I think we can all relate to what it is like to be running on empty—when we find ourselves not being able to do more, give more, be more—when we realize there is no more left of us to give. We give, do and are, and in the process forget to feed and renew our giving, doing, and being.
I encounter this kind of emptiness more often than I would like. I understand some things in life we have no control over, but most of the times we make either a conscious or an unconscious choice to keep going without refueling. We know we need to refuel, but we don't say no, we don't stop, we don't take care of ourselves and run out. I only recognize that I am empty when I start feeling resentment, frustration and anger towards those I serve, and in the end, towards myself. Why didn't I take care of myself before it got this bad? I promise myself to do better, to recognize the signs of burn out before it happens again, but I go on my merry way and do it all over again.
Since this is a recurring theme in my life and in in the lives of many of those who serve their families, work, churches, and communities, I would like to take a better look at some of the ways we allow this to happen. For me, the key to dealing with burnout is to go inward and examine more closely how and why I choose to burn out. It is a choice after all. Even if the circumstances of my life are stressful and burdensome, I can choose my response to them. So here it goes:
I am over-responsible. I choose to take responsibility for every small and sometimes big thing that comes my way.
I internalize my sense of responsibility. Even if something is not my responsibility, I internally take it on as mine—without even realizing it. Getting my kids ready in time for church, school, etc. is really more their responsibility now than mine, but I take it on without thinking.
I keep pushing myself to keep going, even if the signs of burn out are starting to creep in. I simply ignore them. Because I am tough, I can do this.
I don't ask for help, because I don't want to burden others, since this task or situation is my responsibility anyway—did I say I feel over-responsible? I also don't want others to be stressed about helping me and burn out. Isn't it so very thoughtful of me? And can I just say one more thing here—asking for help is sometimes more stressful than just doing it myself. There, I said it.
I don't make good choices about self care. I keep pushing and going until I can no longer ignore the burn out because it is finally staring me closely in the face.
I fail to practice good boundary setting. Enough said.
So now what? How do we actually change this running on empty routine we are in? Here are some steps:
Knowing what choices drive your burnout is the first step to dealing with it
Intentionally stopping and looking at our how full your tank is another—not ignoring the little yellow light saying “your tank is getting empty, better fill it up before you run out.”
Asking for help (even if it is hard)
Knowing your limits and intentionally setting them
Talking about how you are doing with someone you trust
Finding quiet time for reflection and prayer—in other words, God Time.
How full is your tank right now? In what ways do you take care of yourself? What fills you as you run on empty?
As it usually happens once I start thinking and writing about a topic, God sends me a wonderful new-to-me resource. Today, I happened to find a new book dealing with the issue of women finding time for themselves. The book is called The Fringe Hours: Taking Time for You, by Jessica Turner. I haven't read it yet, but there are many wonderful reviews of it online. I highly recommend that you check it out. We all need reminders to keep taking care of our souls, bodies, and minds as we serve our families, work, churches, and communities. Be blessed in all the work you do, take time for yourself and for God. Fill up your tank.