We live in a culture that pushes us to do more and do it better – a culture of never enough. We don’t have enough time, enough resources, or enough people. So we strive to become more efficient, more productive, and more proficient. We live busy lives, and busy people eventually burn out. Push yourself hard enough or long enough and burnout will happen. If you are burned out, this is a guide to help you find your way back to health and hope again.
Burnout happens when our output exceeds our input – when tasks outweigh relationships. If you are burned out, this trend will need to reverse. You will have to make some hard decisions and learn to say no. Your recovery must become your priority. If you try to recover while continuing to work at your previous pace, you will never recover. Eventually, your stress level will seriously affect your emotions, your mind, your health, and your relationships. In some cases, the damage may be permanent.
There are four hard decisions you need to make if you want to fully recover from burnout. You have to decide to get away, get alone, get help, and get clear.
Get Away to Recover
You will never recover from stress and burnout until you remove the source of stress from your life. Take some time off. A sprained ankle can’t heal while running a marathon. Your soul won’t heal unless you get some rest. You need a restful vacation or a sabbatical. Here are some principles for a good getaway.
- Take as much time away as you can – at least two weeks (three to six months is better).
- Exercise every day – pick something fun, but don’t push too hard.
- Take naps to allow your body to heal – most Americans are seriously sleep deprived.
- Develop a weekly Sabbath rhythm – One 24-hour period each week in which you do no work. This will be essential for avoiding burnout in the future.
Get Alone to Settle
Your soul is all stirred up and it needs time to settle. This will only happen in silence and solitude. Take at least 24 hours to be alone with God in silence. Again, longer is better. I needed three days before I was able to focus. Those distracting thoughts and fears that swarm your soul need to be acknowledged and explored before they can be released. Silence and solitude are essential to this task.
This time away is also for reinvesting in your relationship with God. Read and meditate on Scripture for the nourishment of your soul. Learn to pray in a way that you are no longer trying to control God but are opening yourself to his control of you. Develop some spiritual disciplines that deepen your relationship with God.
This can be a good time to plan future prayer retreats, schedule a weekly Sabbath, and develop a rule of life. I recommend monthly prayer retreats of at least one day and one additional day each quarter. I also recommend at least one extended retreat each year. An extended retreat is one to two weeks long. By planning these times away, you are building rhythms of rest into your life that will prevent future burnout.
Get Help to Heal
The longer you wait to get help for burnout the more serious the problem becomes. You can become traumatized, which would require counseling to heal properly. I believe there are a few relationships that can help you remain healthy or, if it’s already too late, can help you heal from the damage you have done to your soul.
Start by talking to your closest family and friends. What do they see in your life? Do they have concerns about your well-being? Are there problems in your family that need to be addressed? Your family and friends can help you see the extent of the problem – trust me, it’s bigger than you realize.
Next, schedule an appointment with your medical doctor for a wellness checkup. You may be experiencing hormone imbalances or other medical problems that are causing you to feel tired. In this case, burnout can be a symptom of a bigger problem. Your doctor may want to prescribe antidepressants. These can help some people recover. Others find they get in the way of healing. Make sure you are making an informed decision, but don’t be afraid to try what your doctor recommends. You can always go back if it doesn’t help.
Also be sure to meet with a licensed professional Christian counselor. Some believe seeing a counselor is a sign of weakness. Nope. Burnout makes you weak. Seeing a counselor is a sign that you are getting healthier. Be open and honest with your counselor. The act of talking things out confidentially with someone you trust can be very healing.
Some other relationships you may want to explore are a mentor who has recovered from burnout, a coach to help you think through work priorities, a spiritual director to help you connect with God at a deeper level, and a personal trainer to make sure your body is as healthy as it can be.
Safe relationships are the key to overcoming burnout. Making some new friends outside of your workplace or ministry can be a great stress relief to help you recover more quickly. Just remember, relationships are the most important part of life. They have the power to energize you and to tear you down. So choose carefully, but don’t avoid them. A rule of thumb that has helped me: Look for people who remind you of Jesus – people who love well, make grace-filled space for others, and walk closely with God.
Get Clear to Find Hope
Finally, before you can return to work you need to get clear on what is most important. You cannot simply go back to the way things were. From now on, you will need a simpler life. As you gain clarity on what is most important, you will become more productive while using less time. Here are some guidelines to help you gain clarity:
- Listen to God through prayer and Scripture – get clear on God’s will (this step is essential).
- Listen to your family and friends – what advice can they offer for change? Ask them to be a mirror for you. How do others experience you?
- Listen to your emotions – especially the painful or unwanted ones. These are warning signs that something may be wrong. What are they saying?
- Listen to your body – stress and trauma are often stored in the body. Where in your body have you felt these in the past? What are you feeling now?
- Listen to your past – writing a journal can help you to see trends in your life. It also helps you to get stress out of your head and body and onto a page. This distance can be immensely helpful.
- Discern the source or sources of the problem – take responsibility. Don’t blame others; you are in control of your life. What do you need to change?
- Revisit your call to ministry or your personal mission statement – Why do you do this work? What motivates you? Has this changed or is it changing?
- Develop a plan for personal growth – if you don’t have a plan, you will soon revert to old habits and burnout won’t be far behind.
What’s Your Plan?
The Pastor’s Soul has resources that can help you plan a sabbatical, go on a prayer retreat, learn to love Scripture again, and know that you are not alone. Contact me if you need help or if you don’t know where to begin – sean(at)pastorsoul.com
I’ll be also at the GC2 Summit on Leadership, Burnout, and Mental Health this week if you want to connect.
Get away, get alone, get help, and get clear, and you will find health and hope again!