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Self-Care: How to Practice Self-Care and Avoid Ministry Burnout

What are the signs of ministry burnout? And how can you avoid it?

Diagnosis

What is burnout, specifically ministry burnout?

Burnout is the inability to manage or maintain our energy (and emotional and mental resources) that leads to failure.

People don’t burn out because they’re weak. They burn out because they overdo it and live stressed out for so long that their bodies take over in defense. By the time your body takes over, though, it’s usually too late.

Signs

What signs of burnout should pastors and church staff watch out for?

There are certain signs and symptoms that pastors and church staff can recognize in themselves. However, more often than not, those closest to you will notice these signs before you do.

  • Tiredness
  • Insomnia
  • Short emotional fuse (anger or crying)
  • Addictions (escapes)
  • Desire to retreat from others
  • Loss of interest
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Cynicism
  • Numbness
  • Illness
  • Short attention span

While burnout manifests a little differently in each person, these symptoms are common warning signs. Unfortunately, they overlap with the symptoms of depression, making self-diagnosis even harder.

Causes

What causes burnout?

In times of stress and depleted resources our body retreats into a fight or flight mode. This is our body’s natural reaction to stress. If this fight or flight response continues week after week, month after month, you will eventually burnout.

One big cause of burnout is a lack of rest coupled with non-existent boundaries between work and home. The absence of boundaries and rest keep our bodies and minds in a constant fight or flight mode.

Prevention & Treatment

Boundaries in ministry are hard. What can pastors and church staff do to prevent and, if they have already succumbed, to treat ministry burnout?

It is easy to view the signs of burnout as temporary, to convince yourself that they’re necessary for success or to minimize them for a time by seeking the excitement of something new. For that reason, it’s important to also watch for behaviors that might put you at risk for burnout and not just the symptoms.

Prevention
  • Create clear boundaries between work and home, as well as work and vacation/rest.

In our new work-from-home world, boundaries between work and home have become almost non-existent. Work tools like email, social media, and communication/productivity apps now follow us everywhere on our smartphones.

Take concrete steps to create clear boundaries on your smartphone and electronic companions (iPad, laptop, smart watch). For example, consider getting a work number for your phone or a dedicated work phone. Set times to check and respond to emails, turn off reminders and notifications, and set your phone aside when you are not working.

Additionally, create a space (or spaces) in your house—if you are working from home—where work stuff lives. When you are done working, walk away.

  • Learn how to be more productive during work and how to rest and unplug.

Learn when your most productive time of the day is. Some people function best in the morning, others in the afternoon. Protect that time and schedule draining or challenging tasks during those hours. Outsource or delegate tasks outside of your skillset.

Create clear divisions in your day. For example, divide your work day into chunks of time (25 minutes, 90 minutes, etc.) and take true breaks in between. Additionally, establish and enforce a clear beginning and end to your day.

Finally, do not multitask! Turn off distractions and find ways to focus on one task at a time.

Treatment

If you find yourself experiencing any of the signs of ministry burnout, stop. Take a step back from your emotions, and don’t make any rash or quick decisions.

Spend deliberate time in prayer and worship. Then, seek out the rest that your body needs.

Take concrete steps to care for your physical self: sleep, rest, eat healthy, and find small ways to exercise (short walks are a good start).

List the things that God has done for you in the past. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude for God’s gifts in both your personal life and your ministry.

Recalibrate your expectations and ask God for humility. You cannot do everything, and you don’t need to. Other people can help, and the world will keep spinning without you. Everything depends on God, not you.

Finally, connect with a mentor, friend, and family members to seek out encouragement and ministry for yourself.

Ministers and church staff pour out their lives caring for others and they often fail to care for themselves. Proper and deliberate self-care is not only a good idea, it is crucial for a long, healthy, and productive career in ministry. Learn to avoid it now, and take concrete steps to reverse it if you’ve already burned yourself out.

Learn more about Tiffany’s ministry over at HRMinistrySolutions.

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