Do you find it difficult to switch off and take a break? Award-winning broadcaster and psychology lecturer Claudia Hammond will offer tips from her book, ‘The Art of Rest’, in the first of the Grosvenor Arms Hotel’s spring talks series.
Claudia Hammond is in great demand at the moment. You may have heard her programme ‘The Touch Test’ on BBC Radio Four recently. Claudia also presents Health Check each Friday on BBC World News, and producers of popular programmes like ‘The One Show’ and ‘BBC Breakfast’ often call on her to make sense of psychology and well-being issues.
On Thursday, 13th February, Claudia returns to Shaftesbury, a town she told Alfred’s Keri Jones she has enjoyed visiting previously. She is in our town to share advice from her recent book, which is based on the evidence of 18,000 people who took part in Durham University’s major research project.
“It shows how interested people are in the idea of trying to get more rest. Two-thirds of people told us they wanted more. Although surveys tell us that we are no busier now than we were in the 1950s, it doesn’t feel like that. I think a lot of people feel overwhelmed,” Claudia explained.
The survey revealed differences between the respondents from the 135 nations that took part. “We asked people which activities they found the most restful,” explained Claudia. “I count down the top ten in my book. The number one for the UK, and the world, was reading. It’s interesting because that involves cognitive effort and concentration. In Germany, the number one was being alone. Being in nature was most popular in Canada and India. That was number two in the UK and the rest of the world. On the whole, the top ten were almost the same, which I found quite interesting.”
Claudia is an expert in psychology, but she says when she refers to rest, she means both mental and physical rest. “What I don’t mean is sleep. Rest is activities where you feel refreshed after you have done that thing. You have to be awake while you are doing them. For some people, resting the body means they rest their minds. They might want to lie down or sit down, watch TV or do something sedentary. 38% of people found walking restful. 8% of people told us they found running restful. Some people can’t quieten down until they are exerting their bodies. There is an interesting link between the physical and mental.” Claudia explained that some people find intense exercise to be restful because they are ‘in the zone’ and that stops thoughts going around in their heads.
Claudia believes that recent campaigns encouraging people to consider their mental wellbeing might encourage people to seek out rest opportunities. “Certainly, mental health has been taken more seriously now. People are prepared to talk about it so much more openly. Just as you should take steps to protect your physical health, it is worth trying to protect your mental health. Everybody is taking it seriously. It’s a good sign,” she said.
Claudia accepts that phones and devices are amazing communication tools, but their portability blurs the boundaries between working and not working. “It can make work feel as if it’s going on for longer. Just knowing that your boss could call you on an evening can mean you don’t feel very restful. You can be winding down for the evening but suddenly you get put back into work mode.” And using your phone or device to arrange fun, private life activities, such as arranging suitable dates for a large group of friends to meet, can feel like work.
During her talk, Claudia will be offering advice and tips almost as if she’s a life coach. “People are reading the book and tweeting me to say that they are now trying to put some of these things into practice. I can’t tell you how amazing it is that it’s making a difference. I will be talking about how you can create your prescription for a rest. It’s not one size fits all, though. But I will be explaining how you can work out what is right for you and how to find out ways for incorporating more rest into your life.”
Claudia interviewed author Richard Maybe for her book. The nature writer will be talking at Shaftesbury’s ‘Reading The Land’ Book Festival in November. With many survey respondents feeling that being close to nature provides a restful experience, I asked Claudia whether Shaftesbury residents have better rest opportunities than city dwellers.
“I live in London and there are parks there, but it would be amazing to be able to walk out of your door, go down the street and be in the countryside. That is a real advantage for people. If people like that and find it restful, they need to find the time to do it. If something is really easy to do right there, you sometimes don’t get around to doing it. I live in London and I could choose to go to the theatre every night, although it would be expensive. Because I know that they are there, I don’t necessarily get around to it. The same can be the case for people in the countryside. It’ll be there tomorrow so why do it? Just getting out for fifteen minutes can make such a difference to wellbeing, if that’s something that you like.”
Claudia writes about permitting yourself to rest. So how does she suggest people should address sarcastic comments from colleagues or family members who dismiss a need to rest as laziness or loafing. “That’s true. 9% of people found resting frustrating because of negativity. There is an association with laziness,” she said, before adding, “Tell people about the evidence, that breaks are good for you. Take a two minute-long ‘micro-break’ at work, lean back in your chair and shut your eyes or stare out of a window for a while. Studies in South Korea have shown that an hour later people were concentrating better because they had this break. People aren’t less productive because they have had breaks.”
Claudia has been talking about her research and her book all over the country. She says that the mood of her audiences is a mix of curiosity and people who are overwhelmed. “The biggest response I get from people is that they are pleased that they have been given permission to rest. If people know that the evidence is there, and everything I talk about is backed up by evidence, some people say that it is good for them and they are going to do it”
You can book Claudia’s talk now on the Grosvenor Arms Hotel website. Tickets are priced at £10. Claudia presents “The Art of Rest, at 7 PM on Thursday, 13th February.
Last year, the Grosvenor Arms Hotel committed to bringing interesting and thought-provoking speakers to feed North Dorset’s curious minds. Hotel management has announced their programme of events for the rest of the season.
On Thursday, 27th February, Dorset-based writer and travel journalist Sophy Roberts shares her experiences of travelling to remote destinations. Her talk, ‘The Lost Pianos of Siberia’, starts at 7pm.
Stephen Moss, who won a BAFTA as the producer of BBC Spring Watch, presents ‘Birds in British Wildlife’ at 7pm on Thursday, 12th March. Stephen is the president of the Somerset Wildlife Trust.
At 7pm on Thursday, 19th March, stylist Natasha Musson gives tips on how to make your clothes work for you through colour, body shape, style, personality and sustainability.
The next talk, at 7pm on Thursday, 2nd April, is presented by Laura Jane Hughes. She founded the Shaftesbury-based Pregnancy Food Company. Laura is a nutritional therapist specialising in the female body and will explain how women can take back control of their bodies, covering a range of topics from periods to fertility, gut health to menopause.
An award-winning writer, Samantha Harvey, is the final speaker of the spring programme. The author of ‘The Western Wind’ will discuss her fiction and non-fiction work. The Bath-based writer’s recent release, ‘The Shapeless Unease – A Year of Not Sleeping’, has been highly acclaimed. Samantha addresses her audience at 7pm on Thursday, 16th April.
All talks can be booked on the hotel website.