Stopping the Bleeding
In healing a physical burn, initially you need to run it under cold water to stop the burn from getting worse and it is no different with burnout. You need to stem the tide and stop the bleeding before you can recover from burnout. Here are five things to do right away once you have recognised the three symptoms of burnout (see our previous blog).
Recovery does take time and, in my experience, years to fully heal from burnout so this blog will focus on things to do in the short-term that will set the foundation for your recovery. A follow up blog will focus on long-term recovery.
1. Get help
The first thing to do is talk to someone straight away. Tell people you trust, your spouse, a family member and then go to a Christian counsellor. Tell them you are struggling and you are feeling burnt out.
If you are also having suicidal thoughts go to your GP and ask to be put on a mental health plan. When you are feeling low, reach out to a friend and call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or text Lifeline on 0477 13 11 14.
Don’t bottle it up and think, “I’ve got Jesus, I don’t need a therapist.” God created us to be in community with others and to benefit from the gifts of others. Resisting help from other people is at its core, pride. The fact that we need other people reminds us that we are not self-sufficient. Only God is self-sufficient. We are not. We need help.
Counselling won’t simply solve your problems, but in talking with a trained professional, who is bound by confidentiality, you can clarify and understand the actual issues so you can begin to work on the real issue, not just the symptoms.
2. Don’t make any big decisions
Avoid resigning. As much as you may want to, don’t quit.
There are deeper issues than simply work that causes burnout. It’s not just work itself, but you may be over-working, be in an unhealthy work environment or in conflict with co-workers which is contributing to burnout. It is harder to address these issues if you have removed yourself completely. You will have things to work on that won’t be solved simply by changing jobs. If you run from the situation you may miss the opportunity to grow from it. Don’t be naïve to think the fault is all theirs and you contributed nothing.
Another reason to avoid quitting, is that burnout leaves you with wounds and baggage, and you don’t want to take the rawness of your cynicism and hurt into your next workplace. That won’t be good for you or your new workplace.
3. Take a holiday
It doesn’t matter if you have responsibilities to uphold, if you don’t stop the bleeding, given enough time, you’ll become so ineffective that you will no longer have those responsibilities. So, drop what you are doing and take a break for at least a few days. You’re exhausted, so take some time out to rest and focus on steps 4 and 5.
4. Improve your self-care
Make some simple changes. Make a considerable effort to eat good healthy food regularly. Make it a priority to have 3 good meals a day. Start exercising a few times a week. Go for walks or runs outside, join a gym or a friend’s basketball or indoor soccer team. Do want you can to get more sleep. Avoid screens after dinner, make your bedroom as dark as possible, reduce your caffeine intake (as it can increase anxiety) and don’t drink alcohol (as it’s a depressant). If anxiety keeps you up, spend time journaling your thoughts each morning or night.
These changes may seem trivial but when we are taking good care of our physical health it makes taking care of our emotional and mental health much simpler. It will help you think clearer and be better equipped to deal with the long-term recovery.
If you don’t have time, make time. You will always have time for the things you prioritise. That might mean saying no to things, sometimes even good things. Make time for self-care. This is not narcissism but simply treating your body the way it was designed to function. Don’t just completely stop volunteering, putting others above yourself or acting sacrifically, as that is self-centred.
5. Seek Jesus
It is important that as we seek healing from burnout we go to the Healer. Don’t just skip this one. Spend time each day in prayer and reading the Bible. I found that a short daily devotional helped me begin to engage with God again at personal level. I would highly recommend buying Tim and Kathy Keller’s Daily Devotional on the Psalms: My Rock My Refuge.
The Psalms are full of raw human emotions in the ups and downs of life and often I found that they would put words to emotions that I couldn’t articulate and prayers to frustrations that I didn’t know how to bring before God.
Complete recovery can’t be just no longer feeling the symptoms of burnout. The numbness and distance from God that is often experienced in burnout is the most important problem to be addressed. Yet it can be difficult to seek Jesus when you’re unable to stop for a second without the mind spinning out of control. True recovery is coming to Jesus with our brokenness, hurt, pain and sin. This can be an overwhelming task in the midst of a myriad of underlying issues but can begin with a simple prayer like this: “Jesus, I give you my burnout.”
These are five things that can help set the foundation for your recovery. In Part 3 we consider the deeper and ongoing recovery process.