Write Your Sabbatical Anxiety Away

by Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical on February 10, 2011

I was reading an interesting study the other day in the journal Science that showed that students who wrote about test-related anxiety for ten minutes before taking an exam improved their test scores, some by up to one grade point.  Just the act of expressive writing decreased their worries and allowed them to perform better.

Write Your Sabbatical Anxiety AwayThis is counter-intuitive to what I would have thought.  Whenever I start thinking about my anxieties they only balloon up into a nuclear mushroom cloud and engulf my brain in a fog so thick I just succumb and often give up.  But apparently the process of writing about ones fears and anxieties actually reduces the tendency to think about and dwell on the negative aspects of such fears by allowing one to reexamine the situation in a different light.

So I started thinking about how I could apply this to my own anxiety and fears regarding planning and taking this 1 year sabbatical.  But why even stop there?  We could probably apply this to any stressful situation in our lives.

Where to start though?  There always has to be a starting point right?  There must be some rules and regulations to follow, things to do and things to not do.  I decided to throw it all out the window and just wing it.  Life doesn’t follow rules so why should I?

So I started writing about my fears in taking this sabbatical.  I wrote about my fear of running out of money on the road.  What would I do?  Would relatives bail us out?  Could I just get a job in Indonesia and earn some rupiah?  But isn’t that what all this planning and sacrifice is for; so that we don’t run out of money?  And what’s the worst thing that could happen if we did run out of money?  We’ll be mainly staying with family so it’s not like we’d be out on the streets.  We probably wouldn’t be the first to run out of money.  Why would we run out of money?

I wrote about my fears that my kids could come down with some tropical illness and get really sick.  Could we find suitable treatment for them?  Would it have long term effects?  Would they even God forbid die?  But they rarely get sick here at home so why do I think they would get sick somewhere else?  Our oldest son has traveled to Indonesia before and he survived (although we almost didn’t).  People get sick everywhere right?

I wrote about my job and whether I would be able to come back to something.  Would my employer save my job for the year I will be gone or will I have to resign and hope the position or a position is open when I return?  How will this adventure affect my current career or future career choices?  Do I even want to come back to the same career?  Can I make it doing something else?  It’s crazy to do something like take a sabbatical in this economy right?  I mean millions are looking for work ready to pounce on any opportunity.

I wrote about my worries over my kid’s education.  Would we be able to school them and allow them the opportunity to advance like their fellow students sitting in a classroom back home?  Are we smart enough and dedicated enough to stick with it and not get lazy and sloppy?  Are other parents really able to pull this off?  How are they able to do it?  I don’t know anything about being a teacher, or do I?

I wrote about every little worry or concern that popped into my mind.  I wrote and I wrote.  It all came out on paper filling sheet after sheet after sheet.  And you know what I found?  It really does work.  There really is something about the expressive writing process, the actual physical writing, the moving of a pen on paper that helps to put the proper perspective on our worries, insecurities, anxieties and fears.  Something happens between the mind thinking it, then twisting it and the hand writing it, that works to transition the fear and anxiety into coherent thought that makes you realize that all this fearful thinking is nothing more than just that; unproven and unsubstantiated fear.

FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real

Our mind is quick, maybe too quick at times.  When we write though we have to slow that thinking down, take time to analyze things and maybe that is when we are able to discern fact from fiction and realize that in most situations our fears will never actually materialize.  We most likely won’t run out of money.  Our kids won’t get sick any more often than any local kid does.  We are smart enough and dedicated enough to school our own kids.  We can do this and survive.

If you’ve wanted to do something that your mind tells you is nothing but crazy talk, try writing it all down on paper.  I’m not talking about typing it on a computer screen; I’m talking about going total old school on it and getting out the paper and pen and sketch your mind out.  I hope that as I discovered, you will find that as you write, your fears slowly start to fade away.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Gillian @OneGiantStep February 10, 2011 at 10:59 am

A great idea Matt. I’ve found that really facing the fear like this is helpful. It puts words to it rather than letting it run around with just unmanaged emotion. It may not get rid of the fear but it gives it a voice and a chance to be managed. And, often, I find that once written, or spoken, it just doesn’t have as much power. Thank you for sharing. Cheers.
Gillian @OneGiantStep recently posted..WanderLust

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matt February 11, 2011 at 11:31 am

Hi Gillian! I guess maybe this is something that bloggers knew all along. When you write things out, whether you publish them or not, it just makes whatever problems you are writing about seem that much smaller in the grand scheme of things. Of course maybe the opposite is true as well. 🙂 And I totally agree with you that it may not get rid of the fear entirely but it is another tool in being able to manage and deal with that fear and self-doubt.

