Rest isn’t a reward for success; it’s the foundation upon which success is built. In a world that glorifies non-stop hustle and constant productivity, have you ever paused to consider the role of rest in achieving your goals and maintaining your well-being? Join us as host Penny Zenker dives deep into the transformative topic of rest with the brilliant and insightful Nina Nesdoly, a TEDx speaker, stress and burnout prevention expert, and founder of Workplace Clarity. With her burnout journey, Nina shares how it compelled her to bridge the gap between neuroscience and practical strategies to help individuals and organizations prevent burnout, boost resilience, and cultivate a healthier work-life balance. From rethinking productivity to seeing rest as a reset, Nina encourages us to reimagine our approach to productivity and well-being. Tune in now!
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Breaking The Hustle Myth: Embrace Rest As Your Ultimate Reset Button With Nina Nesdoly
In this episode, we’re going to take a deep breath in and let it out. I already feel a little bit more relaxed. We’re going to talk about rest. I’m excited to have Nina Nesdoly with me. We took a course together at Heroic Public Speaking where we took our speaking skills to the next level and learned all that stagecraft. She’s a great human being. She did a TEDx that you guys should check out.
She is a work stress and burnout prevention speaker, which we all need. She’s also a researcher, TEDx speaker, and Founder of Workplace Clarity. She draws on her interdisciplinary background in organizational behavior and neuroscience to teach people and organizations how to mitigate work-related stress, prevent burnout, and build resilience.
She’s doing her PhD because it’s not enough to have all those other degrees studying work-related stress. Since founding her training business, Workplace Clarity, Nina has worked with organizations across North America. Her insights have been featured in BuzzFeed, MarketWatch, The Financial Times, and many other major publications. Outside of work, Nina loves to skate, bike, travel, and read fantasy novels. She will soon spend a month in Peru. Welcome to the show, Nina.
Thanks so much for having me, Penny.
That was stressful, reading all that stuff that you’ve done. Tell me. Was there a moment where your life blew out of control and you said, “I need to help other people doing this because I have this issue,” or do a lot of people have this epiphany and go into this? Tell me the backstory.
There are two separate moments, the life going at a control moment and the realizing I needed to help other people with this. Those were two different points in time. For myself, realizing that the way that I was working and the way that I was burning out and pushing myself was unsustainable came about in 2017. My dad had leukemia. When he went into remission, I took this attitude of like, “I need to make up for lost time.” I loaded everything up. I was so sick so burnt out and tired that I collapsed and hit my head on the floor in a yoga class. That was still not the moment. I did not slow down quite then.
I pushed my way through the concussion assessment, carried on for a month, and landed myself back in the hospital. I had symptoms that were much worse, like headaches, dizziness, and exhaustion. Finally, I slowed down. When I started to return to work and school, I was doing my Bachelor’s in Neuroscience at the time. After months off to recover, that was when I started to look at, “I need to be doing things differently and thinking about productivity and rest differently than I had been before if I want to continue to achieve big goals without running myself into the ground.”
I was smiling because I was like, “If you want to stay alive, then you need to rethink rest, let alone all the things that you want to achieve.” You push yourself and you don’t listen to the cues. A lot of people can relate to that. A lot of people feel like they’ll sleep when they’re dead. There are all these expressions that we sacrifice all of those things and make compromises in our wellness for those goals and achievements. It’s counterproductive. It’s because you’re doing that, you’re not going to reach the things that you want. Why don’t we get that?
It’s partly the messaging that we’re getting. Societally, it is about always doing more. If we work more, we’ll accomplish more. If we put in more hours, we’ll make more progress. More is always better. It is this way that we think about productivity as doing something that has this measurable output attached to it. It’s a very counterintuitive shift to start to say, “Sometimes, less is more.” That’s what we see in the neuroscience portion of how people work and what productivity and performance look like.
When I was recovering from my burnout and concussion, I turned to neuroscience because that’s what I was studying to understand how I could be productive while protecting myself. It was a few years of focusing on that for myself and in the research. During the pandemic, I was looking around and going, “A lot of other people are struggling with this.” That’s when I moved into the speaking research and consulting work that I do.
I was going to come back to that. That was the point where you decided that you needed to do this for others. It’s interesting that a lot of people say, “The pandemic created this.” It didn’t. It made us present to it. It exasperated or expanded the dysfunctions that we already had. It made it so that we couldn’t ignore it any longer.
