Fire! Fire!—What To Do When You’re Feeling Burned Out

People often say they feel “burned out” by their struggles with anxiety, but most are unaware of the deeper truth behind this metaphor.

Imagine soaking your hands in bleach for several hours, even days. You would get a chemical burn that left your skin severely raw and irritated. Even brushing up against something afterward might hurt tremendously. In a similar way, the chemicals (glucocorticoids) produced by the brain’s fear response are caustic. When persistently stressful or traumatic events trigger prolonged or too intense exposure to these chemicals, they create something like a chemical burn on your amygdala, the CEO of fear/protection system. At the very least, this can cause us to feel every stressor more acutely. Making it harder to respond in a calm. Rational way. If anxiety persists, the amygdala blasts chemicals at another part of the brain called the hippocampus, which stores emotional memories.

If the amygdala is the CEO of your fear/protection system, the hippocampus is the board secretary. While the amygdala is triggered in the presence of a threat, its the hippocampus’ job to “take notes” and remember that a particular event was anxiety-producing the past. The next time you encounter that same event, or even something remotely similar, the hippocampus triggers the amygdala and reminds you that you “should” feel anxious—even if there is no practical immediate threat present.


For more on understanding and overcoming your anxiety

Check out:

Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety


Calming down this threat system in our brain is an important aspect to overcoming burn out and finding peace.

Here are three ways to recover from burn out:

Be aware of your physical signs of stress—Stress shows up in our body (i.e. tight muscles, sweaty palms, wrinkled forehead) before our brain is willing to admit to itself that it’s stressed (i.e. feeling stressed/overwhelmed/anxious). Be conscious of these physical signs and when you start to notice your muscles tensing, or your breath becoming shorter/your chest feeling tighter or heavier. Focus on relaxing these physical responses to stress through rolling out your shoulders, stretching your neck, or taking slow deep breaths in order to decrease the stress chemicals in your brain before they take over your feelings.

Take breaks—Taking breaks from stress to do things that occupy you mentally and physically is a great way to decrease anxiety. Go for a walk while counting how many runners or cars you see, engage in a brief exercise break like doing 25 sit ups or 15 pushups, or take deep breaths as you say a short prayer. These breaks are not about finding long escapes from stress, but instead focus on taking down your anxiety in your environment.

Focus on Controllables—Increased anxiety often leads to a sense of powerlessness. We often focus on what we can’t control or what we wish we could do which leads to greater anxiety due to a heightened sense of a perceived threat in our brain. Focusing instead on what we can control—such as our responses, our breathing, our next step towards a solution—we are able to decrease the level of perceived threat and subsequently decrease our anxiety.

If you want more tips or greater support for overcoming your anxiety, visit us online at

Caring for the Wrong Reasons is Hazardous to Your Health

Caring for people for the wrong reasons can cause burnout or worse.  A new study found that nurses who gravitate to the profession out of a desire to help people  tend to burn out and experienceshutterstock_129862169 other mental health problems at a higher rate than those who become nurses because they enjoy the work or the lifestyle afforded by the profession.  The study doesn’t just apply to nurses, but anyone in a relationship.

Caring for the Right Reasons

We’re all called to be caring toward others, but the reasons we care matter.  Looking more closely at the study, the reasons some people are more susceptible to relationship burnout and compassion fatigue boil down to what psychologists call  an “internal versus external locus of control.”

Internal Locus of Control

People with an internal locus of control do things because of the personal satisfaction they get either from a job well done or from the benefits that come from doing a particular activity.  People who are helpful because they enjoy sharing their gifts with others can be said to have an “internal locus of control” because they are motivated by personal or internal reasons f0r doing what they do.

External Locus of Control

People with an external locus of control do things because they are seeking approval and affirmation from others.  This is a more problematic motivation for helping others because other people don’t necessarily respond well to being helped.  Sometimes they’re not grateful.  Sometimes they’re even mean and disapproving.  Sometimes they take you for granted.  People with an external locus of control–despite themselves–tend to constantly be asking the people they’re serving (implicitly if not outright) “Am I doing it right?  How about now?  How about now?”  For them, helping is a test they are constantly failing because unless the person they are caring for gives them exactly the right kind of feedback, they can never be sure of themselves.  This just makes them work harder and harder all the while feeling like they are getting less and less for their efforts.  Ultimately, having this attitude toward a career or a relationship can be the kiss of death.

As Christians, we know that doing the right thing isn’t enough, we have to do it from the right place in our hearts (c.f., Matt 5:17-47).  If you are feeling burned out in your work or relationships, take a moment to consider not just how you are, but why.

The Next Step…

If you’d like to discover how to stop feeling so frustrated, burned-out, or fed up in your relationships, check out, God Help Me, These People are Driving Me Nuts!  or call 740-266-6461 to make an appointment to speak with a Catholic therapist from the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Catholic Tele-Counseling Services.  You might be surprised to find out how even the most obnoxious people can be tamed!