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How to slow down and find some meaningful rest

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Many people report their dreams changing with the stages of the pandemic, local dream experts say. (Getty Images)
Many people report their dreams changing with the stages of the pandemic, local dream experts say. (Getty Images)

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Take a moment to ask yourself … Are you well rested?

In a world where we prioritize productivity, and even celebrate busyness, many of us not only don’t know how to rest; we also don’t take time to learn it.

Can we learn to practice meaningful rest?

Today, On Point: How to slow down and find some rest.

Guests

Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, physician and researcher. Author of Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity. (@DrDaltonSmith)

Quiz: What Type Of Rest Do You Need?

Take this quiz and find out what type of rest you need. 

Listen: On Point Listeners Share How They Find Meaningful Rest

Related Reading

TED: "The 7 types of rest that every person needs" — "Have you ever tried to fix an ongoing lack of energy by getting more sleep — only to do so and still feel exhausted? If that’s you, here’s the secret: Sleep and rest are not the same thing, although many of us incorrectly confuse the two."

Transcript

Part I

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: This is On Point. I'm Meghna Chakrabarti, and we're joined today by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith. She's a physician, researcher and an author. And in 2017, she wrote a book called Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity. And she joins us from Oxford, Alabama. Dr. Dalton-Smith, welcome to the program.

SAUNDRA DALTON-SMITH: Hello. Thank you.

CHAKRABARTI: So let me just ask you: How well-rested do you feel right now?

DALTON-SMITH: I feel really great today. I've had some downtime this weekend with friends, so I'm feeling fantastic.

CHAKRABARTI: That is wonderful! Can't say I necessarily share that in terms of how I'm feeling. (LAUGHS) But so when you say downtime, what do you mean? What led you to — led you to feel, you know, ready to take on the world on a Monday morning?

DALTON-SMITH: Well, one of the types of rests I tend to have a deficit in is social rest. So being around people who don't need anything from me — that are not patients or clients or customers. And so I had a weekend where I, we went to dinner with some friends. One of those dinners that lasted for hours, where you're just enjoying each other's company and no one's in a rush. And there's lots of smiles and deep conversations and that fills me back up.

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CHAKRABARTI: Mm. Well, you know, when we told listeners last week that we were going to do this show about what rest is, we got a huge amount of response and it was just another indicator that so many people feel not well-rested or even restless, which I know is different. But why, why do you think that is? Why do so many Americans just feel kinda worn down?

DALTON-SMITH: I think a big part of the problem is we don't really know what we mean when we say that we want rest. I know for myself, this whole process and the research all started from my own burnout.

I spent most of the time exhausted and getting seven, eight hours of sleep never seemed to help. It never — nothing seemed to improve it. Not vacations, not taking a weekend off. And so I think part of the problem is we have to truly identify: Why are we fatigued? Why are we tired? What type of rest is it that we're needing? Because if we're getting the wrong type, you can feel as if rest actually doesn't work for you.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm.

DALTON-SMITH: When the reality is you're just not getting the type you personally need to feel well-rested.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. We'll talk about what those types are a bit later in the show. But if your own personal experience led you down this road to this really quite amazing and rich body of research, I'm wondering if there's a — if there's a story there. What led to your burnout? What was going on?

DALTON-SMITH: Well, I mean, I am an internal medicine physician and medicine doesn't really lend itself to a lot of downtime. I spend a lot of time in and out of the hospital. The type of practice I have is traditional, meaning that I see my patients not only in the office, but when they go to the emergency room as well as when they're in the ICU.

So I was working probably 60-70 hours a week. And that was just the norm. With no really concept of how to restore myself other than just going to sleep. And I got to a point where after I had my sons and they were both toddlers, I just — I hit a wall. I was exhausted all the time. My body ached. I had a horrible attitude.

I mean, even with my patients, I'd have to hope I could keep a smile on my face and not really just lash out at somebody. And it was just taking an effect in every area of my life. And I had to figure out if either I'm gonna quit this profession because it's just draining me and turning me into someone I don't like, or I'm gonna figure out a way to stay in the job that I love but not feel like I'm always at the end of myself at the end of the day.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm-hmm. I'm taking notes down here because, you know, honestly, I was nodding my head in agreement because what you're describing must be familiar to many, many listeners. It's familiar to me, Dr. Dalton-Smith.

Now, look, I'm not saying that women are less well-rested than men because all of us are experiencing a kind of exhaustion in 21st century America. But what you're describing, you know, being a professional in a high-stress, high-demand job, then having two kids — I mean, as a woman, I feel like that there's something familiar about that. Do you think, given the way society is, that women have kind of a disproportional impact in terms of their — what happens, not only to them, but even to their families when they don't get enough chance to rest and restore?

