Burnout: How Can I Prevent It?


Welcome to the most well-researched set of burnout prevention skills in the world.

Burnout prevention results from:

Lifestyles that build resilience and prevent burnout

Burnout and depression result primarily from a lack of serotonin, norepinephrine and a few other important chemicals in the brain. Specific research-proven lifestyles can physically stimulate the brain to produce serotonin and other important brain chemicals. These chemicals provide a physical margin of resilience against burnout and depression. However, stress degrades the brain’s ability to produce these chemicals. And as chronic stress decreases the ability of the brain to produce these chemicals, the brain slows to the point at which an individual feels clinically depressed.

Unfortunately, the “blood-brain-barrier” prevents any pill or supplement from providing serotonin to the brain. These “brain” chemicals may keep the brain working at optimum performance levels, but they are produced only within the brain. Fortunately, research by Stephen Ilardi (2009) and others show that specific lifestyle behaviors stimulate the brain to physically increase its production of serotonin and other brain chemicals.

Repeatedly in the book of Psalms, King David describes emotions indicating that he probably experienced one or more episodes of major depression. However, King David rebounded, arguably, for two reasons:

  1. He consistently put his trust in God.
  2. His culture required him to adopt a lifestyle that automatically promoted physical resilience.

Many modern Christians neglect the lifestyles that promoted King David’s physical resilience. Due to this neglect, the depression rate in North America has soared 1000% over the past 50 years (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). And many ministers in developing countries also experience depression as they unwittingly adopt the lifestyles promoted by the North American culture. Even more than their secular counterparts, twenty-first century ministers tend to neglect their physical resilience. This neglect leaves them much more susceptible to burnout and depression than their counterparts from earlier centuries.

Physical Resilience Assessment

Please access the Physical Resilience Self-assessment to evaluate your physical resilience against burnout.

Why do I need to know about depression and burnout?

Depression affects more individuals, especially ministers, than any other emotional disorder. In North America, about 12%-14% of men and 22%-24% of women experience major depression at some time during their life. About 20% of the general population experiences at least one depressive symptom in any given month. Ten percent are continuously ill for 15 years or more. Of those who experience depression, about 80% suffer from recurring bouts over their lifetime. Dysthymia (a mild form of chronic depression) usually lasts at least five years and sometimes for a lifetime.

Thus, burnout and depression will almost certainly impact a Christian agency negatively if not addressed with preventative care (i.e., preventative training in principles for resilience). More important than any medical expense, depression significantly reduces productivity of the average worker for six months to two years when left untreated. It also causes conflict between coworkers and negatively affects all team members. When you suffer from burnout, it will significantly affect your calling as well as your work productivity.

Pastors Remain Fundamentally More Susceptible to Burnout Than Secular Individuals

Burnout in ministry remains fundamentally different than burnout in a secular occupation. Successive stressful events and crises lead some pastors to gradually experience depression and a downcast spirit. However, a few pastors seem to rebound relatively quickly and even develop additional resistance (resilience) to stress. This website focuses on the skills and behaviors of those in the latter group—those who recover quickly and develop additional resilience. Ministers (especially foreign missionaries and chaplains) need resilience. To a large extent, it defines their ability to remain productive in a chronically stressful vocation.

Four sample chapters from the best available resource on ministry burnout are available below:

To learn more about God-given lifestyles to prevent and recover from burnout and depression, we recommend the following resource:

Rebound From Burnout: Resilience Skills for Ministers provides the most comprehensive prevention and intervention skills available to address pastor burnout. Just click on the book cover below to order a copy of this book, available at www.createspace.com/3854604.

Rebound from Burnout

This book is also available in KINDLE format at  http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=rebound+from+burnout

Burnout Prevention and Recovery seminars are available for audiences of at least 50 pastors. Click here to request more information about seminars.

A very short digest of the six lifestyles is available at Six Lifestyles (Dr Steve Ilardi at the Univerisity of Kansas).

What medications help?

Almost all depressed individuals can benefit from medication although only one-third find complete relief through medication. If you or a loved one suffers from even a mild depression, see a physician immediately. Prompt medication usually prevents a worsening condition.

Most depressed individuals find that an antidepressant gradually builds up in their body over 2-3 weeks. Thus, the benefits and side effects may remain unnoticed for 2-3 weeks. Most individuals need to remain patient for 2-3 weeks before asking their physician to adjust their medication. When the first medication fails to work as desired, talk to your doctor about switching to a different medication or augmenting the first medication with a second. Sometimes, a combination of medications can target two or more parts of the brain. With so many different classes of antidepressants available, switching to a different medication or augmenting one drug with another often helps.

The most common medication for depression is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (an SSRI). This class of medications includes fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), peroxitine (Paxil), and fluvoxamine (Luvox). However, SSRIs sometimes cause insomnia, irritability, and reduce sexual responsiveness. For those affected by the above medications, trazodone (Desyrel) sometimes helps those with insomnia while bupropion (Wellbutrin), nefazodone (Serzone) or mirtazapine (Remeron) usually helps those with reduced sexual response. For some individuals, high doses of venlafaxine (Effexor) works faster than other antidepressants.

However, some individuals cannot take SSRIs due to the side effects. For them, tricyclics such as imipramine (Trofranil, amitryhptiine (Elavil), desipramine (Norparamin) and nortriptyline (Pramelor) often help. A third group of drugs includes monoamine oxidase inhibitors such as tranylcypromine (Parnate) and phenelzine (Nardil).

Some individuals claim that St. John’s Wart, an herbal remedy, helps to relieve depression. No known scientific research indicates the dosage needed.

The most common medication for bipolar disorder is lithium carbonate. However, many patients take other medications as well. Unfortunately, about half the bipolar patients quit taking their medication when they start feeling better, causing a relapse. Because the elation common to the manic phase usually feels good, many individuals fail to recognize the destructive behaviors that characterize their manic phase. They quit taking the medication by justifying that they don’t need it until another depressive phase starts. Meanwhile, their high energy combined with irritability undermines their relationships.

Can psychotherapy help?

Regardless the medication for depression, always augment depression medications with psychotherapy. The Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) study found that medication and psychotherapy are equally effective at relieving depression symptoms.

However, psychotherapy offers less help for those with bipolar disorder. Bipolar individuals usually need medication for the rest of their lives.

Instead of suffering from burnout, a few ministers suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). To learn more about PTSD, please read, How does burnout relate to PTSD?

© 2013 Nathan Davis

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