Stress. Just hearing the word makes your muscles tense up. We all know that stress is a part of life. You cannot completely eliminate stress from your life (unless you live in a bubble), but you may be able to limit it – it’s how you manage stress that matters. Some forms of stress can be controlled or avoided – saying “no” to things that will overtax your already stretched limits; or walking away from a toxic relationship. Other stressors may be more out of your control to regulate. When I am feeling overloaded with stressors, I remind myself to control the controllables. What are the things that are within my reach to contain, avoid, or change? I focus on adjusting those. And then take deep breaths. Seriously. I do take deep breath – it helps.
Stress impacts each of us differently. Some people absorb so much stress, that it begins to leak out of their bodies via physical illness and somatic symptoms. Others experience extreme emotional distress related to their stressors, and struggle with depressed mood, anxious overbearing thoughts and cannot quiet the nonstop chatter in their minds. For others, stress creates an aching that they feel deep in their soul, a nagging sense of discontent and uneasiness, and they long for an existential answer – for peace. We all need moments to relax our bodies, quiet our minds, calm our spirits. Without it, we are risking our health, in every way.
Study after study proves our need for rest, aka mental downtime, to promote optimal health – including mental health. That is true more than ever, with technology and our addiction to our smart phones and other devices, draining our already overworked minds. Harvard Health Publishing did a study in 2009, and just republished it with an update last week (June 19, 2018), highlighting the correlation between sleep and mental health: https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/sleep-and-mental-health
Want to improve your mental health? Take a sabbath.
Sabbath is the fancy word for rest. If you look it up, the actual Webster’s definition is, “a day of religious observance and abstinence from work, kept by Jews from Friday evening to Saturday evening, and by most Christians on Sunday.”
You don’t have to be religious to benefit from this timeless idea. Although I do want to point out that this idea is rooted in Scripture. (Exodus 20:9-10) This concept is so important that it made it into the Ten Commandments. The universal key in the dictionary definition is “abstinence from work”. News flash: We weren’t meant to work all the time!
Hope whispers, Give yourself permission to rest.
I have a framed piece of artwork hanging in our home that says, Take time for quiet moments, as God whispers and the world is loud. It’s true – the world is noisy. And chaotic. Sometimes confusing. And often overbearing. Lots of voices compete for our attention. You can’t connect with God, others, or even yourself when you are always tipping the scales of your life with to-do lists, demands, pressures, and the voices of expectation. Your relationships suffer when you are worn out, burnt out, and stressed out.
You have to choose to practice a sabbath – no one else can do it for you.
I have noticed that when I practice this principle of taking a sabbath I feel healthier – physically, mentally, and spiritually. I sleep better. My relationships are stronger. I feel happier. I have a more positive attitude. And while I am not immune to stress, I am more resilient against it when I am rested. I don’t let things get to me, like I do when I am over-worked and under-rested.
I have discovered that I have one of those minds that never stops thinking. Sometimes it’s great because it means I’m an extremely productive person. Other times, it’s just plain annoying. It prevents me from resting well. Sometimes, I want to slow down my mind but can’t find the pause button. I have tried lots of things; meditation, prayer, mindfulness, melatonin, you name it, I’ve tried it, but my busy mind won’t stop. There is one place I have found where my mind miraculously pauses to rest.
The beach. I don’t know if it’s the hypnotic sound of the waves, the smell of the salt air, or the feeling of the warm sand between my toes, but the beach is my favorite place to rest and recharge. It is the only place where my mind just stops thinking. I can’t explain it. Within minutes of hitting the sand, my body, my mind, and my spirit all converge into the most peaceful state. Stress melts off my body and floats away into the breeze. I have thought about this (see, there I go – thinking again) and I wonder if the beach holds this kind of calm for me because I feel connected to God when I am there. The way the horizon stretches endlessly into the skyline reminds me of his endless love. The power of the pounding waves are a parallel to God’s power and ability to pound out the problems in my life. I feel God’s omnipotent presence in the ocean. And I am at peace in His presence. Maybe that’s why my mind quiets. I can be still. I can just be. I don’t have to do anything.
It doesn’t matter where or when you take your sabbbath – just make the time to take it. There will always be work to do, but you may not be able to enjoy life the way God intended if you don’t take care of yourself. That’s what a sabbath is all about – self-care. That may mean taking a break from work to play. Do you work hard? Then play hard too. Sometimes playing rejuvenates you, and that brings you rest. Try some different things to see what brings you the kind of rest, rejuvenation, and peace that taking a sabbath is meant to deliver. And then make it a regular part of your life. So that you can live the way you were meant to – healthy and balanced.