It brought the term burnout in particular to the forefront. It’s interesting because when I go in and talk to people, they’re like, “Burnout has been a problem for the last couple of years.” That’s not it. It’s been a problem for a long time but we weren’t using the word. If you look in the literature, researchers have been studying this for a few decades and we’ve been looking at this and seeing this problem. I started my Master’s studying job stress and burnout in 2019. Before 2020 hit, I was already collecting data on burnout before we went into lockdown.People think burnouts have been a problem for the last couple of years. But that's not it. It's been a problem for a really long time, we just weren't using the word. Click To Tweet
It has been around for a long time. I do want to come back to that point where you talked about how a lot of people think that productivity is about doing more. It’s about achieving more in less time or with less. It’s about working smarter. I almost say productivity isn’t the point. I use this expression. Confucius says that a person who chases two rabbits catches none. We get good and better at chasing rabbits but that’s not the point. The point is to catch the rabbits. We’re caught up in this misconception. How do you help people step back, realize that, and embrace this idea of rest in a time where being busy is a badge?
Part of it comes from rethinking productivity. To your point, it’s not just doing all of the things. It’s about doing things effectively. I also like to think of productivity as any action or behavior we’re taking that helps us produce a desired outcome. Sometimes, the outcome that we want to produce is happiness, work-life balance, or enjoyment all the time.
It’s not always like our word count on the page, our sales quota, or these deliverables that we’re doing. Often, we’re looking to produce larger than that. We’re looking to produce the life and the quality of work and experiences that we value. Part of that is stopping, looking around, and saying, “What is it that I want as outcomes in my life and work?” It’s hard to look at. You sometimes have to then shift gears.
A couple of years ago, I started my PhD. When I started my PhD, I was in the wrong program. I was in a program that I had chosen for the prestige and I was miserable. I left after about four months. I transferred to a PhD program that I chose for the work-life balance, the kind supervisor, and the alignment with my goals that are a bit more industry-focused than academia.
It was a huge blow to give up the prestigious program knowing that in doing so, I was making the decision to probably never work at an Ivy League or some of these other doors that opened but admitting to myself that those doors being open was making me miserable meant that I got to go somewhere else. It was being in that new PhD program or environment that opened the doors for things like my TEDx Talk. It is a matter of saying, “What is it that I want to produce?” What most people want to produce is a life and a work that they are excited about and that’s meaningful to them. What actions are going to contribute to that?
A mutual friend, Tim Ash, I interviewed him for the show as well. He was talking about rest at the very end. He was like, “If I could tell you one thing, it would be to get more sleep.” A part of rest is sleep. I’m sure there are other variations of rest as well. I’m interested in your perspective on this and anything you want to add to it. When we don’t get enough sleep, our social engagement changes. We misinterpret facial cues and things like that.
I relate to it when you don’t sleep. I’ve had children that wake up in the middle of the night. You don’t sleep and you’re on edge. You’re on eggshells that if somebody were to do something, you’d flip out. He was saying that we misinterpret all these social cues. Is there something in neuroscience that you can share with us so that people can understand how that is?
The rule of thumb that I’m familiar with for sleep in relation to rest and well-being is that if you get less than six hours of sleep in a night, it is the bodily equivalent of a big stressor that you’re encountering. Being stressed out about something that’s going on in your life is comparable to getting less than six hours of sleep.Being stressed out about something that's going on in your life is comparable to getting less than six hours of sleep. Click To Tweet
If you wake up in the morning with less than six hours of sleep, you’re starting your day already biologically stressed out so everything is going to get harder. Interpreting facial cues is one of a myriad of different things that are going to be more difficult because your body is physically under stress. You are exhausted so it’s difficult to pick up on signals. Your brain is full of garbage.
One of the big functions of sleep that we understand from neuroscience is that it’s like a wash cycle for your brain. I like to think of it as a city. You’re driving along and all day long, people are putting their garbage out on the street. That’s you thinking. When you think and your neurons are firing, there are byproducts to that in your brain, and these land all over the streets.
When you sleep, nothing else is getting thrown out and the garbage truck gets to come around and pick everything up. When you don’t sleep, the garbage all stay out there. Throughout the day, more of it gets piled on. Eventually, you can get so much garbage that you block off roads. That is where sleep starts to contribute very long-term. Sleep starts to contribute even to cognitive decline, dementia, and things like this because the roads are blocked in your brain. You didn’t get those trash day pickups.
That’s such a great analogy. I love that because it’s so easy to understand and clear in the way that that’s presented. Thank you for that. I hope all of you are reading. I’m tracking my sleep and I’m trying to be more present to that but I also see that it’s something that gets compromised. I don’t sleep well. I’m at an age where I get hot flashes and things like that that disturb my sleep so I’m trying to see better ways. What other types of rest help to contribute that’s not only sleep? What other rest do you suggest?
