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Permission to Rest

March 31, 2022

As doctors, we have been praised for achieving, for being diligent, dedicated and disciplined. These are wonderful, even noble traits but what happens when we rest? Some of us feel guilty. We feel like we are being lazy or indulgent… The very opposite of diligent, dedicated and disciplined. 

“I should be doing something” is a thought that can permeate our mind.

“I should be ticking something off my to-do list”.

“I can’t just sit here”.

Many of us have dialled up our stress response so high that we don’t know how to stop. Running on adrenaline becomes our default. Our stress systems are designed to turn off after a response. They are meant to return back to baseline in order for there to be reserve to in fact rise to the next challenge or insult. If we never allow ourselves downtime and build our ability to 𝘀𝘁𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗱𝗼𝘄𝗻 𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝘀𝘁𝗿𝗲𝘀𝘀 𝗿𝗲𝘀𝗽𝗼𝗻𝘀𝗲, then over time we lose our ability to dial it up too. We max out and burn out.

Rest is not a luxury. 

Resting is not laziness.

Resting is absolutely necessary.

We all know a cardiac cycle has a refractory period. 

A cardiac cycle without a rest period is abnormal. It might be SVT or VT or even VF and we all know where that leads. Just as the refractory period at the end of the cardiac cycle is imperative in order for the next heartbeat to occur normally, so too is our own downtime. 

When we deny ourselves rest, we disturb the balance between the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system. Doctors spend much of their time operating in their adrenergic nervous system. Stressful jobs, busy lives and then rehashing scenarios in our minds-Go Go Go. Resting, deep breathing, meditating and progressive muscle relaxation all activate the parasympathetic nervous system and restore the balance. We feel better at the time and into the future. 

Rest can look different for different people.

For some, it is a moment of stillness over a cup of tea. 

For others, it’s getting lost in a book. 

It may be a mindful walk in nature.

It may be getting regular deep sleep

Or for some a more formalised practice of mediation. 

Meditation helps bring awareness and stillness into our lives. 

Stillness is a dying art, snatched away by the omnipresent lure of mobile phones. 

Being a doctor is a long game. 

We need to look after ourselves to avoid crashing and burning. 

Rest is part of that. 

Resting is not lazy. 

Give yourself permission to rest. 

Your colleagues will thank you. Your patients will thank you. But above all, your body and your mind will thank you.