One of my favorite stories this time of year is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. But every time I read this classic fable, it brings to mind the opening line from another well-known Dickens novel, A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
The holiday season is the best of times for many because school is out and adults are on vacation. Some entire businesses and factories close down completely for the last week of the year. And those employed by the government take their scores of paid “use it or lose it” vacation days. Not to mention the “early dismissals” bestowed by the executive branch for those few government bureaucrats still at work. (And fewer still actually working. Sometimes I can hardly tell the difference between government workers and a bunch of schoolchildren.)
In most places that remain open, work schedules and requirements are relaxed, and there is holiday gift-giving, partying, long lunches, early departures, and other kinds of revelry.
But of course, it may be the worst of times for workers in retail businesses. Between “black Friday” (the day after Thanksgiving, when retailers first get into “the black” and out of the red for the year) to the day before Christmas, these overworked employees typically have to overcome 11 months of their company’s operating losses.
But if you’re among the fortunate people who have the end of the year off, you should take the opportunity for some rest and relaxation, according to a new study.
Two-thirds of the world is exhausted
The largest study ever done on rest and relaxation revealed that a jaw-dropping 68% of people worldwide would like to get more rest. And 32% said they needed more rest than the average person, while only 10% said they needed less.1
The study, dubbed the Rest Test, involved an online survey taken by more than 18,000 people in 134 countries. The survey measured participants’ favorite ways to rest, along with their attitudes toward relaxation versus activity.
The results were announced this fall on the BBC Radio 4 “All In The Mind,” program called the Anatomy of Rest. (I can hear the British announcer intoning, “Now, here’s something for the rest of us, so to speak…”)
What I found particularly interesting about the study is that the people who said they didn’t need more rest had well-being scores twice as high as those who felt rest-deprived. So much for the theory that only lazy, discontented people rest.
And the study participants who were younger and had a higher household income reported they got less rest compared to their poorer, older peers.
Study participants who provided personal care and/or did shift or night work also reported fewer hours of rest. (That could be the definition of the medical and healthcare professions right there.)
The top 5 ways to relax
It’s important to note that rest doesn’t always mean sleep. It’s possible to also engage in restful activity. The researchers reported that the top five endeavors that study participants found to be restful were:
- Reading (58%)
- Spending time in nature (53%)
- Being alone somewhere (52%)
- Listening to music (41%)
- Doing nothing, or “chilling” (40%)
Of course, these activities have health and well-being benefits of their own. I’ve written several times about the many health benefits associated with being in nature. I reported in a November Daily Dispatch that reading books can increase longevity by about 20%. And I’ve also written about how listening to music can help reduce stress (perhaps even including a month of Christmas carols).
Of course, we all know stress is a major killer hiding behind most chronic diseases. We also know that relaxation therapies are beneficial ways to counter stress. So the good news about this study is it shows that many people have found simple ways to achieve rest and relaxation through easily accessible activities.
It is also interesting that their favorite activities for rest and relaxation are typically done alone.
So my advice for this hectic holiday season is to take some down time for yourself during these times when a lot of employers are down.
Read that book you got under the tree this year, before putting it up on the shelf. Listen to that new CD in your stocking. Stop to sniff the cider, mulled wine, brandy, cognac, and gingerbread that comes around.
What else is there to say but, “God rest ye, merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay…”