Rest can look different for everyone. Setting aside time to engage in activities, such as watching the sunrise, can help you feel restful and decrease stress.

When you rest, you give your mind and emotions a break from stimuli. Whereas sleep gives your body a break, rest involves the whole being and not just the body. It allows you to take a break when you are awake to let your mind shut off.

These breaks are important for your well-being and may also help improve your productivity at work or school.

Panthea Saidipour, LCSW, views rest as “shifting from what’s external to what’s internal and making time and space for our inner selves, our minds, and our creativity.” In other words, you may daydream or self-reflect during this time.

Try to use this time to sit quietly, and ease your mind off work issues or worries you may have. This time is about you and your needs.

Mental rest means you’re allowing your mind to turn off or stop trying to process information. Here are some tips for how to rest your mind.

1. Practice acceptance

You can’t control everything or do everything all at once. Chances are, you simply won’t finish everything on your to-do list by the time you want to.

And that is 100% OK. Practicing acceptance means you will accept yourself and temper your expectations regardless of how much work you get done.

Kelly Vincent, PsyD, a registered psychological assistant working with women, young adults, professionals, and athletes in Lafayette, California suggests saying this to yourself:“I did not expect this, but I accept it.”

2. Be intentional

Being intentional means you will set your mind to doing something, such as resting.

Sarah McLaughlin, MFT, licensed psychotherapist and certified yoga teacher in San Francisco. suggests you tell yourself that, “I am going to rest now.”

She added, you should then ask “Is my mind at rest? Am I truly allowing myself to ‘be’ instead of ‘do’?”

She also suggested taking several deep breaths as a sort of meditative practice. “Really focus on the breathing and connect both your mind and body in this present moment of restful awareness.”

3. Take in your surroundings

Vincent explained that noticing your surroundings will “allow yourself to be completely present in the here and now.” This may help you achieve a restful state.

She suggested that you:

  • spend 5 minutes sitting on a bench
  • notice the sun on your skin
  • notice the colors around you
  • notice the sounds
  • notice how the bench feels

This is a similar approach to mindfulness-based therapies. Mindfulness involves being present in the moment and blocking out judgemental thoughts.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), it may help with reducing depression, stress, and anxiety.

4. Focus on yourself

Saidipour noted that to figure out how you’d like to rest, you should focus on what grounds you, helps you feel most alive, and connects you to yourself.

No one will have the same motivations as you. For example, cooking may bring you joy but be a burdensome chore for others.

Some activities you may find restful may include:

As Saidipour said, “What helps you shift from absorbing external stimuli to tuning into your own body, thoughts, and feelings?”

5. Rethink the narrative

“Most people tend to attach their successes to their worth, value, and identity,” says Vincent. “We need to reframe and shift the narrative to a more realistic view, such as, ‘[I]f this task does not get done today, it does not mean I have failed. It just means that I will get to it tomorrow.’”

Though this can take time to perfect, once you have shifted your thoughts, it can lead to a more restful state.

Rest doesn’t always come automatically. At times, you may find yourself putting up barriers that prevent you from taking the time you need to rest.

Driven to achieve

The desire to achieve success may stop you from taking breaks and resting. In these cases, you may equate stopping – even temporarily to take a break – is like quitting.

Or you may believe rest is the same as being lazy.

In either case, you may wait to rest until you are completely exhausted and unable to continue.

Perfectionist or controlling behaviors

Perfectionism refers to self-defeating behaviors and thoughts directed at achieving impossibly hard goals.

While setting goals can help you achieve success, it can be easy to slip into perfectionist thoughts and behaviors without realizing it.

“Even though we may not recognize it as perfectionism, at times we are desperately trying so hard to be perfect by doing, accomplishing, and achieving everything we set our minds to,” Vincent said.

She further clarified that this may affect your ability to rest because of an intense fear that your life will spin out of control if you engage in a period of mental rest.

Uncomfortable with rest

Resting well may be an uncomfortable experience for you. You may experience boredom when resting.

Saidipour explains that under your boredom, you may discover “more difficult feelings like loneliness, anger, or feeling trapped.”

Afraid to rest

Mental or emotional rest requires that you stop doing whatever it is you’re doing. You may fear resting because it will set you back.

You fear you’ll have to work faster to make up time, which could lead to mistakes, leaving some work undone, or less personal time later.

Though more cohesive research with better standards is needed, several studies have pointed to the fact that breaks at work help to improve:

  • safety
  • employee well being
  • performance

In other words, you may see your performance improve if you take time to rest.

Mind racing won’t let us rest

Sometimes thoughts are invasive. You may worry about things like:

  • getting all your work done
  • what others think about you resting
  • what you’re going to have for dinner
  • next week’s bills

These thoughts may prevent you from resting well.

Don’t understand what healthy rest looks like

Though it may sound odd, you may not actually understand what healthy rest is, said McLaughlin. She works with women with anxiety and feelings of not being good enough.

She gave an example: resting with your phone.

While it may seem like rest because you are sitting or laying, scrolling social media, playing games, or other activities on the phone can actually be exhausting.

“We are absorbing the sensory input and our brain is quickly trying to process it all,” Vincent said.

When scrolling social media, you may start comparing yourself to others or experience negative emotions related to what you read like anger, jealousy, or envy.

All of this can contribute to a non-restful state.

Confuse rest with sleep

Rest and sleep are not the same. You can’t replace resting during the day with sleeping overnight.

As McLaughlin explained, “But even sleeping isn’t restful for the person who can’t rest when they’re awake. If the brain is in a constant stress state during awake hours then, in many cases, it is losing or has lost connective pathways that tell it to decrease or stop the stress response.”

McLaughlin defined rest as ceasing work and worry and “being, rather than doing.”

In order to truly rest, “The whole system—mind-body—is engaged in a restful state and we are present in that experience of resting.” She calls this “restful awareness.”

In other words, it’s not rest when the body is still but the mind is ruminating, she said.

Self-reflect on your resistance

Saidipour stressed the importance of getting curious about why you’re not resting, about the thoughts and feelings that are driving your need to stay busy.

Maybe by staying busy, you’re trying to protect yourself from certain feelings.

She also suggested exploring these questions:

  • If I weren’t so busy, would I feel like a failure?
  • Would I fear losing the approval of others?
  • Would I fear becoming hopelessly stuck?

So many people are in a constant state of stress. In fact, McLaughlin noted that 70 percent of visits to the doctor are due to stress-related health issues.

“Rest is the only way to engage the part of our nervous system that allows for relaxation.” It is literally vital for our physical and mental health.

Rest also helps us show up for others (and for our lives). It “benefit[s] everything we touch and do for the rest of the day. We need to start valuing taking care of ourselves as much as we value accomplishing tasks,” McLaughlin said.

You may find that you have forgotten how to truly rest. Negative thoughts and feelings, constant stimulation, and stress may cause you to not get the rest you need.

You can take steps to relearn ways to rest. There are many different ways to rest that you can try, which means that if one approach does not work, you can try another.