The best way to treat burnout is to avoid it all together with good self-care practices. If you’re already deep into burnout you may need to take an extended break, anywhere from a week vacation to a year sabbatical, to revive and recalibrate your life.
If you don’t, you leave yourself vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy. Very often during seasons of burnout is where the enemy of your soul gets a hook in that he can use to kill, steal, and destroy your ministry.
Your personal devotional life is key to your ability to lead others in spiritual growth. Too often this part of our life can become dry or mechanical. We go through the motions of attending services, reading our Bible, engaging a Bible study, and prayer. It loses its life though.
Spiritual self-care is about making space in your life to pursue an ever-deepening relationship with our King. While discipline and structure are helpful, you have to resist “checking the box”.
Give yourself permission to stop what isn’t working and pursue connection with God in ways that give life to your soul. Explore the spiritual disciplines. Since Adam and Eve people have been in relationship with God. The practices of relating and growing in God have developed and been practiced for millennia. There isn’t a one size fits all approach, but there is much to learn from those who have gone before you. Make space in your life to learn of the spiritual disciplines of saints of old, both the ones in your life and those you can read about.
- Practice the Presence, mindfulness of God
- Meditate on the Scriptures
- Solitude and Silence, spending time in the presence of God apart from others
- Corporate Worship
- Prayer Journaling (think Psalms)
- Prayer Walking
- Feasting & Celebration
- Spiritual Retreats
You have to realize also that spiritual self-care isn’t independent of other elements of self-care. Think about it like going on a date with your spouse (present or future). Sure, the structure of a regular date night is helpful, but if you are completely spent and show up emotionally, physically, and mentally drained…staring blankly at your spouse drooling on yourself…probably not going to experience much connection.
Getting up at 5 am for devotional time, when you didn’t get to bed until 2 am because you were engaging ministry (or Netflix) is probably not going to set you up for spiritual refreshing! Taking good care of your body enables you to spend quality time with God (and your spouse for that matter) that in turn is renewing to your soul. That’s not to say we don’t turn to God when we are entirely wasted by life, it just means that should be the norm for our life.
In our health and fitness obsessed western culture it’s easy for the idea of physical self-care to get distorted. While caring for the physical nature of our body is important, it shouldn’t be disproportionally focused on. Healthy diet and exercise are not to be confused with godliness. Paul tells his mentee Timothy, physical exercise is of a little value, but godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come (1 Tim 4:8).
That being said, while 1 Corinthians 6:19 is talking about not having sex with temple prostitutes and has nothing to do with diet, exercise, alcohol or tobacco, it does matter how we care for our bodies. Neglecting the care of our body inhibits our ability to serve God and enjoy life to its fullest.
The BIG 4 of Physical Self-Care
Stress has a physical, chemical, existence in our body. What we identify as the symptoms of “feeling stressed” is the product of the hormones adrenaline, cortisol, and neuro-epinephrine being released into our blood stream from our adrenal glands. These hormones create the stress response in our body and with chronic exposure depress our brain chemistry.
The best way to mitigate the of stress hormones in our body is to metabolize them through physical exercise. When we engage mild exercise, our body breaks down the stress hormones in our muscles and washes them out of our system through our sweat and urine. Unlike masking the symptoms of stress with medication, this actually reduces the levels in our body. Exercise is also proven to boost brain chemistry.
Our bodies run on the fuel and nutrition we receive from the food we eat. All of the organs in our body, including our brain, need adequate nutrition to function well. That means apart from thinking about diet from the vantage point of weight loss, more importantly we need to think about it in terms of our bodies nutritional needs. Are we feeding our self with adequate healthy nutrition to give our body the energy needed to engage life well? If we don’t feed our body good nutritious food at regular intervals, it won’t have what it needs to engage life full on.
God could have made our bodies not need to sleep. It’s perfectly within his capabilities. Instead he chose to design our bodies to require a rhythm that includes 7-9 hours of sleep. Chronic neglect of adequate sleep will mess you up. There’s a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture.
The body and brain require sleep to rejuvenate. It’s like drinking water (which the body is about 70% made up of). You can’t drink 5 gallons of water on the weekend and not drink anything the rest of the week. It doesn’t work like that. In the same way you need to drink an adequate amount of water each day to avoid dehydration, so you need a solid amount of sleep each night to stay healthy. Neglecting sleep will decrease your performance and enjoyment of life, while increasing your risks of sickness and burnout.
Rest is different than sleep. While sleep happens while you are unconscious, rest is something that you engage while awake. It’s the sabbath commanded in the bible along with the celebrations and feasting. Time away from work to play, enjoy creation, connect with friends, and yes, sit and do nothing!, are important aspects of healthy self-care. Not to be mistaken with the work we do on Sunday in serving the body.
Emotional energy is a real thing. How you manage yours is HUGELY influential in your ability to engage life effectively. Chronic neglect of your emotional self is a clear path to burnout.
First thing you need to know is that there are things that increase your emotional energy reserves and things that drain them. Being familiar with the two and judicious about navigating them is key. This familiarity with your emotional self is known as EQ or emotional intelligence. Accept that God created you an emotional creature, on purpose.
