Burnout—How Can You Cope?
BURDENED with stress from anxieties and daily hassles, many try to drink away their frustrations. Alcohol, the most widely abused drug today, is used by many in an attempt to escape hard realities. Others have relied on popular prescription drugs to deal with anxieties. Yet others resort to mind-altering drugs, such as marijuana, methamphetamines, and cocaine. Even young children have been known to use drugs to escape the realities of life. It is said that 95 percent of American youths will have used one or more illegal substances before they graduate from high school.
Then there are those who try to escape daily stress by going on sprees with their friends or putting on a masquerade of cheerfulness while feeling depressed inside. Or for the wrong reasons, they seek the affection and tenderness of the opposite sex. But using escapist measures to deal with stress only increases frustration. When people try to dilute stress with alcohol or other mind-altering substances rather than rekindling themselves, they speed up the process of burnout. What, then, can you do when you feel the fire inside you slowly burning out?
Way to Recovery
Awake! does not recommend specific therapies or medications. Nevertheless, it presents a few helpful suggestions based on Bible principles that may aid you in rekindling the dying embers within you. Dr. Yutaka Ono, a director at Keio University School of Medicine, recommends “three C’s” for coping with burnout. He explains: “The ‘three C’s’ stand for control, communication, and cognition.”
In order to overcome feelings of helplessness, you must be able to feel you are in control of your feelings and behavior. When frustration daily dominates your emotions and crushes your capacity to solve problems, it is easy to believe things are out of your hands. However, do not just sit back and dwell on troublesome thoughts. Try to solve your problem step-by-step. (See box, page 8.) Do not procrastinate. Just by initiating positive actions, you will begin to feel better and in control.
Try to reduce irritations that result in defeatist feelings. For instance, some tend to get annoyed by every trifle in life. They insist on a certain way of doing things and get irritated when others do not comply, or they may become frustrated by their own failures. “Do not become righteous overmuch,” an ancient wise man said, “nor show yourself excessively wise. Why should you cause desolation to yourself?” (Ecclesiastes 7:16) Clinging to standards that are too high and constantly feeling you are not measuring up to them is a sure way to burn out.
Further helpful counsel from the Bible is “to be modest in walking with your God.” (Micah 6:8) To be modest means to be aware of one’s limitations or to place “a moderate estimate on one’s abilities.” This may mean saying no to unreasonable demands at the workplace.
Those who know their limitations welcome help. One female manager who had experienced burnout said that the key to avoiding it is to ask for help. Still, as she says, “a lot of people are afraid to ask for help because they may be looked upon as failing in their job.” Be it housework, schoolwork, or secular work—whatever is threatening you with burnout—delegate work where you can. You will be surprised to see how things get accomplished without your directly managing everything.—Compare Exodus 18:13-27.
You may need some rest. A leave of absence can work miracles for a potential victim of burnout. However, if your circumstances do not allow for that, “if you know how to have fun, it makes a difference,” says researcher Ann McGee-Cooper. Taking a break for a change of pace may even increase productivity, stimulating your mind toward creative thinking. What King Solomon advised years ago still holds true: “Better is a handful of rest than a double handful of hard work and striving after the wind.”—Ecclesiastes 4:6.
A Supportive Circle for Communication
The second “C” that Dr. Ono mentioned involves communication. It is interesting that fire fighters rarely experience burnout. This may be because, in addition to being considered heroes, they are tied together by a strong bond of camaraderie. Having a supportive group to lean on, one can draw help from them. Where can you find comforting support today? Describing ways for physicians to cope with burnout, the book Moetsukishokogun (Burnout Syndrome) states: “For doctors, their family, especially their spouse, is the most effective and realistic emotional supporter.” Everyone needs someone in whom to confide personal feelings. In this matter of communication, the Bible offers practical advice. It encourages married couples to maintain romantic attachments to each other and tells all to have friends who can make solid workable suggestions.—Proverbs 5:18, 19; 11:14.
