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Burnout: The Post-Pandemic Pandemic

We are almost three years post-pandemic and still feeling the effects. For numerous families, COVID has played a harmful role in bringing anxiety, depression, health issues, and even death. For other families, it did very little but add a wet blanket to an otherwise normal life. Yet the societal effects of lockdowns and changes in the workplace, schools, and culture have placed a weight on lives that are difficult to measure except by the simple term, ‘capacity.’ We, as a society, are nearing, have reached, or have exceeded our emotional and sometimes physical capacity…and it’s showing.

Numerous mental health studies have concluded that anxiety and depression have risen by around 25%, and people have reported that their mental health has decreased since the COVID pandemic. Stress, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and loneliness have increased. Motivation and morale in the workplace have declined while many are not showing up to work, leaving others to do more than their fair share. Threats of looming wars, gas shortages, polarizing politics, inflation, and relational conflicts have taken their toll on our emotional health.

One more thing to do. One more thing we can’t do. One more thing that went wrong. One more issue at work, home, school, or in a relationship. We have become overwhelmed, or at least a step shy of it. And what are we to do? How are we to cope? What will help us increase our capacity so the “one more” doesn’t put us over the edge in tears or anger responses?

We have chosen to relax our brains without reflecting on what we feel, why we feel this way, and what heart issues need to be addressed for healing and rest.

These questions do not simply point us to what we ought to do but also tell us what has been another factor influencing burnout. The automatic places we’ve been turning to regularly for coping have failed us. While smartphones, entertainment, food, busyness, and addictive substances and behaviors have promised pleasurable escapes from the stresses, they never address the soul’s need to find rest and fulfillment. We have chosen to relax our brains without reflecting on what we feel, why we feel this way, and what heart issues need to be addressed for healing and rest. We are failing to turn to a Person for refreshment, and when we do, we often approach within the shallowness of our busyness and stress and fail to establish the deeply personal and intimate connection our souls long for with the Lord.

So allow me to dig a little deeper into several areas of our lives, including what we’re doing in the present, why we’re doing it, what is in the heart, and what we’re turning to. These areas may help us understand what contributes to burdens and burnout.

What are all the activities you’re doing in the present? Make a list of these activities and then ask yourself, why am I doing these things? I’ve had the privilege to speak to many pastors and church leaders about 5 common motives we experience on a regular basis. They are “Have to,” “Need to,” “Willing to,” “Want to,” and “Get to .” The have-to’s and need-to’s are actions we must do in our lives, or else they bring the greatest of consequences. There is an “or else” component to them that brings a consequence we don’t want to face. I have to cook dinner or else he’ll get angry. I have to take my kids to all their activities or else they will hate me. I have to attend all these meetings or else the elders will fire me. I need to go to work or else I will be fired.

While there will always be some have-to’s and need-to’s in our lives, I’ve found that the more have-to’s and need-to’s are present in our lives, the more likely we are overwhelmed and burned out. The have-to’s and need-to’s can be perspective issues that need to change, or they may include a responsibility that needs to be put aside or given to someone else. So what is it that you’re doing, and are these things have-tos or need-tos? If so, is it a perspective shift that needs to occur or an activity that ought to be dropped? Pray about it. Additionally, what are the get-tos and want-tos in your life? Because the more get-to’s and want-tos are present, the greater capacity we have for other things in our lives.

Second, it’s crucial to identify heart motives that may be contributing to burdens and burnout. Often, people cause themselves anxiety and depression (two common signs of burnout) when trying to reach personal goals that are not necessarily in line with God’s desires. For example, a person-driven individual will often seek to please the people around them for approval. Yet trying to please everyone can be completely exhausting and brings about anxiety to please and depression when failing. These burdens can be great! Or a performance-driven person will often work so hard to accomplish a number of tasks to reach their goal or standard, yet in the process, will become anxious about reaching the goal of perfection and feel down when they fall short. Burnout can happen because our deceiving hearts place undue burdens on ourselves that are unreachable—burdens that are impossible to achieve and are not from God.

Lastly, where or to what do you regularly and “naturally” turn when you are stressed? I place the term “naturally” in quotes because these are things we turn to without thinking or processing what’s inside us. These are our automatic responses to having stress-filled lives. I list a number of these in a previous paragraph. How often do you do these things and turn to these things? More often than in the past? Do you find yourself needing these things more in the past? Why do you think that is? What is your heart truly longing for when you turn to these things?

“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.”
Matthew 11:28-29 (NIV)

All of our coping mechanisms make the same promise as Jesus, but they are imposters wanting your time and attention. “Come to me you who are burdened, and I will give you rest/escape,” says the TV, Smartphone, alcohol, and ________(insert your coping mechanism here). Yet only Jesus says, “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.”

By grace, Jesus does not add to the things you have to do or else. Instead, when we turn to Jesus with “willing to,” “want to,” and “get to” hearts, we experience something that no other coping mechanism can honestly give - rest for our souls. This is often what our deepest selves long for in a burdensome world. Through the grace of God, we don’t need to be people-driven or performance-driven people trying to achieve what cannot be achieved. He has achieved all that is needed for us. Our significance or value comes through Christ’s performance (his sinless and perfect life) and his love for you. This is also salvation from Christ alone. This is why his burden is light. His presence with us and in us through each struggle lightens our load. His gentleness does not condemn but encourages. His humbleness of heart does not accuse but serves. What a burdened, burned-out heart truly needs is rest for the soul. And we can find it in Jesus.

The post-pandemic burdens and burnout are real. We all are facing it and we’re struggling. Yet there is hope for us because we are a people of God who have the Holy Spirit indwelling us. We cannot silence the Holy Spirit through trusting in the promises of coping mechanisms, but instead, find time to connect deeply with our Savior. Take the time to feel your emotions, and seek comfort from Him. Ask the Lord to search your heart for motives that create burdens and burnout, and seek forgiveness and significance through Christ. Finally, discern the have-tos in your life, seeking wisdom for what you need to let go of or how to change your perspective (if required), and include more want-tos in your life. In doing so, you will find rest for your souls (and bodies, too!).

- Fred Jacoby, MA


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