While you shouldn’t be controlled by your emotions, they should inform you. You get familiar with your emotional self by first giving yourself permission to feel your emotions (even the unpleasant ones) and being curious about what they are telling you (remember God gave you emotions as information). You wouldn’t want to ignore the dashboard lights on your car and you don’t want to ignore what your emotions are telling you.
The best ways to develop emotional intelligence involving spending time with a notepad finding words or word pictures to match up with what you are feeling. Then to share them out loud with a trusted confidant (friend or spouse).
Unresolved Conflict or Wounds
Understand that unresolved conflict and wounds from your life experiences don’t just go away if you ignore them. Instead they continue on in the back of your mind like an open app on your phone draining away resources that are better used elsewhere. They drain your battery and rob resources that could be used to get other things done faster and better. Good emotional selfcare involves taking the time to find healing and resolution to these things so you don’t keep carrying them around.
How do you know if there are open issues that still need resolved? If you are listening to your emotions, they will tell you by the way you react when they get bumped into. If your reaction to a situation seems disproportionate to what’s happening, either to you or those around you, there’s a good chance it’s related to something that’s deeper than the present circumstances.
Boundaries are about self-control. They are the judicious use of your YES and NO to manage your life. They are more than just the expression of your wish or want. They are backed up with action. Learn to say NO to those things you can’t engage freely (without resentment) or that take time away from the things the Lord want’s you focused on or exceed the availability of your budgeted time for that category of activity at present.
Know the people and activities that charge your batteries emotionally and those that drain you. Place limits on the people and activities that drain you, so they don’ suck you dry, and be intentional about making time for the people and activities that add to your emotional energy reserves. For some people this is going to involve solitude (introverts) and others it’s going to be hanging out with certain people that jazz you up (extroverts). Know how God made YOU and honor that.
You are going to spend time around individuals that are a drain or tear you down. Sometimes they are people you are ministering to, or coworkers you have no choice but to be around, or even family at times. This is just part of life. You can, and should, however, be intentional about limiting your time with these kinds of people. Spend no more time than necessary to accomplish God’s purposes for your relationship with them and balance it with time with those that build you up. You do not have to be close friends with everyone or give your time to people just because they want it.
People receive love in different ways. What really connects for one person might be a complete miss for another. Knowing yourself helps you communicate to others the things that make you tick, empowering them to love you better. The five basic love languages are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.
God is creative. Creativity is part of the image of God in us. Sometimes in the grind of daily life we don’t make space for creative expression. Find ways to give expression to this part of who you are and make time do so.
Be aware of your internal monologue. The enemy loves for you to be your own worst enemy be repeating to yourself the lies, condemnation, and character assault he has attacked you with through the voices of others through the years. We are often guilty of saying things to our self that we would never say to others, even those we don’t like! Sometimes these are echoes of the voice of our parents or other influential people in our lives. Wherever they come from they continue to have a destructive influence in our life if we don’t take control of them and change the conversation in our head.
Three Kinds of Relationships
Every person needs three kinds of relationships in their life.
- Mentors – these are the individuals who are old enough to be your parents but are not your parents. They have the kind of relationship with their spouse and kids that you hope to have someday when you are their age. They’ve seen the road ahead of you and can share their experience to help you avoid some of the pitfalls. These are the people who pour into you.
- Peers – these are your comrades, in the same station of life as you, facing the same challenges, endeavoring towards the same goals of being the men or women that God has designed you to be. It is in this group that you spur each other on to godliness, encourage, challenge, and have fun together. These are the people you share life with in community.
- Mentees – these are the individuals are at the station of life just behind you. You’ve been in their shoes and can share your experience to encourage them and help them avoid some of the pitfalls you stepped into. These are the people you are pouring into.
Emotionally healthy people have a good representation of people in each category in their life that they spend time with regularly. If you find yourself lacking in any, make it a matter of prayer and intentional seeking to develop them.
Keep learning. God gave you a brain, an intellect you are either growing it or it is atrophying, there’s no staying in the same place. Use it or lose it. The business of life can seem to leave no time for professional or educational development, but it’s important. Read books, articles, listen to podcast, watch videos, take classes. Leaders are readers.
Keep expanding your intellect, God will use it to bless you and His kingdom. Stretching your brain intellectually will keep it from becoming rigid and will help you stay out of mental ruts. It will be a source of inspiration that helps you engage the work God has given you to do more creatively.
Learn from the best practices of those who have come before you. There’s nothing new under the sun (and I think Solomon borrowed that from somebody). Make new mistakes, don’t repeat ones that could be easily avoided by learning from others. Stand on the shoulders of the smart people who have made advancements in generations past. Don’t get hung up on their shortcomings and rob yourself of the wealth of knowledge that is there. Eat the meat and spit out the proverbial bones.
Appreciate the candid feedback of others and seek out thoughtful dissenting voices. You may not agree with them but learning to listen and earnestly ask questions will guarantee you learn a lot and make better decisions.