De-Stress with a Weekend Sabbatical

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Just Three-Days to less stress...

Can you imagine taking a year off from work and doing something you have always wanted to do? Sleep until you wake up. Read a real book all afternoon. Stroll along the shore, or glide along the bay in a kayak. Maybe you want to travel, write, volunteer or just rest. It is not as much of a pipe dream as you might think. Many people take a break from work- they call it a" sabbatical". 

Sabbatical is a concept with roots in Hebrew religious practices. It is a rest or ceasing of work for a designated time. These days, a sabbatical is often a mid-career pause. It can take many forms, affording the time to do research, learn new skills, write, volunteer for a cause, or travel. At the end of the sabbatical time, you return to work and continue your career.

Even though a traditional sabbatical lasts from a couple of months to a year, there is no hard and fast rule for how long a sabbatical should last or what you should do during that time away. For most of us, taking an extended leave from work seems almost impossible. Although there are companies and educational institutions with sabbatical policies, they are few and far between. Short of convincing your company to start a sabbatical program, how can you reap the benefits of sabbatical when time off is so hard to come by? 

Perhaps we need to re-define sabbatical. Since the length of time is not dictated and the activities are not strictly defined, we may be able to modify the traditional sabbatical to suit current lifestyles. In her book, "Pause" Rachael O'Meara makes a point of couching the idea of sabbatical in much shorter terms- in her case just three months. She also shares the stories of others who have redefined sabbatical to fit their own goals and available time. The amount of time you take is really up to you.

Short pauses from work can be helpful in refreshing your mind and spirit, encouraging more creativity, effectiveness, and an improved attitude. The difference between a sabbatical and a vacation is in the goal for the time spent. The idea is to stop what you "always do" and engage your mind in an activity that allows you to be present to the moment. You reset your thinking, refresh yourself mentally, and bring that feeling back into your daily life. 

I have found that a three-day weekend works pretty well to 'hit the reset button'. Obviously, a longer break allows you to do more than a 3-day weekend but, when you can't arrange more time, a "weekend sabbatical" can help sustain you until a longer break is possible. Three days is enough time to get out of town, settle into a comfortable spot, and enjoy a bit of rest, reflection, and fun.  

My husband and I bought a small RV for just this reason. Both busy with careers in two different cities, we needed time together away from the demands of work and community. We frequently arranged 3-day weekends at the lake, the coast, or a nearby forest to hike and kayak. For us, getting out in nature is healing. The sounds of water lapping against a kayak, the birdsong, insect hum, and the wind through the tree branches all contribute to a sense of exhaling.

Before we leave town, we mute our phones. That gives us three days without electronic interruption. Unplugging from electronic noise, constant demand, and instant response is liberating, allowing us to re-center ourselves without the pull of others' gravity. It also allows us space to talk, laugh, tell stories, and ponder big questions. Talking about work is taboo for these weekend sabbaticals. This is a time to re-discover our true selves, "B.C." - before careers!

The real secret to these short getaways is the type of activities you choose and the deliberate way you experience them. Look for things to do that are unlike anything you do at work or at home. Go for a hike, kayak, take a stroll through a small town or browse in art galleries. Plan a quiet dinner together, spend evenings by the campfire, and stargaze late into the night. We like to sit outside and read or play ukulele for hours at a time.

These are the kind of things most of us never "have the time" to do at home. Consider a trip to explore a new hobby like photographing sunrises on the beach, fly fishing lessons in a slow-moving stream, attending a local festival, or enjoying a guided tasting at a winery. Each activity is experienced as it occurs. Try to stay "in-the-moment" and not anticipating the "next activity" or worrying about "what ifs". There is no multitasking allowed on sabbatical. Simply set aside other thoughts and enjoy the activity as it unfolds. By the end of the weekend, you will be physically relaxed, mentally refreshed, and ready to step back into your busy life. 

These little breaks in your life re-energize you. They remind you that work is not the only activity in life. Though your work is important and enjoyable, engaging in weekend sabbatical-type activities every couple of months, makes continuing your work easier. It gives you a different perspective on the impact of your work and helps you to better evaluate your contributions to your work community. You have the mental space to step back and see your life as it really is.

Sound like something you want to try? It takes a little planning but it is well worth the effort. Begin by writing out what you want/need to get out of your weekend sabbatical. Are you exhausted and need to rest? Do you want to see a new place or learn a new activity? Maybe you want to spend some time alone with your thoughts? Any or all of these are good goals for a weekend sabbatical but focus on just one goal for this first trip. 

Now that you have your goal in mind, consider where you might be able to accomplish that goal. Take a map and draw a three-hour drive radius around your home. This is an easy drive distance for a weekend sabbatical. Your destination does not have to be three-hours away, just no more than three hours away. You don't want to be driving the whole weekend.

Where in that circle would you like to go? If there are state parks in the area, they offer an affordable option with a variety of accommodations. Most state parks have cabins to rent, tent sites for campers, and RV sites for RVers. You might also consider a Bed & Breakfast in the area. Our blog offers destination profiles for many areas in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina, outlining things to do and places to camp. We add new destinations frequently, most within a three-hour drive of a metropolitan area. 

The key piece is deciding when to go. Checking availability at campgrounds or other accommodations is a good place to start.  Come up with two or three possible dates and look for matching availability. Campsites and cabins are often booked weeks in advance, especially for weekends, so consider state parks, county parks, National Recreation Areas. B&Bs or even vacation rentals can offer weekend specials in the off-season.  

Once you find your accommodations and set your dates, begin outlining what you might like to do when you get there. If you choose a nature-centered sabbatical, you might want to fish, kayak or hike. Research those activities and gear you might need to rent or purchase. If you want to explore a small town, visit their website to see what they have to offer - maybe a museum or a festival? This part of the planning can be the most enjoyable. You do not have to do anything outside of your weekend goal, and you have permission to change your mind. Resting is a time-honored activity for a weekend sabbatical, so don't plan yourself into exhaustion. Choose one, maybe two activities and leave it at that. 

The only item left on that sabbatical "to do" list is to go. Making plans and reservations helps with the "going" and can keep you from being talked out of your weekend sabbatical. You earned it, you planned it, you need it. Do this for yourself! Once you have experienced a weekend sabbatical, you will probably want to develop a regular schedule of these "work-pauses". Consider planning one three-day sabbatical every quarter. You'll be surprised how it improves your effectiveness on the job. 

Want to know more about planning a sabbatical? Download our Sabbatical Planner...