4 Simple Ways to Live a Softer LifeAttention fellow hustlers: Here's how to start slowing down.
Four years ago, I had a secret—two, actually. On top of working my 9-5, I was also moonlighting as a debut author, cranking away at chapters for a soon-to-be-book only a handful of people in my life knew about. At the time, I was afraid that if my peers or managers knew I had a second life as an author, they’d think I wasn’t taking my job seriously (it was that kind of work environment), so I hid this extra work away for as long as I could. My other secret: I was pregnant. And, as with writing a book, I was also careful to keep this quiet for as long as possible. (The things we do to look “good” at work!)
My life at the time felt busy, urgent, and fragmented: I was a manager during work hours, a writer before and after, and a soon-to-be mom too. It was a lot. There wasn’t much time or space leftover for me to be or do much else: I was not the best partner, friend, neighbor, sister, or daughter, nor was I taking enough care of myself.
At the time, my strategy was to “just keep swimming,” à la Finding Nemo. And, for a while, it worked. I was so focused on putting one foot in front of the other, there was no space for me to have any doubts, or to notice just how stressed I was. I had my son; published my first book, Listen Like You Mean It; and switched into an exciting role at work.
But it was too late. I could no longer ignore the fact that I was exhausted. I was burned out and unmotivated at work, despite having recently moved into a new role custom made for me. I was too tired to fully appreciate that I’d fulfilled my childhood dream of writing a book, and I was definitely too tired to fully appreciate becoming a parent. It was clear something had to change.
I needed to figure out how to feel better—more rested, energized, and like myself again. I knew that I needed to slow down—to take my foot off the gas for once. But I quickly realized I had no idea how to do that. I had been so focused on doing I’d completely lost touch with what it meant to simply be. I needed to relearn how to rest.
What started as a personal crisis became the spark of inspiration for my new book, Rest Easy: Discover Calm and Abundance through the Radical Power of Rest. The book explores why we don't get enough rest and how we can get more of it in a time when so many of us feel exhausted, burned out, and busier than ever. It's the book I needed four years ago. And maybe it's the book you need right now too.
While researching this book, I tried many, many experiments to figure out what worked for me—from yoga nidra, to reiki, to journaling, to self-care routines, and napping. As with any experiment, many failed to hit the mark. (I’m looking at you, salt caves.) But a few things helped me rest in ways I had been craving for the last few years. If you're someone who struggles with resting and relaxing and generally chilling out, I promise you'll find some ideas you haven't tried in the book. And, to give you a headstart, here are a few of my favorite tips I stumbled upon in my journey to being a better rester.
1. Make a legit bedtime routine instead of just going to bed…whenever.
When we think of rest, most of us instinctively think of sleep—I know I did. So one of the first things I did on my quest for rest was up my sleep game. I’d gone through phases of insomnia before, so I knew I had room to improve here. For as long as I could remember, I’d focused on getting the recommended eight hours of sleep per night, but somehow it was never enough. I’d still wake up groggy and often have trouble falling asleep.
It turns out, getting good sleep isn’t just about the number of hours of sleep we get, but about the quality of sleep. I’d been focused on just one side of the equation. Of the many sleep changes I tried (using an alarm clock instead of my phone, ear plugs, eye masks, comfy pajamas, breathable sheets, etc.), the most impactful for me was keeping a bedtime routine.
Before, going to bed was a thing that happened when it happened: not something I planned for or anticipated in any way, which turned out to explain why I had so much trouble turning off my brain for the night when I got into bed. Now, I go to bed at the same time each night (or at least within the same 30-minute window) and wind down with a good book to cue my brain that sleep comes next. I try to do this even on the weekends, since sleep researchers say that sleeping in late can make your body feel jetlagged and out of whack. Of course, it’s not perfect, but it is much better than the chaotic end of day I used to have.
If you can, aim for the same window of time for bed each day (for example, 10-10:30 p.m.). Find a quiet, calming activity that will help you wind down your body and mind—like crossword puzzles, reading (a physical book), taking a bath or shower, listening to calming music, or meditation. (Avoid looking at devices if you can.) It also helps to wake up at the same time each day if you can swing it. I personally don’t have that luxury as my son and my dog are on their own time, so don't stress about perfection here.
