Preventing Burnout: There Is a Hope

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
Dylan H Office Man 480x300

“I’m tired,” he said, and the heaviness of his voice pressed in on my chest making it difficult to breathe. “I’m so burned out. If I don’t get a break soon, I don’t know how I’ll keep going.”

When work is a source of unhappiness, how do you help someone you love take steps to a healthier place when even the tiniest task of his or her job feels like climbing Mount Everest? Is there hope for the burned out?

What is Burn Out?

In a Psychology Today article entitled “The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout … Do You Have Them?” Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D. defines burnout as a state of chronic stress that leads to:

  • physical and emotional exhaustion
  • cynicism and detachment
  • feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

High achievers are particularly vulnerable to burnout Carter says, because they “…are often so passionate about what they do, they tend to ignore the fact that they're working exceptionally long hours, taking on exceedingly heavy work loads, and putting enormous pressure on themselves to excel—all of which make them ripe for burnout.”

In her TEDx talk, Dr. Geri Puleo compares symptoms of burnout to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She draws remarkable parallels that have implications for treatment and prevention. Symptoms such as feelings of fear or hopelessness, sleep disturbance or frequent nightmares, frequent mood changes and irritability underscore how serious the issue of burn out can be.

But what causes burnout?

What Do the Experts Say?

Researcher and Psychologist Adam Grant, Ph.D. tells us that years of research indicates that people have trouble finding meaning in their work, “… when they lack autonomy, variety, challenge, performance feedback, and the chance to work on a whole product or service from start to finish.” But the number one factor in finding a job meaningless? Read the article here. You might just be surprised.

Nathaniel Lambert, Ph.D. says there are four main areas of life that, if neglected, can lead to an out-of-balance feeling: physical health, intellectual stimulation, self-introspection, and social interaction. Read more of his thoughts here.

Sometimes there are practical steps we can take to help us maintain a more positive focus at work. If the opposite of burnout is happiness on the job, this slide show by Forbes magazine called “10 Steps to Happiness at Work” might be helpful. These tips are drawn from Srikumar Rao’s book Happiness at Work.

But what does all this mean for Christians?

Hope for the Burned Out

Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (The Message)

Jesus is our hope. But sometimes the world presses in so hard that holding on to that hope can be difficult. How do we grab onto the hope that Jesus Christ holds out to us every day?

Writer Kimberly Coyle says that holding onto the peace Christ offers may require us to redefine what we think of as success.

God sometimes keeps us in seemingly impossible situations, providing just enough daily bread to strengthen us for the task ahead. When the work of our hands feels inadequate, he multiplies it like loaves and fishes. Where we lack, he is enough.

When my friend was going through his struggles at work, I sent him one of my favorite Tim Keller sermons called “Peace.” In this sermon, which is part of a series on the Fruit of the Spirit, Keller preaches on Philippians 4:4-12:

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! … Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things … And the God of peace will be with you.” (NIV)

Keller tells us that in this scripture, Paul is pointing out that peace is not the absence of fear, but the presence of something, of Someone—God himself. By taking us through these verses, Keller gives us three disciplines to practice that will help us develop this peace: thinking, thanking, and loving. Go ahead, listen to the entire sermon. And while you’re at it, listen to this one on Anxiety too. Keller gives us good words to help us through—or better yet, ward off—burn out.

Writer Amanda Hill knows the secret to peace. She is in a season of life where her multiple roles often rub up against each other—demanding more energy than she is able to muster at times. In her article for The High Calling, “Changing Seasons,” she talks about how she has found strength in Bible stories that remind her that her story is part of a bigger one and trust in God brings comfort that transcends circumstances.

High Calling community editor David Rupert shares a story of how important what we choose to focus on can be. During a difficult season of work, David shares how he took some very deliberate steps to focus on the Voice of Truth, instead of the lies of anxiety.

Jesus is our hope. We are part of a bigger story. When we are too tired to listen, we need to surround ourselves with the Voice that speaks truth. Whether that is through a community of faith, listening to an encouraging message, immersing ourselves in scripture, or seeking out the assistance of a Christian counselor ... Jesus invites us to take his yoke upon our shoulders. When we remember the love of God, when we remember that our burden is to love God and love one another, this is when all other burdens fall into their proper place.


Preventing Burnout

Research shows that those most vulnerable to occupational burnout are individuals who are highly motivated and strongly invested in their work. When work is an important source of finding meaning, frustrations that arise from unmet goals and expectations in the workplace can permeate all of life. This can lead to a general sense of exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of reduced efficacy. In this series at The High Calling, we're talking about Preventing Burnout and how faith can make a difference. We hope you find this conversation helpful and if so will consider inviting others to join in the discussion by sharing these stories via email, Facebook, Twitter, or networks you are part of.