By Molly McInerney
We all have periods in our lives when we tell ourselves that if we just get through the next week, the next tragedy, the next deadline, the next illness, then we’ll finally take the time to rest and give ourselves a break.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, there is no end of the tunnel in sight, and we slowly find ourselves in a place where we’ve neglected our need for rest to the point where we feel like we’re teetering on an edge.
If we can relate to this need for rest, then we also have an opportunity to think about what this means in relation to others. What can we do to support others when we are privileged with mental, emotional, and/or physiological health and capacity?
While we may like to think that we notice when others need rest, this awareness and response must be deliberate because we all have competing forces in our lives and inaccurate assumptions of what “need” actually looks and sounds like.
This need for rest and care always makes me think of some of the heaviest days of the pandemic and racial equity movement during the summer of 2020. I kept seeing this adage pop up in some form or another on various social media platforms:
This reminder hit me hard. I was lucky to have plenty of strong, capable, and inspiring people in my life, people who have committed their entire lives to personal and professional pursuits that were by no means easy. These people were not the obvious ones who required support, and I wanted to ensure they were getting the rest that they needed, too.
As a facilitator and a facilitator of antiracism conversations, you and others who do this work are in a role that requires you to maintain some level of composure, expend emotional labor, rely on cognitive reasoning, and remain aware of social dynamics. This can be exhausting. Keep this in mind for yourself and as you move to support others who will benefit from breaks, rest, or modifications to how they do the work.
Just like “checking in on your strongest friends,” this is about reframing your perceptions and thinking about who you seek out and support during times of stress and crises. Here are a few examples of common pitfalls well-intentioned people fall into when trying to help a tired colleague, friend, or member of their community:
#1. You ask the person what to do and get frustrated when they don’t give you concrete ideas.
When people are at their most vulnerable and overwhelmed, don’t expect that they will have the motivation and energy to articulate their needs succinctly.
Be explicit about what you can do to support them and show them grace if their way of seeking rest and self-preservation is to decline your offer, withdraw, and hunker down until they feel like they’re in a stronger place.
#2: You benefit more than the person you are trying to help.
Whether it is your intention or not, many “helpers” get recognition and positive feedback from others who see them as benevolent and generous, while the person taking time to rest becomes an afterthought despite the hardships they are going through.
Consult with the person taking time to rest and make sure your support is what they want. You are not the main character in these situations, and you should regularly check in with yourself to make sure that your motivations for supporting another person are not self-serving.
#3: You think that the only way to support a person’s rest is by doing something extra.
Doing more is not your only option to help others who seek rest. Sometimes, doing less or refraining from doing something can be beneficial.
Think about your typical interactions and routines with someone you know is trying to rest and recover from a particularly stressful time in their life. Depending on your relationship with them, this could be refraining from a daily check-in message. The pressure and obligation to respond (and perhaps mask emotions) may do more harm than good.
There are countless other examples of how we can do better to support the people we care about. While everyone will have different needs, we must be willing to put our feelings and opinions to the side to prioritize what is most helpful to the person. Keep empathy at the center of your intentions and be receptive to feedback whenever possible. As much as “rest as revolution” is a refreshing concept that has never been more timely for individuals, groups, and society at large, the people who choose rest still have to make a courageous decision to prioritize their well-being. Let us be the people who help normalize this choice.