DALTON-SMITH: I definitely do. I feel for myself, a part of this process was I wasn't able to enjoy time with my kids.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm.

DALTON-SMITH: As I mentioned, the burnout changed me. It changed my whole personality and ability to enjoy the good things in my life. I would pick up my kids from daycare, and all I wanted to do was just lay on the couch and veg out in front of the TV. I didn't even wanna engage because I had no more energy to give. And I think that does a disservice to our families — our spouses, our kids, and definitely even to ourselves.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. I'm just, I'm nodding in so much — like, I hear you. (LAUGHS) I'm — and my kids are not even — they're well out of preschool now, and I still, at the end of the day, I go home and I'm like, "I'm just gonna take a nap." But it doesn't really help, like you said.

Can you — so what are the --  you talked about some of these, but tell me in more detail, like what are the indicators beyond just like "feeling tired," that really tell us  there's this deeper lack of rest and restoration in our lives? You mentioned, you know, mood, body, attitude. Tell me more.

DALTON-SMITH: Yeah. Well, when we look at burnout just in general, the World Health Organization kind of classifies it as these three specific things. One being feeling tired all the time. The second being a lack of enjoyment in the work that you do. And then the third thing, the work that you produce is actually of lesser quality than what you're capable of. And so I think a lot of us, if we look at that kind of definition of burnout, most of us are functional burnouts.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm-hmm.

DALTON-SMITH: We're showing up at work every day. We're producing, but what we're producing really isn't our best. We're producing from our place of emptiness. We're producing from our place of fatigue. And we are at a job, but we actually don't have passion anymore. You know, we're doing work, but our work actually isn't bringing us the fulfillment that it could if we actually had more energy to enjoy it.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, so this is where I wanna link your research to kind of the world at large, because you use this word producing. Now, American workers are really productive, right? Like they're good for the economy. But what you're saying is that we're producing, but while depleting ourselves. Is there, is there, do you think that like, we've just kind of built a society that does that to people?

DALTON-SMITH: Honestly, I think this is the problem right now with our entire workforce and culture. It's why I do the work that I currently do with my company, Restorasis, within corporations. Because I feel like oftentimes when I'm invited to come do a training or a session with a group, the main reason they're bringing me in is because they realize the level of burnout affecting their team. But they're almost afraid to discuss rest and restorative practices because what they think is it'll decrease productivity.

And what they don't realize is that what they're actually getting with the productions that are occurring aren't at the best quality. It's not their highest level of creativity, their highest level of innovation, even their highest level of desire to fulfill their purpose within a company.

And so by — when we kind of reframe our way of thinking about productivity and not just being the result or the number, but the quality of the work that's produced, that's how we drive innovation. I don't know a single company that doesn't want their team to be more innovative and you know, thinking outside of the box and coming up with new ideas and staying on the top of their field. That is not possible when people are burned out and when they're exhausted and when they just are showing up to get a paycheck.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm-hmm. You know, so the "Protestant work ethic" is something that people often point fingers at. But what you're talking about is something even more. You said that companies are actually afraid that their workers will become less productive. So, I mean, that sounds like a pretty deep misunderstanding of how to do what's necessary to do good work.

DALTON-SMITH: Yeah. Right now most of what I find myself doing when I'm working with, with typically people in the C-suite and we're having the conversation about what needs to change to see the culture they actually desire, but don't know how to get there.

The number one thing we find — I find that we end up having to do is help their leaders actually understand how a resource works. Resources have to be replenished. And people are resources. And so we have to not look at them as these just these almost like computers where we can just go, go, go without actually understanding that they have to be poured back into to be able to stay at a high level of productivity.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm-hmm.

DALTON-SMITH: And the productivity, we can't just focus on the work aspect. It has to be the professional and the personal aspects that are both being restored. Because I think we all, if we look at our lives, if you are, if your marriage or your family relationships are being strained, it will affect your work. And to ignore that is ridiculous.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm-hmm.

DALTON-SMITH: It doesn't make sense. It would be like me as a physician saying, "Okay, I see that your arm is bleeding. But I'm only gonna worry about this blood pressure today because that's the only thing I care about."

CHAKRABARTI: Oh, okay. I see.

DALTON-SMITH: It doesn't work.

CHAKRABARTI: You know, a little later in the show I'm gonna ask you about capitalism more broadly and the role it plays in creating a society where people feel like — almost like they need to justify rest. I mean, let me ask you: Do you see that in folks? That they feel like they have to create a justification in order to just make some time to restore themselves?

