How Sabbath Rest Can Help Manage Stress and Anxiety

The idea of Sabbath has always seemed to me like a strange, Old Testament word. I couldn’t see how it applied in our modern life.

My understanding of the Sabbath began to change as I looked for ways to manage stress and anxiety. Rest is always at the top of the list for those struggling with chronic stress. But, I’m not naturally able to “rest.” So, I was surprised to find that there were few practical suggestions on the interwebs. Mostly it was generic advice like, “you need to learn to rest,” and, “you need to find ways to manage your stress.” Yeah, I know, but how??

So I kept digging.

Tulip field and blog post title

That is when the word Sabbath started to show up. I began to discover what the word means, what Sabbath rest look like, and what does the Bible say about it. Slowly I began to develop and a better understanding of what this type of rest was really about.

What is Sabbath?

According the Merriam Webster Online, the word  Sabbath means:

  • The seventh day of the week observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening as a day of rest and worship by Jews and some Christians.
  • Sunday, observed among Christians as a day of rest and worship
  • A time of rest.

Sidenote: The word sabbatical comes from the word sabbath. It’s a Greek word that means “of the sabbath.” Often it refers to an extended leave of absence, usually for 1 year off for every 7 years worked.

In the Old Testament, Sabbath is first referred to in Genesis, it’s #4 in the 10 Commandments. It is referred to over 100 times in the Old Testament.

In my personal journey, I have come to define Sabbath as a time to stop my usual day-to-day activities of work and trying to keep on top of my to-do list. It’s not merely about physical rest. It’s about worship, gratitude, connecting, creating, and so much more.

Adopting A Sabbath Habit

This past summer, I started to incorporate a Sabbath habit into my weekly schedule. And, it’s been harder than I expected.

There still are weeks I don’t set aside time for intentional rest. When I skip, I usually end up paying for it the following week.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that the day of the week you choose is not nearly as important as actually doing it. For many people, Sunday is simply not feasible. If you are a shift worker, a Pastor, or on the road traveling, Sunday may not work for you, and that’s okay.

Another lesson I’ve learned is that jumping straight into a full 24 hour Sabbath habit is usually unrealistic. I suggest starting with small steps, start where you can.

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  1. Choose one day when you will not be on social media.
  2. Choose a 3-4 hour block of time where you have technology turned off, with no agenda planned.
  3. Schedule 15-30 minute blocks of time when you paint, play with the kids, go to a park or coffee shop to read, write, or people watch.
  4. Have friends over for a simple meal.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. Make it simple enough that you will actually do it!

When I first started, I did two things. First, I picked a day where I would not be on social media. Second, I decided on a block of time where I would not have a to-do list at my fingertips.

It’s not easy. In fact, it’s still hard. I used to feel guilty for not getting items crossed off my to-do list. My first instinct was to go look at Instagram or create a list of things I wanted to accomplish in this block of time. When I tried that, it didn’t work. That list just kept me in producing mode, not rest mode.

It’s taking time, practice, and patience to re-frame how I look at this set-aside time.

Practicing Sabbath

My routine is still adapting and changing, and I haven’t found a rhythm that works perfectly yet. But, what I have seen is that setting aside time to rest and recharge makes a difference in how I deal with stress and anxiety. The weeks I skip, my physical and mental health worsens. The weeks I have a Sabbath day, my ability to manage stressful moments improves.

Choosing to rest is a decision I have to make each day and week. It takes practice, and it takes discipline. But, I am finding it is worth it.

Sabbath as Trust

One of the most important lessons I’m learning is that Sabbath is an act of trust. It’s a decision to set aside my striving, and say, “I trust you, God, and your promise to provide.”

Rest, gratitude, trust, hope, love… they are all choices. I rarely feel like resting, I want to tackle my to-do-list and feel productive. Slowly, I’m learning to choose rest. I see it as an essential piece of the healing journey I’m on.

“Sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.”
Mark 2:27a

Sabbath Resources

Below is a list of a few of my favorite resources about Sabbath:

What about you? Do you set aside time each week for Sabbath Rest?

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