Burned Out: What Happens When Too Much is Too Much?

by Robert Kenneth JonesCertainly, being a human service provider, a pastor, a chaplain, a police officer, healthcare worker, teacher, first responder, parent, caregiver, or some other servant leader can lead to burnout.You Are Not Alone: Hitting the Wall and So Many StressorsYou seem to hit a wall. It is a place of feeling overwhelmed, tired, pressured and crowded.  All of the promises made and things that must be done are just too much. To live up to the expectations of others and those that are self-imposed becomes impossible.If you are experiencing (or have ever experienced) burnout, you are not alone.  I sure have. It even led me to quit one job.  I have also used excessive amounts of alcohol to relieve those pressures.  The World Health Organization found that 96% of all mental health care workers experienced some level of burnout while a full half of their other study respondents experienced very high-levels.Am I Burning Out...Or Just Overly Tired?The Mayo Clinic has developed some questions, symptoms, and solutions to help us with ‘burnout syndrome’.  I have found them helpful because it is often too late when my denial is finally overcome by exasperation and exhaustion.  The consequences are never good.  Physical, emotional and spiritual health can become so compromised that simple self-care is not enough. Professional help is all that will do. Not that seeking counseling is bad (it’s what I do for a living), but there are also things we can do and ways to recognize burnout before it gets too serious.Steven Covey described good methods for finding balance before burnout in his classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People with Habit 7, ‘Sharpening The Saw’.  He tells us that there are four areas of “saw-sharpening” (or preserving and enhancing the greatest asset we have which is ourselves). He suggested having a balanced program for self-renewal in physical, social/emotional, mental, and spiritual areas of our lives.Physical:     Beneficial eating, exercising, and restingSocial/Emotional: Making social and meaningful connections with othersMental:      Learning, reading, writing, and teachingSpiritual:    Spending time in nature, expanding spiritual self through meditation, music, art, prayer, or service”Oh by the way, if this book is not in your library you are missing a treasure.It is an absolute necessity that we care for ourselves in these four areas. The choices are rather simple.  We can take time for regular renewal or we can burnout by overdoing, We can hit the wall or we can continue to serve. Feeling good doesn't just happen. We must live a life in balance by taking the necessary time to renew and refresh.Blue Burnout for LEO's and ChaplainsPolice officers experience a high rate of burnout syndrome and plateauing as described by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS).These men and women are protectors of justice, civil rights, and of the public who depend upon them. They give us long hours of service which are filled with continual stress.  It is no wonder they are highly susceptible to overwhelming fatigue. Their heavy responsibilities often cause them to become hypervigilant and angry.  There is far too little time for taking care of themselves. Blue Silence can become the rule of the day resulting in isolation, depression and suicide ideation. There are ways to deal with LEO burnout just as with other professions.  One of the most important things to do is to reach out to Chaplains and other trusted people in the department.  These are the folks who will understand. Nobody can handle this alone.Chaplains burnout too.  Dealing with trauma and loss on a regular basis can lead to a skewed perspective and hypersensitivity. I always think of the verse in Mark 5:24-34 when the woman touches Jesus’ cloak while seeking healing.  He is being pressed by the crowd yet feels a draining effect and turns around to see who touched his clothes.Talk about being sensitive! It is critically important for Chaplains to engage in regular mental health days away from their duties. When work is also a ‘calling’ there is an obligation which exceeds other professions. There are specific ways that are somewhat unique to Chaplains in recognizing and dealing with burnout.  It is important to remember that little healing or spiritual guidance for others can be offered by a pastor who is chronically overwhelmed. Here is a helpful verse for reflection:The grace of God means something like:Here is your life.You might never have been, but you are,because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.Here is the world.Beautiful and terrible things will happen.Don’t be afraid.I am with you.~ Frederick BuechnerA Case for Understanding Burnout and Help from The A Familiar NeighborThere is a novel I read a long time ago by Graham Greene called “A Burnt-Out Case.”  It is a good resource for all of us.  As the incidence of burnout rises it might be essential.  The 2016 General Social Survey conducted byThe University of Chicago found that 50 percent of its respondents were consistently exhausted because of work, compared with 18 percent two decades ago. So we are all subject to burnout.  There are no exceptions in any work-related field.  This major health concern is far too pervasive to ignore or deny.Perhaps we need a bit of Mister Rogers wisdom in our hectic work-a-day world. He reminded us that while no one is perfect, it's our individual imperfections that make each one of us so special. We need to remember his gentle words; "I like you just the way you are" as we take the time to be as good to ourselves as we are to others. The only requirement is that we do the best we can.  No more.We are not meant to be in high-stress situations all of the time despite living in an age where stress seems to be glorified…and where giving in is a sign of being a wimp.  I have finally come to the conclusion that if being a ‘wimpy kid’ means taking care of myself and avoiding burnout…then let wimpdom be my home. I, for one, intend to live life fully. How about you?