There’s a big list of ways to rest. Some of it is socially connecting with other people. Biologically, that’s another cool one. When we have positive social interactions with others, it increases our oxytocin. Researchers refer to this as the social buffering hypothesis where having positive interactions with others leads to an increase in oxytocin. Most of us know oxytocin as the cuddle hormone but in the last few years, we’ve also seen that oxytocin helps to regulate cortisol in the body. Connecting with other people through the mechanisms of oxytocin protects you against the effects of stress.
It doesn’t offset. It protects. It builds up as if it were a bank account.
A little bit. It works in a lot of different directions. Oxytocin is cool that way. When you experience stress, your body also increases oxytocin to prompt you to seek out other people. We have this natural inclination to seek other people. When we’re around them and we get that support, we have that oxytocin. As for the bank account view, I’m not sure. I don’t know if we store that oxytocin if we’re interacting with people or if it’s a little bit more fluid. What we do know is we are prompted to reach out and then there’s a benefit when we do reach out and connect with others.
Is that what they call the tend-and-befriend?
I understand that’s a way that we can shift right out of stress and be more of a challenge-response versus a stress response.
There’s that distinction too where there are different versions of our stress response. Depending on how we appraise our situations and what resources we believe we have, we have more social support. If we have more control, then we’re more likely to see our stressors as challenges that we can manage versus big threats that we’re not going to be able to deal with.
What haven’t I asked you yet that we need to know about rest to put this more into practice? It’s not just something that we know but something that we do.
We could make a list of all the different ways that we can rest. I don’t think we’ve got time for all the cool ways that we can rest but in terms of what we do, one of the most important things that I see is that we need to make rest a practice, not a reward. The ways that we rest, be it sleeping to clean out our minds and consolidate memories, interacting with others to buffer against stress, exercising to increase our endorphins and flush stress out of the body, journaling to clear our minds, or meditation to strengthen our positive connections in our mind, all of these things, when you do them or do things that feel good that are forms of rest and self-care, they make you better able to cope with stressors that come up.
Our inclination is often to say, “I got to get everything done first. I have to do the work first. I have to finish this project. I have to get all these stressors away from me.” Dealing with stress gets so much easier when we rest first. As a rule of thumb that I like to use and teach people is when you find yourself withholding or saying, “I need to do this before I can go see a friend. I need to finish this project before I eat dinner tonight. I need to get this proposal done before I can sleep,” that’s your cue to go do that thing instead. When you’re withholding, instead, you’re going to say, “I’m withholding rest right now so that means I need it.” When you have it and you get those benefits cognitively and physiologically, when you go back to work, it’s going to be faster, easier, more efficient, and less stressful.
I like that. That’s a good practical tip that everybody can recognize. Become a noticer and recognize when you’re withholding it. When you’re withholding it, take it. To me, that’s a reset moment.
I was thinking that too. I’m like, “It’s a reset moment.”
When you catch yourself withholding, that’s a reset moment that you get to call for that reset and take that rest. Step back and do what you need. I talk about stepping back, getting perspective, and realigning so that’s perfect. We’re coming to the end of our time. How can people reach you, hear more about you, and have you come and speak to them?
I can be found on Instagram, LinkedIn, and TikTok by using my name Nina Nesdoly. That’s my handle and my username across platforms. You can book me to speak at NinaNesdoly.com. For more training and consulting-type services, you can reach me at WorkplaceClaritycom.
Thank you so much for being here.
Thanks so much for having me, Penny.
Thank you guys for being here. Hopefully, what you’re going to do is take a look and see all the different ways that you can get more rest and do rest first. We’ll see you after you rest on the next episode.
- Nina Nesdoly
- TEDx – How to Relieve Stress When You’re Overwhelmed
- Instagram – Nina Nesdoly, MSc | Speaker, Researcher, Consultant
- LinkedIn – Nina Nesdoly, MSc
- TikTok – Nina | Work Stress Speaker
About Nina Nesdoly
Nina invites you to relieve stress before finishing everything on your to-do list Nina Nesdoly is a work stress and burnout prevention speaker, researcher, and founder of Workplace Clarity. She draws on her interdisciplinary background in Organizational Behaviour (MSc Management) and Neuroscience (BSc) to teach people and organizations how to mitigate work-related stress, prevent burnout, and build resilience. She is currently doing a PhD studying work-related stress.
Since founding her training business, Workplace Clarity, Nina has worked with organizations across North America. Her insights have been featured in Buzzfeed, MarketWatch, the Financial Times, and other major media publications. Outside of work, Nina loves to skate, bike, travel, and read fantasy novels.
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