“We must build our own support system of close friends and family,” says USA Today. It then adds: “We also must feel free to utilize the resources of our religious centers and mental health services.” Concerning how to tap religious resources for help, Jesus’ half brother James wrote: “Is there anyone sick among you? Let him call the older men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, greasing him with oil in the name of Jehovah.” (James 5:14) Christians who have problems can find refreshment by talking with the elders of the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Although the elders are not specialists in dealing with burnout, the spiritual support they offer is invaluable.
While a human support system may recharge us for another day, it may not always be enough. In the introduction to his book, Helplessness, Martin E. P. Seligman pointed to the unbridled individualism seen in the West as a cause for the increase in depression today, and he expressed the need for finding a meaning in life. He then showed that “one necessary condition for meaning is the attachment to something larger than you are.” Although many people today do not take their relationship with God seriously, communication with the Creator—who is certainly “larger than you are”—can help you to cope with feelings of helplessness.
King David, who faced many crises, encouraged his subjects: “Trust in [God] at all times, O people. Before him pour out your heart. God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:8) God is ready to give his ear, even to our “groanings unuttered.” (Romans 8:26) Earnestly petitioning him results in the peace that can “guard your hearts and your mental powers” against burnout.—Philippians 4:6, 7.
Changing Your Viewpoint
Finally, a change may be needed in how you view your situation. Cognition, or perception, is the last “C” that Dr. Ono suggests as a way to cope with burnout. When under excessive stress, we tend to make negative estimates of everything and entrap ourselves in pessimistic viewpoints. However, we have to be realistic. Analyze whether or not there really is a basis for such negative thinking. Will the result be as bad as you fear? Try to look at things from another point of view.
“You can begin by assuming that if you’re burned out, it’s probably because you’re ‘good,’ not because you’re ‘bad,’” says Parents magazine. Remember: Types who are prone to burnout have high standards and care about others. What is most helpful for a burnout victim is a word of appreciation. It will make a big difference to a mother if her husband and children express and show appreciation for all the work involved in running a household. If a middle manager suffers burnout at work, an appreciative comment and a pat on the back can change his outlook for the good.
The Bible shows how a capable wife merits commendation: “Her sons have risen up and proceeded to pronounce her happy; her owner rises up, and he praises her. There are many daughters that have shown capableness, but you—you have ascended above them all.” (Proverbs 31:10, 28, 29) Indeed, “pleasant sayings are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and a healing to the bones.”—Proverbs 16:24.
Shinzo, the Christian elder mentioned in the first article, recovered considerably from his burnout. Although he received professional assistance, what helped Shinzo most was his prayers to Jehovah. Following his earnest prayers for help, he happened to meet the elder who had first studied the Word of God with him. That elder, as well as other fellow elders, supported him by listening to his anxieties. From an earlier issue of the journal you are now reading, articles on overcoming negative emotions were read to him by his wife. (October 8, 1992) Gradually he realized he was trying to do everything by himself. His way of looking at what was happening around him started to change. Although he felt at first that he was in an endless tunnel of despair, he saw a light at the other end that slowly became bigger until he finally came out of his tunnel.
Just like Shinzo, you too can cope with burnout and face life again.
[Box on page 8]
Twelve Ways to Prevent Burnout
THE following are based on just a few of the suggestions offered by a clinical specialist in mental-health nursing.
1. Be in control of your thoughts, feelings, and behavior—prayer is a great help.
2. When you start to worry, deliberately change over to useful, decisive thinking.
3. When agitated, take a deep breath and consciously relax.
4. Try to see situations from the other person’s viewpoint to understand how the stress has developed.
5. Focus on what you appreciate in others and compliment them. Express not flattery but earned praise.
6. Identify and stifle negative, destructive thinking.
7. Know how to say no when your energy and schedule call for it.
8. Engage in some physical exercise every day—brisk walking is good.
9. Treat others with respect, seeking to bring out their best.
10. Keep a sense of humor and a twinkle in your eye.
11. Leave your work problems at the workplace.
12. Do today what must be done—don’t procrastinate.
(Adapted from “Dealing With Feelings, Beating Burnout,” by Ruth Dailey Grainger, American Journal of Nursing, January 1992.)
[Picture on page 8, 9]
Burnout often strikes the unrelenting, driven person