Recovery from Burnout: A Message of Hope and Help
As a new year begins, many of us are feeling the long-term fatigue of an ongoing pandemic, social unrest, church divisiveness, and an earth that is literally groaning in travail. Is it any wonder that burnout is rampant and mental health is in decline? Yet even before the pandemic, physician burnout was at such a high level in 2017 that both governmental and health industry leaders were investigating changes that would bring relief. Such burnout existed across the helping professions. In 2018, Cambodian Missionary Sarah Hilkemann wrote: Burnout felt like my car had run out of gas. But because I needed to keep going, I was pushing the car around, trying desperately not to let anything fall through the cracks.
This isn’t just every day, end-of-the-day fatigue. When your burnout feels like you’re pushing your car around, clinical depression and other physical and mental health issues are not far behind.
If this is you, maybe it’s time to start talking about new possibilities or even opening yourself to the possibility of hope for a better year ahead. Let me encourage you to leave discouragement behind and start the journey of recovery from burnout as the new year begins. Such a journey will be full of twists and turns, ups and downs, and fits and starts. There was a prophet in ancient Israel who prophesied to his fellow Israelites at a time when they were discouraged and burnt out—a time when they were exiled to a foreign land and felt abandoned by God. Isaiah delivered a promise from God of better days to come: “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare” (v. 9a). Even though things would not better quickly and good times were a long way off, Isaiah knew his people needed to trust that burnout and discouragement were not the end of their story. Only with such assurances could the Hebrew people begin to perceive and eventually embrace the possibilities ahead.
Recovering from burnout is not a simple, one-shot deal. Like the repeated vaccines needed for our bodies to resist the coronavirus, achieving renewal, hope, and health is a process that requires booster shots along the way—particularly amid a world filled with fear, sorrow, and anger. Missionary Sarah Hilkemann found hope and healing by seeking counseling, spiritual direction, and colleagues to support her work. Eventually, Sarah realized it was time to return to the States, where she now serves as a support person for overseas workers. Burnout doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Healing happens, for our lives are meant to be filled with purpose and hope.
So as the New Year begins, reach out to someone for support: call a friend for help, hire a coach or spiritual director for guidance and strength, ask a colleague to remind you to take breaks in your busy days, invite family to join you for a movie night or a morning walk on the beach, and even ask your boss for extended leave time from work. Let 2023 be the year when we help one another get back on the journey to healing and hope.
 Hilkemann, Sarah. There’s Hope After Burnout, “Velvet for Ashes” blogpost. https://velvetashes.com/theres-hope-after-burnout/