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Change FMLA How to Psychology Rest Sabbatical

The Value of a Sabbatical

White Toyota 4Runner in open space near red rock canyon walls. iKamper roof top tent open and ladder from tent to the ground.
My rig, affectionately named Hot/Haute Sake, became my home for Part I of my sabbatical. Learn more about what sabbaticals are all about and how to plan for one. Photo: Red Rocks Canyon campgrounds, Las Vegas Nevada, Oct. 2021.

When I first thought about taking a sabbatical in order to reflect on my 30+ years in the healthcare field, it made professional sense. It made logical sense. Everything lined up on paper. It just didn’t line up with life.

The purpose of a sabbatical is to take time away from the world of work to reflect on your accomplishments, engage in personal development and enrichment, and consider professional development in your career.

For those in the corporate world, a sabbatical has sometimes overlapped with the need to take FMLA, a form of paid leave after a tenure specified by the company. Employees use FMLA for a variety of reasons, yet often the circumstances are more urgent: physical illness, disability due to injury, recovery from a surgical procedure, or care for an ageing family member.

I have lost count of the number of applications I have helped clients submit over the years. And with each one, I wondered if and when I would someday undertake my own version of unpaid leave from all work.

When I hit that 30th year in 2020, our world plunged into a global pandemic. All thoughts of taking that well-deserved and thought-provoking sabbatical disappeared behind a mask, face shield, blue plastic gown, and nitrile gloves. I worked until I was exhausted and asked by my own doctor to take a brief break. I did, and then jumped right back into the work, working in 2021 and hoping that things would improve.

Twenty months later, I started reconsidering whether a one-month sabbatical would work. And I am not alone. Perhaps you are considering something similar.

What is a Sabbatical?
As mentioned above, a sabbatical is an extended break from school, religious duties, work, and everyday routines. Its roots are found in religious literature of the ancient Hebrew people, such as Leviticus 25, which describes a break of one year after six years of regular harvest for the land to rest, with an implication that the people were not to press themselves or the land to produce more food for the purpose of selling for profit. The harvest of the seventh year was meant to be given to those in service to it. Loose translation: land and people should take a rest every seventh year, and the laborers were to enjoy the efforts of their labor without the pressure of production.

Today, sabbaticals are more typically between two to six months in duration. Extended sabbaticals tend to be paid for the first portion and unpaid for the remainder of time; however, there are some types of extended sabbaticals that are paid because of professional development that is involved. An example of this is a company that provides paid sabbatical to allow employees to volunteer for an environmental non-profit, or for a professional to pursue an academic credential.

For the most part, sabbaticals are not simply vacations, although there may be vacation time built into it. The main idea is a change from everyday work routine that frees one up to pursue other elements of life and work that would otherwise not be possible.


Who takes sabbaticals?

There are many people who take sabbaticals from their work, and many reasons to do so:

  1. A death or imminent death in the family with a need to manage an estate of the deceased or care of a remaining family member
  2. Injury, illness, or adjustment to disability of self or a family member
  3. Work burnout, after all other means to address the burnout has failed
  4. Academic pursuit
  5. Refreshing one’s career
  6. Volunteer work

How to Take Time Off for a Sabbatical

First of all, sabbaticals take planning. As a friend once advised me, take a look at Simon Sinek’s TedX video, “Start with Why” The video can help you tap into the inspiration for you to dedicate some perspiration to planning and preparing for a sabbatical, including saving some extra money if your sabbatical involves some unpaid time off, an entire overhaul of your work life, or further education.

Part of the planning may involve contacting your HR department to go over the policies and application process for time off. Some companies have sabbatical leave baked into their hiring contracts; others have a requirement of seven years of work before you qualify for sabbatical or FMLA under certain circumstances. You’ll want to find out if your job is protected while you are away, and how your role will be covered so you don’t get pulled back in if there is a challenge or crisis during your leave of absence.

