- Jane hung up the phone. The nursing home had called again, her mother was refusing to eat, and could Jane please come immediately. When Jane got into the car, she was surprised by the waves of anger that she felt. It seemed like it was all up to her to take care of everything. Lately she moved in a blur from caring from her children and her husband to her students to her mother. It seemed like everyone always needed something and lately she was beginning not to care.
- Tom was barely ever home. The new job, while lucrative, had him on the road much of the week. Travel was exhausting, so even when he was home, he barely had the energy to keep up with his two year old.
- Sandy is a good student—maybe too good. She’s involved in a score of activities and taking advanced classes. She’s starting to have difficulty sleeping, she can’t relax, and at times, she can’t even focus. She’s starting to think that nothing she does is good enough, and so she may not even apply to college.
Definitions and Key Thoughts
- Western culture continues to push the limits, has become increasingly obsessed with the “pursuit of excellence,” and burnout has reached epidemic proportions, even within the church.
- Burnout is a stressful state characterized by physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, chronic fatigue, and lethargy.
- Someone experiencing burnout may:
-feel cynical toward life
-have a strong desire to “escape”
-experience a false sense of failure
-display emotional distancing, numbing, or apathy
-experience negative feelings toward others
-show inappropriate anger or sadness
-succumb to depression
-endure a resulting physical illness
-abuse alcohol or drugs
- Burnout is often experienced by those in the helping professions such as clergy, doctors, teachers, police officers, social workers, and others who work extensively with people. It is thought to result from the excessive demands that others place on their energy, time, and resources.
- Burnout can also be felt by caregivers of the chronically ill or by overburdened parents. These people often feel trapped by the demands of others, isolated, and unable to find sufficient time for rest and relief.
Assessment of Burnout
Q1 How are you feeling physically? (If you are experiencing burnout, chances are you haven’t been caring for yourself physically. If you haven’t had a recent physical, it might be time to schedule one.)
Q2 How are you feeling emotionally?
Q3 When did these feelings start?
Q4 What prompted you to seek information?
Q5 What are the stressors in your life?
Q6 How large a part does each stressor play in your stress level?
Q7 What kind of support do you get—both with your responsibilities and for yourself personally?
Q8 How do you perceive yourself? (For example, someone who feels that he must meet all the needs of an aging parent to be a “good” child is setting himself up for failure.)
Q9 What do you do for fun?
Q10 Are you able to relax?
Q11 What do you do when you relax?
Q12 What are the activities you’re currently involved in?
Q13 How would you prioritize these activities?
Q14 What can be taken out of your schedule?
Q15 What can be put into your schedule to help you have down time and family time?
Q16 What would keep you from doing that?
Q17 What is the worst thing that will happen if you say no or pull out of certain responsibilities?
Q18 What will happen if you do nothing?
Any physical concerns and issues should be addressed medically.
Try to take immediate action to gain some short-term relief from your responsibilities.
Try to mobilize family members and friends to begin sharing more of the load. Ironically, someone who is overburdened needs this help the most and is often least able to ask others to provide it.
There is both a short-term crisis component to resolving burnedout and a longer-term component of beginning to live life in such a way that burnout doesn’t reoccur. If you are burned out and overstressed, immediate relief is essential — begin to get adequate sleep, relaxation, and exercise. Then as you begin to recover, looking at some lifestyle issues that may have caused burnout will be important to preventing burnout from reoccurring.
1. Take Control
- Don’t relinquish control of your schedule to the whim of everyone else.
- Put a concrete plan in place to relieve yourself of some of your responsibilities. Enlist the aide of family members and friends. Name this as a crisis and validate your own need for others’ help and care.
- If you are a student, find the balance between what is essential and what is “extra.”
- Schedule days more sanely, humanely, and relationally.
2. Say No
- This is a very helpful word—and often the overworked don’t know how to say it.
- While some things can’t be dropped (if you’re a student you have to do homework, if you’re a businessman you have to travel, etc.), there may be creative ways to schedule to allow for less stress and more rest.
3. Understand God’s Will
- God never guides you into an intolerable scramble of overwork—after all, Jesus didn’t live that way.
- Before you say yes to any new activity, pray about it. Even if it’s a good activity, now may not be the time. Realize that there will be other phases in your life when the time will be better.
4. Slow Down
- Consciously slow the pace of life.
- Take the time you need to replenish your own resources.
5. Set Priorities
- When you set priorities, you may get less done, but you’ll be doing the right things.
- When you think about what really matters, much of your frenzied activity will be seen for what it is — frenzied.
Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. —Genesis 2:3
- From the very beginning, rest has had a special significance for God.
- God rested, and He made the seventh day a day of rest for us as well (Exodus 20:8-11).
So the Lord said to Moses: “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you. Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone.” —Numbers 11:16-17
- Pushing hard with many hours and demands can become counterproductive. We need to set boundaries around our time and energy to protect ourselves
- God is aware of our limitations and encourages us to lighten the load by delegating responsibility to others who can help us be more productive and effective.
- We should consider our responsibilities and how we can delegate to others in order to get the job done.
But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. —Isaiah 40:31
- Isaiah reminded God’s people of the value of waiting upon the Lord. “Waiting” does not mean inactivity; rather, it is patient service that is not overcommitted and overextended.
- Many desire to “mount up with wings like eagles,” but they assume that the harder they run the more likely they will fly. The harder people run the more likely they will fall. Instead, “those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.” Such “waiting” is the antidote for spiritual burnout.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. —Matthew 11:28-30
- Jesus says that He will take from our shoulders the heavy burdens that are burning us out, and replace them with an easy yoke, a light burden.
- Jesus is in touch with the burdens of life that we carry and how much they hurt and exhaust us. When we give our troubled hearts to Him, He gives us rest for our souls. That kind of rest will cure our burnout and renew our enthusiasm for Him.
And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” or there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves. —Mark 6:31-32
- Even our Savior, being God, was aware of His human limitations. He never seemed to be in a hurry; He didn’t work 24-hour days. Even as more and more people crowded to Him to hear His words and be healed, He would often withdraw into the wilderness and pray (Luke 5:15-17).
- After an exhausting time of ministry, Jesus invited His disciples to take a break in order to refresh themselves.
- A hectic schedule takes a physical, emotional, and spiritual toll on us. God knows that we need to come aside and rest a while so that we don’t burn out. He will refresh us so that we can continue to serve Him. Rest and refreshment is not wasted time.
Before Burnout: Balanced Living for Busy People, by Frank B. Minirth & Paul D. Meier
How to Beat Burnout I–II: Broadcast Cassette/CD, by Focus on the Family
Refresh, Renew, Revive: How to Encourage your Spirit, Strengthen Your Family, and Energizen Your Ministry, by H. B. London