The Nightly Dance of Exhaustion
My eyes droop. Darkness spills like ink from behind the mountains. The sun melts away, and my driveway is bathed in pitch darkness at 5:51 p.m.
I’ve been so tired lately. I can feel it in my bones. It is deep and all-encompassing. I crave rest—to be dipped in silence and let it ripple through my entire body.
Oh, those all-too-familiar feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion that in our society we are supposed to wear as a badge of honor.
With my jam-packed work schedule and a rather irritable mood lately, I know something’s gotta give. Between work and home, I have taken on far too much. I wish I could say this is a rarity, but it’s not—it’s a well-etched pattern of mine. Can you relate?
But I’d like to view this as an invitation rather than a problem.
An invitation toward balance. A reevaluation of my daily life and routines. A deep dive into rest, voicing my needs, and learning what the hell all of this even means.
But I don’t know how to rest.
Most of us have gotten good at caring, accommodating others, anticipating loved ones’ needs, striving, performing, doing, and achieving — and this is no accident. It’s because we have prioritized these things. Or, more accurately, we’ve been taught to prioritize these things. We have been praised and reinforced for being productive, carrying far too much, and meeting goals.
It’s seen as something positive, amazing, even. We can be superwoman! Look at everything we can do! So we keep it up. Even though deep down, we know it isn’t sustainable.
Especially as women, we carry an “invisible workload” of household, work, and caregiving tasks. We hold the burden of it all on our shoulders, day and night. We manage things quietly (and often resentfully) behind the scenes. We let others depend on us, to the point of burnout and breakdowns.
Caught in a perpetual state of exhaustion, we’re told it’s normal or okay. But it isn’t.
So we could say we aren’t good at resting. But that doesn’t quite capture it, does it? Because it’s not individual, not really. It’s a systemic problem that must be contextualized to be better understood. We’re not good at resting because we haven’t been taught—and we have been told to do the exact opposite.
We have been instructed to push through, to ignore our bodies, to over-function, to be quiet, say yes when we really mean no.
These patterns go back hundreds if not thousands of years, in all the ways women have been abused, dominated, and told to meet completely unmanageable expectations. In the ways our world prioritizes productivity at the cost of physical and mental health. In all the ways busyness, work, and stress have become addictions in their own right. In all the ways financial strain has become a huge burden for many of us these days.
Even when we turn to the the health and wellness industry for relief, there is such a striving toward becoming “better:” thinner, wealthier, more aware, happier, more energetic, more vibrant, more positive, more bend-y for yoga.
While goals can certainly help guide us at times, it’s exhausting to chase these ideals rather than sink into the moment and learn about who we are. How we feel. What we actually need. (And…these simple moments with ourselves don’t cost several hundred bucks).
But damn, it’s no wonder rest feels uncomfortable. It goes against the grain of everything that’s deeply familiar to us—but deeply unhealthy.
I’d like to frame resting, then, as a beautiful act of rebellion, which c’mon…makes it all a bit more exciting.
Let’s rebel together, shall we?
In my study of rest so far, it’s quickly becoming clear that I don’t really know what rest is. This is rather humbling. I am unpacking so many assumptions. I always thought rest was one thing. Something vague that probably included way more sleep than I’m currently getting. Occasionally saying no to plans (and sitting with the burning guilt afterward). But I have recently learned there is much more nuance to it.
In Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith’s book, Sacred Rest, she explores these concepts in a deliciously thorough way. Through her many years of research as a medical doctor, she has uncovered seven types of rest we need as humans: physical, mental, emotional, creative, sensory, social, and spiritual.
Dr. Dalton-Smith believes that we can find true balance and well-being by nourishing ourselves with the specific type of rest we need.
So if I am needing emotional rest (a break from empathizing with therapy clients; an outlet for myself) but think I can soothe myself with an earlier bedtime — I will likely still feel exhausted, because what I actually crave is space to digest my emotions.
Instead of just saying I’m tired and randomly guessing at what I need or numbing out to push through — now I can be more specific. After taking Dr. Dalton Smith’s rest quiz, I know that I’ve gotta prioritize more physical, emotional, and mental rest.
This clarity is surprisingly delightful. It allows me to savor several hours of Netflix guilt-free, because I know I am giving my mind a break. It helps me take more solitude and writing time to express my own emotions after being with clients all day. And it reminds me that despite my restless-as-f*ck ADHD brain and body, it is not healthy to exercise intensely all the time and I need to plan days for recovery.
It’s a process. I know I won’t find balance in one day or a single week, but I can keep on practicing. So far, this fresh awareness is helping me better communicate my needs to my partner and loved ones.
These changes are small, but they feel mighty. They feel meaningful.
I feel them ripples at my edges where I am torn and worn.
I am ready to soften. To curl up in a hot bath and let my body restore itself.
You can take the rest quiz here.
>> What is it like to know what types of rest you need? Was it validating or surprising? Did it bring up other emotions?
>> How can you incorporate this information into your day?
>> How can this information help you be more compassionate to yourself?
>> Does it feel hard to rest? What would make it feel more manageable? Start small, micro, if you need to.
>> Share the rest quiz with a loved one and talk about your results. How can you help to encourage each other to rest more? Remember, rest isn’t just a solo effort! We need communities and relationships that help us tend to ourselves.