On the show today we discuss how compassion fatigue and burnout are different so that you as a ministry leader are able to identify what you are experiencing and tend to the needs that you have.
As leaders, we are focused on the needs of others and tend to overlook our own and this can lead to burnout or compassion fatigue.
While we struggle to find out what has led to this, we may blame ourselves or others hence my discussion in this episode to highlight the signs and symptoms of each burnout and compassion fatigue
Burnout Quiz: https://www.findinghopeinhelping.org/quiz
MY JOURNEY WITH BURNOUT
When I initially started working as a mental health social worker, I realized that my natural tendency to separate work and home might come in handy. For many years, I was able to listen to stories of agony, issues, and conflicts day after day while continuing to live my life and care for my family.
My armor, however, had cracked after ten years. I had become so reliant on my natural instincts or disposition that I had never developed the resiliency or self-care skills necessary to stay healthy.
Day in and day out, I taught others how to establish self-care habits and resiliency skills, but I never learned them for myself since I wasn’t obviously struggling.
I eventually came face to face with burnout, seeing my coworkers and the rest of the world through the prism and burden of compassion fatigue.
Perhaps you can relate to my situation. Serving others calls you to be a leader, and it may even energize you. However, your energy has gradually waned, and what once energized you now appears to empty you.
It’s in such moments that you start to doubt your calling, your abilities, and your faith. I’m here to tell you that struggle isn’t a sin, and it doesn’t mean you’re unqualified.
Burnout, compassion fatigue, or both, as in my case, is what you’re going through.
THE 3 COMPONENTS OF BURNOUT
Burnout is comprised of:
- Hopelessness; The thought that nothing is ever going to change
- Helplessness; Feelings that you have no control of your own circumstances
- Prolonged high levels of stress
This is the belief and mindset that things are going to be this way forever. A perception that nothing is going to change.
We tend to lose hope when there is a demand on our time or a deadline approaching and feel like we are in a hamster wheel struggling to keep up with everything.
Due to this, our mind starts believing that nothing will ever change. As leaders in ministry, we may often find ourselves feeling stuck, trapped, overwhelmed, and obligated.
This is all about lack of control and the feeling of powerlessness with the inability to say No.
Such a component usually occurs when you are stuck in a situation and find it had to decline. You end up carrying on the task however you feel resentful and frustrated.
In these scenarios, helplessness creeps in because you are completing the work because you have to not because you want to
Any change or threat to safety requires our body and mind to adapt.
Stress sets off a chain of chemical reactions in our mind and body and when we are in a constant state of change studies have shown that our health, immune system, and even our mental health are negatively impacted.
CAUSES OF STRESS IN MINISTRY
If you are constantly around people and suffering and have no opportunity for refueling this is exhausting. I have found that most pastors are introverts so this is especially draining.
If you are not making a living wage to support your family this is tremendously stressful.
- Relentless Schedule
There is an unrealistic expectation that a pastor has to be available 24/7 and have to prepare a transformational message every seven days. This may be part of the job, but we often forget that public speaking is known to be one of the most stressful events.
If you are experiencing these three things; helplessness, hopelessness, and prolonged stress you are likely experiencing burnout.
SIGNS OF BURNOUT
Here are a couple of signs to look out for in case you are wondering if you are experiencing burnout:
- Showing or feeling no interest or concern
- Struggling with sleep
- Lack of focus
- Chronic levels of depression and anxiety
- Self-medication with substances like caffeine, sugar, and alcohol to light up the feelings of overwhelm and low motivation.
HOW TO OVERCOME BURNOUT
It is possible to overcome burnout. One has to decrease one or more of its components by learning to say no, sticking to a schedule, and outsourcing responsibilities.
However, this requires a high level of intention, soul searching, support from a mentor and often requires having hard conversations.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BURNOUT AND COMPASSION FATIGUE
Compassion fatigue refers to the profound emotional and physical erosion that takes place when helpers are unable to refuel and regenerate.
While burnout can happen to anyone, compassion fatigue only happens to those who are caregivers like ministry leaders.
Ministry leadership requires people to open their hearts and minds to those who they are supporting – unfortunately, this very process of empathy and caring is what makes helpers vulnerable to the negative impacts of compassion fatigue
Compassion fatigue impacts your ability to extend empathy to others as well as your ability to have self-compassion or tend to your own well-being.
