Are you feeling a lack of connection, struggling with motivation, feeling bored or constantly overwhelmed? If this feels familiar, you’re probably experiencing burnout.
To put it simply, burnout is “effort minus meaning.” The Theology of The Body (TOB) speaks to this when it reminds us of the difference between work and toil. Before the Fall, the work that Adam and Eve did to tend the garden was joyful and fulfilling. It had purpose and meaning, and their efforts literally produced good fruit. After the Fall, because sin knocked the entire world out of order, work became toil. The earth fought back against their efforts to cultivate it. Their work felt like a struggle. They lost sight of the purpose of their efforts. Work became something that divided them instead of making them feel united for a common purpose. This is the basis of burnout–when our efforts seem meaningless.
Reclaiming our joy in the face of burnout means reconnecting with the meaning and purpose behind what we’re doing and approaching our work and relationships in a way that enables us to feel more connected to God, the people around us, and our own best-selves. Often it takes making a conscious effort to step back from what we’re doing and intentionally reminding ourselves why we’re doing it, who we’re doing it for, and what our goal is in choosing to do it in the first place. Then, we need to ask ourselves if the way we’re doing something is really serving those goals. If not, it’s time to make some changes. God doesn’t want us to settle for grinding our way through the day in our work, life, or relationships. Burnout can be a sign that we’re starting to settle and that we need to step back, and practice what the TOB calls “receptivity” by giving our situation to God, asking him how He wants us to approach the work, role, or challenges in front of us, and listening for His voice to guide us through. If we do this, his grace will bring the meaning, purpose, and joy back into everything we do.
1. Remember Where You’ve Been–When we’re feeling overwhelmed by stress, it’s easy to get stuck in the moment and feel like there’s no end in sight. To get some stress-relieving perspective, step back and remember all the other times you were able to overcome the stresses and challenges you were facing. Remember God’s faithfulness through past trials. Praise him for the ways he has been present to you all along. Recall the ways you worked with his grace to keep yourself together through those times and ask yourself how you could take advantage of similar strategies this time around. Sometimes, the fastest way to get where you’re going is to remember where you’ve been and all the things God has helped you overcome to get you where you are. Remember that someday you’ll be looking back on this present, stressful time as just one more mountain you’ve conquered through God’s grace and your faithful efforts to persevere.
2. Tap Your Reserves–The best way to understand burnout is to think of it as an increase in stress combined with a loss of meaningfulness. Often, when we get stressed, we try to conserve our strength by only using as little energy as possible to accomplish the tasks that are associated with our life or relationships. We phone in our work. We keep taking the easy way through the day, and checking out of difficult relationships. This can be OK for a day or two when we just need a little time to collect ourselves, but if it becomes habit, this can create burnout, as we feel our lives becoming both more stressful and less meaningful. What can we do? We have to tap our reserves. Ask yourself, how could you bring just a little more of yourself and your creativity to this work or relationship? What might make it fun again? Do you need to change your approach? Learn new skills? Get new help? Take things a little less seriously? Ironically, the best way to beat burnout is to bring MORE of yourself to your tasks and relationships. The more you can convince yourself to tap your reserves, stop going through the motions and reinvest in your life, the happier–and more stress-proof–you’ll be.
3. Check Your Cables–Sometimes, when a piece of equipment won’t work, fixing it is as simple as checking to make sure it’s still plugged in. The same is true for us. When stress has got us to the point where it’s difficult to find the energy to move, we need to check our cables and make sure we’re still plugged in—to God and the people who love us. Stop trying to do it all yourself. Give the situation to God. Tell him how tired you are and how much you need his grace, not only to keep going, but to approach the situation in a new way so that you can glorify him. Then reach out to the people around you. Let them know that you need their help–both in terms of emotional support and practical help. Let the people who love you actually love you and work for your good through this trying time. The more we work on staying connected to our power source–that is, grace and the good people who share our lives–the more energy we’ll have to enjoy the work God has given us to do.
For more resources on beating burnout, check out: