Why Rest Matters to your Mental Health

I work in perinatal mental health. I see a lot of women struggling with perinatal anxiety, depression and rage. I also work with women during the menopause. That’s my job. But what I notice, is a similarity. When you dig deeper, the problem isn’t with them. It is with what is expected of them.  They are expected to do three jobs, and to do them well. They work to earn money, they work to keep the house functioning and they work to take care of the family. I know men do this too. Yet the research is clear – women still bear the brunt of the housework, which isn’t just about the physical tidying, but also includes the mental work (such as responding to messages, finding childcare, organising diaries etc) and the emotional work (meeting the children’s non- physical needs, tuning in to and responding to distress, foreseeing issues, etc.)

The women I work with are exhausted. They are doing too much.  They are burnt out, tired, overwhelmed. They are running businesses, holding down jobs on very little sleep, running households. Women are told they can have it all. Well, if that means working to the point of exhaustion for the years of child-rearing, then, yes, they can indeed have it all.

As a therapist, I find that I spend a lot of time helping mothers to create time to rest. And then they feel better. They begin to feel a lot better.

Cast our minds back….

In Victorian times, people slept for an average of 9 hours each night. One whole day each and every week, was a day of rest. Women worked in the house, having chucked the kids out for the day to play. Victorian women were regarded as weak and in need of much rest. It was regarded as dangerous for women to do strenuous physical exercise. During pregnancy and postpartum, women were put in “confinement” to rest. Even my mother was made to lie in bed for two weeks after she had me, and that well after the Victorian period.  Most households were not dual income – only one person had to hold down a job, the other sorted out the house and the children. The paid worker (the father) did a day’s work, and came home to do nothing. Imagine that now – a father being able to come home at 5.30 and do nothing. Have his tea cooked for him, and have no chores at all.

We’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Where rest was once enshrined in religious practice every week, it is now ignored, viewed as a luxury, a waste of time, and cast aside. The phrase “there’s plenty of time to rest when you die” is a sad example of the disregard that we have for rest in our current society. At what cost? Well, I see the emotional cost, in the levels of anxiety, distress, rage, depression, relationship problems, behavioural problems and so on. And because I know that mental and physical health are so closely related, I wonder at the physical cost too. The long-term effects of stress are well known. Stress impacts on the body’s immune functioning. Rest restores it. Stress is energy depleting. Rest is energy replenishing. When we have rested, it impacts on us physically (you can literally see the body set about healing itself), and it impacts on us psychically. Life feels right again. We connect with a sense of wellbeing, with everything in the world being okay again. A sense of peace. Don’t underestimate rest. Build it into your schedule. Pop it in your diary. “Rest time”. When some-one says “when are you free next week”, look in your diary and see the times that you are not free because you have scheduled in “rest”. And say “I’m afraid I can’t do that time”. You’ll feel a lot better for it.

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