On Mar, 23 2021
Burnout in helping professions is a real danger. While caring for others is rewarding, inspiring, and can even be restorative, social workers, nurses, teachers, and ministers experience the highest rate of burnout.
Campus ministers pour long, unconventional hours into events and discipleship, and the demands of campus ministry can lead to spiritual and emotional exhaustion as we navigate the best ways to serve our students. We experience this even when our ministries are thriving! So, if we add in another layer of toxic relationships and conflict within our staff or students, burnout is an even greater threat.
I’ve been in a helping profession my entire career, and I’ve definitely experienced chronic workplace stress. It is not pretty. I was filled with resentment and questioned my career path and my ability to help others and was left feeling pretty discouraged and hopeless. Along the way, I discovered that if I can be more aware of the signs and symptoms of burnout, I can prevent it before it’s too late.
I created a checklist that I constantly keep on my radar of signs I might be heading toward burnout. Any of these on their own might not be dangerous, and we always need to consider the context of the season we’re in. But if you find that many or most of these are true for you, it’s time to take a step back to put some solid boundaries and self-care into your routine so you can continue to care for others well.
5 signs of ministry burnout:
- Your spiritual health is suffering. How’s your prayer? Sometimes this part of our lives can become routine and dry – even in ministry. Spiritual dryness is not a symptom of burnout on its own, but if the responsibilities of your role are preventing you from connecting with God in ways that are life giving that would be a solid sign.
- Your physical health is suffering. Have you been sick more often than is typical for you? Maybe you have more headaches or more digestive issues, or your appetite has drastically changed. Sometimes this looks like insomnia or persistent fatigue. Trust your body to tell you if you’re experiencing chronic stress, and don’t ignore it.
- You are doing the bare minimum. You know what your maximum potential is in ministry, and you know when you’re not doing it. Maybe you’re accepting what is “good enough” because you’re too exhausted to give any more effort. You may even begin to dread some aspects of your role and instead of being fully present you are simply showing up out of obligation.
- You are withdrawing from others. If your personal relationships are suffering because you would prefer to isolate over engage, this is a solid sign that you’re burning out. If your spouse, best friends, or coworkers comment that you’re more irritable, sad, or just not yourself, trust that they see something that maybe you don’t. If you don’t have the energy to give to the people you love, it’s time to evaluate where that energy is going.
- You have no joy. If you’re more cynical than you are joyful, burnout may be on the horizon. Maybe you used to love attending ministry events and discipleship with your students and now those things just don’t excite you anymore. Are you participating in the hobbies you enjoy? We were meant to labor, leisure, and love – not just labor!
Campus ministry, while fulfilling on many levels, is also incredibly demanding. I've often heard campus ministers say they feel they're "on an island on their own". It's true. Campus ministry has a very specific set of challenges that can often be isolating.
Without proper self-care it can be challenging to even know when we're experiencing burnout. There’s a great metaphor to describe self-care. You know the oxygen masks on airplanes? When the flight attendant is explaining how to use them, the instruction is to PUT YOUR MASK ON FIRST, and then assist those around you. Perhaps you’ve been making sure all your students have their masks on, but you’ve forgotten to put on yours?
Take a few minutes to read through these statements and honestly examine if you’re headed toward burnout, or maybe already experiencing it.
How are you feeling after reading these statements? Are many or most of these true for you? The good news is there are many tools and practices available to address burnout, but first But first, we have to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms before it happens.
You are not alone. Campus ministers are often in their roles because they feel called to this very special ministry walking with young adults. Reach out to an experienced professional at Newman who can walk you through this self-assessment and encourage you in establishing a self-care routine that renews and refreshes both you and your ministry.