We often look at different resources or strategies that are focused on helping others, or strengthening ministries however we want to do ministry without burning out.
Therefore every once and a while I sneak in an episode that focuses on your well-being as a caregiver.
This is not a time to tune out or skip as in this episode, I’m going to be talking about how we can do both-and. How we can support others, while at the same time tend to our well-being and needs?
HOW YOUR ROLE AS A CAREGIVER CAN IMPACT YOUR WELL-BEING
My family enjoys camping, we have a trailer and like to travel around to different parks to time away with our family and friends.
The campfire is part of the day that everyone looks forward to but when at a campfire everyone avoids sitting in the smoke, myself included.
However, regardless of how hard I try, I still walk away smelling like a campfire. The smell is in my clothes and hair, and sometimes my eyes and throat burn by the end of the night.
This is a great picture or analogy of what it can be like when we are caregivers and spend our lives serving in ministry.
We love connecting with and supporting people. As caregivers, we look forward to those moments where we can encourage and offer hope.
Nonetheless, regardless of how hard we try to have boundaries and not bring work home we are impacted by the stories of sadness, trauma, and suffering that others experience.
The stories we hear and the situations that we walk people through stick to us like smoke from a campfire. It can impact our own well-being, how we think, and how we see the world around us.
However just because we can be impacted by ministry life doesn’t mean that we can or should stop because just like many other professions and callings, there are workplace hazards and risks.
This is why there are safety precautions put in place so people don’t get hurt and have longevity in their careers. Things like safety gear and training requirements or limitations on how long someone can work.
So, in caregiving roles in ministry how can we continue to support others while staying safe so that we don’t get impacted by workplace hazards like burnout and compassion fatigue?
What prevention strategies can we put in place that will help caregivers have longevity in their ministry?
For those who have never heard of the term compassion fatigue let me give a brief explanation.
Compassion fatigue is when caregivers are depleted physically and emotionally as a result of their caregiving work. This impacts their ability to offer empathy and compassion to others and to themselves.
A key marker is when care giver’s worldview shifts due to being surrounded by suffering and loss or when they feel numb and lose empathy for others and themselves.
This is something I’ve experienced first hand and it’s different than burnout in that burnout can be experienced by anyone, not necessarily just by those who are caregivers. Burnout happens when people feel hopeless and helpless and experience periods of prolonged stress in any role they have.
These are very brief descriptions, back in episode 20, I share more about compassion fatigue and my experience.
But even with these descriptions, I’m sure you know of someone who has experienced compassion fatigue, burnout, or maybe like myself, they have experienced both.
If you are curious to learn more about your levels of burnout and compassion fatigue you can take the Professional Quality life quiz. This is a tool that measures your level of burnout compassion fatigue and satisfaction in your caregiving role.
If you go to https://www.findinghopeinhelping.org/quiz , and answer the 30 multiple choice questions your personal results will be sent to your inbox.
4 WAYS TO PREVENT BECOMING DEPLETED WHILE SERVING OTHERS
Like I said in Episode 20, I talk more about compassion fatigue and the top 10 signs I overlooked, but, today I want to offer 4 ways you can prevent becoming depleted while continuing to serve because we both know that there isn’t any end to people needing our support so having longevity in Care Ministry means you need to have preventative habits while serving.
During a quiet moment in prayer this past week, I was asking God to guide me so that my words were drenched with grace. In every conversation I had, people would walk away uplifted, encouraged and hopeful. This wasn’t the first time I prayed this, but it was the first time I heard this response back.
“Even those conversations you have with yourself.”
I get so focused on caring for others, that I forget that I need to apply the same things to myself. The Holy Spirit was correcting me this week in how I have spoken about myself to myself.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who is their worst enemy. I’m especially hard on myself if I don’t reach a goal, or if I forget to do something or make a mistake.
I would never speak to a friend the way I would sometime speak to myself. God’s gentle correction was a timely challenge for me to learn that I need to offer grace to myself and speak to myself the way I would speak to a friend.
In this episode, I’m sharing 4 practical ways you can continue to support others while meeting your own needs. And these tips are things that I often encourage others to use, but then forget to do them myself.
So, while these practical tips aren’t necessarily rocket science they are fantastic reminders that caring for ourselves is not selfish, but they prevent burnout, compassion fatigue, and simply treating ourselves like children of God just as we would a friend.
1. Managing expectations
One of the most impactful ways you can serve others without sacrificing your own well-being is to manage expectations. To some this may sound great in theory but hard to do, day-to-day. Here is a practical example.
Say a prayer request came into your church that really should be responded to with a phone call but you have very little time or energy. Of course you don’t want to brush this person off, but the reality of the situation is that you don’t have 45 minutes to talk with them.
