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The real reason why we are tired and what we can do about it

Stress, burnout, feeling tired, exhausted; reflecting and rethinking how we take care of ourselves. During these covid times these practical suggestions are pure gold.

So on the mark for today, in her 2019 TED Talk, Dr. Dalton-Smith suggests there are SEVEN types of rest we all need to integrate into our lives if we are to feel truly rested and recovered.

We may need more sleep, we may need a ‘proper’ holiday, but we also need to rethink how we REST in small yet significant ways, each and every day. And no, binge-watching Netflix doesn’t count!

Here’s my rundown on these seven types of rest and some suggestions on how to get more of what you need:


Is this you? People with a mental rest deficit can be irritable and forgetful. They may have difficulty concentrating, struggle to turn off their brains in order to sleep, and wake up feeling as tired as when they went to bed.

Mental rest suggestions:

  • Nix your ‘back to back’ meetings by diarising 15-minute breaks between them in order to action agenda items immediately and get a mental break before plugging in to the next session

  • Schedule periods of ‘do not disturb’ time in your diary and do reflection/thinking work on paper rather than at your computer

  • Keep a notepad by the bed (I use a pad of Post-Its and a marker) to download questions and ideas if they wake you up in the night.


Is this you? Spiritual rest is about the ability to connect in a way that comes with a deep sense of belonging, acceptance, and purpose. People in need of spiritual rest tend to feel disconnected, alone, or even lost.

Spiritual rest suggestions:

  • Re/start a meditation practice or just spend time on your own, sitting in silence

  • Spend time in nature; even a walk in a city park is a good start

  • Get involved in a community activity that aligns with your values and purpose and has you focusing on something bigger than yourself


Is this you? People with an emotional rest deficit may see themselves as ‘people pleasers’ and find it hard to say No to the demands of others. They are likely to be the person whom others depend on in times of need and, if they’re in emotional deficit, this can leave them feeling drained, unappreciated, and resentful.

Emotional rest suggestions:

  • Make time for yourself – even just 10 mins of time alone with a cup of tea – before the day starts to check in with your mind, emotional state, and body. Ask “How am I feeling today?”

  • Identify your personal priorities and values. Use them as a guide in decision-making about who you make yourself available to, for what, and when

  • Notice when you find yourself doing something out of obligation or for the sake of pleasing others, especially when it’s at the expense of your Self. See if, the next time, you can take a risk on vulnerability and say No.


Is this you? People in need of social rest may find themselves struggling with relationships and social interaction. They may feel depleted after interacting with others, staying quiet in meetings, avoiding answering calls/texts, and bailing out on social engagements.

Social rest suggestions:

  • Reflect on your relationships (at work and at home). Identify the ones that leave you exhausted and the ones that leave you feeling energised and uplifted – spend less time with the first group and more with the second

  • Sub in one of your team to meetings that are not critical for your attendance – a great opportunity for them to get face time with others in the business and grow through that experience

  • Identify and enrol your ‘Tight Five’ – five people you can be your genuine and authentic self with, people who will listen without judgement, challenge and encourage you to stretch, and offer you a broader perspective on your experience.


Is this you? Whether it’s an open plan office or an open plan home, bright lights, constant noise, colleague conversations, phone calls, and multiple screens can leave people experiencing sensory overload.

Sensory rest suggestions:

  • Practice the 20-20-20 rule: set a timer for 20 minutes, when it rings, look away from your screen and into the middle distance (20 feet or about 5-6 metres) and count out 20 seconds. Rinse and repeat!

  • If you’re commuting, do your drive or ride in silence – go without your radio or streaming service and just take in what’s around you

  • Turn off your devices (including the TV) and turn down your overhead lights an hour before you go to sleep – use amber bulbs, lamps, and candles instead.


Is this you? People with a creative rest deficit may find themselves stuck in mental loops with racing thoughts, struggling to problem-solve, to come up with new ideas or to collaborate.

Creative rest suggestions:

  • Make an ‘artist date’ with yourself and go to a gallery, a museum, or spend time sitting in a building or public space that inspires (for me it’s the Auckland Art Gallery (

  • Walk on your own in nature, even just in a city park. Take in the sky, the trees, the grass and the wonder of the world around you

  • Clear your desk of accumulated detritus and repopulate it with objects and images that make you feel alive and inspired.


Is this you? People in need of physical rest may feel weary in their bodies with aching and sore muscles or joints. They may struggle to make it through the physical demands of the day with little energy for anything but the essentials, even with the support of substances to boost their energy (e.g. coffee and sugary snacks).

Physical rest suggestions:

  • Sleep is the obvious one – things which will help with this are a regular sleep/wake time every day, avoiding alcohol and sugar for the 3 hours before bed and coffee from lunch time, and ensuring a cool, dark sleeping space

  • Engage in gentle physical activities like restorative or yin yoga, gentle stretching, or taking a walk as the sun comes up and/or goes down

  • Get a regular massage (not the kind that has you climbing off the table!) or pampering spa treatment.

If any of this sounds like you, then choose to use some of the suggestions I’ve outlined or experiment and come up with your own.

You can also share this post with your team (at work AND at home) and facilitate a conversation about what is going on for them, what might work for whom, and how you can support each other.

We’re living in a time where the amount of stress, the rate of change, and the demands of leadership are not going to get any easier so we have to start doing life (including work) in more conscious, deliberate and human-centred ways. Make REST part of yours.

You can watch Dr Dalton-Smith’s full TED Talk HERE.


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