An Orlando-area resident watched as her custom-built home collapsed. It fell into a sinkhole in the earth. Scientists say that sinkholes occur when underground streams drain away during seasons of drought. This drought causes the ground at the surface to lose its underlying support. Without warning, houses, apartment complexes and streets cave in.
In the midst of the fatigue caused by job burnout, many people have experienced a similar sinking feeling. They feel like life is caving in on them.
Most people start their careers or jobs with high expectations for what their work future holds, only to eventually come face-to-face with the concept that work and family responsibilities exceed the allotted time in which they are to be accomplished. As a result, body, mind, spirit and emotions suffer, and recovery is slow. Fortunately, unlike sinkholes, today’s working Christian woman has the capability to foresee potential burnout and keep it from happening.
Burnout comes on gradually and sometimes is not recognized until the motivational fire has nearly died. All areas of life must be watched for burnout signs.
Before burnout occurs, energy, enthusiasm and ideals are at a peak, possibly due to a new job or a long-awaited career change. New beginnings associated with job changes rate high on stress charts. These times of transition also often involve moving, income changes and lifestyle adjustments.
After a period of time, the job honeymoon ends and unexpected reality begins. Less energy, enthusiasm and idealism can result. At this point, people often complain of having less physical and emotional energy before their workday has even begun. They may feel like the faster they go, the more behind they get.
Emotions such as these cannot be experienced without family and friends being affected. Many people pull away from relationships at this point of the burnout process. For example, on the way home from work, do you consciously hope that your husband and children are not having a problem or needing any extra attention? This sign says little energy is left for those most important in life. If burnout is not dealt with at this point, a more serious state is entered.
General physical pains, chronic exhaustion and insomnia are signs of chronic stress overload and burnout.These symptoms can result in irritability and hating the work place.
The most severe phase of burnout involves obsession with problems and apathy. Physical symptoms become more serous an can even be career, family and life-threatening. But this process does not occur overnight and can be avoided by being more aware of early burnout signs.
When facing potential burnout, our greatest help comes from those who have been through the same low points and have suffered the same frustrations. The writer of Hebrews tells of a Savior who earned the right to speak to those suffering through problems like burnout:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:25,26 NIV)
In Matthew 26:36-46, Jesus is seen under great stress as He contemplates His approaching suffering and death. Much can be learned from the way He handled His burden.
Jesus, being overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, took His friends to a garden just outside the city to deal with the pressures of His life. Notice that He did not try to handle His distress without the support of His closest friends. Although wanting to become detached from people is a sign of burnout, Jesus taught us that we need friends in times of stress.
God brings people together for the purpose of encouraging one another (I Thessalonians 5:11). Staying close to church family can help when life is tough and temporarily out of perspective. A Christian friend can act as a buffer when one needs to vent frustration.
While asking for support of His close friends, Jesus also temporarily removed Himself from His situation at hand and prayed. Physically and emotionally worn out, He prayed to His heavenly Father for strength and support.
Philippians 4 says that when anxiety is traded in for prayer, peace beyond understanding will guard the heart and the mind. This phenomenon is even witnessed by the secular book, Unstress Your Life, in the chapter, “The Calming Power of Prayer.” By praying and journaling on a regular basis, many have found that life is more easily kept in perspective and burnout thus avoided.
When one notices the warning signs of burnout, she needs to review the events that may have led to this point and accept the responsibility to make constructive changes. Bill Hybels suggested in his article “Reading Your Gauges,” published in Leadership Magazine, that three areas of life need to be kept in balance to avoid burnout. He calls these areas “gauges” on the dashboard of life.
The first gauge asks, “How am I doing spiritually?” Prayer, Bible study and openness to God’s will are primary spiritual disciplines. Having close relationships in the church also encourages a healthy spiritual life. Without your spiritual gauge in focus, life’s perspectives become temporary and without the power of God.
The second gauge determines how you are doing physically. If the body is pushed too hard, eventually physical breakdown and possibly psychosomatic complications occur. Although staying physically fit with exercise and good eating habits is important, one must also not work to the point of exhaustion. This can happen when a person accepts more responsibilities than can be handled or by trying to be perfect.
The superwoman syndrome demands gracefully managing family, career and church while at the same time looking great, being a good friend and staying current on social issues. This impossible facade is exhausting. The solution offered by many ex-superwomen is to decide not to be a perfectionist and to lower expectations. By checking the physical gauge of life, the traps leading to exhaustion can be avoided.
The third gauge asks, “How am I doing emotionally?” Job-related anxiety such as friction with the boss, problem co-workers and rush-hour traffic can be emotionally draining and contribute to burnout.
Recuperation from these stressors involves doing something totally unrelated to the job. This could be an inexpensive day at the park with family and friend s or a weekend getaway to that bed and breakfast in the next town. The idea is to balance the work week with enjoyable activities that are emotionally replenishing.
After accepting the responsibility to adjust the areas of life showing signs of sinkhole damage, one must realistically plan and prepare for the future. In Matthew 26, Jesus accepted the reality of God’s plan for His life and then resolutely proceeded to accomplish what He chose to do for the sake of the sinning world.
In the same purposeful manner, the Christian woman, after praying for strength and guidance, appealing to Christian friends for support and accepting the reality of her situation, needs to proceed resolutely to accomplish a balance life that avoids burnout.
Originally published in Christian Woman Magazine, under the title “Battling Job Burnout” By: Beth Holland