We are living in an age where it often seems as if we have to do everything and we have to be on all the time. It was bad enough in the recent past when most of us worked more hours than we should have, and often felt like we were hamsters on a treadmill. It seemed that no matter how fast or furious we worked, we never seemed to get ahead or were even able to take a deep breath and relax. Today, with the COVID-19 and people having to stay at home, it seems as if our daily workloads have doubled or even tripled and as a result, more and more of us are feeling burned-out. Today I want to talk about burnout, how we can recognize that we might be experiencing burnout, and if so, what steps we can take to deal with it.
How do we know if we are experiencing burnout? We need to pay attention to how we feel, to the messages our bodies are sending us. I was on the phone with a friend and as we spoke, I asked how she was feeling. She said, at the end of the day, all she wanted to do, was plop down on a couch and not move. I have often felt the same, the day ends, and I feel weak and exhausted; or as my dad used to say, I feel like I’ve been rode hard and put away wet. Usually that also means that during the day, things haven’t gone as I wanted them too and I feel frustrated and aggravated, very much like the words in Psalm 38:8 “I am benumbed and badly crushed; I groan because of the agitation of my heart.” Over the years, I’ve read that verse and never really understood what it meant, until recently, when things have begun piling up and there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes I feel like I’m stuck on a hamster wheel and going nowhere. All my work seems fruitless, there just isn’t any end in sight and even when I finish a job, it’s not quite satisfying. In 1 Kings 19:14 “Then he said, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.’” Those words were from the Prophet Elijah and he was frustrated and was venting to the Lord. He’s saying, look I’ve done everything I was supposed to and yet it seems to all be in vain. No matter what, there’s just nobody saying, “good work” and that happens all the time in our world. We spend hour after hour working on a project, it’s finished, and the response from the boss is, “ok”, not a “good job”, a “well done”, just a mediocre almost pat on the back. We all want to feel needed and the work we do respected, when it isn’t we begin to burnout, we wonder, ahh what’s the point? Once we get to that mental state, then the next thing that happens seems to be a wave of anxiety or almost a crushing feeling hits us and we feel overwhelmed.
In Psalm 69:1-2, we read, “Save me, O God, For the waters have threatened my life. I have sunk in deep mire, and there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and a flood overflows me.” I don’t know how many folks have ever been in flood waters that were flowing so fast you couldn’t stand up; or tried to walk in a river bed that was muddy and your feet keep getting stuck and it’s a struggle to move; or in surf so rough that no matter how hard we try it keeps knocking us down. I’ve been in those situations and there’s a feeling of helplessness and often of fear. When we begin to feel like we’re suffocating, when we feel like we’re drowning, or simply beating our head against a wall, it’s another symptom that we might be feeling the effects of burnout. It’s a natural human emotion, of trying to do too much, too often, so the question becomes is there any antidote for burnout”?
Yes of course there is, the first thing we can do, or try to do is, whenever possible delegate, we don’t have to do everything ourselves, it’s ok to let someone else help us. In Exodus 18:21-23, we find Moses facing this type of problem; he’s feeling the effects of burnout. “Furthermore, you shall select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace.” Delegating is often tough for us, I know it is for me. In my regular business, I was feeling burnout from trying to do all the programming, take care of the web sites, social media, and doing the marketing and business planning. Eventually I turned over the app programming and the marketing to my partner. Now my days are not as stressful and I’m able to actually get more done, and focus on what I do best, and he focuses on what he does best. We make more progress by letting go and not trying to do it all, we often find our hearts and minds are more at peace and then we can take the next step in combating burnout, we can get some rest.
Again, we find in Exodus 23:12, “Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves.” Think about it, we live in a world that now lives and operates on a 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year schedule. Back in the old days, most places were closed on Sunday, and most stores closed in the evenings. Now everybody stays open on Sunday, it’s just another work day, and stores stay open 24 hours a day. We check our social media pages several times a day, we read our text messages and emails throughout the day, and in some cases, folks read their text messages while driving. With cell phones, we are never out of reach of those who want to call us, so it is possible that we never, ever get a break. As a result of this go-go-go schedule, our bodies and our minds begin to break down. We feel stress, which releases toxins into our blood stream, our heartbeat is accelerated, our blood pressure rises and we rarely take time to have some recreation. When we do recreate, it’s often in the form of a competition, so we’re not really relaxing, in fact, we even more stressed out especially if we’re competitive in nature. So we continue the cycle, when if we simply care for our body, we’ll be able to take care of our minds. In 1 Kings 19:5-8, we go back to the story of old Elijah, remember how he was feeling the pain of burnout? Well, he discovered the cure, “He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, “Arise, eat.” Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.” So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.” Elijah got some sleep and ate some food, two ingredients for a healthy lifestyle that many of us neglect; but which are a great antidote for burnout. How many times do we work for hours, and then get in our vehicle and drive to pick up some kind of fast food. So we buy some over processed junk that contains few if any of the nutrients we really need, and since we haven’t taken the time to unwind and take a deep breathe, we don’t get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is vital to our health, it gives the body the time to wash out those toxins that have filled your brain pathways during the day, and good food gives you the energy and fuel you need to keep on going. Maybe instead of trying to do it all, let’s try seeing if God can give us a hand, after all in Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus instructs his disciples, to; “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Personally, I have found that when I’m at the end of my rope, one thing that works, is to take my dog Lil Dude and go for a walk, and while walking ask Jesus for some help; I ask Him to send down the Holy Spirit to help me find the answer. I find I am able to exhale, able to see the beauty of the world around me, and able to find some peace of mind. I can then deal with my feelings of burnout in a more productive way.
So remember, when we first see and recognize the symptoms of burnout, the feeling of exhaustion, despair, like nothing is being accomplished, and overwhelmed, then it’s time to take action. Delegate some work, we don’t have to do it all, get some rest, change the diet, exercise, and pray for guidance. Burnout doesn’t have to be something that permanently cripples us, it is however, a symptom that we need to make some changes in our lifestyle before we do severe damage to ourselves.