An At-Home Wellness Sabbatical Is Exactly What We Need Right Now
At this point, it’s an understatement to say that the COVID-19 pandemic and a particularly contentious election has taken a toll on our mental well-being. In fact, the coronavirus alone has tripled rates of depression in adults in the U.S., according to a study published in September, with women affected at higher rates than men. The “solutions” for dealing with stress typically involve some form of self-care, ranging from a three-minute mindfulness break, to a relaxing bath, to a vacation or wellness retreat where you’re able to disconnect and reset.
Getting away from it all sounds great, but most people don’t have the time or money to make that a reality. And as much as people love advising others to fully “unplug” as a way to deal with stress, the ability to do so—as in, not answering phone calls or emails—is a privilege, and not necessarily an option for everyone. In situations like these, even just attempting to disconnect can end up being a source of stress as you think ahead to all of the ways you’re falling behind. That’s where wellness sabbaticals come in: getaways that on the surface may look like your average wellness retreat, but built into the schedule, alongside breathing exercises and pilates classes, are periods where attendees can get work done.
But as much as these are a more realistic step forward, in terms of acknowledging that not everyone can completely unplug from their job, they’re still out of budget for a lot of people. Or in other cases, perhaps someone can financially afford a wellness sabbatical, but isn't able to take one because of family or other responsibilities, or pandemic-related travel restrictions. Fortunately, there is another option: at-home wellness sabbaticals. Here’s what you need to know about taking one.
What is a wellness sabbatical?
An at-home wellness sabbatical involves more than squeezing a walk in once a week: it’s more of a commitment. According to Kevin Carter, the CEO of Hilton Head Health, which offers wellness sabbatical getaways through its WorkWell program, they should last a minimum of two weeks—whether your sabbatical is at home or somewhere else. “The idea is not to completely unplug from work, as that's simply not realistic in today's world, but rather find a way to work and focus on health and wellbeing at the same time,” he says. “It's about finding balance on a little bit of a lighter-than-usual-work schedule.”
How to plan an at-home wellness sabbatical
While it’s absolutely possible to take a wellness sabbatical at home, Carter stresses that your success will come down to making a plan and sticking with it. “It's going to require really treating your home as if you are somewhere else,” he explains. “It's very easy to slide back into old habits when you are home.”
Potential activities for an at-home wellness sabbatical
There are plenty of options for how to fill your day during an at-home wellness sabbatical, though there are a few things you should keep in mind. First of all, it should go without saying, but avoid watching or following the news as much as possible during your sabbatical. And as much as relaxing with a few episodes of your favorite TV show may be, Carter suggests trying something new instead of falling back into the usual methods you use to unwind. So even if you don’t meditate regularly, for example, don’t let that stop you from incorporating it into your wellness sabbatical. And, of course, make sure you’re getting enough sleep during this time, using it as a chance to reset any poor sleep habits you may have picked up during times of high-stress. Here are some specific strategies and activities to consider for your schedule.
What are some of the benefits of an at-home wellness sabbatical?
As we know, stress can wreak havoc on our bodies and make us feel miserable, sick, and exhausted. But, as Leblanc points out, we are not always aware of when we are under stress because our symptoms have become so familiar that we think they are normal. And it certainly doesn’t help when you look around and see so many others with the same symptoms—this only reinforces the idea that living with stress is just the way it is. “When you no longer recognize your stress level, or when you ignore your symptoms of stress, you are at greater risk of experiencing burnout,” Leblanc explains. “An at-home wellness sabbatical can help you pause and reflect on how you’re spending your time and energy and whether it’s really working for you. It can help you press the reset button on your life and help you realign yourself with your goals, values, vision, and with your own wellness needs.”
Not only does an at-home wellness sabbatical give you a chance to slow down and pay attention to how you feel—while still being able to get work done—it’s also a helpful way to reset your daily schedule, even once the sabbatical period is over. Taking a two- or three-week sabbatical can repattern your brain so that new neuropathways develop to reinforce your new choices, Silverman explains. “Once we have experienced a more balanced and healthier lifestyle, we can learn to integrate this into our daily lives,” she says. “Stretching first thing in the morning becomes our new habit, as natural as brushing our teeth. Going for a daily walk is as essential as doing laundry. Taking time to meditate and be creative is just as necessary as taking a shower.”