DALTON-SMITH: I absolutely do. I think a lot of times people feel guilty if they say that they're gonna take a break or they're gonna take a sabbatical or spend some time doing something that's just for them.

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Oftentimes parents sometimes will feel guilty if they're telling their kids that they can't do all the things because they, you know, it's just, it's putting too much strain on their family. And they're looking at finding some boundaries there. So I definitely think that's an issue.

But I think a part of that is retraining ourselves in how we approach our own energy management. And the same way we manage so many other areas of our lives. We have to realize we also have to manage our own energy and how we use that energy, or it will become depleted.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm-hmm. So we've just got a little bit of time before our first break here. In the places, the companies, that you've worked with, presuming that they've implemented some of your advice, have they seen a difference?

DALTON-SMITH: It is amazing to see how small changes can make a huge difference. One of the companies that I work with, it's an agricultural company that has a very large global workforce. You know, one of the things that we saw that was really interesting is that simple concepts work across all cultures. So whether their office is in Hong Kong or the U.S. or anywhere, simple ways of restoring yourself work in every situation.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm. Well, when we come back, we're gonna talk about what Dr. Dalton-Smith has identified as the different types of tiredness and the rest needed to address those different types.

Part II

CHAKRABARTI: Today, Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith joins us. She's author of Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity. And she's here to help us understand what meaningful rest actually is and how we can achieve it.

So, Dr. Dalton-Smith, let me ask you, first of all: Do people just kind of presume that when they're tired, that it's all coming from the same source?

DALTON-SMITH: Yes, most of us think of sleep and rest as the same thing. And so if they're tired, they're assuming that they just need more physical rest.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, so basically we're — you call them buckets — we're putting fatigue all into one bucket, but that's not the case. You've identified, you know, different types of fatigue and therefore different types of rest. What are those types?

DALTON-SMITH: Yeah, so the seven different areas include physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, social, sensory, and creative.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm-hmm. Okay. So physical — just tell me a little bit more about each one. Physical obviously meaning the chance for the body to rest and recover.

DALTON-SMITH: Absolutely. And so physical actually is divided into two components. You have the passive, which includes sleeping and napping, and then you have the active components of physical rest, which include those things that improve lymphatic drainage and circulation. So it's things like yoga or stretching or leisure walks. You know, things that are basically — you're not trying to exercise, that's not really restful — but you're moving your body in a way that you improve just the flow within the body.

CHAKRABARTI: And then we have mental. What, specifically, what does mental rest mean?

DALTON-SMITH: Mental rest is being able to clear your cerebral space. It's kind of quieting the brain. It's those things we do like mindfulness techniques, meditation, things that keep us from having those ruminating-type thoughts where you're processing — overprocessing, for most of us — and you're thinking all the things, but you're allowing your head to kind of focus in on one or two things so that you are not feeling so stressed mentally.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. Well, we actually received a call from a listener in Spokane, Washington. This is Danny Laesch and here's an an example he gave us. He said that he spends in his working life about eight to 10 hours a day sitting down in front of a computer screen.

DANNY LAESCH: I find for me that rest is actually something I do when I can get out into my wood shop and, you know, physically wear myself out a little bit. Build something. And I don't wanna say turn off my brain because I'm certainly not doing that, but engage a different part of my brain.

CHAKRABARTI: So he's engaging a different part of his brain by being in his wood shop. Is that a form of mental rest, would you say?

DALTON-SMITH: It can be. I see a lot of people who do experience mental rest best when they're doing something physically active. For example, joggers. When they're out jogging, their physical body's under demand, but mentally they're focusing on their breathing and their cadence. So they're able to actually bring their thoughts to a couple of single points that they're focusing on, rather than thinking of all the things that they tend to process through during the day.

CHAKRABARTI: Right. It's that, it's that quieting of the cerebral chatter, as you talked about.

DALTON-SMITH: Mm-hmm.

CHAKRABARTI: And the focusing on a few, on a couple of things. Okay. Then there's also an interesting one, social rest. Tell me more about that one.

DALTON-SMITH: Yeah, social rest deals with the people in your life and how they pull from your energy or how they pour back into you. And so you have to take a valuation of your relationships. Some relationships can be both. Like your kids, they can both pour into you, but they can also tend to be very demanding on your social energy. So you just have to make sure that your relationships don't get out of balance and that you're both receiving and giving as far as the time spent with each other.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm. Well, we've got, again, our listeners just gave us so many good examples here. This is James Boyle. He's in Colorado and he says he gets that kind of social rest by going on solo camping trips.