2. Read something—as long as it isn't on a screen.
Instead of grabbing my phone (again) or watching (yet another) episode on Netflix, I’ve found that screen-free activities like reading can be very restful. For me, fiction does the trick, in part because I spend my day reading and writing nonfiction. A good novel can take me away to another time, place, and cast of characters, away from my own anxious thoughts. It’s also an activity that I can get lost in—reading isn’t, in my experience, very pleasurable when it’s done in one-minute fits and starts, the way so many of us have become accustomed to consuming content. It demands our attention in a way that is restorative. It’s actually less fatiguing for our brain to focus on one thing at a time than multitasking, so concentrating on a good novel can not only quiet our worries but also leave us feeling less mentally tired.
If you’re out of practice and reading for more than a few minutes sounds daunting, start by committing on a small scale: Try reading one chapter instead of three, a single page instead of a chapter, or even a paragraph instead of a page. Start where you are and go from there. You can also try an audiobook to see if that’s more your speed (just be sure not to multitask with a screen).
Oh, and one final thought: a “good” book just means whatever is good to you. You needn’t start with the classics or go back to the literary canon you always thought you should read but never got around to (unless you really want to!). Good can be any genre, so long as you like it enough to hold your attention. In my case, Emily Henry’s Beach Read snapped me out of my recent reading rut and reminded me that reading can be restful.
3. Find an activity that feels like meditation.
Like many of us, I have heard and read about how meditation works wonders in reducing stress, helping us regulate emotions, and find inner peace and calm. But truthfully, it’s a struggle for me. I find it difficult, uncomfortable, and weirdly competitive (too many CEOs, celebrities, and coworkers bragging about their meditation practice for me).
If that sounds like you too, try some meditative activities instead of trying to force traditional forms of meditation on yourself. These are activities that help us “stop” thinking, find flow, or peacefully mind-wander. They give us something to gently focus on (hence preventing us from beating ourselves up too hard about not being able to focus and just meditate already!).
For example, mindful activities like savoring a meal, people-watching, and bird-watching give us an alternative to sitting and spinning with our thoughts, like noticing and appreciating the flavors in our meal, admiring a stranger’s street style, or paying attention to a bird overhead. When a thought pops up, we can focus our attention back on what’s in front of us.
Other kinds of meditative activities facilitate mind-wandering, which can also help us to destress and relax. My favorite meditative activity is drawing, which is really just daydreaming and mind-wandering on paper. It’s less about what I’m drawing and more about just letting my thoughts go. If drawing or doodling isn’t your speed, you might also experiment with gardening, knitting, sewing, biking, swimming, or even doing the dishes or mowing the lawn. As always, set your phone aside for best results.
4. Go outside.
In my research for ways to quiet my mind, spending time in nature consistently came up. Time in nature has all sorts of life-enhancing benefits, from helping lower our stress hormones, to improving our attention and perspective, to boosting our overall health and well-being. It feels good to be outside, whether that’s a beach, a lake, a park, or a desert. I live in a city, so I realize that options may be limited for some people, but it turns out that even spending time in an urban park or on a leafy block can help.
In fact, there's a whole line of thinking called the attention restoration theory that says spending time in nature is especially restorative because it doesn't drain our brain resources the way that so many other things in modern life do. Research suggests this may be in part because our brain easily processes nature in ways it doesn't with other things. Its fractal patterns are particularly easy for us to make sense of—these are the magical shapes within shapes that repeat themselves in things like broccoli, snowflakes, and branches of a tree.
This is why you might feel mentally rested spending time outside—especially if you're able to let your mind wander as you take in the leaves, the clouds, and (if you're lucky) the rhythm of a body of water. These small moments can all elicit positive feelings of awe (aka glimmers) and take us out of our inner monologue and racing thoughts.
It’s best, of course, to do all of this without your phone whenever possible. Although I personally have not yet mastered the leave-the-house-without-your-phone-routine, I have gotten much better at keeping it tucked away, putting it on silent, and knowing when to pull the headphones out and listen to the birdsong instead of another podcast episode.
The bottom line: Rest, I have learned, is personal—what works for me might not work for you. But you can use these as a starting point for exploring your own relationship to rest and what you need in order to feel well-rested, calm, energized, and at ease.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.