Have you ever had a day where you felt completely drained, depleted, and like you had nothing else left to give? Juggling so many tasks on a regular basis can make you feel like you are stretched so thin that you may even pass out — ministry life, social life, family life, repeat. It feels like it never ends!
Having occasional days like this is normal, but when those days turn into weeks, you are likely experiencing burnout.
Many of us have heard of the term burnout and we’ve probably used it a time or two. But what does it actually mean?
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged periods of stress.
A key indicator of burnout is a persistent tiredness or exhaustion that is not easily relieved by rest.
Unfortunately, burnout is not completely abnormal. Burnout impacts everyone but certainly those who work in helping professions such as healthcare, emergency responders, mental health, and ministry.
Burnout Indicators in Ministry
In ministry, burnout can be caused by….
- Unrealistic Expectations
- Misplaced Priorities
- Lack of Professional or Personal Boundaries
- Insufficient Recognition or Reward
What to Do When You’re on the Edge of Burnout
In the midst of extreme burnout, it’s easy to think that the most practical approach to recovery is to quit your job and look for something else. However, burnout can be successfully managed. It is possible to learn to reduce your load and find moments of relaxation.
Here are five things to do when you are on the edge of burnout:
1. Recognize the Warning Signs
Just because burnout is a normal reaction when overwhelmed does not mean it should be ignored. Not doing anything about it can suppress your immune system and make it easier for you to catch illnesses. It’s helpful to watch for signs that indicate that overwhelm is slowly creeping in.
The main areas of symptoms to watch out for include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling chronic lack of energy
- Feeling detached
- Feeling irritable
- Feeling negativity, skepticism or cynicism about your work
Overtime, burnout can negatively impact your work performance which can lead to even more detachment, negativity, and cynicism. Burnout can sometimes take weeks or longer to recover from, so it’s good to spot symptoms early.
2. Saying “No” Even After You Have Said “Yes”
This is one of the hardest things to do. Most of the people that I’ve met in ministry are conscientious, relational-people who hold a high bar for…well, just about everything. It’s hard to say no and even harder to do so once you’ve committed yourself to something. However, setting personal and professional boundaries is a key way of slowing down early signs of burnout.
If you are asked to take on an extra work task when you would prefer to rest and recover, just say no. Even if you initially agreed. During times of burnout, mental wellness should be the priority.
Occasionally turning down requests allows you to say “yes” towards commitments you want to make.
Here are three other ways to create healthy boundaries.
- Take regular breaks during your day.
- Completely disconnect from social media and email after work hours.
- Be sure to use the end of your workday and holiday breaks to completely recover and restore.
3. Make Time to Rest and Restore
Do you remember the old-adage, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy? If not—no worries, it’s kind of an old reference. But it still rings true. Essentially, a never-ending workflow can leave you with very little time for hobbies or doing those things that bring about feelings of joy. When stressed, it’s easy to continue to focus on work. It’s even easier to lose sight of the other activities that you enjoy such as spending time with family or friends or engaging in another activity that feeds your more creative side.
Don’t just wait for “free time” to surface. Be intentional. Carve out time to catch up on a hobby you previously put aside or take on an exciting project. Choose an activity that is purely fun with nothing work-related. When you maintain some type of work-life balance, you can successfully recharge and avoid burnout.
Finally, helping others (outside of your usual ministry obligations) can provide you with an uplift beyond what you do in your formal work. Look for volunteer opportunities that pique your creative side. See if there are childcare or animal shelter needs in your neighborhood. Spending unstructured time with children and animals can be mentally beneficial. The difference you are making will help you forget all about the “have-to’s” and focus on the “want-to’s.”
Stress and trauma are stored in the body so it’s important to move your body. This may seem like a silly thing to do when you feel too exhausted to breathe, but various studies have shown exercise to be an efficient stress-reliever. Exercise doesn’t have to eat away at all of your extra time. Try exercising for just half an hour per day or for ten minutes three times a day. In the morning, afternoon, and night.
Moving your upper and lower body can improve your mood, sharpen your focus, and relax you. You can either join a gym or try in-home workouts. There are a number of wonderful free routines on YouTube that include yoga, dancing, cycling, or kickboxing. Cardiovascular activity helps to discharge excessive stress-related toxins and release endorphins—which are those feel good hormones.
5. Reach Out for Support
Bottling everything you are feeling inside is not healthy. It will just make you even more overwhelmed. Reach out to your friends and family when you are feeling overcome with emotion. Connect, particularly, with those who love you well and walk closely with God. Never think you will be a burden to them. They may even be flattered that you sought them out as a sign of trust and love.
You can also find a community group of ministry leaders who have dealt with burnout and found effective ways to cope. Connecting with them on a regular basis will help you feel less alone. If you’ve tried everything mentioned on this list and still feel overwhelmed, consider speaking to a mental health professional. By speaking to a therapist, you are relying on a trained professional who will actively listen, not judge you. They can help you find effective solutions to reduce your ministry-related stress.
Chinwé Williams, PhD, LPC, NCC, is a licensed clinical therapist and owner of Meaningful Solutions Counseling & Consulting in Roswell, Georgia. Dr. Williams specializes in adolescent, young adult, and family mental and emotional wellness. She has most recently served as an associate professor, college and high school counselor, clinical therapist, and executive coach. She is also a consultant for schools, non-profit, faith-based, and corporate work settings. Dr. Williams is the co-author of the new book Seen: Healing Despair and Anxiety in Kids and Teens Through the Power of Connection. To find out more, please visit TheSeenBook.com