If your sabbatical requires international travel, you will want to contact the countries you’ll be traveling to, and these days, that also includes understanding the requirements of the host country regarding COVID-19 protocols when arriving and leaving the country, as well as the risks to yourself and any household members traveling with you. I suggest you conduct a risk assessment regarding travel, and how much risk you can bear.

For example, if you travelled to a country that later went into a restrictive lockdown to deal with COVID-19 outbreaks, or if you have co-morbidities that put you at risk for severe illness and the country you wish to travel faces a challenge in their hospitals to provide care and beds, you may need time to plan a more extensive care strategy.

If you are working with a tighter budget and longer period of time off, you may need to look at your expenses and cancel or pause subscription-based expenses, monthly charges such as cable and Internet if you go abroad, and consider holding off on luxury purchases. Instead, you might want to schedule those doctor and dentist visits, make sure you are up-to-date with medical prescriptions and immunizations, and think ahead through the needs of your children and pets to anticipate expenses.

See You in January 2022

As my planned sabbatical Part 2 is about to start (Part 1 was in October to early November), I’m looking forward to the remaining month of a two-month sabbatical. I’m expecting to have good news to share with the counseling community when I return.

Categories
Change Psychology Resilience Rest

Is It Too Soon?

This is an opinion piece written by the owner of the Seattle Direct Counseling website and blog.

Have you come across a question on Social Media that asks you to share positive things you have experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Before I do some research as to what other people in the field of psychology think about this question, I tuned into my own feelings. Mine are obvious, and you are free to disagree, yet I would ask you to read the entirety of this post and take a breath before you respond.

Nope. It’s too soon for me to share a list of silver linings. There are still people getting sick, still people dying, and still people grieving the loss of their loved ones because of COVID-19. There are still people who have lost their jobs or who are still bouncing back from economic hardship. There are still people getting evicted, moving because they can no longer afford their homes due to job loss, and still having difficulty making ends meet. There are still children and parents struggling to juggle in-person, remote classrooms, hybrid versions, and work-life balance. There are still essential workers from groceries to healthcare that are burned out, overworked, and traumatized by the care and servicing of sick, frightened, angry, and sometimes selfish people, all while they grieve the loss of fellow colleagues.

This is not to say that I haven’t seen or heard people experiencing many positive changes in their lives this year. Yet the question wasn’t just about positive changes. The question was about making a direct correlation between a pandemic – that has the potential to kill 20% of the population regardless of health history, decimate whole family systems with its easy transmission through secretions, and disable world economies for a number of years – with positive benefits.

I believe the question was intended to get people thinking about gratitude. The other potential meaning behind the question is what I find troubling.

I find that we’re often asked to make a list of positive outcomes when we’ve gone through a tough time. The problem is this: the tough time hasn’t ended. With the coronavirus out of control in many countries around the world as well as right here at home, it feels too soon to ask people to conjure a positive attitude or to list what good things they have experienced since the pandemic hit their respective towns and cities. It’s like asking people to diminish the real pain and hardship they have experienced, put on a smile, and move on, without getting to the real deal behind trauma and adversity.

If Not Silver Linings, What Else?

Is there something helpful to focus on besides silver linings and gratitude lists in the midst of difficult times, especially if you actually tried to develop a more positive attitude and found that to be — well, not very helpful?

If I could wish anything for you now, it would be a combination of Rest and Resilience.

What I mean by Rest is a short break from the elements of your life that may be causing insomnia, heartache, loneliness, burnout, and financial strain. If the coronavirus is out of control in your town, getting rest is complex. I understand you can’t let your guard down. Yet Rest can come in waves, from remembering to take time breathing fresh air when you can step outside and away from crowded areas, to choosing to turn off your smart devices at least an hour before bedtime so your brain can go into recovery mode.