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Srinivas Rao February 10, 2011 at 11:45 am

Matt,

I’m glad you wrote this. As you probably know I’m unexpectedly starting my own sabbatical much earlier than planned. Just a day ago I bought a one way ticket to Costa Rica. I had many of the fears you mentioned. I was freaked out that my boss might pull the plug on me while I’m abroad. Then my friend said “what’s the difference whether the plug is pulled here or in Costa Rica. The outcome is still the same.” Then I realize that my mind has gone into a tailspin of stress and anxiety, which is the FEAR you mention above. It’s interesting how this all impacts us.. Fortunately I think we’ll bot having amazing stories to tell at the end of all of this.

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matt February 12, 2011 at 1:38 am

Hey Srini! I’ve been thinking about you and the transition you are in the process of making. I know that we are both going to have amazing stories that are based on amazing experiences. I love your point here that life happen wherever you are, be it LA or Costa Rica, Oregon or Bali. People do react differently to stresses like this. Up to this point I’ve always almost always given into the fear. The one time when I took the bull by the horns and said to hell with it was when I flew to Indonesia and got married. Best time of my entire life. Then I quickly settled back into status quo. Now I’m grabbing those horns again and making my life exciting. And here you are doing the same thing, maybe a little earlier than you planned, but still you grabbed the horns. Looking forward to your journey and meeting up in Bali.

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Phil February 10, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Matt, great advice, and something that I will be trying myself. Have a lot going on right now, and too often worries and concerns are bleeding into other areas of my life. This looks like a great way to approach it. B well, Phil
Phil recently posted..A Guide to Music in West Africa- Mali Part III

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matt February 12, 2011 at 1:44 am

Hi Phil! This is something I find myself doing more and more of as our departure date approaches and the stress levels rise. I hope it works well for you too. Keep rockin’ it man!

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Matthew Kimberley February 10, 2011 at 12:52 pm

I took a lot away from this, but most of all your FEAR explanation. Will stick with me.

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matt February 12, 2011 at 1:51 am

Hey Matthew! I find fear is the primary thing that has kept me from doing many of the things I really want to do. Usually it’s disguised in the form of crazy or irresponsible or risky. But is that evidence real? Most of the time it’s not. Glad there was some value for you there. BTW…loved the video on your site with you and your CFO.

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Ryan February 15, 2011 at 12:27 am

Matt,

I really appreciate the depth of this post. I think travel anxiety is something everybody has to deal with, given that there are so many unknowns and variables… not to mention gigantic transition. Writing out your fears seems like good exercise, but it is something I haven’t really tried much on the road. Cheers, man!
Ryan recently posted..Get Spanish Help Right Now Using These 2 Resources

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matt February 16, 2011 at 1:19 am

Thanks Ryan! I think you are right that travel anxiety comes with the territory thanks to so many unknowns and being put into unfamiliar situations. I’d be curious to know how writing things out works for you if you happen to try it.

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Judy February 19, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Hey Matt,

Journaling has always help me work through anxiety.

I too am experiencing a lot of anxiety about my post-peace corps plans. Aside from journaling and planning the logistics of a 9 month sabbatical I find that reading your blog really helps me. Your honest and thoughtful posts remind me that fear is a normal part of the process.
Judy recently posted..Post-Peace-Corps-Plans

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matt February 23, 2011 at 12:29 am

Hey Judy! You know I really do believe that fear is a normal part of the process. At least I hope so as I’ve got plenty of it to spare. But we can’t let fear get the best of us if we want to live an exciting life making a difference in the world we live in. Keep living your dreams Judy.

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