Is there life after burnout? Of course there is! But if it looks no different than the life before burnout…you already know where you’re headed. Change is needed. Right there, I lost some of of you.
Let me qualify what I mean by change. I am not talking “breakthrough” change. You know, the person who is a chain smoker on Monday and by Friday they have kicked the habit, their lungs are pink, and the cough is gone.
I am talking five-degree, course-correction change. Picture an 18th Century sailing vessel after a squall at sea. When the wind ceases the captain may take a sextant reading to determine their exact location and find they have blown slightly off course–no big deal in the short term but over a few hundred nautical miles, what starts as a tiny gap at the small end of the V becomes wider and wider at the far end. So he makes a five-degree course correction.
Let’s be honest; five degrees is just about all that most of us can manage and maintain. If New Year’s Resolutions were five-degree course changes, we could actually keep them! Instead of buying a gym membership on January first, buy a drop-in punch pass and if you use it 10 times this year — success! Be realistic. Next year, you might go through two passes.
Okay, so change is needed. But in small doses. How do I know what to change? Where do I start? Start with the most fixable problem — it’s important to have some small victories. They encourage you to keep moving forward.
Remember the Baptist pastor I wrote about? His doctor recommended he take time off work and the pastor complied. Six months later he went back to the same job; but he was not the same man. He delegated more. He scaled back his expectations of himself and others. He took a day off each week.
So what if you can’t take six months off? Or six weeks? Or six minutes?! You’re a mommy with a fussy baby? You’re a caregiver of a terminally ill spouse or a parent with dementia? You’re a single parent with a demanding job and little or no help from the absent parent? But you are also the victim of enough chronic stress that you are always tired, critical, unenthusiastic, hopeless, emotional, brain-addled, spiritually dry, in short, burnt out.
Then you are the person who must think “five-degree change” because that is your only real option.
For instance: Two mommies, two babies, two cities, one problem: the baby didn’t sleep. A big enough problem in itself but add to that, two toddlers that kept mommies going all day while the crying babies kept them up all night. One of these mommies has plenty of support and although she’s tired, she’s not burnt out.
The other mommy sent a text to her closest relative saying she was at the end of herself — physically, emotionally, spiritually. Sounds like burnout to me…especially if you know that this mommy lost her own mother last summer, had surgery and is on treatment for a chronic disease, and is quickly using up her maternity leave from a demanding job she needs to keep because her husband is currently out of work in an oil-dependant economy on hard times.
If you’re a mom and have been there, just reading that made your belly hurt. But, thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. Both mommies made five-degree changes. The tired mommy, after cutting out dairy, gluten, soy, corn, spices and everything delicious, and seeing little improvement in her breast-fed baby, buttoned up her blouse and bought some formula. The six-month old baby started gaining weight, having normal diapers and sleeping better.
The burnt out mommy hired a sleep consultant–for the baby!! Who knew there was such a goddess?! (I’d have sold everything to hire her 36 years ago when my primary spawn drove me mad with nocturnal crying.) The baby started sleeping and mommy began to heal.
Healing takes time. Especially if the changes are incremental and small. But moving towards wellness just feels so much better. Once our faces are turned toward the light, even though we are still in a “pit” we have hope for a better day.
Another aspect of healing from burnout is that, as we improve, our thinking begins to clear and the path to wellness comes into focus, revealing the next small course correction.
If you are already a Christ follower, and experiencing burnout, please know that He is calling you into rest. If you are not, consider a five-degree change that involves looking into the person of Christ.
Feel free to add your “five cents worth” regarding small change (pun intended) and its healing effect on burnout.