Inspire your work

Living Richly During Challenging Times — Looking after your rest

What did you learn over the last week or two by reflecting on what adds meaning to your life? And how did the practice affect your energy levels and your mood?

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed our daily lives and within a short space of time. Many people feel anxious and stressed about health, loved ones, financial and economic survival now and in the future.

Working – and for parents, schooling – from home has disrupted our routines, including those for incidental exercise. Even going out for a walk can be less refreshing with the increased vigilance of social distancing. And for those in essential services, which now ranges from people in health care to food supply, there is increased stress as they face the virus and its impact on people daily. (A huge thank you to essential services workers!)

Against that background, we’re tending to interact more via video calls – for meetings, studying and socially – which can be energy sapping. I’m grateful to my colleague Jeff Couillard (of Attainability) for passing on this article ‘The Reason Zoom Calls Drain Your Energy’.

All of these factors can increase our stress and anxiety, which in turn can impact on our ability to rest, and especially to sleep. And as neuroscientist Matthew Walker details in his book Why We Sleep, insufficient sleep reduces our cognitive abilities, emotional stability and immune system – alarmingly quickly.

Working 70 hours/week as an executive in technology R&D and trying to balance family life taught me just how much insufficient rest impacts on our effectiveness and relationships with others. And how hard the impacts are for us to recognise, especially when buoyed up by the adrenalin of an exciting project or a deadline.

Gradually I realised how irritable I was with my family and how much harder it was to focus, absorb and remember information and make decisions.

On the upside, I learned that even short rests, especially those that involved movement and a change of scene – like walking to the train station – improved the clarity of my thinking, my creativity and my mood. And getting 7–8 hours sleep made an even bigger improvement!

Taking care of our rest maintains – and even enhances – our cognitive ability and creativity, generates a more positive mood and strength to deal with challenges. It’s essential for forming memories. It also improves our immune function, which is even more important during this COVID-19 pandemic. And being properly rested supports our ability to be mindfully present, which allows us to live a richer, more meaningful life even at this challenging time.

What can you do to support your rest? Here are some ideas:

  • Ensure you get enough sleep: for adults the WHO recommends an average of 8 hours per night. If you’re having trouble sleeping, there are some great online resources, such as this one at the Sleep Health Foundation (Australia).

  • Take breaks during your day to get up and move, especially if you’re sitting for long periods at a screen, doing video calls or studying. Ideally, get outside for some fresh air and a walk. The change in perspective enables both your mind and eyes to change their focus, boosting your creativity and your mood.

  • Engage in activities that will help you re-energise: read a novel, listen to music (or even dance like no one is watching!), marvel at a sunset, share a virtual coffee and laughs with a friend. Pay attention to what works best for you, so you have a selection to call upon.

Of the practices above, sleeping is the ultimate foundation, so I recommend focusing on that in the coming week. If you already have that under control, choose one of the activities – or come up with your own – to focus on for the next week. Do the activity at least once per day, then reflect on its impact on your energy and mood.

Adequate sleep supports our immune system, reduces our emotional swings and likelihood of misreading others’ facial expressions. Taking care of your rest will help you face the challenges of this time fully resourced!

PS Do you know what’s also been really helpful for me? Limiting my intake of COVID-19 news to once or twice per day.

Tree with a seat underneath in a misty sunlit field
Photo by Simon Wilkes on Unsplash

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