The Shrink’s Links: Sabbatical of the Mind

Bringing you the best of mental health every week.

31188992Six years from retirement, working for a three-letter government agency, David L. Winters suddenly quit his job so he could devote some time to getting a handle on his anxiety, his over-eating, and to deepen his faith.

Winters relied on medication to manage nearly disabling panic attacks. The meds weren’t helping him manage very well. His life was a grind. Long DC commute. Long DC work hours. Frustrating meetings as an elder of a dying church. So, he quit his job and searched for answers to life’s big questions. It didn’t take very long, just five months, and he was ready to return to work, better than ever.

Then he wrote a book about his experience: Sabbatical of the Mind: The Journey from Anxiety to Peace. He also wrote a thoughtful appendix that may guide you, should you take a sabbatical of your own.

I get books for free sometimes with the expectation that I will give an honest review. That’s how I got Sabbatical of the Mind. What’s my honest review? For starters, the subtitle should read A Journey…, not, The Journey….

This is a much more serious criticism than it might sound. Winter had a good reason to go on his sabbatical and it sounds like it was good for him. In any case, he is the expert on what he went through, but one should not get the impression that this is the only way of addressing one’s anxiety. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to get from anxiety to peace.

Just the same, taking a sabbatical is a very good idea, I dare say, for everyone. It’s a good idea to unplug and do something radically different at least once a week. It may also be a good idea for some to install one of those apps on their computer so that it makes them take a mini-sabbatical every few minutes. For that matter, even your computer needs a sabbatical. What do you think its doing when you shut it down? Does it work better when you turn it back on? A sabbatical is a time-tested method of keeping yourself and your electronic gizmos refreshed.

So, what’s the down side? Is there anyone opposed to taking sabbaticals? There sure are and it’s not that slave-driving boss of yours who emails you when you’re on vacation. The barrier is you. Every human. When we get used to doing something one way, we resist doing it another. We struggle against change, even a change of pace.

Maybe that’s why many of us seem to need to be ordered to take a sabbath. In the Abrahamic religions, sabbaticals are sanctioned by God. The once a week variety even has a commandment of its own.

A sabbatical is a rest and recuperation from what you’ve been doing. I suppose, when you go to sleep at night, you’re having a sabbatical. Sleeping makes a big difference in how well you function when you are awake, but just going to sleep at night is not going to be enough if you just do the same thing every morning when you wake up. There need to be sabbaticals on top of sabbaticals, layers of sabbaticals so everything gets renewed.

You can rest and recuperate by doing nothing. But, you also rest and recuperate by doing something different than what you’ve been doing. When I’m done with a long day of shrinking heads, I get on the treadmill and run like a lion is chasing me. It’s relaxing. That, too, is a sabbatical.

Try this kind of sabbatical: For one meal, if you eat with your right hand, eat with your left. For one day, skip eating. If you sit in one chair, sit in another, facing the opposite way. Once in a while, drive a different route on your way to work. If you wear your shirt untucked, tuck it in. If you’re a tucker, pull it out. Anything you do, you can do differently. You might discover you like keeping your shirt untucked. You might discover why you like it tucked. You might become more flexible this way, less set in your ways. There are a hundred million ways you could conduct this kind of sabbatical. You could continuously be on sabbatical from something.

How about another kind of sabbatical? Get to know how someone else really thinks. Not just anyone. Someone who thinks differently than you. If you’re voting for Hillary, grit your teeth and listen to someone who’s for Trump. If you want to make America great again, listen to someone who is with her. I don’t mean have a debate. I mean really understand things from their point of view. Talking to someone who is different from you is a sabbatical, too. It refreshes your perspective. It teaches you that there are other ways. It gives you a break from having something to prove, an argument to make, a justification to trot out and groom. If nothing else, it helps you be more persuasive later.

What happens when you don’t take a sabbatical? Let me give you two illustrations, one from your own experience and the second from the book.

Undoubtedly, at one time or another, you have gone without sleep. You get tired, grumpy, and single minded in your focus. You make silly mistakes. You lose attention to detail. You’re more susceptible to depression, substance abuse, unrestrained anger, psychosis, or those panic attacks that Winters had. That’s basically what you get when you are overdue for any kind of a sabbatical.

The second illustration comes from Sabbatical of the Mind, but I don’t think it was intentional. If you get a copy, you’ll see that the author forgot to put page numbers in his table of contents. As a writer, I know how this happens. You get so used to seeing things as they are, you don’t know how they can be different. You try to do everything yourself, so you don’t use a proofreader. These things happen because you need a sabbatical.

Let me say that again. You are need a sabbatical. No matter who you are or what you’ve been doing, you need rest regularly, do something different, get another point of view, and switch things up somehow. You could have just completed a five month sabbatical from your job, and you will still need one.

Winters is an Evangelical Christian who seems to be writing for other Evangelical Christians. He talks a lot about God, but there is one essential point that anyone, Evangelical or not, Christian or not, God-believing or not, can agree. No matter who you are or what you think about God, you are not God. You need a sabbatical.

Click here to go to the link