Want to do better, be happier, and stress less?  Take a Sabbath

Home / blog / Want to do better, be happier, and stress less?  Take a Sabbath

If God needs to rest on the seventh day, so do you.  Whether you believe in God doesn’t matter; the point is: when we humans imagined the most potent, powerful being possible, we recognized that even that being would need to rest each week.  If gods need regularly scheduled breaks, we mortals certainly do.

The “secular sabbath” I propose is not for worshipping an omnipotent being (though you can if you want).  It’s for refueling, gratitude, connection, and fun; to repair and restore yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and in soul and spirit.   This practice is enjoyable in itself and makes the rest of the week and life better.

At the most basic level, we need to sleep and rest in order to keep functioning.   The research on the detrimental effects of not sleeping enough is extensive.  At the extreme, we suffer a psychotic snap if we don’t sleep for days in a row.  Well before that, and when we are chronically under-slept, we suffer from depression; reduced patience, judgment, and resilience; and decreased productivity and creativity.   In other words, we become less effective, less joyful, and more stressed—far from our ideal self.

Taking a day off from the rat race lets you connect deeply with family, friends, and the more-than-human world—all of which are necessary for the well-being of heart, soul, and spirit.  Non-distracted, leisurely meals and conversations allow you to share and enjoy at a deeper level than is possible when you are rushing around and multi-tasking.  You can test this even before attempting a sabbath.  Begin a call while also checking messages, cooking, walking, shopping, etc.; then go somewhere quiet, sit, set aside everything else, and focus solely on the conversation.  What do you notice?  Eat a meal alone, doing nothing else—no reading, surfing the web, watching TV, etc.  Focus on the taste, smells, colors, and textures of the food.  Give thanks to the farmers, cooks, sun, soil, rain, worms, and pollinators for making this food for you.  How does this meal compare to your average meal-time experience?

Taking time to engage with the larger world (nature) also feeds our soul and spirit and provides needed perspective.  Quietly watch a sunrise, sunset, or moonrise; head out to the backyard, a park, preserve, or garden; or go out on the water and soak it all in.  Observe, smell, hear, maybe touch things you miss most days.  From personal experience, I can say watching a lizard hunt from just a few inches away is far more engaging than I would have guessed.  I’m still often surprised by how much time has passed while I was outside, but I’m no longer surprised by the calm and peace I feel as a result.

These fully engaged, all-sensory experiences inspire gratitude, appreciation, and awe—emotions all of us want to experience more often.  In addition, studies suggest they protect us from depression and stress, which seems logical.  I’ve never simultaneously felt awe and stress.

A weekly break from your routine can also increase your creativity and problem-solving abilities, if you use the time to do things you don’t find time for during the week.  Sabbath fun can include reading non-work material and engaging in a hobby or activity you’ve neglected or never tried—cooking, playing sports, drawing, crafting, singing or playing musical instruments, hiking . . . .  Choose whatever you like, but it should be something that you enjoy (even if it requires hard work), that is different from your daily work and errands.  If it helps you build friendships with different types of people, even better.  Often, creativity comes from putting together new things or by applying an approach from one field to another area.  The different inputs,  actions, and perspectives from your weekend activities provide the raw material that can lead to new ideas, connections, and approaches.  The time off also gives your subconscious brain space to simmer—to make connections, develop ideas, identify analogous situations—and then surface the insights into your conscious awareness.  Your play time can enable you to make leaps and progress that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

Maybe you feel like some of my clients: Sounds great, but not possible in my life.  Really?  Maybe it can’t be a full day each week, but how about 12 hours or half a day?  It could be from 7 p.m. one evening to 7 a.m. the next morning, from 2 p.m. until bedtime, or from the time you wake until high noon—I’m confident you can find some permutation to fit your schedule.

And then what do you do?  Here’s a general structure that works for me:  I have created a list of activities that are relaxing and restorative to me, and within those guidelines, I let the day unfold as it will, depending on the season, how I feel, etc.  My core sabbath activities include: rest—waking up naturally, rather than when the alarm clock dictates, and napping; time with family and friends—in person or by phone; outside time; some form of exercise; play time—which encompasses all kinds of fun-to-me things, from reading, writing, and movie-watching to sailing, meals with friends, walking outside, and going to concerts.   There is a lot of flexibility.  The keys are: 1) no work—not even “just” checking messages,  2) minimal external duties (if you are a care-taker for a dependent being, obviously you don’t neglect them, but neither do you need to chauffeur them all over town or go to every single event), and 3) moving at a natural pace.

I strongly encourage you to give it a try and see what a difference it makes.  Changing patterns of behavior and trying new things can be challenging, but once you experience the good affects of a regular sabbath, I think you’ll find it easier to carve out at least half a day each week for restoration, relaxation, and fun.

 

RESOURCES

A 4-Day Workweek? A Test Run Shows a Surprising Result: A New Zealand firm ran an experiment, letting its employees work four days a week while being paid for five.  The result?  Staff were more creative, their attendance was better, they were on time, and they didn’t leave early or take long breaks.

Be More Productive.  Take Time Off.  Software company 37Signals, now Basecamp, decided to take inspiration from the seasons and build change into its work schedule.  These changes included a 4-day work-week for six months of the year and giving everyone a month to work on whatever they wanted.  That month wasn’t a vacation, but everyone got to shelve their nonessential work and use the time to explore their own ideas.  That experiment led to the greatest burst of creativity; it was fun, a big morale booster, and ultraproductive.

Photo courtesy of Paulette Wooten on Unsplash

Alexandra Marchosky
Alexandra Marchosky
I coach individuals and organizations to do and be better by more fully living their values.
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