If you’re anything like me, achieving holistic rest is hard. You might’ve received a good night’s rest consistently, but burnout is always lurking around the corner due to your never-ending to-do lists. Trust me, I’ve been there. So, how can you gain long-lasting rest outside of getting eight hours of sleep? Choosing to focus on your emotional, mental, and physical well-being. According to Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, an internal medicine doctor and author of the 2017 self-help book Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity, there is a way that you can keep your energy, happiness, creativity, and relationships fresh and thriving amid never-ending family demands, career pressures, and the stress of everyday life, and it’s by leveraging the seven types of rest outlined in her book, which range from physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, sensory, social, creative rest. Dr. Dalton-Smith believes that a deficiency in any of these types of rest can have unfavorable effects on your health, happiness, relationships, creativity, and productivity and can lead to intense burnout.
Her book combines the science of rest, the spirituality of rest, the gifts of rest, and the resulting fruit of rest. It shows rest as sacred, valuable, and worthy of our respect.
By combining scientific research with personal stories, spiritual insight, and practical next steps, Sacred Rest allows the weary to embrace rest, set boundaries, and seek sanctuary without guilt, shame, or fear. We spoke to Dr. Dalton-Smith to understand how the seven types of rest can be transformative for those seeking to cure their chronic burnout.
ESSENCE: Why did you write this book, and how is it still relevant today?
Dr. Dalton-Smith: I decided to write the book because I was burned out, and I went through a series of research to see how to get to a place where I could stay within a very challenging and stressful profession within healthcare. With this book, people understand why sleep alone is not helping them feel restored. Doctors tell them everything’s good with their health, but they’re still exhausted, failing to understand their personal rest deficits. That’s what makes it still relevant. We live in an exhausted world, and burnout is getting worse. Only some self-care will help you feel rested if directed towards a place with a rest deficit.
From reading your book, you described rest and sleep as being two different things. Could you expound upon that concept and explain the differences?
Sleep is essential, don’t get me wrong. However, most of us can’t get into higher levels of deep sleep because our body, mind, spirit, and soul are not rested. Thus, specific rest deficits will impact your ability to get the level of high-quality sleep you desire because sleep falls under the passive physical risks component. Still, you have these other rest areas that are also needed. Sleep is the path or form of physical rest. Sleep encompasses primarily the time you spend in bed when your eyes are closed and your body’s going through all the physiological needs. Rest, unlike sleep, contains all the other areas in which you can become depleted. So it includes not only the physical, the active component of physical, but also the spiritual, mental, emotional, social, sensory, and creative parts of yourself, many of which do not improve when you’re sleeping.
Why should Black women rest?
I think one of the things is important because right now, many external stressors add to the inability to rest. This includes everything from the extra demands of home life and kids and family, the increased risk of diseases and strokes that increase stress, and the emotional and sometimes professional stress that’s experienced if you have discrimination or you’re working in a hostile work environment. Many different pieces come into play when you’re a Black woman as it relates to your rest deficits that can add to them that are above and beyond what some other people may experience. And so, it’s easy for many people to ignore their bodies and the signs that their body’s giving them.
Many Black women try to push through. They try to keep going until they crash or have a stroke. Their blood pressure is out of control from unrelenting high cortisol levels. Or they get to the point where they have depression because they aren’t allowing themselves moments of emotional rest, where they can let their guard down or get the social rest they need. They don’t have the people or the relationships with other women, where they can just let their guard down. As a Black woman, I think being more mindful of your personal and rest needs is important.
How can we make sure to incorporate more rest throughout our lives?
When I mention the word rest, frequently, the thought is vacations or sabbaticals, or going to the beach or getting a massage, you know what, they’re all fine, but it makes rest so that you can only get it if you can afford it, when you have enough in the bank to afford those things or to have enough time and your PTO to be able to take time off. But really, those activities can be different from how you manage your rest and recovery. There must be a way to incorporate restful and restorative activities in the middle of your day. These things are inexpensive, but it takes a lot of intentionality to ensure you’re including them. Think about where creativity awakens in you. What brings back that childlike awe and wonder?
Does the seven types of rest cure exhaustion?
What they do is improve exhaustion in the area of your deficit. So, doing a restorative activity specific to your area improves the deficit and pours back into the place where you’re depleted. What’s going to relieve that is having an outlet to release those emotions, whether that’s a trusted friend, counselor, a journal that I’m writing out my thoughts on, whatever it is, where you can express those feelings that you’ve been pinning up. That’s how you’re going to get rest in that area. And so the rest has to match the deficit; when the rest matches the deficit, depletion and exhaustion improve.
What’s the key to living a well-rested life?
The key to a well-rested life is understanding number one, where the places you’re expending energy throughout your day. And number two, are you doing something to pour back into those places? If you’re pouring out a lot of creative energy and have never thought about what inspires you to create, you’ll probably end up with a creative rest deficit. If you’re feeling all the thoughts and doing everything, and you and your mind can’t quiet down when trying to sleep, you’ll need to identify that to correct the problem. The key is self-diagnosing where you are depleted so you can be intentional about what restorative practices would most benefit you.