During my recovery from my burnout / fatigue syndrome, I’ve discovered the importance of rest.

Sleep is important too, and not sleeping enough is a sure way to drive me into the downward spiral of burnout. But there is a difference between fatigue and lack of sleep, which took me several years to fully understand. (Yes, years – not generally this dense, but fatigue syndrome, remember?)

When you are tired because you’ve been awake to long, or awake during to many hours the last few days, then you need a good night’s sleep or two and you’re good to go again.

But when you’re tired because you’ve overused your brain, sleeping won’t get you less tired. What you need then isn’t more sleep, it’s rest. Your brain needs timeouts. Regularly.

Like many others who experience this stress-related fatigue syndrome, I like being busy. And being in the flow is a great drug! I tend to get immersed in a project, at work or at home. I read about it, think about it, talk about it… and then suddenly I’m so very, very tired.

My brain loves the flow, but it’s very energy-demanding and so I run myself dry. Since my burnout, I’m extra sensitive to low energy levels (as well as high stress levels), but the basics are the same for all of us.

Rest restores the energy. For me, reading a book (fiction, not fact) is restful. Watching a movie or an episode of a great tv-show as well. (Not talkshow or news, though. Nor hanging out with friends – being social is actually a very energy-draining activity, even though it is fullfilling.)

Rest for the brain doesn’t necessarily mean rest for the body – a walk, or doing something practical that doesn’t require that much thinking is good rest as well. Cleaning a room after a day  at the office is actually restful – and since a messy environment is a bit stressful to me, to put things away will help my brain rest even more afterwards. 

If I remember to alternate between rest and thinking, I can still enjoy the good parts of working projects – the flow, the joy of learning and sharing knowledge, of creating. But the rest is essential if I want to be able to keep it up for any period of time. This fairly new insight is one of the things that give me hope of never having to revisit fatigue syndrome again.