Rest can mean snuggling with your pets and household members, singing along with a song you love, connecting with a friend via Zoom, or quietly putting together a puzzle while silencing distraction and stress. Rest can mean you give yourself a break from trying so hard to make this year’s holiday celebrations look exactly like previous years, especially if the means to do that cost you or others more than you can afford or risk.

What I mean by Rest is that if you have time off from work for the holiday, take it, and take it seriously like it meant your life. Rest. Your mind and body need it. If you must create something to do, you can invigorate your mind through the Art of Doing Nothing.

What I mean by Resilience is the capacity through a developing pathway or routine to adaptation through adversity. It involves mental and emotional toughness that can be built over time by allowing yourself to feel and experience something difficult, and then acknowledging what you did and how it felt as you got through it. It’s the acknowledgement that you weathered something uncomfortable if not downright painful, and you did not die.

Resilience can look like you buying your first couple of cloth masks at the start of the pandemic, moving through your feelings about wearing them, learning how to make your own, and giving or selling masks to others to help others. The next time you find yourself worrying about the pandemic, you may also realize you have adapted your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors – “I am concerned, I feel myself feeling anxious, I remember to put on my mask when I must leave my house”- in such a way that that you feel stronger to face the day. Over time, this might even feel easier.

Resilience can sound like learning to be more clear and direct with your words and actions, beginning with loved ones and expanding to your interactions with co-workers and community members. When you note how the choice to institute healthy boundaries around your time and energy has a payoff for you despite the fear of disappointment from others, you could be developing the necessary resilience to handle the kinds of uncomfortable emotions and thoughts that build when handling aspects of what so many of us fondly refer to as “adulting”, only it can feel like Adulting on Steroids.

At its most basic elements, Resilience involves personal growth. At its height and breadth, Resilience allows you develop something I call Relentless Forward Progress. It’s that part of us that can become more than we thought (and not to be confused with productivity), allowing even trauma, adversity, illness, and accidents to shape us. We would never wish these events on anyone, yet at the same time, the resilience that people can develop from having gone through these things can be profound. For more on what psychological resilience is, check out this link.

If making a list of how you think you’ve benefited by the pandemic coming to your door makes you feel more hopeful and upbeat, I’m not saying you should stop making that list.

What I am suggesting is that it wasn’t the pandemic itself — a virus that can kill — that should be celebrated right now. Rather, it’s your adaptive responses to it — and all kinds of adversity — that deserves cake and a happy dance.

Categories
Psychology Recovery Rest

Benefits of Recovery

Welcome to Daylight Savings 2016, and the loss of another hour of sleep!

Woman (and author of post) laying in bed sleeping under white covers, with two Siamese cats seeping on a pillow and on her foot.
Zzzz! Learn about the benefits of rest, recovery, and naps! Photo courtesy of Imei Hsu. Use only with permission.

A few seasons ago, an experienced athlete shared with me a piece of sage wisdom:

“You can only race as well as you can recover.”

It’s the occasional freak of nature — and perhaps our belief that we may be that one percent or less of the overall population — that drives us to behave in ways that are contradictory to the well-understood and time-tested fact that athletes perform better when they get consistent rest and recovery times along with their training, nutrition, body work, and other medical care.

Many people were stunned when marathoner Ryan Hall announced his retirement at age 33. Hall, cited as one of the greatest American marathoners in history, had been struggling with fatigue and low testosterone. The rigors of training for one marathon and half marathon after another had taken its toll on his body and particularly his hormone balance.

As a therapist, I see very few clients who perform at these high rigor levels of demand in their work lives and private lives. What I do see are people who have extremely busy and productive schedules at work, at home, and even at play. To find time to “have it all and do it all”, many of them cite sleep as the activity they give up most often.

To get all the items checked off the list, the kids shuttled to soccer practice and ballet dance lessons, projects at work finished and home renovations projects completed, to care for an aging parent, and make sure the pet gets its surgery and regular teeth cleaning — well, sleep gets whittled down to the bare minimum to get by.

But at what cost?