woman sleeping on bed

The 7 Categories of Rest

The outline for this post is adapted from the book Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity, by Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith. See also Dr. Dalton-Smith’s website and “Rest Quiz” (you don’t have to take the quiz to benefit from its list of fatigue symptoms).

No question, it can be exhausting taking care of a family member with a disability. And while you’ve probably heard a thousand times about the hazards of sleep deprivation, it’s possible to get your eight hours every night and still feel chronically fatigued.

If that’s the case, perhaps it isn’t your body that’s tired. There are seven basic “categories of being” in every human individual, and each needs its own type of regular refreshment.

1. Body

The body comprises not just your outward appearance, but your inner parts from skull to blood pressure to appendix. The body is the first and easiest thing to check when you “feel lousy,” and many emotional issues are in fact rooted in body malfunctions.

What it oversees: Physical functions, longevity, communication with the outside world.

Symptoms of fatigue: Frequent minor illnesses. Frequent headaches, nausea, or muscle aches. Afternoon sluggishness.

How to rest it: Besides going to bed on time, keep your bedroom cool, dark, quiet, and free of daytime activities. To help regulate your sleep/waking cycle, include physical activity in your morning or afternoon routines. Eat healthy foods (lean proteins, fresh produce, whole grains) rather than seeking “quick energy” from caffeine and sugar. Don’t use alcohol or pills as sleep aids: they’re rarely effective for the long term, and can cause worse problems.

2. Sensory System

You know about the five basic senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste) plus the senses of balance and temperature. The sensory system is what bridges the gap between the body and the outside world.

What it oversees: Detection and processing of external input.

Symptoms of fatigue: If someone in your family has autism, you know about the “melting down” or “shutting down” symptoms of extreme sensory overload. But any sensory system, after processing too much input for too long, will manifest its exhaustion through eyestrain, headaches, irritability, or desperation to be somewhere—anywhere—else.

How to rest it: Turn off all screens (yes, even your smartphone) or put them well out of sight and reach. (Turn off alerts, too.) Spend an hour in a quiet, uncrowded setting. Switch off the light, put on eyeshades and earplugs, and take a nap.

3. Conscious Mind

The physical brain and the sensory system process input, but the conscious mind is responsible for what you do with that input.

What it oversees: Reasoning, planning and organizing, problem-solving, imagination.

Symptoms of fatigue: Constantly thinking about obligations, hopes, or ideas, to the point of being unable to relax or fall asleep. Being unable to concentrate on the task at hand, because part of your mind is always on what comes next. Nonstop multitasking. Extreme sensitivity to interruptions. Ongoing concern about things going “wrong.” The feeling that you’ve lost control of your thoughts and your mind is racing randomly from one idea/memory to another.

How to rest it: Trim your to-do list to the bare essentials. Take a “fast” from multitasking and deliberately do one thing at a time. Practice mindfulness exercises, letting yourself be fully aware of your immediate environment and nothing else.

4. Emotional System

Although “being emotional” is often treated as a synonym for “overreacting,” emotions are invaluable guides to our true needs. Emotional fatigue is typically due less to overusing emotions than to “stuffing” them.

What it oversees: Our instincts of what’s “right” or “wrong” for our environment, or for us as individuals.

Symptoms of fatigue: Constantly worrying, often about “everything” rather than anything specific. Trying too hard to please everyone else, while putting your own needs last. Fear of expressing your true feelings, or even acknowledging them to yourself.

How to rest it: Find a therapist, a support group, or someone else you can trust to hear how you really feel. Seek out work and hobbies that suit your natural gifts. Take time for self-care. Journal or draw about your feelings.

5. Human-Interaction Instinct

Humans are a communal species—which is not to say that all humans are extroverts or that there’s anyone who doesn’t need solitude at times. The human-interaction instinct comes in many forms, but everyone desires connection, support, and acceptance.

What it oversees: The way we reach out, and respond, to others. Feelings of loneliness when we have less interaction than we need.

Symptoms of fatigue: Staying in regular contact with negative or abusive people—feeling that “without them I’d have nobody.” Being afraid, or too proud, to ask for help: feeling obligated to do everything singlehandedly.

How to rest it: Recognize when you need help and where to ask for it. Seek out the company of people who energize you—who make you feel good about the person you naturally are. Don’t tell yourself you “should” be more outgoing or less assertive: follow your instincts about the level and type of interaction you need.

6. Creative Center

Creativity isn’t a gift limited to artists: engineers, custodians, and lecturers all share the innate desire to produce new ideas and foster harmony in the world.

What it oversees: Aesthetic instincts, desire for beauty and perfection.

Symptoms of fatigue: Failure to appreciate or even notice attractive sights, sounds, or aromas. An overall sense of general “dullness” or being in a “rut.” Repeatedly taking the same actions long after it’s become obvious things are going nowhere. Inability to see purpose or hope in life.

How to rest it: Trim your to-do list. Deliberately walk slower than your typical pace. Schedule time to take an outdoor walk, listen to music, or window-shop. Take up a creative hobby (don’t worry about whether you’re any “good” at it).

7. Soul/Spirit

Whatever your theological leanings, this last ingredient of being human is your instinct that some Higher Power or Greater Good exists, and that all of us are somehow connected to this larger reality.

What it oversees: Sense of wonder and longing. The desire to make a difference in the world and leave a legacy.

Symptoms of fatigue: A sense of ultimate hopelessness. Making instant gratification your top priority. Feeling like your whole existence is a mistake. Thinking in terms of, “If there’s a God, he sure wouldn’t be interested in someone like me.”

How to rest it: If you belong to an organized religion, set aside time to practice its spiritual disciplines (prayer and meditation especially) and study its scriptures and traditions. If you aren’t particularly interested in religion, investigate religious traditions anyway: you don’t have to become a convert to benefit from the principles. Or just spend time in a park soaking in the natural world; or exercise your altruistic instincts by volunteering for a cause.

For help implementing “how to rest” tips, check our App Search database for tools related to meditation, social connections, creativity, or any area in which you feel a need.

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