Avoiding Burnout

I attended a workshop on burnout a few days ago. I was expecting a handout of notes from the presentations, so I only took a few notes. Unfortunately, there were no handouts, but there were some powerful points that stood out to me that I would like to share.

First of all, burnout is different from stress. Stress is something that we all face every day. It can come in the form of a test, or daily challenges of a job; it can also be in the form of some kind of competition. In such cases, we are usually motivated to be at our best in order to perform well. However, burnout is the result of prolonged stress. When burnout takes place, we began to shut down and the vigor we once had starts to decrease, followed by a sense of failure, self-doubt, a lack of motivation, and a decreased sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. When this happens, depression and other mental illnesses can set in and cause a downward spiral leading to a mental breakdown.

Because stress is a part of our daily lives, to try to totally get rid of it would be a vain effort. It is actually a part of what helps us to grow and develop. Yet too much stress can cause burnout which means it is important to learn how to manage the stress in our lives. Here are a few points that I have found helpful:

  • Remember that work is a blessing not a curse. Many of us know of the story of Adam and Eve. Before they ate the forbidden fruit, God gave them work. “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it (Gen 2:15). It was the interference of sin that caused their work to become difficult and overwhelming but work itself is to be thought of as a blessing, not a curse.
  • It is good to take a break, or time off from work. There is a label called workaholic. When work becomes the primary activity in our lives, it can lead to burnout. “By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done” (Gen 2:2). Here is a model of the importance of taking a break from work, to rest and enjoy the work that has been done.
  • While in the midst of any stressful experience, it is especially important to maintain values that supersedes the work or task at hand, and to maintain one’s identity and relationships with those who are close to us. As a Christian, we are to maintain a sense of our identity and relationship with God. In other words, the work that is being done should not define who we are. If our performance defines us, we could easily become discouraged to the point of severe depression if our performance is not as desired. A job could be lost; a test can be failed; a game could be awarded to the opponent, but if you are defined by who you belong to, you will remain esteemed. In the parable of the vineyard workers, Jesus told a story of a group of workers who had been diligently working in the vineyard, but the owner hired other workers who would be paid just as much even though they worked a shorter time (see Matt 20:1-16). It was their relationship and willing attitude towards the owner that mattered more than their performance.
  • Finally, gratitude is a powerful tool to reduce stress.  When we think of people in our lives who did the most for us, perhaps in our childhood or as adults, we can see the values that have been engrained in us.  These traits that we are grateful for could be a faithful friend, unconditional love, patience, nurturer, etc.  These represents our values which helps define who we are as a person.  Therefore, it is important to maintain these traits and keep them in the forefront as part of our identity so that the stresses of life will not turn into burnout.

In conclusion, even though work is a blessing, it is important to keep healthy values first, and maintain a true sense of identity.  Many of us have experienced broken relationships in our past, even with close family members, but “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new Creation (2Cor 5:17). Therefore, it is most helpful and important for us to “be” rather than “do”.

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