JAMES BOYLE: What really is restful about them is not even being outdoors necessarily, but it's not having to make choices or be influenced to make choices by anyone else around me. And so if I just want to sit and read for five hours at my campsite, I can do that and I can feel good about it and not feel like I'm putting anybody else out. Or if I want to go for a hike and enjoy the outdoors, I can do that, too. And I can end that hike whenever I want.

CHAKRABARTI: You know, Dr. Dalton-Smith, I loved everything about what James said in terms of his really focused effort to take those solo camping trips. But one thing about at least the kinds of rests that you've been talking about so far, I keep thinking who's got the time? (LAUGHS) How do we handle that?

DALTON-SMITH: Yeah, well, some of the examples that they are giving do require some specific time. Like a camping trip, you're gonna have to carve out a block. But really what I look at is rest has to be incorporated within our day-to-day lives.

It's great to have those kind of sabbatical-type moments and those specific time periods where you make room in your life for rest. But that's not always available to everyone, and you're needing to be able to be restored throughout the day sometimes.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm.

DALTON-SMITH: And so you really wanna look at some restorative practices as well that you can incorporate in your day. For example, you know, if you're someone who needs more social rest and you're an extrovert, maybe part of that would be if you have a friend that you can just do a quick FaceTime with or WhatsApp chat with. But you're just quickly gonna have that connection with someone who doesn't need anything from you just to have a laugh or a chance to share.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm. Well here is another example of how one of our listeners achieves a specific type of rest. This is Francine from Nahant, Massachusetts.

FRANCINE: I have a very intense job and honestly, sometimes the best thing I can do is sit there in total quiet and just stare at the wall with as much nothingness as possible.

CHAKRABARTI: Oh, Francine, I hear you! (LAUGHS) I have this like, waking fantasy of sitting in a room that's got nothing but white walls, just quietly. And doing nothing for long periods of time. But she's talking, she says, just staring at a wall. So she's cutting off a lot of environmental inputs when she achieves this kind of rest, Dr. Dalton-Smith. So what is she doing there that's so — that's helpful?

DALTON-SMITH: She's getting sensory rest. She's downgrading her sensory inputs. And that is so important because as she mentioned, if you're — especially if you're someone who's working with electronics or you're on your computer or in front of lights and sounds all day long — anytime that you can do moments of sensory deprivation, which is what she's doing, it allows the your body to feel more relaxed.

And that's another one that can easily be incorporated into anyone's day simply by closing your eyes. You automatically downgrade the light input. You can use noise cancellation earphones for maybe 15, 20 minutes in the middle of your day. Lots of ways of just small chunks of these sensory deprivation moments to allow your body that bit of a reprieve.

CHAKRABARTI: Hmm. You know, it's interesting in another show in the recent past — oh, we were doing it about sound. I had mentioned, you know, I live in a mostly urban environment. I had mentioned just that even the sounds of the city these days for me are becoming quite overwhelming. So I bought noise canceling headsets that I wear when I walk around the streets.

Now, I know people are gonna be like, "That's not the safest thing in the world." And I agree. I try to, I try to not use them too much. But is there something about just even the physical environments that we're — that many people, not everyone, but many people — are living in these days that contributes to fatigue?

DALTON-SMITH: Absolutely. I think most of us are not aware of how our sensory inputs are affecting us. Most of the time if you become sensory overloaded, the side effect is gonna be either irritation, agitation, rage or anger. If you find that you're at your job and you're like, why am I so irritable at the end of the day? Start looking at your sensory inputs.

As I mentioned for myself, that was something that I was noticing and I had completely just written off the fact that I'm hearing — first of all, I'm in bright lights. Hospitals are very well-lit. I'm smelling all types of things most people will never want to ever smell. And then I'm listening to ventilators and EKG machines and telemetry machines and all of these things going off.

And I never thought about it too much because I feel like I'm zoning it out. But really the only way to zone something out is for your brain to filter it. So your brain is filtering it so that you're not paying attention to it while it's still being fatigued in the process.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm. So we have talked about physical, mental, social and sensory as forms of both fatigue and rest. That actually leaves three of the most interesting ones, I'd say. You talk about spiritual rest. Tell me about that.

DALTON-SMITH: Yeah, spiritual rest is always a controversial one for a lot of people. But I always define it like this. It's the need every one of us has to feel like our life has purpose, that it has meaning, that we belong, that we are accepted as we are and for who we are.

And so whether you evaluate that through a faith-based lens or you evaluate that through your relationship with community and humanity as a whole, it's something every one of us needs. Because when you are allowing yourself to in experience the fulfillment of that, it improves your overall sense of wellbeing.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm-hmm. Okay. And then there's emotional rest. You call it the freedom to authentically express feelings. Tell me more.

