Two ducks standing on the edge of a frozen section of the lake

The Winter Begs Us to Rest


As the year comes to an end, we experience fewer hours of daylight and colder temperatures. It’s as if the sky turns off the lights, encouraging an earlier bedtime and begging us to wrap ourselves in a blanket. The winter practically begs us to rest.A group of winter trees on snowy ground that have lost their leaves in the foreground of a lake beginning to freeze

Nature listens. Bears go into hibernation. Squirrels spend more time in the trees, eating nuts they hid during the fall season. Deciduous trees drop their leaves to expend less energy.  

But humans? Most of us stick to the same schedule, expecting the same energy levels from ourselves and each other as any other time of the year. We hold ourselves to the standards dictated by white supremacy culture that value work and productivity over rest and wellbeing. We don’t hibernate or drop our leaves. We don’t adjust our daily schedules with the rhythm of the seasons. We simply keep going. 

So how can we embrace the winter and engage in rest? When we think about rest, we often think simply of physical restthings like napping, sleeping, and sitting. According to Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, sleep is not enough for us to be well-rested. She outlines seven different types of rest.

  • Mental rest How many consecutive hours are you thinking, working, and producing? Our brains need breaks from productivity. Dr. Dalton-Smith shares that a constantly racing mind that struggles to take in new information or fall asleep at night is a sign of a mental rest deficit. Take a few minutes every so often to pause, close your eyes, and take deep breaths to help build in mental rest to your work day.
  • Spiritual rest This type of rest involves thinking beyond the mental and the physical. Dr. Dalton-Smith also defines it as feeling a deep sense of belonging, acceptance, and purpose. Examples of engaging in spiritual rest can include prayer, meditation, or community involvement. What helps connect you with the earth and beyond?
  • Social rest What relationships drain us and what relationships fill us up? In addition to balancing time alone with time spent with others, social rest applies to how much energy our social relationships require from us. Have conversations with supportive people in your social circles, whether that is virtually or in person. 
  • Emotional rest It can be exhausting to put on a performance of consistent emotional wellness. We’re not always feeling well or even okay. To engage in emotional rest, we could respond truthfully to the question, “How are you?”, recognizing that the answer may not always be positive. Holding emotional stress on your own is draining, and it can be restful to share feelings and experiences with others.
  • Sensory rest How activated are your senses throughout the day? How much time do you spend staring at screens or trying to ignore background noises and conversations? When our senses constantly take in stimuli, they become overwhelmed. Take a few minutes throughout your day to quiet your senses by closing your eyes or going on a phone-free walk. Try to intentionally unplug during the hours you’re not working.Two ducks standing on the edge of a frozen section of the lake - an example of engagement in creative rest
  • Creative rest – Dr. Dalton-Smith describes this type of rest as one that “reawakens the childlike wonder and awe inside each of us.” Are there points in the day that you’re able to admire the beauty of local parks or of your favorite pieces of art? Is there visual inspiration around you, or are there bare walls? If you are straining to find creative energy, try reading a new poem or listening to a new song to refresh your spirit. 
  • Physical rest And of course, physical rest tends to the body. We need both passive rest, like sleeping and napping, and active rest, like stretching or yoga. Listen to signs from your body, such as soreness or sickness, that it needs physical rest. What would help rejuvenate it? 

Of course, prioritizing and balancing these different types of rest is easier said than done. There are so many barriers to rest, and people with different identities and lived experiences may be granted less flexibility than others. For example, Black people report fewer hours of sleep and are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea. Working mothers often take on a second or double shift when home. Two-thirds of US workers live in states without paid family leave. Cultural expectations and access to resources impact our relationships with rest.

Despite these disparities, activists emphasize that rest is not a privilege, and it does not have to be earned. The Nap Ministry is an organization that practices napping as an act of liberation and rest as resistance. Its founder, Tricia Hersey, names rest as a social justice tool that helps her heal from generational exhaustion and racial trauma as a Black woman. When we commit to rest, we also commit to dismantling a culture that teaches us that our worthiness is tied to our productivity. 

Practicing rest as resistance challenges the belief that rest is scarce. In an episode of the podcast, Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders, Beth Zemsky talks about scarcity mindsets as a tool to colonize our imaginations. When we think about important things like rest as things that cannot exist in abundance, our ability to think transformationally is restricted. If we blindly believe in this scarcity, we cannot imagine that meaningful change is possible. But change is possible. 

As we move through December, how can we decolonize our imaginations and prioritize rest, setting us up for transformation in 2023? By existing, you need and deserve rest in abundance. Receive the invitation of winter to slow down. Allow yourself to move with the rhythm of the seasons. Use your wildest imagination and practice rest in a way you believed to be impossible.

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