This doesn’t make you a terrible person. So how do you support this person, while at the same time have boundaries so it doens’t wear you out?
A simple way to manage expectations is to tell people upfront what you have available.
For example, if you only have 15 minutes for a phone call tell them that at the outset of the call. Another example would be, Hey, I heard about your situation and wanted to give you a call and check-in. I have about 15min to chat, please… tell me how are things going.
Then you can always agree to follow up later if the person needs more time or support. This allows you to support people, but at the same time have boundaries with your time.
I really encourage people in most situations to tell people what they can offer upfront. It’s so much nicer to tell people what you can do rather than saying no or trying to figure out how to end a conversation.
When people are given a boundary of what you can offer, most people respect that and are grateful for your support and if they are not respecting the boundary, well you have an easier way to end the conversation and re-book another time.
You can say, my meeting is about to start let’s connect again tomorrow. I have 30 minutes available to talk at 4 pm.
2. Micro-Moments of Reflections
Most pastors and care directors that I know have days full of back-to-back meetings, support sessions, and administration work.
It can be easy to become numb jumping from person to person, meeting to meeting, not reflecting on the impact of the stories, emails, and phone calls you are receiving.
In order to maintain longevity, I recommend developing a habit or ritual that offers you micro-moments of reflection.
For example, when I worked in a walk-in counseling clinic every hour would see a different individual looking for support. The weight of suffering I was exposed to would quickly become heavy if I didn’t learn how to reflect and care for myself in-between sessions.
This could be taking a couple of moments for breath work. It could be a centering prayer at intervals during the day, could listening to a song or stretching reflecting on your day.
My practice was that I used to pause in the hallway before walking through the office doors and say a small internal prayer like help me to be present for these people, and then afterward pause at my desk releasing the tension in prayer and stretching before writing notes.
These brief moments to reflect on may seem silly, but they are powerful and help sustain and support you as you support others.
I recommend developing a small habit to have a micro-moment of reflection once or twice in your day minimum. It will tend to your need right in the middle of a busy day serving others.
I view self-care as tending to your basic needs of food, rest, and moving. Or as I like to say, eat, sleep move.
We all need to eat lunch, for many Lunch time is eating a stale granola bar from the bottom of your drawer while sitting at your desk. While I am guilty of doing this, I keep reminding myself that I’m not helping anyone hungry and tired. So fueling my body is a must.
Treat your lunchtime like you would a date with a friend. You wouldn’t cancel on a friend at any request. You would consider it more carefully and you would be more likely to shift the time rather than cancel completely if something urgent came up.
I encourage you to open your calendar and schedule lunch every day for the rest of the week and consider it like an appointment you would have with a good friend.
When we eat lunch, we sit down for lunch we are accomplishing 3 things.
a) We are stopping our work and allowing our bodies and minds a break from the needs of others
b) we eating something healthy and nutritious to give fuel for the rest of the day.
c) When you pray before your meal you are recentering our minds and thoughts on Christ. It’s an opportunity to bring Him your frustrations, grief, and feelings of helplessness.
Selfcare also includes sleep and moving.
We are not our best when we are tired, so getting a good night’s sleep is tending to your needs and preparing you to be your best self for others.
I often ask people if they want to go for a walk while meeting or talking. This isn’t always feasible, but walking with someone is wonderful you can support them while also supporting your need for movement.
4. Connecting with others
The fourth way to support others while meeting your own needs is through connecting with others to debrief.
Debriefing is very beneficial in supporting others, but also meets a natural need for connection and support.
When you debrief with others you can:
- Offer problem-solving support strategies
- See care needs in a unique way
- Learn about different resources
- Be supported and encouraged
- Be validated and receive care
Care ministry is often lonely because you are dealing with a lot of confidential information, but I encourage all caregivers to seek out appropriate opportunities to debrief. I’ve introduced a Debriefing strategy called Low-impact Debriefing in Episode 8.
This is a trauma-informed approach to debriefing that supports the caregiver while honoring confidentiality.
As caregivers, so much of our focus is on how we can help others and while I don’t think that is wrong, if we don’t tend to our own needs and well-being we case lose our ability to offer empathy because of compassion fatigue or burnout of ministry.
But there are some options where we can care for others while supporting our own wellbeing.
These simple strategies, managing expectations, having micro- moments of reflection, making lunch a priority, going for a walk with people, and debriefing all support others at the same time as supporting your own well-being.
If you are curious to measure your levels of burnout and compassion fatigue you can go to https://www.findinghopeinhelping.org/quiz and after answering 30 multiple choice questions your custom score will be emailed directly to you.
I hope what was offered today was hope-filled and encouraging. Caring for others doesn’t have to mean neglecting yourself.
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