DALTON-SMITH: Yes, most of us are people-pleasers on some level. And that stress of wanting to make sure that we fit in and make sure that we are, you know, saying the right things and not offending anyone and all of that, there's stress related to it.

And there has to be some people in your life where you just feel the liberty to speak your truth, to say what's on your heart without having to make sure you articulate it perfectly or to make sure that you put makeup on your feelings so that you don't offend someone. There has to be some people in your life you can just share how you truly feel, whether that's a counselor or a therapist or a trusted friend, we all need those people.

And you know, one of the things I wanna make sure we understand, that whether you're an introvert or an extrovert, everyone needs people in their life. So, you know, emotional and social rest tend to go very close together because they both deal with people. But even if you're more introverted and you don't need as much social rest with people — you prefer social rest in solitude where you break away, like that camping trip. You still need someone in your life where you can say when you're depressed, when you can say when you're angry, when you're happy or whatever the emotion is. Because not having that person or those opportunities in your life can make you sometimes feel as if you're never fully seen and heard and known.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm-hmm. Okay. And the last one: Creative rest. I love how you describe this: "the experience of allowing beauty to inspire awe and liberate wonder."

DALTON-SMITH: I think it's what's missing in most companies. It's the opportunity for people to truly experience creative rest. Because for most of us, creative rest feels a little foo-foo, for lack of a better word. (LAUGHS)

CHAKRABARTI: (LAUGHS)

DALTON-SMITH: It's like, do I really need to spend time out in nature? Or do I really need to spend time appreciating beauty? Because it can be in either form, it can be natural beauty, like going on that camping trip or going to the beach — and things that inspire us through nature, flowers and things like that.

Or it can be manmade beauty, like going to an art museum or watching a movie where you're looking at the theatrics or seeing someone dance. There's so many ways that awe and wonder and that appreciation of what's already been created can inspire us. But we have to realize that it has benefit in our life. That it's not something that you just get to when you have time, but you actually try to incorporate it within your day.

You know, one of the studies that really impressed me so much when we were looking at this was that so many people said they experience creative rest around bodies of water.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah.

DALTON-SMITH: Well, a lot of us don't live anywhere near a body of water. And so they did a study looking at the MRI of the brain after someone had looked at the actual ocean, after they'd looked at an image of the ocean and after they'd looked at colors that resembled the ocean — the aquas, the teals. And that activity in that area of the brain for those particular people was the same.

CHAKRABARTI: Huh!

DALTON-SMITH: The activity wasn't there when they looked at grass or greenery or flowers. So, you know, the beauty of that is you can bring those elements anywhere. Have a nautical theme in your office. Put pictures on your lock screen of places or images that inspire you. We can really simplify some of the creative rest just by being very intentional about these restorative practices.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. Well folks, Dr. Dalton-Smith actually has an online rest evaluator that you can use. And we have a link to it at onpointradio.org. I took your rest evaluator, Dr. Dalton-Smith. (LAUGHS) I'm gonna offer myself as the On Point guinea pig here, okay?

DALTON-SMITH: Okay.

CHAKRABARTI: So here's how I scored. And higher numbers are not good.

DALTON-SMITH: That's correct.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So basically it's on what? A zero to 35-ish kind of scale?

DALTON-SMITH: Mm-hmm.

CHAKRABARTI: All right. So — oh my God. I'm like — I'm a little nervous in saying this. (LAUGHS) Because you're gonna be like, "Girl, you need some help."

Okay. My physical rest score was 28. My mental rest score was 21. My emotional rest score was 31. Spiritual rest score: 20. Social rest score: 19. Sensory rest score: 24. And creative rest score was 34. And again, you're looking for — the top scores are 35 and higher is not good. (LAUGHS) So what would you diagnose me with, Dr. Dalton-Smith?

DALTON-SMITH: That actually is not very surprising, though. Because think about it: You are constantly processing information in a creative aspect because of your show and discussing conversation and books and topics with people. So you're constantly being innovative and having to stay on top of new things that are happening in the world. So you are using an excessive amount of creative energy throughout your day.

Now that doesn't even take into account any other aspects of your life where you may have to be innovative, like trying to fit things on a schedule. Sometimes we don't think of our own schedules as an innovation in itself, but trying to fit in life and enjoy your life has an innovative process to it. Trying to figure out what you're having for dinner — all of these decisions that are being made are still pulling from that creative energy. And so if you're not having something specific or a way that you are intentionally enjoying beauty and enjoying creativity in your life, that's not very surprising.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, you say if you score between 26 and 35, you're feeling the effects of lack of rest and need a change. And then yeah — so 16 to 25, "some rest but would thrive with more." I'm looking at these across-the-board high numbers and thinking, where does one even begin in trying to achieve more meaningful rest?

