By Alyssa Roat, Crosswalk.com
Editor’s Note: Crosswalk's Singles Advice is an advice column for singles featuring an anonymous question from a Crosswalk.com reader with a thoughtful, biblical reply from one of our single contributors.
I’m young and single, so I figure I better do everything I can while I still have time, in the case I have a family one day. I love what I do, but lately, I’ve just felt tired, and I feel like my productivity is slipping. Am I burning myself out? Is there anything I can do about it?
There seems to be a generally held notion that if a person doesn’t have children and/or a spouse, they must have all the time in the world.
When I was a student at a Christian college, multiple chapel speakers told us, “You have more time now than you’ll ever have again in your life!” They used this logic to encourage us to sign up and volunteer for more and more ministry opportunities, clubs, and organizations.
I believed them and despaired. If my current state with a full credit load while simultaneously working multiple jobs and internships was the most time I would ever have in my life, I had no idea how I was going to survive the “real adulthood” they spoke of.
Thankfully, those chapel speakers were very, very wrong.
However, this highlights a problem that often plagues young (and not-so-young) Christians: we are expected to excel in work, school, and social life, and after all that, also be involved in at least a ministry or two.
Burnout is a term usually associated with work, but it also occurs at high rates in undergraduate and graduate school, ministry work, and service. For many Christian singles, all of those things may be on our plates simultaneously, creating the perfect recipe for burnout.
What Is Burnout?
Burnout as a phenomenon has been widely studied by doctors and psychologists. Though there is still much to learn, burnout has been found especially prone to hitting hardworking, “I can do anything I set my mind to” personalities who may put more mental, physical, and emotional pressure on themselves than they can realistically handle.
According to Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter, burnout is caused by chronic stress and is characterized by three things:
- Exhaustion (both physical and emotional)
- Detachment and/or cynicism
- Feeling ineffective and unaccomplished
The Mayo Clinic defines burnout as “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.”
Signs of Burnout
There are many signs and symptoms of burnout, and they may vary from person to person. Here are ten common signs:
- Exhaustion or chronic fatigue
- Forgetfulness, or impaired concentration and attention
- Lack of motivation
- Frustration and cynicism
- More frequent illness, insomnia, and/or loss of appetite
- Loss of enjoyment
- Decreased productivity/slipping job performance
One thing to remember about burnout is that it occurs over a long period of time. One doesn’t wake up one morning suddenly burned out; rather, things slowly deteriorate, sometimes so slowly that a person might not realize until the problem has gotten out of hand. When evaluating yourself for burnout, compare yourself not to last week, but to last year, or even five years ago.
What Can I Do about Burnout?
“Scale back” may seem like the simple answer, but sometimes it is the opposite of what a person who is burnt out and fed up needs to hear. People facing burnout often feel possessive of everything that is driving them over the edge. Chances are, you love and are passionate about the very things that are burning you out.
The trick is to think not about deleting things from our lives, but rather modifying things.
Here are five steps you can take if you believe you are facing burnout.
1. Identify what is causing you the most stress and see if you can modify that thing.
According to this study published in The Journal of Health and Human Services Administration, there are six areas of work that can cause burnout: excess workloads, lack of control, insufficient rewards (whether emotionally or financially), problems with others in the workplace, unfair practices, and conflicts of values.
If you can identify which of these things are causing you stress, you can evaluate whether there is a way to solve that problem—without walking away from your job or passion entirely. Whether this involves seeking reconciliation with coworkers, confronting a toxic environment, or bringing concerns to a supervisor, solving the specific issue may result in a significant drop in stress levels.
2. Place boundaries between work (whether your job, ministry, or volunteer work) and your home life.
Sometimes the emotional strain of our jobs and activities is just as exhausting as the physical and mental strain. Especially when these jobs or positions involve emotionally taxing work, this can hang over our heads long after we return home.
At the same time, especially with many people currently working at home, sometimes there is no physical distance either.
Whether you need to set specific hours for yourself, relegate your laptop to a single room of the house, put your phone in a drawer, and/or spend a few minutes in prayerful meditation before walking in the front door, make sure to regularly remove yourself emotionally, physically, and mentally from the strain of your concerns when they are no longer your responsibility.
Set boundaries for yourself. Those emails will still be there in the morning.
3. Take care of yourself physically.
Spending more of that precious time you never seem to have enough of on sleeping or exercising seems counterintuitive, but in the long run, it will improve your productivity. Sleep and exercise will help you cut through brain fog, build endurance, and leave you in a better mental state overall.
4. Reevaluate what you really need to be doing, and whether there are things that you can trust others to do.
Sometimes we burn ourselves out doing things we really don’t need to be doing.
If you’re a workaholic or recovering workaholic (see my Crosswalk Singles article on that here) the idea of letting anything go may sound horrifying. However, even if we can’t give up a job or responsibility entirely, there may be aspects of which we can relinquish control.
Are there tasks that can be delegated? Can you hire someone, or ask for more volunteers? Are there things you’re doing that require a lot of effort for little return? Is there a more efficient way to accomplish a task?
As the old adage goes, work smarter, not harder.
5. Make time for relaxation.
Our brains and bodies can’t fire at 100% all the time.
Instead of running on a depleted energy tank, working at a fraction of your potential, take the time to recharge so that when you do get back to work, you’re at your best.
Whatever you do to relax, it should be something that is relaxing for you. Maybe going to a social gathering helps you recharge, or maybe you need some time at home sipping tea and watching a favorite TV show. Maybe you need to be around people, or maybe you need to be alone. I recharge best when I’m alone with a book.
The Most Important Factor in Burnout
Even if you put all of the above into practice, you may still find yourself drained. In the end, our strength comes from one source: The Lord.
Isaiah 40:31 says, “But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
When we are overwhelmed, we must first and foremost go to God. We must pray not only for strength, but also for discernment on whether we are following the path He has set for us.
If you think you are facing burnout, talk to a counselor, mentor, and/or pastor, and most importantly, to God.
Alyssa Roat studied writing, theology, and the Bible at Taylor University. She is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E., the publicity manager at Mountain Brook Ink, and a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing Services. Her passions for Biblical study and creativity collide in her writing. Her debut novel Wraithwood releases Nov. 7, 2020. She has had 150+ bylines in publications ranging from The Christian Communicator to Keys for Kids. Find out more about her here and on social media @alyssawrote.
Disclaimer: any single editor replying to reader questions through this advice column is a Christian seeking God's direction through his Word. We are not trained psychologists or licensed professionals. As we explore issues with you, we will seek God's guidance through prayer and the Bible.
Have a question? If you have a question about anything related to living the single life, please email [email protected] (selected questions will be addressed anonymously). While we cannot answer every question, we hope you'll find encouragement in this column.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes
Alyssa Roat studied writing, theology, and the Bible at Taylor University. She is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E., the publicity manager at Mountain Brook Ink, and a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing Services. She is the co-author of Dear Hero and has 200+ bylines in publications ranging from The Christian Communicator to Keys for Kids. Find out more about her here and on social media @alyssawrote.