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Rest, relax, refresh, refocus

During the summer months, relaxation tends to top many to-do lists. Two University of Miami experts point out why we should prioritize rest and self-care to optimize mental and physical well-being.
Benefits of rest

The summertime is here. For many, the warm months provide an opportunity to slow down, recharge, and take a break from the stresses of daily life. With long weekends, holidays, and vacations planned, people finally find the time to do one thing that is crucial to their health—rest. 

During busy times, rest can be often overlooked, though it plays a significant role in mental and physical well-being. The benefits of rest, including improved immune and cardiovascular health, cognitive functioning, and mood enhancement, are significant, University of Miami experts note. 

Rebecca Schwartz, a staff psychologist at the Counseling Center, emphasized the importance of first understanding the difference between stress and burnout. 

“While stress is a natural response to life’s pressures and can be relieved when the stressor passes, burnout is a more permanent state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by accumulated stress,” she said. Schwartz explained that proactive self-care and relaxation are essential for protection against excessive stress and burnout. 

To make the most of the summer and prioritize rest, Schwartz provided some inspiring ideas: 

  1. Just say “no!”: It’s crucial to prioritize self-care by setting boundaries and saying “no” when necessary. Neglecting ourselves only hinders the ability to support others effectively.
  2. Broaden the definition of self-care: Rest doesn’t always mean spa days. It can be as simple as taking a bath, reading for pleasure, journaling, listening to music, coloring, or connecting with a friend.
  3. Disconnect from social media: Spending less time on social media can help replenish well-being instead of depleting it. Comparing ourselves to others often leads to feelings of inadequacy.
  4. Move your body for joy: Engaging in physical activities that bring joy and reconnecting with our bodies is essential. It’s not just about achieving workout goals but also about enjoying the process.

While self-care and rest are vital, sometimes our batteries are too low to charge on our own. Schwartz emphasized the importance of seeking help when bad days outnumber good ones or when our functioning is compromised. 

In addition, quality sleep plays a crucial role in overall well-being. Azizi Seixas, interim chair of the Department of Informatics and Health Data Science, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Miller School of Medicine, and associate director of the Center for Translational Sleep and Circadian Sciences, highlighted the physical signs of insufficient sleep, which include poor immune system function, heart health, increased risk for various health issues, and cognitive impairment.

“When you prioritize sleep, you prioritize health,” he said. “Lack of sleep can have a direct impact on the kinds of food we eat—less sleep can be associated with choosing highly caloric or sugar-laden foods—as well as how we prioritize exercise or other wellness practices.”

To prioritize quality sleep, Seixas offered a few recommendations:

  1. Establish a consistent sleep routine: Set a regular bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends, to regulate your body's internal clock.
  2. Create a relaxing bedtime routine: Engage in activities like reading, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques to wind down before bed.
  3. Ensure a sleep-friendly environment: Make your bedroom dark, quiet, cool, and comfortable to promote better sleep. Consider using curtains, earplugs, white noise machines, or sleep masks.
  4. Limit exposure to screens: Avoid electronic devices before bedtime, as the blue light emitted by screens can interfere with sleep-inducing hormones.

Seixas pointed out that sleep disorders and medications can detract from quality sleep. He also noted that sleep patterns can vary based on age, gender, race, and ethnicity, and that external stressors such as work demands and major life events can significantly affect slumber. 

So, while it might be tempting to push through fatigue, be sure to take time to recharge your batteries so you’re ready to refocus on all the world throws at you.