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In Pursuit of Wellness: The Quality of Rest You Receive

In Pursuit of Wellness: The Quality of Rest You Receive

A young man consulted me recently about the fatigue he was experiencing. He had already made the diagnosis before coming to see me, thanks to an over-the-counter laboratory test he had obtained from a local pharmacy.

“I’m suffering from adrenal failure,” he proclaimed, “and I’d like to know how to treat it naturally, if possible.”

The test did suggest that his adrenal glands were having trouble keeping up with the demands being placed upon them. Rather than accepting adrenal failure as the cause of his problem, however, I chose to simply view it as another one of his symptoms. Why, I asked, were his adrenals failing to produce adequate amounts of cortisol?

As we talked I learned that he had recently completed his college degree by taking 25 credit hours his final semester. He had immediately entered an internship program that required him to fly regularly between Oklahoma City, Denver, and Chicago. He was simultaneously pursing a relationship with a girl he hoped to marry. He admitted that he was averaging approximately four hours of sleep each night and that he had not taken a true break or vacation in several years.

Therein lay the root of the young man’s problem. He was not giving his body and mind regular and adequate rest, at least not the quality rest required to maintain health and efficiency.

His story is not unique. Over the years I have seen many individuals who were facing health challenges for the same reason. A particularly common scenario is that of a wife and mother who is enrolled in night courses to complete her college degree while working during the day to supplement the family’s income. Why, she always asks, am I depressed? Why am I tired all the time? What’s wrong with me?

What’s wrong is that she is not SuperWoman, just as the young man with adrenal failure is not SuperMan. She is human, he is human, and human bodies and minds require regular periods of rest to operate smoothly and efficiently.

When someone says, “I need to get some rest,” he or she usually means, “I need some sleep.” Sleep, while important, is but one of many aspects of quality rest.

Whatever the task set before us, regular breaks will enhance our performance. We should

have learned this in elementary school. The best part of the day for students and teachers alike was recess, wasn’t it? When did your teacher introduce new material or take on the most challenging subjects? Right after recess, when young minds had been rested and were ready to learn!

This principle was practiced on the farm when I was growing up. Midmorning and mid-afternoon rest breaks were a part of the daily routine. We looked forward to the figure of one of the ladies walking out to the field with a basket of sandwiches or cookies and a jug of water or lemonade. After a short period of rest and conversation we were able to take on the work with a renewed sense of vigor and purpose.

Employees in most businesses are provided morning and afternoon “coffee breaks.” It is when we begin working on our own projects or businesses that we often neglect to take rest breaks. As a result, performance suffers. Working eight to twelve hours straight without a break will generally produce fewer results than working fewer hours with several rest breaks during the day.

A good night’s rest is important, and it begins before actually retiring for the night. A restful sleep will ensue only if it is preceded by an intervening break from the cares and responsibilities of the day. It is advantageous to develop a relaxing bedtime routine that begins 30 to 60 minutes before going to bed. Reading, conversing, listening to music and meditating can all set the stage for a restful sleep.

The amount of sleep required for optimum wellness is grossly underestimated in our society. In the first half of the twentieth century, prior to the widespread use of electric lighting and before the advent of television sets, computers, and the Internet, the average individual received nine hours of sleep each night. Today, many, if not most, people believe that six or seven hours a night provide an optimum amount of rest and that four or five hours of sleep are adequate. This is simply not true.

How do you know whether you are getting enough sleep? Simply ask yourself if you are waking up to an alarm. If you are not waking spontaneously, you are not getting enough sleep.

Just as breaks during the day and quality sleep during the night are essential to getting through the week so a regular weekly day of rest from usual activity is essential for getting through the year. The principle of a weekly day of rest goes back to the very beginning of recorded history.

Concerning the creation of the world we are told, “On the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

The recognition of the value of a weekly day of rest seems to have diminished over the last few decades. I recall a time when only businesses essential to maintaining basic societal needs operated seven days a week. Retail stores were closed and only an occasional service station would be open. Farmers did necessary chores but stayed out of the fields, and only emergency medical services were rendered.

Today we live in a 24/7 society. With the exception of a difference in television and radio programming it is difficult to tell Saturday or Sunday from Wednesday or Thursday. Most retail establishments anticipate more business on weekends than during the week, and many routine services are readily available every day.

I believe that we, as a society, have lost a valuable health asset. Greater numbers of people are suffering from anxiety and depression, and many more people are complaining of chronic tiredness than at any time in the past. If a day of rest is available to you make the most of it. Do not treat it like any other day – a day to finish the laundry, do the grocery shopping and service the car. Make it your day, your family’s day, distinct and separate from the rest of the week. I predict you’ll find that you are actually able to accomplish more by limiting your business activities to six days each week than by treating all days alike.

Perhaps the most important, but the most neglected type of rest, is the retreat from the pressures of daily living. Retreats need not be long nor need they be complex. A study of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ provides one of the finest examples of the importance and effectiveness of withdrawing from the center of activity for brief periods.

Each time Jesus gave a major address, performed a series of healings, or faced a significant challenge He immediately retreated to a quiet, secluded place where He could be alone or in the company of a few trusted friends. Sometimes it was to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee; commonly it was to the Mount of Olives. After each retreat we find Him rested, revitalized and ready to carry on.

Do you have a favorite spot where you can retreat from the stresses and demands of your life? Do you know a place that allows you to relax, break the tension, and return energized and ready to take on the rest of the day or the remainder of the week? If you do not, find one.

If you enjoy being outdoors, familiarize yourself with local parks, seeking a secluded spot that will promote the serenity needed to assess your situation and recharge your batteries. If you are an indoor person check out bookstores and libraries. Most provide quiet booths or tables where you can relax and regroup.

Just as brief periods of quiet respite help us effectively focus our energy for tasks at hand longer vacations can help us refocus on what is important in our lives. When I talk with people who are experiencing frustration with the direction of their life or who are complaining of what is sometimes called “burn out” I often find that they have not taken a vacation in years. Unfortunately, when many people do take a vacation they work at it. As a result they return to their usual responsibilities more tired and worn than before they left.

A vacation should be an opportunity to make a complete break from the normal routine and do something totally different. The daily schedule should be relaxed and extremely flexible. There should be ample time to explore your thoughts and reassess the direction in which your life is headed. If you are headed in the right direction you’ll find that you are excited about the prospect of returning to work when the vacation is over. If not, if you approach the return to your usual activities with a sense of dread or frustration, it may well be time to explore new venues or approach your work from a different perspective.

Take rest seriously. Pursue quality as well as quantity. Seek it consistently and recognize it as an important factor in improving or maintaining your level of wellness.

You cannot live long and prosper without it.

© 2007 Wellness Clubs of America.com

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