When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, a prominent concern was mental health — the depression, anxiety, stress, and fear that people would experience living in a state of semi or full-on quarantine. But as we trudge into the second half of 2021, a new mental health concern is on the rise: burnout.
Recent surveys in the United States show that 95 percent of workers are considering quitting their jobs, with burnout cited as the number one reason. And that sentiment doesn’t exclude pastors.
A recent Barna survey showed that 29 percent of pastors had given serious thought to quitting full-time pastoral ministry in the last year. Our churches are now filled with pastors and parishioners who are either already deeply stressed in their work and personal life or those who will be there soon.
In a clinical sense, burnout is “a special type of work-related stress—a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity,” according to Mayo Clinic. And while this definition of the phenomenon is primarily work-related, Lucy McBride of The Atlantic suggests expanding how we think about burnout:
Now is the time to redefine burnout as the mental and physical fallout from accumulated stress in any sphere of life, whether that’s work, parenting, caregiving, or managing chronic illness. To muster the energy for reentry into non-pandemic life, people need more than a vaccine and a vacation; they need validation of their experience, a broader reckoning with how they lived before March 2020, and tools to dig out from more than a year of trauma.
Christina Maslach of the University of California identifies three main areas where burnout first begins to reveal itself. People feeling strained in one or two of these areas need to address them quickly since burnout is progressive. The points to:
- Are you regularly physically and emotionally exhausted?
- Are you more cynical and detached than usual?
- Do you feel like you’re not contributing anything meaningful like you once were?
You can evaluate your own risk of burnout and receive recommendations for self-care using the Berkeley Haas Burnout Risk Index using the code “asana” as a project code.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I introduced a practical framework for self-care, which I adapted from concepts in Craig Ellison’s From Stress to Well Being: Contemporary Christian Counseling, that looks at stress in terms of four metrics: biological, psychological, social, and spiritual. Giving attention to these areas is important for processing the realities around burnout. The way God created us, our needs in each of these areas must be met to function healthfully.
The biological portion of the framework considers the physical aspects that have an impact on mental health. The three main factors to consider here are sleeping habits, eating habits, and physical activity. Individual circumstances may make it impossible to perfectly adhere to best practices in these categories, but you should evaluate and monitor them nonetheless.
The psychological portion of the framework looks at someone’s mental and emotional well-being, particularly how he or she manages stress. The realities of the last two years have resulted in more stress, fear, anxiety, and depression than many of us have dealt with in a long time — if ever. It is important to process that pain now with loved ones, friends, or professional help in ways that are appropriate to caring for the severity of your burden.
The social portion of the framework is about balancing social interaction and alone time in healthy ways. As people move from more isolated settings back into regular interaction, there may be stress and anxiety attached to resuming normal social activities. It is important to be aware of these pressures and dynamics and how they impact your stress levels.
Additionally, video conference fatigue is now a part of the social dynamic that has become more prominent since the pandemic began. “Video conferencing is actually physiologically more draining and requires more neurological effort to stay alert and maintain attention,” explains Sahar Yousef. “At the end of the day, when your body is tired and your attention is completely sapped, it isn’t your fault—your brain is overloaded.” In light of this, she suggests trying to schedule shorter meetings and scheduling phone calls instead of video calls whenever possible.
When it comes to stress, grief, anxiety, and loss, you must process these through a spiritual lens. It is important to pursue individual and corporate spiritual disciplines. Spiritual practices are always vital to the Christian life, but especially so under great stress. Frequent prayer and time in God’s word ground our mental health as we all filter our emotions through our relationship with God.
Similarly, caring for those in our congregation — and ourselves — means speaking into our ongoing pain and presenting a holistic, gospel-based view of self-care. Then, we can bring true healing to those in our midst as we continue to find our footing in years of disorienting circumstances.
A version of this article originally appeared at Redeemer City to City.