We Can Recover!
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June 2021. The last 15 months have been stressful for everyone. In America, we’ve experienced a pandemic, deaths, an extended lock-down, job layoffs, civil unrest, and rapid societal/political changes. It seems everyone is experiencing what I call pandemic burnout.
I experienced severe burnout years ago; I became dysfunctional and had to resign my job as a result. Burnout was becoming common as people had to work harder and longer, and I investigated it so I could recover from it and never experience it again; maybe even help others avoid it.
Characteristics of Burnout
Burnout is caused by prolonged stress, which can have many causes or take many forms. This is more than just having a bad day or an extended unpleasant experience. Typically, it’s caused by overwhelming, unavoidable, never-ending stress.
The typical characteristics of burnout are well-documented in many books and online articles. As someone progresses through the stages of burnout, they’ll experience more of these symptoms and the symptoms will become more severe. Following are burnout’s typical characteristics:
- Mental fogginess, difficulty making decisions, indifference.
- Problems concentrating and remembering even the familiar.
- Decreased motivation or energy, even physical exhaustion.
- Frustration, increased conflict, despair, increased suicide risk.
- Increased blood pressure, arrhythmia, or palpitations.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Sudden weight gain.
That last characteristic needs clarification. When we begin to experience stress, we often snack more often or turn more frequently to comfort foods, which obviously can cause weight gain. However, with prolonged, severe stress, we experience detrimental hormonal changes, which can cause our bodies to begin storing visceral fat as a “survival” food. This is “belly fat,” a dangerous fat that collects around our vital organs and produces an imbalance of chemicals and hormones, potentially causing severe physical problems.
When I experienced burnout years ago, I gained about 10 pounds in a few months. I eventually was able to get my weight down to a more acceptable level. This year, in addition to other symptoms, I gained seven pounds in just four months. That’s when I realized I was experiencing burnout again, because I recognized the symptoms. Now I’m able to address the causes of burnout before it becomes a serious health threat.
Pandemic Burnout Recovery
There’s good news: We can recover!
The normal recovery techniques include mental relaxation, eating healthy, staying hydrated, and getting exercise, among others.
As Christians, we obviously can benefit from the normal techniques, but we can recover more and faster by practicing spiritual hygiene, too. We are spiritual beings, with psyches or souls, temporarily living in physical bodies, and each of our three parts is affected by the others. That means burnout affects us spiritually, but it also means our spirits can help our other parts recover faster.
Consider some spiritual “best practices,” which are important even under normal circumstances but become essential during difficult times. We can restore our spirits through worship, thankfulness, praise, celebration, and forgiving others. We can nourish our spirits through Bible study, periodic time with God, and enjoying his creation – nature, fine arts, and such. We can strengthen our spirits through prayer, dialoging with God, and journaling. Pick one or two of these and begin practicing them with the specific goal of recovering from burnout.
It also would be helpful to address the cause of burnout – stress – in addition to the fear and despair caused by events related to the pandemic. Faith in God focuses on his love for us and his commitment to do what’s best for us, including providing what we need. Faith in God is the opposite of fear, which world circumstances promote. Peace is the opposite of stress, and the two cannot coexist! Hope is a confident expectation of what is good, needed or desired, and is the opposite of despair. Focusing on faith, peace and hope will not only distract us from the fear, stress and despair, it will strengthen us spiritually so we can actually thrive in difficult times.
Jesus said we’ll have trouble in the world, but we can be encouraged because he has overcome the world (John 16:33). The Bible also says everyone born of God – that’s us – overcomes the world (1 John 5:4-5). Yes, we live in this world and what happens here affects us, but if we practice good spiritual hygiene, we can thrive despite our circumstances.