It’s been described as “the cost of caring” for others in emotional pain.
It is not a result of weakness, sin or failure, but it is an occupational hazard or known risk of providing empathy to others. And just like our work changes day-to-day, levels of fatigue ebb and flow from one day to the next so can your feelings of compassion fatigue.
EXAMPLES OF COMPASSION FATIGUE
When the same person asks to speak with you week after week eventually you may end up losing empathy. In the first or second week, you are likely highly compassionate, but after the third, fourth, or tenth your empathy for that person is weakened.
Not only do you lose empathy for others as a result of the thousands of similar stories, but also the intense stories you hear.
For instance, after a long day supporting those who struggle with serious mental illness, addictions, and homelessness I would struggle to summon the empathy for my husband who had to work through his lunch or the internet went down.
SIGNS OF COMPASSION FATIGUE
Compassion fatigue can also affect you in one way or another. As you struggle with showing empathy for others, you neglect empathy for yourself and this will lead to you withdrawing from self-care.
Your family and work-life will also be affected because of the suffering you hear and the care you offer.
In episode 20, I talk about 10 signs of compassion fatigue that experienced and if you believe that you might be struggling and want to hear more about the signs and symptoms of compassion fatigue I recommend you check that episode out.
HOW TO TRANSFORM YOUR LIFE AND GET DONE WITH BURNOUT AND COMPASSION FATIGUE
You would think that an issue that can impact every area of your life, family, health work, faith would require significant therapy or a drastic life change. But actually, just a few simple disciplines or practices will transform your life.
These 7 keys to resilience are not rocket science, in fact, I bet you have heard of most of them. But if you are anything like myself, when you measure your life up to these 7 keys you will see that in those times of struggle you are weak in most if not all of these areas.
Aside from the 7 keys, I offer a self-guided course for those looking for further support but aren’t feeling like they want to or need to seek a counselor. If you are interested in the course you can find it at findinghopeinhelping.org
7 Keys to Resilience
- Staying Connected; We are created to be in relationship with each other and with God. lthough it can be tempting to isolate in times of overwhelm, refreshing and freedom from shame comes when we connect with supporters.
- Rest; We need rest, not because we are weak but because that is God’s perfect model of work and it provides us protection. Rest not only includes physical rest, but it’s also important to recognize when you need mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual rest.
- Have Fun; This reduces stress, cultivates relationships, encourages creativity, engages our mind, and often allows us to explore God’s creation
- Meditation; As Christ-followers, our resilience is strengthened when we develop the habit of meditation by slowing our thoughts, intentionally focusing on God. This builds our ability to hear from Christ, and abide in Him throughout our day.
- Knowing who you are; There is so much freedom in knowing and being confident in who God made you to be.No one is good at everything however we often have the expectation that if God called us to do something we should be good at all of it.
- Boundaries; Even Jesus would often say “no” to people and “yes” to spending time alone, refueling with time in prayer (Luke 5:16). When someone asks you to do something, rather than stressing about saying “no”, tell people what you are saying yes to.
- Self-care; The goal of self-care is not to indulge in and fulfill selfish desires. The goal is to live out the great commandment found in Matthew 22:36-40, which commands us to love one another as we love ourselves. Taking time to care for yourself and refuel is not about whether or not you deserve it. It is about God wanting to love on His children because He wants you to know Him and He wants to refresh you.
Compassion fatigue impacts caregivers who have not had the opportunity to refuel. It is not a sign of sin, weakness, or failure. Experiencing compassion fatigue doesn’t mean you are disqualified but it is the red flag saying that you need to prioritize refueling.
Whereas burnout is the human experience of hopelessness, helplessness, and prolonged stress, anyone and everyone can experience burnout from children, seniors, professionals, and those in ministry.
Relief from burnout requires tending to one or more of hopelessness, helplessness, and stress.
With the help of these 7 keys to resilience once can work on overcoming both burnout and compassion fatigue.
CONNECT WITH HOPE MADE STRONG
Join the Church Mental Health Facebook Group! In the Facebook group, we chat about how to care for others, what are your challenges as well as share tons of resources. This is a great community of pastors, clinicians, and those with lived experience and we want to get to know you.