I vividly remember sitting in the psychologist’s office as he told me I was experiencing burnout in a bad way. I had been suffering for a while but I didn’t know that there was a clinical term for what I was going through. I just thought I was broken somehow and hoped he could help me.
“You’ve got to take your foot off the gas,” he told me. “If you don’t, your family and church are going to suffer.” I wrote about the experience here.
Burnout is a strange phenomenon. It’s tricky. It’s not like an illness that you can see coming and try to take extra vitamin C to get ahead of it. It’s a lot more devious than that. To this day, I still feel the effects of that chapter in my life. Hopefully, the following five things will help you put practices into your life that will protect you from burning out.
1. The warning signs are incredibly difficult to see. Like I said, it’s not like the flu. You don’t get a scratchy throat indicating that you’re coming down with something. In my case, my wife noticed before I did. It’s like you’re charging ahead and then one day, you realize you’re not yourself. Don’t think you’re immune, don’t believe that you’re better than, and don’t ignore the subtle absence of grace and patience.
2. Burnout numbs you to the things you love. This one is nasty. I remember feeling like the things I loved were just more work. Instead of enjoying the holidays, I endured them. Activities that I typically enjoyed, like writing and music, had no appeal. Even sex was a chore. I lost my passion for the ministry that God called me to and pastoring felt laborious.
3. Life becomes flavorless. This point is really just an extension of the previous one. Instead of life having ups and downs, it just had downs. Vitality was rare, fatigue was constant, and I couldn’t recall the last time I had a good laugh.
4. Burnout is extremely difficult to recover from. You can’t just go up north fishing for the weekend and bounce back from burnout. In my case, I had to take a month off work, and that was just the beginning. In the film, The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo is stabbed by a Ring Wraith. When Gandalf discusses the matter with Elrond, he explains, “I’m afraid that wound will never fully heal.” It’s a bit like that. Your passion will return, life will regain its color, and your energy will return. However, burnout seems to be lurking in the shadows, and passion has to be intentionally protected or it disappears when you’re not looking.
5. It’s all about taking preventative measures. I have gotten in the habit of scheduling times of restorative activities all throughout the year now. I take two personal retreats, a three-week vacation, and guard my day off. It may sound like overkill but it’s necessary if I want to love and serve others in a way that’s genuine and meaningful. The best way to beat burnout is by guarding yourself against it in the first place. If you’re taking work calls, texts, and emails on your day off, you’re not only putting yourself at risk for burnout but you’re eroding the grace that allows you to serve others best in the first place.
I hope this helps. If you’ve suffered burnout, how did you recover? Also, what sort of preventative measures do you take? Feel free to share in the comments section below.