The Rest Test - Best ways to relax in times of stress

The Rest Test was the largest global survey into rest ever undertaken. 18,000 people in 135 different countries participated in the project, in search of a roadmap to a more restful, calm, lifestyle.

How do you relax and recharge? (photo credit: PXHERE)
How do you relax and recharge?
(photo credit: PXHERE)
Well, it’s now been two-plus weeks that I’ve been doing rehab after knee-replacement surgery, an amazing procedure that I hope will give me a pain-free new lease on life.
I’m eternally grateful to God, my doctor and my warden – oops, I mean my wife! – who has been a veritable angel of mercy, dispensing pills and sympathy with just a wee touch of corporeal punishment when I don’t do my physio (did you know that it can be very painful when forced to bend your knee all the way back to your bottom soon after surgery, if not anytime?!). Lucky for me, it seems like pretty much every third person in this country has had KRS, so I’m never at a loss for advice as to how best to cope and recover.
While still in the hospital, my darling daughter Tali presented me with a fascinating book, The Art of Rest: How to Find Respite in the Modern Age. The book, by Claudia Hammond, is based on “The Rest Test,” the largest global survey into rest ever undertaken. 18,000 people in 135 different countries participated in the project, in search of a roadmap to a more restful, calm, balanced lifestyle that allows us to recharge our bodies and give us higher levels of well-being. In the hectic, exciting, stress-filled life in Israel, this is certainly well worth exploring.
The study presents a “Top 10” list of activities – or non-activities – that people find most restful and relaxing, and I share with you some of them.
Near the bottom of the list – but still in the Top 10 – is television. Quite stunningly, studies show that in the USA, by the age of 75, a person will have spent no less than nine years of his or her life watching TV – which is more time than any other activity besides working and sleeping. While that does seem to be a bit excessive, whether we like it or not, TV – and screens in general – have become a major part of our culture. It’s where we primarily get our news and, certainly in the Age of Corona, it’s where we go for entertainment and escape.
As a certified baby-boomer, I grew up on TV, which some have dubbed the “Electronic Hearth.” I have vivid, warm memories of watching wholesome shows like The Andy Griffith Show, I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show (at the age of 94, he’s still dancing and singing!). Before there was such a thing as VCRs, DVDs or VOD to record programs, the family would gather annually to watch The Wizard of Oz and other classics in a scene right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Yes, TV can be compulsive and excessive – see: binge-watching – and certainly there are a lot of shows that should be avoided, especially for children under age 90, but it can also provide an easy, inexpensive way to relax at the end of a long day.
Somewhat akin to TV on the list is daydreaming, or what some call “mind wandering.” While our teachers would often demand of us that we “pay attention,” sometimes it is permissible, even healthy, to just let the mind go wherever it chooses, taking us to far-away places or unique scenarios. Scientists say that as much as 40% of us have trouble falling asleep at night because thoughts are whirring about in our heads and keeping us up. One solution, as the song goes, is simply to “Let It Go.”
As part of my post-op prescription, I have to walk, and that is also on the list. Walking is sublime in its simplicity; you just put one foot in front of the other and you are off on a journey. In the age of mass transportation and the over-abundance of automobiles, you never really know your own neighborhood – and neighbors – until and unless you walk. There is adventure in every stroll, and if you are walking in nature, there is beauty and discovery in every step. You control the pace; the peace comes in and of itself. Walking with someone is one of the best ways to bond and exchange ideas, but walking alone brings its own sense of quiet and control.
And then, of course, there is music. I still recall fondly how my father would fall asleep listening to songs of the Big Band Era and I would have to sneak into his room late at night to turn off the radio. As William Congreve wrote, “Music has charms to soothe the savage breast.” And while many would choose classical music as the perfect medium for winding down and reaching temporary nirvana – what some call “the Mozart effect” – one man’s Bach is another man’s Beatles. Susie says there hasn’t been a good song since the ‘70’s ended, but every generation chooses its own musical preferences, and one of the hardest challenges of the COVID crisis is the cessation of live music.
The No. 1 activity in the survey’s Top 10 is, as you may have guessed, reading. Not only does reading educate us, it relaxes us. Indeed, studies show that reading at bedtime helps us to sleep. This is interesting, because reading is not slothful; it activates our imagination, stimulates our intellect and engages a number of areas of our brain. Yet at the same time, it allows us to wander to places near and far; it introduces us to fascinating characters and unusual personalities. It is, in a word, satisfying. Just as we fell asleep as children as our parents read us poems and stories, so we lull ourselves to sleep as adults when we read.
I would add to this last category the pleasure of studying, especially with a partner – what we call chavruta. The word connects to chaver (friend). Indeed, the Talmud declares, a la Patrick Henry, “Give me friendship or give me death!” In the world of Torah learning, one is transported to the study halls of Rabbi Akiva and the Vilna Gaon, immersed in the search for religious truth and oblivious, at least momentarily, of the stress and strain of the world outside.
Whatever helps you achieve your well-deserve slice of serenity, rest assured it will enhance your life.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana. [email protected]