DALTON-SMITH: Yeah, so I love that question because I think when — Honestly, if I'd have taken the, if the quiz had existed when I started this process, I would've probably got a 35 on everything.

CHAKRABARTI: Oh, geez. (LAUGHS) Yeah.

DALTON-SMITH: Because I felt — because I was truly at a level of severe burnout. I think for most of us, and that's the reason why we came out with restquiz.com, is that we wanted people to understand that these numbers fluctuate. It's an assessment. You can't fail it. It's just giving you some starting points on kind of what to look at. So you can't fail it but it gives you a starting point.

Because whatever is the highest one, that is the one we always recommend you start with first. You don't try to hit all seven at the same time. Can't eat the elephant. Start with one bite. And that one bite is whatever that highest score. And so pick one of the highest and you focus on that one first. And by doing that, you'll automatically start feeling more energized because your place of greatest deficit starts getting restored.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay.

DALTON-SMITH: Then you work on some of the others.

CHAKRABARTI: So I gotta work on that creative rest. Well, Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith is author of Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity. When we come back, we're gonna talk in more detail about really specific things that we can all do in this topsy-turvy world of world of ours to achieve meaningful rest in these seven different areas.

Part III

CHAKRABARTI: Today we are talking about meaningful rest, how to understand what it is and how to achieve it. And I love the fact that we're doing this counterintuitively on a Monday. And we're joined by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith. She's a physician, researcher, and author of Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity, and she's been doing consulting and deep research on rest for many years. She's with us from Oxford, Alabama.

Now, before we talk more about sort of practical tools that people can adopt in their lives, Dr. Dalton-Smith, I really, really, really wanna kind of do a bit of a reality check here. And that's because, you know, when we talk at length about rest, sometimes I get concerned that it can come off as sounding a little bit self-indulgent, and here's why. Because, for example, we received this thought from listener Lisa, who called us from Temecula, California:

LISA: For me, rest equals feeling at peace. I think it's actually very hard to feel at peace. There's so much suffering and instability in the world that it's for me very difficult to feel at peace.

CHAKRABARTI: So, Dr. Dalton-Smith, to Lisa's thought I would add that, you know, we've all been through and are still, in a sense, going through this massive world and history-changing pandemic, right? And that impacted everyone's rest and fatigue level across all seven of the areas you talked about.

Then, in addition, you know, for many Americans, there's things like the fact of racism that --

DALTON-SMITH: Mm-hmm.

CHAKRABARTI: That is a source of constant, you know, challenge and exhaustion. For many other Americans, or including — I'll add to the list. Sorry, you can see my fatigue setting in now. (LAUGHS) But I'll add to the list that you know, even things just like economic stress, needing to make ends meet. You know, even at the end of the day, if you find a half an hour for yourself, I'd say that the emotional stress of worrying about how to feed your family never quite goes away.

So with these big challenges, sort of in the water of how we live, how can people find the kind of peace that Lisa says she needs in order to begin to feel restful?

DALTON-SMITH: Yes. I think that question is so important. I love that she actually brought that up and that you brought that up because I think that's part of the — we have to continue to dissect things down. A part of my background is in biochemistry, so I'm always taking things down to the molecules. So when we're thinking about rest and peace, they're not exactly the same thing.

CHAKRABARTI: Uh-huh.

DALTON-SMITH: The rest that I'm talking about with the seven types of rest is a personal rest for yourself as far as how your body, your soul and your spirit work. What she's describing is actually rest for humanity. And that's what — that's a completely different thing. That peace that she's wanting. And, as you mentioned with racism and politics and all the different things out there, that is a much larger picture than what we're describing with these seven.

And honestly, I think both are possible. That's part of the work that I do. I don't just focus on the body. My other book that you're probably not aware of is Colorful Connections: 12 Questions About Race that Open Healthy Conversations.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm.

DALTON-SMITH: Because I believe both types of rest are necessary. Rest not only for us personally as our own individual selves, but rest for humanity and that peace that she's describing. But we can't attack both at the same time, just as we can't attack rest and fatigue as one big bucket. We have to kind of strip these things down a little bit and look at them a little bit more minutely to be able to see true transformation occur.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. Colorful Connections: 12 Questions About Race that — I didn't quite catch the whole subtitle there --

DALTON-SMITH: Sorry. That Open Healthy Conversations.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, good. I just wanna be sure that I give it it's just due here. Healthy Conversations. Okay, great.

Well, can you tell me a little bit more — I just wanna hear a little bit more about how people can do this. Because obviously, as you well know, we don't live discrete lives that when we come inside the home, the door of our homes like, all of a sudden the outside world just falls away completely.

