Overcoming Rest Day Anxiety: 10 Tips to Help You Fall in Love With Rest Days

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I’m sitting here writing this on Sunday morning (aka one of my rest days) and I feel so at peace. At peace with the fact that I didn’t work out and won’t be working out today, that the main movement I’m getting in today is a walk over to the lake to sip my coffee, that I “slept in” later than usual, that I still love my body despite not working out, that I still ate the same size of nourishing breakfast that I always do, that I still feel productive and happy and grateful even without my typical sweat sesh, that I’m honoring my body and giving it the rest that it needs. Overcoming rest day anxiety truly changed my life you guys.

It’s crazy to me that I can be so okay with rest days now. Scratch that – more than okay with rest days. I truly love my rest days and, dare I say, look forward to them. That doesn’t make me lazy, that doesn’t mean I don’t love working out and that doesn’t make me any less of a fitness guru. If anything, I’ve felt more in-tune with my passion for fitness since embracing rest days.

So let’s back up a little. What has my journey with rest days been like? Bumpy at best. Like very bumpy. Like 5-foot-deep pot holes on the rode kind of bumpy. When I really started diving into fitness after running my first half marathon in the summer of 2015, I started viewing rest days as the enemy. The further I got into my eating disorder and my exercise addiction, the worse that enemy became. I went from not loving my, at that time, one rest day a week, to full blown resenting it. To feeling so anxious on Sundays that I could barely function. It got so bad that I would usually “sneak” a little bit in on Sundays still, just so I felt like I had had a worthy and productive day. I’d tell myself I would only go to the gym to stretch and next thing you know I was on the stationary bike. It’s like I couldn’t help it. I was truly addicted to working out, despite knowing rest was a necessary aspect of fitness.

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My body would be screaming for rest, begging me for it, but I would simply ignore it. But honestly, at that time, I didn’t have the mental health to do anything but ignore it. But once I started seeing a counselor, speaking to a nutritionist and healing from my disordered eating and exercise addiction, I started to truly see the value in rest days and overcoming rest day anxiety.

But although I was able to recognize that I so desperately needed to rest more, I still didn’t love rest days. I would take them, but I’d always feel a little “off,” a little grumpy and a little on-edge. I’d wish I could be working out but would force myself not to. It was a baby step, but I knew I needed to work harder at it. I knew working out couldn’t dictate my mood so greatly.

Over two years later and I can say I finally love rest days. Not just a “love only when I’m really fricken sore” kind of love. But a true, genuine love even when I don’t necessarily feel like my body “needs” the rest. I used to think I had to earn my rest days. I remember one particular time Sophomore year in college when I was deep in my disordered thoughts, biking so hard on the stationary bike after already running 5 or so miles and lifting for an hour, telling myself “push harder nat so you can earn your rest day.” My body’s cry for help and for rest was always drowned by these thoughts.

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And I hate that mentality. You don’t need to earn rest days. You don’t need to push yourself so hard that you physically have to take a rest day. You don’t need to be a certain amount of tired or sore to take rest, to skip the gym, to sleep in, to take care of yourself, to love yourself. No matter what, your body needs rest.

But back to loving rest days. I get excited for rest days because I’m so happy I finally take measures to love myself, care for myself and truly take care of myself. I get excited for rest days because it allows me to have a slow morning, doing other things that set my soul on fire. I get excited for rest days because I get to utilize my most productive writing hours of the day. I get excited for rest days because it gives me more time to focus on the relationships in my life. I get excited for rest days because I get to spend more time making breakfast pretty. I get excited for rest days because it means I’ll have more energy when I get back to the gym. I get excited for rest days because it means my muscles are repairing and growing. I get excited for rest days, period.

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Below are my top tips to fixing your relationship with rest days and learning to love them, because I understand. It can be hard, it can be uncomfortable, and it can be frustrating. But rest days don’t have to be those things. They can be joy-filled, happy and just as amazing as any day. Trust me.

  1. Know that it will take time: don’t expect to start loving rest days as soon as you begin the journey to getting there. It will take time to foster this positive relationship, so don’t get frustrated if you feel your old anxieties creeping back! Keep pushing and working at it.

  2. Schedule your rest days: I know a lot of people don’t schedule their rest days because they want to simply listen to when their body needs rest, but for me, scheduling them keeps me accountable. I know if I didn’t schedule them, I’d most likely end up not taking them (in the past). With that being said, although I schedule my two rest days, if my body is begging for more rest I’ll take it!

  3. Notice how much more energetic your workouts are: This was a huge game changer for me. Once I really committed to my rest days and started taking them consistently, I noticed a huge difference in my workouts. The extra rest (plus cutting my workouts wayyyy back) made the days I did workout so much better. I had immense amounts of energy and no longer felt like I was dragging myself around the gym. I was able to start lifting heavier and noticed so much more muscle gain. I felt energized and alive after my workouts, opposed to exhausted and run-down.

