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How to Avoid Burnout when Helping Others How to Avoid Burnout when Helping Others

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Matthew 11: 28-30

According to the Mayo Clinic , burnout is "a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work."

While some individuals minister directly to people, anyone who works for the church is a minister for building up the Kingdom. Whether a pastor, clergy, lay ecclesial minister, administrator, support staff, or committed volunteer, every person in ministry can be susceptible to overstress (distress), complacency, or routines that over time can lead to symptoms of burnout .

Here are some ways to prevent burnout in ministry.

Take care of yourself, your whole self – mind, body, soul – and develop a healthy life-ministry balance.

Jesus spent time in prayer, time with his circle of disciples away from the crowds and public ministry — though they had a way of finding him — to physically, emotionally and spiritually unplug, refresh, and renew himself. Jesus cared for and received the care of those who accompanied him.

Know what refreshes and renews you.

This varies for each person, but there is the same need for each person for healthy self-care. If you are too busy to pray, to eat healthy, regularly exercise, enjoy restful sleep, and leave ministry at the church, then you are too busy. Learn to recognize and develop strategies to prevent ministry burnout .

Set healthy, reasonable boundaries and expectations for yourself and others.

Most individuals working as lay ecclesial ministers do so out of a sense of calling, mission and wanting to serve others for the building of the Kingdom. However, this does not remove the need to know when to say ‘no’ to others and yourself, to be assertive , and to put healthy limits on your giving beyond your primary priorities and capacity.

Over-extending and over-giving your time and energy over the long-term, leaves one vulnerable to self-neglect and failing to replenish the energies that one is giving. This can lead to distress and burnout . Learn to recognize and know your limits and set healthy boundaries with yourself and others.

Don’t isolate.

As ministers, we need to be ministered to in order to be effective and fruitful in our work for the Kingdom, especially over time. We each need trusted confidants to emotionally process our stressors, point out our vulnerabilities, provide us with checks and balances, and encourage and build us up.

This will be different for each individual depending upon their vocation and life circumstances. Single individuals will need to build and retain a network of friendships. Married individuals have a spouse that is designed to be a primary emotional support and provide checks and balances — often unsolicited — on our activities and time. Pastors need fellow pastors and trusted confidants, whether they be a small group, spiritual director, or professional counselor. Seek out mentor relationships and accountability to keep yourself fit and focused for ministry.

Find the right fit for ministry.

You should have a sense of calling to serve others through the gifts that God has given you for specific ministry. Discovering your unique charisms for ministry will guide you to where God is calling you and will help you become energized as God’s grace operates in and through your ministry. Even if your calling is only in aspects of your gifts for ministry, it is important to discern where God is placing you in this vocation. Otherwise, we can look at ministry as a job we occupy rather than a calling to serve and over time it can become a drain on our energy that can lead to burnout.

Resources for Self-Care in Ministry

Catholic Apostolate Center offers FREE Webinars on Self Care for Healthy Ministry including:

  • Ministering to Difficult People — Emily R. Cash, Psy.D., Catholic psychologist, offers emotional intelligence and self-care tools for ministering to people with difficult personalities.
  • Grace Under Pressure: Increasing Your Stress Tolerance — Emily Cash, Psy.D., Catholic psychologist, identifies healthy ways to manage our response to stressful situations.
  • Building Resilience to Beat Burnout — Taryn Millar, Psy.D., Catholic psychologist, offers skills for building personal resilience and preventing ministry burnout.
  • Spiritual Self-Care: A Foundation for Healthy Ministry — Rev. David Songy, O.F.M.Cap., S.T.D., Psy.D., explores strategies for spiritual and emotional self-care to support healthy, sustainable ministry.

Blue Cross® Virtual Well-Being

Blue Cross Virtual Well-Being provides live weekly webinars and downloadable content to support well-being. The webinars are available to all Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan customers and members and cover such topics as financial wellness, resilience, emotional health, physical health, social connectedness, happiness, meditation and more. Find:

If you have other best practices or resources for avoiding burnout, share them in our Encounter Grow Witness online community !