After hundreds of days leading trips and living in the wilderness, one of the greatest gifts I received was the visceral understanding of the relationship between how we attend to our basic needs and how we feel, perform, and relate.
In the wilderness, you need to stay warm and dry, ingest adequate water and calories, and get enough rest.
When you don’t attend to these needs, things get incredibly uncomfortable — and often dangerous — very quickly.
In normal modern life, we don’t need to heed to the basics with all that much attention. I have a fridge full of food, all the clean water I could ever use, and a soft bed to crash into every night.
This is the case for many of us.
In the woods and on the trail, the basics drive much of your day. You learn to very naturally monitor your body and your mental state. It’s a very efficient and necessary training in mindfulness.
A major plus is this mindfulness doesn’t just disappear the moment you get back into society.
The ability to easily monitor your basic state of being is incredibly helpful, and it affects every part of life.
One of the basics that’s easy to manage in the woods but much harder to manage at home is rest.
When you’re carrying a 50-pound pack over a mountain range, taking breaks to stop and rest isn’t really optional. You just have to. When your legs are burning and you’re sucking wind, animal instinct takes over, and you just stop.
Your body is screaming at the end of a long and rugged day, and you simply can’t wait to get in your sleeping bag.
There’s no Netflix or beer to distract you, but the need for rest is so real you wouldn’t indulge in those luxuries even if you had them.
The balance between exertion and rest is clear and very natural.
In our normal day-to-day lives, things are different. Our minds are usually running the show. For most of us, our bodies aren’t tired the way they get on the trail.
Rest gets complicated.
Beyond the fact that we aren’t typically climbing mountains on the daily, there’s a more subtle issue in the way: A pervasive societal need to be busy, move forward, and accomplish at all costs.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m as ambitious as they come, and I love kicking ass. But after working with thousands of men, I saw a pervasive, dangerous pattern.
When we don’t rest enough, we put our bodies and nervous systems into overdrive mode. We operate on cortisol.
While stress can have positive effects, too much of it masks the messages our bodies are shouting at us.
According to 2019 research, increasingly high numbers of Americans are sleeping far less than the needed amount for basic health and strong cognition.
In the woods, it’s easy to see that when you don’t get good rest you make poor decisions and act like an asshole.
In everyday life, we get used to levels of dysfunction that we’re not even aware of.
Having worked very closely with thousands of guys, I’d say the general state of most men could be described as overworked, overstressed, and grossly under-rested.
Burnout would be a good phrase to describe it.
It’s as if the majority of men are simply conditioned to run on fumes. When it comes to rest, many have lost track of or don’t even know what it feels like to have a full tank.
This can change — and it starts with permission.
Once we get the rest we need, we can become more aware of what our body needs. Then we’re on to something.
The simple strategies below are a great place to start making rest a bigger part of your life.
Get a full night’s rest for a full week
Make it your one overarching goal.
At the end of each day, note how your day was. How you felt, your productivity, how your interactions with others went.
At the end of the week, go back and take it all in.
Get a massage and learn to let go
If massage is already something you do, go get a massage! If you’re new to it, go get a massage!
Begin to learn to relax your body with a little help. Start to note how you may be holding tension and how you can let it go.
You can also practice self-massage, and the best news is it’s totally free!
Plan a vacation that will actually charge your batteries
Most of us work our asses off all year and then race off to a vacation fully booked with excursions, eating, drinking, and socializing. You can come back even more tired than when you left.
Plan a trip, even just a day or two, with the intention to just relax and recharge.
Balance your health with more than just working out
When we live high-stress lives, sometimes our only release is to push harder at the gym. You don’t have to stop working out, but play with swapping in some sauna time or a walk outside.
See how it feels to care for yourself in new ways.
Take time to do nothing
Schedule a time in your day to literally do nothing. Yep, nothing.
Just park it on your couch and stare at the wall, lay in a hammock and gaze at the clouds, or sit in a nearby park and watch the trees sway.
Do it for at least 10 minutes. This will help you get used to letting your nervous system relax.
Take a nap
Take a nap!?! How? When?
You can figure it out. Give yourself a gift and just take a damn nap.
There’s a growing movement of men who are taking responsibility for themselves in new ways.
Our events and men’s groups at EVRYMAN are a place to get honest about what you feel and what you want. It’s a simple way to check in with yourself with the support of other guys.
Other projects like Men Who Take Baths are exploring what masculinity means in a changing paradigm.
What’s underneath all this is that many social patterns for men are downright unhelpful. Not getting enough rest is one of them.
It’s not rocket science. We feel better, perform better, and are kinder to others when we’re taken care of.
If some old conditioning is keeping you from taking care, I invite you to ask yourself what’s really in the way. Then I ask you to start experimenting with what your life feels like when you prioritize being OK.
It’s the right time of year to bring this up. The holidays are upon us. For most people, that means we may have some time off work. Resting might be just a bit more possible.
Traditionally, winter is the season of rest. This played out for me very literally as a wilderness guide. For many years, I ran winter trips in and near the Boundary Waters Wilderness in Northern Minnesota.
In December, the sun would rise after 8 a.m. and set before 4 p.m. That gave us a very short window of daylight and the nights were incredibly cold.
We’d get in our tents by 6 or 7 p.m. every night just to stay warm and not get out of them until 8 or 9 a.m. We’d literally sleep 12 or more hours every night.
It was incredible.
It might not be in the cards to sink into that level of hibernation this winter, but consider this a permission slip to take care of yourself this holiday season. You and the people you love deserve it.