A Sabbatical Prescription for Stress – Part 2

by Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical on March 18, 2011

Last week I talked about stress and the physiological effects it has on our body.  You can read A Sabbatical Prescription for Stress Part 1 here.  Today though I want to focus on why and how taking a sabbatical may help you better manage stress.A Sabbatical Prescription for Stress

Now some may argue that taking a sabbatical, especially one where traveling with kids is involved, can be even more stressful than sitting in an office all day.  I’m not going to deny that traveling with kids can be stressful but I’d argue that it is a different kind of stress and not one that lingers with you or leaves embers burning deep inside you for months or even years.

A life spent in constant labor is a life wasted, save a man be such a fool as to regard a fulsome obituary notice as ample reward.  ~George Jean Nathan

A recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggested that employees who leave on a sabbatical return to work feeling refreshed and energized and came away feeling that the sabbatical experience led to enhanced professional development.  It also showed that those who remain completely detached from work (meaning no contact at all with the office while on sabbatical) fared much better upon their return having an overall decline in stress back on the job.

Some major corporations and companies are catching on to this as well. Some big companies that have sabbatical policies include FedEx, Genentech and General Mills.  They use their sabbatical policy as a way of motivating and retaining their top performers.

As I’ve researched taking my own sabbatical and looked at the sabbaticals that others have taken I’ve realized that there are some guidelines that are good to follow if one wants to get the most benefit and stress reduction from their sabbatical.  Obviously every sabbatical is going to be different but I think these guidelines are good things to think about when pursuing your own extended leave of absence.

Set goals to accomplish during your sabbatical

 Your employer doesn’t really want to hear about how stressed and burnt out you are.  So don’t go there. Instead the best case to make for your sabbatical is a business case, not a personal one.  You can do that by coming up with goals that you intend to pursue while on sabbatical.  Consider what you would like to accomplish while on sabbatical and sell it as a benefit to the company.
To reduce stress your sabbatical should have meaning and focus on achieving some goal beyond just lying on the beach all day (although you should do some of that as well).  Maybe you want to volunteer with an agency related with your employer or related to your career.  If it’s something you really want to do AND it’s a benefit to your company it’s much easier to sell and it provides you with the feeling of doing something worthwhile and meaningful.  I know from personal experience that anytime I am doing something that is meaningful my stress levels are significantly reduced.

Men for the sake of getting a living forget to live.  ~Margaret Fuller

But these don’t have to be a goals directly related to your career either.  Think big picture here and more metaphorically.  Say you went hang gliding or took a surfing lesson.  That experience of tackling a challenge translates into furthering you look at yourself and ultimately can translate into developing your leadership style.  The challenges and adventures you have accomplishing your goals will change you for the better and this in return teaches you ways to better manage stress.

Learn more about yourself

As I just mentioned you will be changed over the course of your sabbatical.  There is no denying that.  I know that I and my family will be changed forever.  The more you learn about yourself and about the ways that you deal with stress and events in your life the better you become at handling that stress.  Spend time thinking about why you do things a certain way.
Reflect on your life and what you really want.  The great thing about a sabbatical is that you have time to spend on yourself, away from all the hustle and bustle of the office politics and outside of the typical life rut.  It’s a time to re-evaluate your values and rethink your priorities. 

Take the time to stretch yourself and learn something new, experience something different.  Figuring yourself out goes a long way toward reducing your stress.  I can recall times in my life where just sitting down and meditating, listening to my own body and mind brought me back to a level where I realized everything that I had been worrying about and fretting over was nothing.  That realization is the money shot for reducing stress.

Connect with your family & friends

Family and friends are the most important thing we have.  Without them we are lost and lonely.  Even after enduring the most heinous day at work I can come home and see my family and it will all melt away.  A sabbatical is the perfect opportunity to connect more with family and friends and there are plenty of ways that this can be accomplished.
Take adventures together.  Try new foods together.  Spend time really talking with each other.  I’ve found that the spending time with family during our vacation time is when we really bond and it’s that family time and relationship building that lead to reduced stress levels.  Of course don’t forget to take some time for yourself away from the family.  You need that as well.

Get healthy and develop healthy habits

I’ve noticed that as work and the typical western lifestyle have devoured me my dietary and exercise habits have suffered.  Recently I’ve suffered from lower back problems and I can see how my lack of good habits and not using proper posture while sitting at a desk all day led to this.  When you are not feeling well and don’t have healthy habits you will suffer with stress and have an inability to shake it.
I said above that family and friends were the most important thing we have and while they are critically important to our well-being the reality is our health is the most important thing we have.  Taking a sabbatical may be just what you need to get that whole healthy lifestyle thing you’ve been planning all these years back on track. 

You see for me the hold-up isn’t a lack of desire to start, it’s a matter of being overwhelmed with so many other things vying for my attention.  It’s an artifact of the culture we live in where we are bombarded with things all the time but what it really boils down to is just another excuse to maintain status quo.  And I think part of it is that along with all the other stress we have to deal with on a daily basis adding the stress of working out on a regular schedule for so many people is just too much despite the fact that exercise and healthy living is probably the best thing we can do for reducing our stress levels.

The bottom line here is that being healthy is the most important thing you can do during your sabbatical to not only accomplish those meaningful goals but to feel better and more energetic and less stressed out.

Hopefully this has been helpful in illuminating yet another positive benefit of taking a sabbatical.  I know that we intend to take all of these things to heart during our sabbatical and build healthy habits that lead to our being able to better handle any stress that comes up in our lives.

Sometimes it’s important to work for that pot of gold.  But other times it’s essential to take time off and to make sure that your most important decision in the day simply consists of choosing which color to slide down on the rainbow.  ~Douglas Pagels, These Are the Gifts I’d Like to Give to You

Coming up next week I’m going to start a series on crafting your own sabbatical proposal and how to sell it to your employer.  If you’ve been thinking about taking a sabbatical but afraid that your employer is going to say no way; then this series is for you.  I just finished writing my own sabbatical proposal and will be presenting it to my employer in the next few weeks so I’ll have lots to report on that, so stay tuned.

I’ll also have some news on Sabbatical 101 the email series that will be filled with tips and advice for planning your own sabbatical.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea March 18, 2011 at 4:23 pm

These are great tips! I firmly believe that everyone should take time from their careers to travel. You’ve really explained why and how people can present a good case to employers with this. Nice series =)
Andrea recently posted..Ascending the Beast- What Our Volcán Villarrica Climb Reminded Me About Life

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical March 24, 2011 at 12:28 am

You are right Andrea. I too believe that everyone should consider taking time to travel, experience and grow. The benefits are just to great to ignore and more companies should realize that and embrace sabbaticals as good business.

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Phil March 18, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Great stuff here! Thanks for the post Matt!
Phil recently posted..Guide to Music in West Africa- Senegal Part I

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Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical March 24, 2011 at 12:29 am

You are welcome Phil! Loved your post on Senegal music.

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