I mean, and race is a really, really vitally important one to understand here for, you know, for people of color who are navigating a world in which racism does very frequently inform how the world works with them.

DALTON-SMITH: Mm-hmm.

CHAKRABARTI: How do you let that fatigue, or the fatigue caused by that, go when you get home?

DALTON-SMITH: Yeah. So I think a part of that is as we're looking at, let's say for example in the case of race — I'm a woman of color, for those who haven't seen a picture of me somewhere.

So if that's something that I'm addressing — well, that's one of the things I actually addressed within that book, Colorful Connections, was an episode where I was at a hospital and the person had made this statement. It was one of my first days on the job working in Alabama. "I've never had a doctor of color before." And I thought to myself, "Oh wow. Okay. That's the first words out of your mouth to me."

CHAKRABARTI: Mm.

DALTON-SMITH: You know, I'm well-degreed and board certified, and all kind of reasons why that statement kind of hit me wrong. And so when I, when I got home, what I needed was the emotional rest of being able to say to someone, "That hurt me. That that made me feel as if I didn't — haven't accomplished anything, although I know I have accomplished much."

And being able to have that freedom to be able to say that to somebody and not have to feel like I had to hold that in or had to make light of it, but just having someone who understood how that affected me began to help me personally get some emotional rest because I didn't feel like I had to hold the burden of that.

CHAKRABARTI: Ah, okay.

DALTON-SMITH: Now, how I handled that to get peace within humanity with that particular gentleman and rather than just kind of going off on him — which would've probably been what I would've done had I had less self-control — I basically stated, "Well, lucky you, I get to be your first."

And so we built a relationship where that gentleman actually ended up being my biggest supporter of my medical practice. He brought in more patients than any other patient I ever had and actually got to a point where I was the only physician he would see — even over my white male counterparts.

CHAKRABARTI: Hmm.

DALTON-SMITH: And so I think it's — there's something to be learned there in that we have to, we have to understand that we can even take bad situations and look at them and how can we have that be a time of rest where we're making peace within humanity? Because me lashing out at him and not giving him an opportunity to meet me as a person beyond the color of my skin. I want you to see me as a Black female, but I also want you to see me as a skilled physician.

CHAKRABARTI: Yes.

DALTON-SMITH: And merge those two together. That they're not exclusive of each other, that they actually come in the same package.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm-hmm. Okay. Well, I am really glad you brought up that that example from your own life because, you know, as I said, like we just, we don't live discrete lives that are just different at home. We bring that outside world with us into the home, and we take our, as you said earlier, we take our inside world back out with us when we leave home every day. So I love that example and I'm really grateful for it.

Now, I wanna give you another example, Dr. Dalton-Smith. In terms of, you know, just the daily challenges that people have to navigate in order to even begin to think about how they can achieve meaningful rest. Because we got a call from Carolyn Foster in Pasadena, California, and she's a 60-year-old registered nurse. And here's what she told us about rest:

CAROLYN FOSTER: I work three nights, three 12 hour shifts, which is 36 hours. And then I sleep the whole day after my shifts. So when I have a day off, the day off is spent — half of the day off is spent at work and the other half of it is spent sleeping. I generally sleep for about 24 hours after I finish those 36 hours. Stay in bed. I watch TV. I like, eat food. But I'm pretty much useless for that whole day.

Then the next day, I wake up and start doing the chores that I need to do. So in other words, my rest period is only one day, one 24-hour period where I just don't do anything because I don't have the energy to. 

The fact is, is that when you're older, you do need more sleep. And I end up making up for lost time on the one day that I have off, one day to do my chores and the other day just to run around and get things finished. I've been doing this for a while now and it doesn't get easier, but it does get to be a pattern that you kind of need to adhere to.

CHAKRABARTI: So Dr. Dalton-Smith, the reason why I wanted to share Carolyn's story is because obviously you hear in there she's dealing with a lot of different kinds of fatigue, right? There's the physical fatigue.

DALTON-SMITH: Mm-hmm.

CHAKRABARTI: There's probably the sensory fatigue working in a hospital just as you do. She's definitely probably got mental fatigue as well — you know, at least three or four, if not all, seven of the different types of fatigue.

And then she talks about how, you know, just even adequately functioning in the other parts of her life, outside of the hospital, take up time and don't leave her feeling restful at all. So, can we use Carolyn as an example of like how, where would — again, how would you begin to advise people on where they can seek areas in their life to incorporate some kind of opportunity, large or small, to begin to find more meaningful rest?

DALTON-SMITH: Yes. I love this example because I feel like that's — this is real life.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah.