  4. Still get up at a regular time: This kind of only applies to my early-morning-exercisers BUT it’s a goodie nonetheless. For me, still getting up early on my rest days helped me a lot as I started to heal my relationship with rest. It allowed me to still have my routine, be productive AND utilize my most productive hours of the day. This may sound crazy but 5am/6am is my favorite time of day. It’s when I work out the best but it’s also when I simply work the best. Whether it’s writing blog posts, brainstorming recipes or studying for personal training, I focus so much better in the early morning. Once I started utilizing my rest day mornings to get sh*t done, it helped me view them as a positive because I always feel so productive!

  5. Schedule something fun: When I first started taking two rest days it really helped me to have something scheduled that day to get me out of my head. One of my go-to’s in the summer is going to the farmers market or simply going to grab coffee or treat myself to lunch. Seeing how much more time in my day on rest days to do little fun things helped me view rest days so much more positively.

  6. See a friend: This goes along with the previous point. I realized rest days gave me more time to focus on relationships which is HUGE. I love scheduling coffee dates or hangouts with my mama on rest days because it shows me that life is about so so SO much more than my daily workout. When I first scheduled in Wednesdays as my second rest day, my mom and I would always walk down to the farmers market together. This gave me something to look forward to and always made me grateful that I had the extra time to spend with her.

  7. Get outside: One of the things I always missed most on rest days was not having my morning run outside. Getting outside every morning helped start my day on the best note and helped me feel calmer and more centered. Once I realized this lack of outdoor-time was part of the source of my rest day anxieties, it was so eye opening. I now make sure on rest days I get outside, whether it’s simply going on a little walk or sitting by the lake with my morning coffee and a good book, I always sneak in a little nature time.

  8. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable: Guess what? It’s going to feel a little uncomfy for awhile when you first start resting more. If you’re anything like I was, resting isn’t one of your specialties. You’re used to go-go-going, crazy daily intense workouts and feeling that post-workout exhaustion to an unhealthy level. So yes, it’ll feel weird to rest more, but don’t give into that awkwardness. Ride it out and force yourself to feel uncomfortable. Because soon that uncomfortable feeling will turn into a feeling of freedom and liberation – from yourself, from the grips of a disordered relationship with exercise and from the anxieties around chilling out. You’ll start to view exercise as something fun, that you love to do, that you get to do, but no longer as something you have to do every single day.

  9. Seek help: If you’re still struggling with the concept of rest or still feel anxiety on rest day, don’t be afraid to talk to someone! I started seeing a counselor at school when I was dealing with all of this and we talked through my rest day anxiety and it helped immensely. He helped me see more clearly and gave me useful tips to help me move past my anxieties and irrational thoughts and worries. Seeking professional help is NEVER something to be shameful of. If anything, it’s something to be PROUD of! It shows that you value yourself and your mental health.

  10. Don’t be afraid: If you’re anything like I was, taking extra rest seems scary and daunting. What was I afraid of? I’m not sure. Maybe that I would lost my identity as a fitness gal (lol), that I would lose all of my muscle mass, that I would forever feel anxious and antsy, etc. etc. But then I realized those were all irrational fears. Instead of looking at rest days with fear and apprehension, I started looking at them with gratitude. Gratitude for the fact that I was respecting my body, living a more balanced life, spending more time with friends and family and giving myself more time to do other things I love. Loving your body and taking care of it in a true, balanced way, is such a beautiful thing.

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Lastly, ask yourself the following questions and really think about them.

  1. What is it about rest days that I hate so much?

  2. Why do I force myself to work out even when my body doesn’t want to?

  3. Where are my irrational thoughts coming from?

  4. Why should I allow a workout to completely decide my mood?

  5. Why do I place so much of my self-worth on my daily workout?

  6. Does working out regularly take time away from other things I enjoy? Would having an extra rest day help alleviate this?

  7. What am I so afraid will happen if I take a rest day?

  8. Who can I talk to about this and how can they help?

These are all things I thought A LOT about and it helped me realize that my rest day anxiety was irrational and unhealthy and that something needed to change. I can’t even begin to describe how liberating it is to love rest days now, but I’ll try.

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Loving rest days feels like I’m finally free - from myself, from disordered thoughts and actions, from exercise addiction. It feels like I’m finally balanced. It feels like I’m finally centered, and calm and in control of my own emotions, thoughts and actions. I no longer feel like a robot being controlled by the little voices full of self-hate in my head. I no longer feel like a zombie in the gym, dragging my body from place to place.

I feel energetic, happy, centered, rational, content, peaceful. I feel fit, strong, healthy and full of LIFE, light and joy. I feel metaphorically lighter. I feel positive. I feel capable.

And I want all of YOU to feel that way too. So, who’s with me? Let’s all take that first step to loving rest days, overcoming rest day anxiety and in turn loving ourselves more fully.

XO nat

Related: What "Listening to Your Body" Means to Me, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together: My Fitness Watch Breakup