Olympic athletes need a strategy to gain that millisecond over their competitor. Dr. Mark Rosekind, Olympic athlete sleep specialist, says that sleep, or rest, is the edge that creates winners (Georgina Bernard, “Do Olympic Athletes Have Rest Days?” Feb2018).
Rest days are precious to athletes because they are taken very rarely. There are three different ways they take much-needed breaks. First, for some, rest is more a state of mind than body, and they never take a rest day. It has been said that Michael Phelps never took a single rest day while training for Olympic gold. Second, others take what’s called an active rest day. They do light, non-strenuous workouts that do not push the body extensively but rather, just maintain their level of strength and fitness. Third, many athletes take a full rest day in which they sleep, plan, read, or participate in an activity that refreshes them mentally and physically.
Like athletes, rest days may be rare for us as well. So, how do we rest? Here are three ways that have helped me:
- Reward. Push through the pain of mental or physical stress by focusing on a future reward. If I know that I get to read in the evening, I will push through my work. I keep a busy pace, but knowing that a reward is coming is motivational and puts me in a better frame of mind to enjoy my work and to focus on it.
- A light workout. Just like athletes, sometimes I cannot take a full rest but I’ll opt for an active rest day. Instead of pushing forward and gaining new ground, I might just work on something similar, but lighter. Instead of drafting a new piece for the newspaper, I might edit some other pieces or do some research for a new one, so I’m still keeping my writing muscles primed but not necessarily enduring the pain of writing a first draft.
- A full-on rest. To save her mental health, an athlete from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics pulled out of the competition and her substitute team member stepped up in her place. Some people make the choice to protect their mental health by completing severing the “stressor”. I have learned that anxiety is an internal default that goes with me wherever I go, and so for me to find rest, I need to manage it. I can stop listening to the news to prevent anxiety but that’s not practical if I want to engage in the world in which I live. I can sever a “toxic” relationship like social media gurus encourage me to do, but that doesn’t help me with the next relationship! I can take a temporary break from extreme situations, but I am learning that I need to get back in the game, and to manage my reaction to stress rather than to push people away, quit my job, or back completely out of roles, although I don’t begrudge people who feel the need to do that. Intentional thought patterns such as being grateful and exercising peace and patience, help me endure through stress and keep me focused on my writing, my job, and my relationships.
Athletes say that, while training, their muscles develop small painful tears in them. These are caused by physical stress, but they are necessary in order for more strength and muscle mass to develop. Always trying to avoid the wear and tear of life will not make me stronger. I need to manage stress and even appreciate it as it helps me grow. I will rest when I need it, but instead of running away from stress, I will press on.
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
Even while running, I can be at rest in Christ.