Permission to Rest

“Just take a few deep breaths.”

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

“This is going to hurt, but I promise, it will help you rest.”

I’ve been visiting my chiropractor every other week (and sometimes more) for the last year. Weak joints and damaged connective tissue result in a lot of aches and pains every single day, and this lady is the only person who brings me some version of non-medicated relief. 

Bonus: She’s also a certified counselor. So the hour we spend together every other week for physical relief doubles as an opportunity for me to find some emotional relief on occasion, too. She believes wholeheartedly in the mind/body connection—that what we’re carrying with us emotionally takes up residence in our bodies physically over time. Working on one will certainly bring some relief to the other. As she puts it, “Working on your body will eventually give your mind some rest.”

Rest? Who doesn’t want a little more of that?

Truth be told, I’ve never been good at rest. Sleep? Forget about it. You’re talking to a life-long insomniac here. I’ve struggled to fall asleep and stay asleep pretty much my whole life. Melatonin, bluelight glasses, weighted blanket, limited screen time, all the books, baths—you name it, I’ve tried it. Sleep and I just haven’t found the rhythm to our relationship yet. 

My relationship with mental rest isn’t much better. I’ve been an anxious achiever just about as long as I’ve been an insomniac. I firmly believe a little goal setting and achieving is good for most people, but like anything, it can’t work without balance. When there’s no balance, you end up striving without ceasing. Working until you can’t work anymore. Doing until you’ve overdone it. Giving until you have nothing left to give. 

Been there. 

Done all of that. 


I’ve worked hard in my adult life to find a little more balance. Chronic illness will sort of force you into that. It makes you listen to your mind and pay attention to your body in a closer way. If you don’t rest, you’ll drop. If you don’t take a break, you’ll go down completely. The rest is what allows you to keep going. 

Self-employment has brought on a similar sense of self-awareness. Nobody is setting your boundaries for you. Nobody is telling you when to stop working for the day, or to put your computer away on a Saturday, or to say “no” when you’ve taken on too much. Because of that, you have to learn to pay attention to your own patterns and create your own sense of balance to avoid burnout. 

Now before I go on about all the ways I’m killing it at this rest and self-care stuff, let me just pull back the curtain right here and tell you the truth: On the scale from rested and balanced to burned out and tired, I’m well over the line into full-scale, overwhelmed hysteria. Sure, I was doing well at all this balance thing, but then, like it does in most situations, life happened. 

I kept telling myself way back before the holidays, “If I can just get to December 22nd, then I’ll get a break.” And when I finally got there, it was glorious. For 24 hours, I enjoyed some rest, both mental and physical. But by December 24th, life showed up. Christmas break became consumed with unexpected family tragedy and illness. Instead of lazy mornings around the Christmas tree, I did early mornings at the hospital. And in the midst of all that stress, my new mantra became, “Okay, when I get back to Atlanta, I’ll get a little rest.”

But the funny thing about life is that it was waiting for me there, too. Stress and trauma from what I’m now calling “The Christmas from Hell” remained. Unknowingly, I took it back to Atlanta with me as the new year came. And along with it, I added a huge and unexpected work deadline, new clients with quick turnarounds, and old clients who needed to cut their budgets and in turn, cut me. The result? I started working around the clock to keep up. Every morning, every evening, every weekend. 

In the middle of this, I caught the flu—the real life, full-blown, takes-you-down-until-you-might-never-get-up, flu. And sure, this forced me into the bed and down to the couch, but it didn’t give me rest. What it did give me (besides fever, chills, and raging nausea of course)? Stress to the max. The weight of ongoing health concerns in my family, the pressure of looming deadlines, the financial weight of change, and the sickness in my own body—it was taking its toll.

I planned a beach trip with my mom in early April and I found myself again saying, “If I can get there, I’ll take a break.” I think you probably know how this story ends. The trip was basically rained out and even though I was away, it turns out I’d packed all my stress and struggles in my suitcase. I may have physically left town, but mentally, I was still in the eye of the storm. (Pro Tip: I don’t recommend trying to vacation this way. You come home more annoyed than you left because you didn’t let yourself calm down enough to enjoy it.)

The truth is all this striving and stressing isn’t worth it. It isn’t born out of a sense of responsibility or dependability. It’s really born out of a belief that somehow, it’s all up to me. That the weight of the world is literally sitting on my shoulders. My family, my friends, my health, my work, my future, my finances—there’s room for everyone up here on these tired and worn out shoulders. I was carrying them all—or at least trying to. If I let myself rest, at least one of those things would suffer because of it. And so, I carried them with me everywhere, all the way into my chiropractor’s office.

 The physical toll of stress on my body was unbearable at that point. When I tell you every inch of my body ached, I mean it. Every. Single. Inch. As she was working to help relieve the pain, she found a spot in my shoulder—a place where my rib often pulls itself out of place (thanks connective tissue disorder)—that was specifically stubborn to release. She positioned my shoulder in a way that was anything but comfortable and began to coax the stress out of my system.

And you guys, it hurt. So much. The pain was breathtaking at times. 

Until it released. 

And just like that, there was rest. 

As I walked out the door that day, she encouraged me to find ways to dig into the places in my life that weren’t allowing me to find rest. The places that were so stuck they were causing me pain. The stubborn belief systems or habits that are holding for dear life and threatening my ability to rest. The places where I needed release.

“It might hurt, but it will give you some rest.”

Here’s the thing: I had every intention of doing that. I had every intention of looking at my life through that lens and finding ways to give my mind, body, and soul some rest. But then, deadlines came, and my computer crashed, and my roommate’s getting married, and my friends are moving away, and I don’t know where I’m going to live, and I took on a big new client, and blah, blah, blah. Just like that, my shoulder tightened right back up to balance the weight of the world. 

I found myself full-scale sobbing about all of this in my counselor’s office this week (no shock there). Some of her advice? 

“Ask God to speak to you. Ask Him to tell you what you need.”

Ugh. That didn’t feel like a solution to me. 

I woke up the next day and stood bleary-eyed from sleeplessness in the shower. Unexpectedly, I found myself misty-eyed. I was tired and overwhelmed to the point that just taking a shower made me weepy. It had been too much for too long, and I wasn’t exactly sure how to keep that pace emotionally, mentally, or physically. 

With little left to do, I followed my counselor’s advice. I prayed, and I asked, and I waited.

You have permission to rest.

That’s what I heard God whisper to me that day. I could rest. I could put down the weight of my world, and I could give myself a break. Something about that gentle whisper broke me. It gave me the same relief my chiropractor gave me as she gently pushed my rib back into place.

It gave me release.

I got out of the shower and put my pajamas back on immediately. I ate a donut for breakfast (yep, it was a good day!) and drank my coffee slowly. I got back in bed and read a book for three hours- something I love but haven’t done that slowly and steadily in a long time. I watched three of my favorite episodes of Gilmore Girls.I listened to records. I made myself breakfast for dinner. I shared good conversation with two friends. And then I went to bed early. I still didn’t sleep well, but I rested. 

And you know what happened? When I woke up the next day, life went on. No balls were dropped or opportunities missed. Nobody died. Nobody was mad at me. Everything was waiting for me just as I left it. This time, I was different. I came back to it all with a clearer head—rested and more ready to pick it all back up.

So I don’t know who out there needs to hear that same gentle reminder. I’m telling it to myself daily at this point as my shoulders keep tightening up under the weight of this season of life. But if that’s you, just remember: 

You have permission to rest. 

Sara Shelton