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Times of the Islands Magazine

R&R: A Much-Needed Rx For Health and Wellness

Jul 14, 2021 04:47PM ● By DR. RANDALL NIEHOFF

Along the Gulf Coast of Florida, July and August are the red-letter months for rest and recreation. If you can’t “vacate” from your normal abode, you at least “empty out” blocks of time from your regular schedule (job, school, home maintenance, etc.) to relax, explore or just have fun. The old adage still rings true: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy (and Jill a dull girl).

But what about the other 10 months when you are back home and back on duty? Ours is a culture dominated by the belief that the value of your life is measured by how much you can get done each day—that who you are is determined by what you do. No wonder we are seeing so many otherwise bright people carrying too much stress, resulting in maladies such as depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, heart trouble, alcohol and drug addiction and high divorce rates (to name just a few).  

Recently I heard about a young woman who was leading a seminar on stress management. She walked around the room with a glass of water in her raised hand. Most participants guessed there would be a query about the glass being half-empty or half-full, but no—she asked everyone to guess how much the water weighed. Then she went on to point out that its objective weight didn’t matter but the perceived load did, and that amount depended on how long she held it up: If for a minute, it didn’t matter; if for an hour, a painful ache in her arm; if for a day—call an ambulance. The longer it is lifted, the “heavier” it becomes. Her point was clear: If you carry burdens all the time, it becomes more difficult to carry on. You need to put them down for awhile before picking them up again; refreshed, you are able to handle them better each time. 

She closed the session with the following recommendation: Each day, in the late afternoon, put down all your burdens. Do not carry them through the evening into bed. You’ll be ready to lift them up come morning. And when the weekend arrives, schedule periods of time to rest, honoring them like any other appointment. Turning the weekend into a two-day marathon of chores and hobbies is a prescription for exhaustion, not R&R. 

We moderns actually owe the idea of balancing work and R&R to the ancient Hebrews and their Biblical tradition of the sabbath—the seventh day of each week set apart as a sanctuary in time. Called the “queen” of the week, it was a day to rest from labor and spend time practicing gratitude for creation (the engine of worship), celebrating in one’s best clothes, visiting with loved ones, reading, singing, dancing, filling up one’s senses with nature and food and contemplation (quite the opposite of the dour day of forced time-out and lengthy church services as practiced by the Puritanical traditions of Christianity). 

What’s more, historians point out that in the first century of the Common Era (aka A.D.), among those communities that gave birth to Rabbinic Judaism and the early Christian Church, it was customary for both men and women to take “mini-sabbaths” during the work week—a break of about 20 minutes anywhere from three to five times each day. People would rest, nap, read, think, pray, perhaps chat with a neighbor and, then reinvigorated, return to their tasks. 

I am reminded of a poster that long hung in a busy office I frequented depicting an empty stool and these words: “Sometimes I sits and thinks… and sometimes I just sits.”

Ran Niehoff, retired since 2008, has taken turns working and sitting on Sanibel since 1991.