No matter who you are or how great of a leader you may be, there are seasons in your life and ministry where you will flirt with burnout.
Over the course of years of working in the church, I have experienced symptoms and seasons of burnout. Painfully, I have even watched several of my friends crash into burn out in a very costly way, losing their ministry and sometimes even more.
Frequently I am asked, “what are the signs of burn out?” There is no short answer. Confronting these symptoms and ignoring excuses like “Jesus will protect me,” “I have to accomplish my calling,” you think you can’t let people down, or, the most dangerous, “it’s just a season.”
If we are not paying attention to our own health and what our emotions, spirit, and body are trying to tell us, we will end up crashing and burning.
I wanted to share a list of warning signs with you today. It is a combined list of things I have noticed, and a few prompts based on a study done by Laura Garnett, a performance strategist.
1. You realize you have not paused, prayed, meditated, or spent any time developing yourself spiritually. Without the growth and development of this area of your life, you will be devoid of your ability to balance the things that come into your life.
2. You find yourself waking up throughout the night feeling anxious usually expressed by a racing mind and rapid heart rate. The pressures of our days and maybe our extremely long to-do lists start to haunt us. When we find ourselves dealing with this anxiety we need to identify what we can control, prioritize those things, and lean on our faith for the other stuff. Lean into your leadership toolbox. Start delegating, say no to some things, reduce meeting schedule, identify ways to deal with anxiety (we created a podcast about this). If you are sleeping less than 4 hours a night, you are in the red zone and need to get help.
3. You find yourself reacting not responding. Reaction mode is dangerous. When you see yourself reacting not responding you can usually tell you are responding emotionally and are overwhelmed. Keep control on what you are responsible for and create breaks in your workflow. Daniel Pink wrote a fantastic book, When, that talks about the power of frequent and intentional breaks.
4. You are incredibly concerned about tomorrow. When we are worried about our future, we stop focusing on today. We have to stay present and connected to the work and the people God has in front of us today. Worry is wired to the side of our brain that controls feelings, not facts. Look at the facts and speak truth into your concerns. The truth does set you free.
5. You find yourself being short and angry more frequently. If you are finding yourself snapping and having very little patience your runway is getting short. Watch for being overly critical and getting upset about small things that normally wouldn’t set you off.
6. There is a place you are going to retreat, and it is unhealthy. During seasons of burnout, the most desirable thing is solitude. We want to get away so we can breathe. When you identify a place you are going or an activity that is creating unhealthy isolation for you, that is a sure sign you are feeding the burnout monster. This could be a physical place or an emotional crutch. Find someone that you can trust, if such a person exists, and invite them to that place. Take them with you or tell them about what you are doing to deal with this desire for unhealthy solitude.
7. You feel there is no one you can trust. Isolation is burnouts best friend. There is someone, even if it is scary, and you have to be honest with them. Burnout wants to drive you to a place where you feel there is no place to turn. Don’t allow it to trap you. Find someone. Call a friend. Confess to a family member. Heck, email me right now, or text me (615.457.7261) you can have safe conversations, and people can help you navigate these seasons. No matter what is happening or has happened, you can recover but only if you get honest with yourself and allow someone else to help you navigate
8. You forgot how to enjoy what you do and your life. Are you having fun? Do you still feel happy when you accomplish a goal or crush a weekend? If you are not feeling joy around the things that you do you will find yourself dreading more than dreaming. No job is always totally DOPE, but if the things that use to bring you joy no longer do, it’s time to take inventory on what is happening with your energy, focus, heart, and spirit. Figure out why you are no longer experiencing joy, and start to make changes.
9. You have zero balance. If you have worked without a sabbath for more than three weeks, consider yourself in the passing lane on the highway to burnout. God created us to rest. It does not make your weak; it is not a sign of laziness, it makes you better. Science has shown that rest, relaxation, fun, actually refuel us. It puts the GOOD back in the tank that makes us unique on the days we are outputting greatly. Stop being stubborn or feeling like you our your staff will get soft and embrace rest the way you welcome the activity. God cares more about who you are becoming than he does about what you are doing!
If you desire legacy in your life and ministry, I hope you will learn from my life and experiences on this one. Pay attention that these nine signs are in check in your life. If you don’t the cost of what happens when we burn out tends to be far more painful than the price of the changes to stay healthy.