DALTON-SMITH: You know, Carolyn can't just break off whenever she wants to. And so let's just take a look at a couple of different ones of these. So nurses, and people in general, tend to realize that part of the the physical rest deficit is understanding when your body's getting tight and tense and doing things in the moment that can help relieve that.

So let's say she's moving patients around. I don't know what type of nurse she is, but just as an example. What I — what we do with our nurses is we tell them, "When you start filling your body getting tight and tense, don't just ignore it." Because that's what most of us do. We just keep trying to push through. Take a few minutes while you're walking down the hall to do some shoulder shrugs, to do some stretches, to move around a little bit, to allow the body fluidity of using your body in a different way to stretch things out that have gotten tight.

It takes little to no time to do that, but most of us don't do it because we just aren't thinking about it. We just kind of, "Oh, I'll wait til I get home and then, you know, I'll deal with my achy, painful body then." You can do some of these things in the moment.

Another example would be like you mentioned with the sounds and the noises. Many hospitals now recognize the toll that that's having on their staff, as well as other situations, other types of industry. And so if you're noticing that your attitude or you're getting more agitated because of the sensory input, find just an empty room to go into for just five minutes. Most nurses have someone that they're teamed with that can look at their patients for five minutes for them just to have a moment of sensory reprieve. Just a moment where there's silence and they're in a dark room — because usually there's at least one empty room on most hospital floors that you could do this in, or a break room that you could do that in.

Another example is right before before she goes to bed at night, she could do something called brain dumping. Many of us, we go to bed and we have all the thoughts running around our head, so we never actually go into the deeper levels of non-REM sleep. We stay in the very light stage one and two levels of non-REM sleep, and we don't get to the stage three and four, actual restorative types of sleep.

And so sometimes doing a brain dump, just jotting down whatever, you know, to-do lists the next day or emotions that are — that are kind of keeping you, that you're processing through, just jotting them down on something concrete like a Post-It note or a notepad or journal can allow your brain to release that information enough so that then you can go into those deeper levels of sleep.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah.

DALTON-SMITH: And so we're talking maybe five minutes for each of these, where you're just incorporating that.

CHAKRABARTI: You know, one thing that I haven't heard you say this whole hour is the — well, what I haven't heard you say is a tool for rest is the phone, right? I mean, technology. (LAUGHS) I mean, we ought to put our — we have to put our phones away more often, too.

DALTON-SMITH: And turn off the notifications.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah.

DALTON-SMITH: We find that to be one of the most stressful things people deal with throughout their day. Most of us honestly only need our actual phone and the text messages to be the only notifications we get. I'm not telling anyone to take anything, any apps off their phone. Keep the app, just turn off the app's ability to push you stress when it desires.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. Turn off those push notifications, everyone, if you can. Because by the way, they're also designed to titillate and to get you to be on your phone more.

I have one last quick little voicemail that we got that I want to play for you because it's from a listener who talks about like trying, you know, both societally and personally finding real structural change in how we approach our time. This is Lara Musser Gritter. She called us from Salisbury, North Carolina and she's a pastor:

LARA MUSSER GRITTER: I am a pastor and the wisdom I have been given is that I need to take one day a week, one week a month, and four weeks a year — or a month a year — to rest. And that rhythm of regular rest is really important. I rest doing anything that brings joy, stillness or silence.

CHAKRABARTI: So Dr. Dalton-Smith, what do you think about that idea of the rhythm of regular rest as Pastor Gritter said? Now of course there is the tradition of the Sabbath in different religions. But even beyond that, is incorporating that rhythm important?

DALTON-SMITH: Yes. I always tell people if you are someone who believes in a Sabbath-type mentality, then we should be living Sabbath daily.

CHAKRABARTI: Mm.

DALTON-SMITH: It should be a concept in which we have incorporated rest in such a rhythm within our lives that not only are we doing it weekly, monthly, and yearly, but we are doing it daily. We are not allowing ourselves to get to a place where we feel as if we have to go all the way to depletion before we start filling back up, but we're incorporating small restorative practices throughout our day, our week, our month, and our year to stay at a place where we feel like we are the best versions of ourselves.

Because I feel like that is the purpose of rest, so that you stay the best version of yourself, not only so that you can give to your family, so that you can enjoy your life and that you can contribute your gift to the world.

CHAKRABARTI: Well, Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, physician, researcher, and author of Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew your Energy, Restore your Sanity and also of Colorful Connections: 12 Questions About Race that Open Healthy Conversations. Dr. Dalton-Smith, thank you so much for joining us.

DALTON-SMITH: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

This program aired on November 14, 2022.

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