Have You Been Feeling Tired Lately? The Merlin Works October 2020 Newsletter

Want to know one of the most radical things I do, when I really want to get my protest on?

I take a nap. Like straight up in the middle of a workday, if I can. And I’m ready to come out about it. To be a thought leader on it. To promote it in my teaching. Sign up now for The Transformative Power of Naps! Well, I’m not actually offering that class… yet.

But my relationship with rest has changed a lot in the last decade as I’ve gone through personal turmoil, and in the last year I’ve started incorporating it into my training, as just about everyone is going through something this year.

I’ve added the rest component to a training that’s been in high demand in 2020: Thriving Through Change. This training helps participants build resilience and a growth mindset.

The training still focuses on strengthening resilience. It still has interactive experiences that help you evaluate your growth mindset. It still activates evidence-based tools for building resilience mid-career, like writing your personal comeback story. But I’ve recently added a segment that was probably missing all along: rest.

I love the analogy that spontaneity, resilience, gratitude—or any mindset, for that matter—is like a muscle. You need three elements to build that mindset: Stress, Fuel, and Rest. To make a muscle stronger you have to strain it a little bit, push yourself a little past your comfort level. You lift weights, edging up to the point of failure. Lift too heavy and you will get injured and be set back in your training. Lift too light and you’ll never see a change. But lifting a challenging amount until you can’t any more creates tiny tears in your muscles.

Then you rest, and your body is able to rebuild stronger using the fuel available. You don’t actually build muscle when you lift weights; you build muscle when you rest. And your brain works similarly; without rest, it will be more difficult for your brain to take in new information and integrate it.

So I’ve added in a whole section about the importance of rest, teaching the value of rest and actually giving participants a chance to relax for a few minutes.

Rest is something we have to learn. I remember trying to do Savasana years ago during a post-natal yoga class led by Delorah Fredrickson. All the moms were trying to lie still on their mats and breathe while the babies were crawling, fussing, nursing, pooping or doing generally whatever they wanted, oblivious of the call for stillness and quiet. Delorah could sense the moms having a hard time trying to relax when they are used to attending to their babies 24/7. I remember her gentle voice saying, “It’s okay to be still. You are teaching them to relax. Remember how your parents taught you to relax?” That thought just hung there. It was a joke. No one in our group had parents who taught them to relax. Mine never did. We had to learn it on our own, that’s why we were there.

So how did I get so fired up about the power of rest? Growing up and into adulthood, I’ve always been a go-getter, wanting to work long hours during the day and stay out late to perform and play. People close to me might say I burned the candle at both ends. My dad used to joke that just looking at my calendar made him tired. But things have shifted. Here are a few pivotal moments that changed my relationship with rest:

1) Having a baby. Having a child immediately made rest the hardest commodity to obtain and therefore it’s value went way up. Most days I could usually shower, eat, probably do some chores and even get some work done. But getting enough rest with my newborn was almost impossible. And the duties of parenthood were round the clock and never-ending, which feels very clear when your life is on a 3-hour loop of feed, diaper, nap (do whatever you can in however much time you get) repeat. So I had a mindset shift. Instead of, “I’ll get this work done and then I’ll rest” it became “This work will never end. I’ll rest whenever I can.” There will always be more work. There will not always be more rest. So rest comes first.

2) Losing my mother. In 2018 when my mother was killed by a driver while she was walking across the street, it was (and still is) the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I had never experienced grief like this. Grief manifests for different people in many different ways (another big lesson from that time: do not judge others’ grieving processes, there’s no right way to grieve). For me, my grief came in waves of bone-tired fatigue. I’ve never been so tired in my whole life. (And I already was a single working mom with four and six-year-old boys at the time, so I knew tired.) I had never been the person who could just lay down in the middle of the day and nap, but now I was. I was simply no longer able to power through like I always had. It felt like the fatigue of early pregnancy: where every cell of your body is growing and adapting. Which is what my grief felt like. I was so close to my mom, she was such an integral part of my being that it felt like each cell in my body truly had to change and adjust to life without her. I could not physically resist the rest I needed. So I rested. For a long time.

3) Finding The Nap Ministry. In an internet full of things to do and be and buy, I found @TheNapMinistry. They were the only ones telling me to do less and rest. And they got me hooked on the idea of “Rest As Resistance.” For me, it’s always a good idea to ask, “Who benefits from this?” The answers are often enlightening and inspire action in me. This question helps me unsubscribe from lifestyles, ladders, and loops that I don’t remember consciously choosing. For example, when I learned about Intuitive Eating I asked, “Who benefits from women thinking they need to change their bodies?” Hint: it’s not the women. The Nap Ministry, a Black-owned non-profit out of my hometown of Atlanta says, “We believe rest is a form of resistance and name sleep deprivation as a racial and social justice issue.” They helped me ask “who benefits from you being exhausted?” I don’t think it’s me. Or my kids. Or my work. With their wisdom, I could see clearly that reclaiming my body and my rest is a form of resistance to capitalism, patriarchy, mom culture and so much more. It took this personal-as-political reframing for me to really embrace the sanctity of rest and try my best to not feel an ounce of guilt about it.

I sometimes think the most effective way to win a war would be to have your enemy deprive themselves of sleep and food. If you could somehow convince your foes that there was something inherently wrong with their body/face/hair/work/family, then they would be completely occupied and depleted trying to fight a battle with themselves instead of you. That way they would never have the energy to have the thought to even start a revolution, much less lead one. I can’t think of a better plan for world domination.

So my message to people who are mid-career, who already know how to work hard and strive, for people who are mid-family, who know how to care for others 24/7, is: rest. You have my permission. It will make you stronger. You need to rest. If you have a million things to do right now, you will have a million things to do when you get up from that nap (or full nights sleep.) You’ll just be able to do them better. Work hard during work time. And take it really easy on your rest time.

~Shana Merlin
Founder, Merlin Works Institute for Improvisation

About Shana Merlin

Merlin Works is the brainchild of Shana Merlin: improviser, teacher, and performer. Since 1996, she’s been leading classes that stretch people’s imaginations, push them out of their comfort zones, and make them laugh out loud for hours at a time.

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