Intentional rest: what it really is and how to make the most of it

We live in a culture that celebrates achievement, productivity and generally staying in the know.

So whether it’s tackling your to-do list or checking your email and messages, it can often feel like there’s not enough time in the day to slow down, take a break and simply rest. However, this time can be a valuable tool to improve your overall health, and prevent feelings of stress, exhaustion and irritability.

WellTuned spoke with Jessica Love, a case manager with a focus in behavioral health programs at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee who is also a yoga instructor, on how to reset and make the most of intentional rest.

What is rest?

Rest is defined as minimal activity or function, and freedom from labor. But, some activities that feel passive aren’t actually restorative for your body or your mind.

“Sitting on the sofa and scrolling through social media is passive and though you may feel like you’re relaxing, you’re not rebooting in the way necessary to restore balance and truly recharge your battery,” says Love. “Intentional rest and mindfulness is actually an action, a choice.”

Are there health benefits linked to rest?

Research has shown that with regular practice, intentional rest has far-reaching positive benefits for both our mental and physical health. Those benefits can include:

“Practicing mindfulness can shrink the amygdala, the area of the brain that causes stress and fight or flight reactions,” says Love. “It can also thicken the pre-frontal cortex which is the area responsible for executive functioning skills such as staying on task, planning and organizing and managing your emotions.”

How can you incorporate intentional rest into your routine?

“I have been practicing mindfulness meditation for a little over a decade now,” says Love. “Through trial and error these are the steps that help me feel centered, balanced and (mostly) calm even in the midst of a stressful situation.”

1. Set aside the time.

Start small and aim for sustainable. As a beginner, even just 3-5 minutes is a great start. You can build on that or add more intervals throughout the day.

2. Create the atmosphere.

The energy given off by computers, phones and TV screens, and the noises and bright lights surrounding us ramp up our nervous systems. We need a break from that.

“I created a space in my home that’s quiet and away from main living areas,” says Love. “I keep it dimly lit and a neutral temperature – not too hot or cold.”

3. Find a comfortable position.

Figure out what works best for you to reduce possible distractions. Try to leave your phone outside of the space. If you’re pressed for time, set a timer to make sure your schedule stays on track.

4. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to do it.

Don’t get defeated if it’s difficult at first. It will get easier over time.

“Mindfulness is like bench pressing for the brain,” says Love. “We’re so used to staying busy, it’ll take time to train your mind to slow down.”

What are a few ideas to get started?

1. Go for a walk.

Walking increases oxygen flow throughout the body, and can lead to increased energy levels. Studies have also shown walking can reduce anxiety and depression and boost your mood. Aim to walk for at least 10 minutes, and gradually build up to 30 minutes to experience these benefits.

To prevent your mind from wandering to your growing to-do list, find a podcast or audiobook or make a playlist with calming music.

2. Read a book.

Like walking, reading for even a short time can have significant health benefits. Those benefits include lower blood pressure and heart rate and reduced feelings of tension.

Try to minimize distractions in the room by turning off any electronics. And while research suggests reading print books can be more beneficial than a digital format, if you’re pressed for time or access, find a blog or short story rather than a novel.

3. Try a restorative yoga pose.

The legs up the wall pose allows the body and mind to relax and reduces stress and tension. It’s also great for those who sit at a desk for most of the day as it reverses blood flow to reduce swollen ankles and stretches the neck, front torso and the back of the legs. Here’s how to get started:

  • Sit with your left side against the wall.
  • Gently turn your body to the left so that you can bring your legs up against the wall.
  • Lower your back to the floor and lay down. Your head, shoulders and the length of your spine should be resting on the ground or mat.
  • Shift your weight from side to side to bring your glutes as close to the wall as you can. Let your arms rest by your sides with your palms facing up.
  • Bring your attention to your breath – and stay in this pose for 5-15 minutes.

“The bottom line is that mindful rest and relaxation can change your body and your mind if you can incorporate it into your routine” says Love. “Remember to start small, find out what works for you and don’t get discouraged if it takes time to notice positive changes.”

Katie Taylor

Katie Taylor

Katie joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2020. As a recent University of South Carolina graduate and Chattanooga transplant, she has experience in brand journalism, social media management and employee communications. When she’s not at BlueCross, Katie’s running the Chattanooga Riverwalk, enjoying a coffee at her favorite local shop or traveling to visit friends and family.

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BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also use tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the in the Member Wellness Center under the Managing Your Health tab.

Filed under: Mind & Body

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Katie Taylor

Katie joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2020. As a recent University of South Carolina graduate and Chattanooga transplant, she has experience in brand journalism, social media management and employee communications. When she’s not at BlueCross, Katie’s running the Chattanooga Riverwalk, enjoying a coffee at her favorite local shop or traveling to visit friends and family.