The Burnout Vaccine
Burnout. I don't have to tell you that it's a real thing. Clergy. Caregivers. Congregations. Leaders. No matter the role, we've experienced burnout at some level.
One of the most challenging aspects about stress and burnout is that they are self-perpetuating. When we are feeling stressed, we tend to operate from our amygdala. We get tunnel vision and can only see what is right before us and tend to put a doomsday slant on whatever we see.
Even the most intelligent people, when stressed, do not have the emotional intelligence (EQ) to keep their thoughts from spiraling out of control. Although the answers may be readily available for solving a problem, there is very little function from the prefrontal cortex because they are in fight-or-flight mode. As answers are harder to come by, stress is increased, burnout ensues, and the situation is perpetuated.
Another byproduct of operating from the amygdala is the impostor syndrome. That little voice that says, "You're going to ruin this" or "You're not good enough to handle this" resides in that part of the brain. If you start to buy in to that voice that tells you that you are incapable of doing anything right, it is very difficult to have the confidence that you can actually find the answers.
Did you ever notice that your memory is not up to par when you are stressed? This is because our perceptions are processed in the prefrontal cortex and then eventually stored in the hippocampus (to simplify the explanation). If we are working from the amygdala, it is nearly impossible to create or retrieve memories. This also leads to difficulty in solving difficult situations because we can't remember how we dealt with them in the past or how we have learned/heard/read about handling them.
So how do we reverse or avoid burnout?
Here are some simple steps to stave off and undo this ugly cycle:
1. Breathe. Take time EVERY DAY to have a practice of centering. This could be seated meditation where you count your breaths, walking meditation, centering prayer, or any other practice that gets you focused. Don't wait to do this until you are already feeling the effects of burnout! Do it every day so as to prevent getting to that point.
2. Practice awareness. Those voices in your head will tell you a lot of things. Some of them are affirming and some will just derail you. When you hear that impostor syndrome or your thoughts are racing, take a deep breath and imagine yourself moving out of that cloud of voices and up into the nosebleed section. Then imagine that you are looking down and watching the voices like thought bubbles and note what they say. This will give you some sense as to which are from the ego and which are real. That way, when you hear them in the future, you will know which ones to pay attention to and which to acknowledge and just let float by. Remember - you are not the voices in your head. Knowing this can go a long way in keeping you sane and centered.
3. Practice gratitude. You do have many more answers than you think. Even if you are too stressed to realize it, it is highly probable that you are already equipped to handle the situation that you have found yourself in. Don't force the answers, but let them come gradually. Take some time to let the Spirit breathe on the issue and maybe even seek some coaching. A good coach can guide you to an awareness of the solutions that you already have.
4. Be vulnerable. We all have our own unique gifts, talents, and knowledge sets. Don't be afraid to seek help from those who may have more experience and information in the areas that you are struggling with.
5. Be authentic. As I mentioned in a recent article, we only create our own suffering when we create goals that aren't aligned with our True Self. If we operate out of the ego and take on things that we think will gain us acceptance, our impostor syndrome will kick in and create a self-fulfilling prophecy that will just continue to affirm itself over and over again.
These are just a few of the ways that you can avoid or reduce burnout. Burnout is a REAL and UGLY thing, but it never has to be a foregone conclusion. Instead of wearing burnout like a badge of honor or even letting it kill you, practice a little mindfulness and live an authentic, fulfilled life!
God's Peace on the Journey,