeping well but I can’t seem to feel a sense of joy, pleasure in daily activities. Surprisingly, I am still doing well at my job, but emotionally I feel depleted. Earlier, we labelled it pandemic fatigue but now, in this hybrid world, I am beginning to experience fatigue in a different way.”
A consistent theme in therapy sessions over the last couple of months has been that of fatigue. Clients across age groups used to bring it up even before the pandemic. This conversation has intensified, however, and is being reported with far higher frequency. As clients begin to work in a hybrid world, we are having more and more conversations around what it means to re-imagine rest and restoration.
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Since 2020, our world has undergone a massive change, so the nature of rest needs to change too. At its core, rest allows us to feel rejuvenated, provides an opportunity for relaxation and meets our needs, whether these are based on slowing down physically, social connections or emotional restoration.
Since the pandemic started, it has seemed that work never really ends—and this is true across careers. Sometimes I wonder if people hold the irrational belief that they can rest or pause only once all their work is done.
There is always a pending email, a message that needs to be responded to, a presentation deck that needs to be mailed or a meeting invite that hasn’t been sent. As a result, people experience a sense of being overwhelmed, and productivity guilt, that doesn’t allow them to rest even on weekends. About 80-90% of my clients tell me that by the time it’s Sunday evening, they are already back at work.
Re-imagining our relationship with rest involves learning that rest is imperative not just for well-being but also productivity. How we rest is how we work.
Learning to make space for rest in our daily life, not just weekends, is the first step. When I struggled with burnout about a decade back, I came up with the term pause rituals as a way of scheduling pause daily; during these, I would engage in self-soothing activities and mindfully choose to monotask. This meant that if I went for a walk, I would only do that. If I was watching a show, I would keep the phone away.
So, begin by incorporating your own pause rituals. Secondly, we need to acknowledge when we are getting stuck in productivity guilt and choose rest as a way of being kind to ourselves. Thirdly, our definition of rest needs to be re-imagined. While good rest, hydration, healthy eating habits, eight hours of sleep and exercise are pillars of rest, our modern life requires much more.
Given the amount of time we spend in front of screens, sensory rest is important. Our ability to have downtime rituals which mindfully involve time away from screens is imperative to feel less wired and experience rest. Clients tell me they find themselves bingeing on shows after work, something that tires them out physically even further. Whether it’s going for a walk, listening to soothing music, having a long shower, just being in nature, or even doing nothing with eyes closed—these are all ways of dealing with sensory fatigue.
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The pandemic impacted social connections and community in a big way. In-person interactions allow for a certain spontaneity, playfulness and sense of fun. Make space to reconnect and re-enter relationships with curiosity and openness. Conversations that allow us to be authentic, look at ourselves beyond work, go a long way in adding to our self-esteem. If your week is hyper-scheduled and fast-paced, choose activities that allow you to slow down. It could be mindful walks, Tai-Chi, or meditation.
Maybe we need to remind ourselves that rest is a way of centring ourselves and paying attention to our own voice and needs.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.