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Monday, March 30, 2009

Burning and Cooling the Spirit

Burnout isn't any fun. People can burn out on anything, even other people sometimes. Irritation and anger find their place just under the surface and become quickly and easily provoked. Frustration is almost constant, and when frustration subsides, apathy arises quickly to fill its place. But the worst of it is that burnout almost always happens from something you used to love. So underneath the barely controlled temper or the inability to care about outcome of action is a horrid, nagging guilt. Self hate, depression and despair well up inside and manifest as sarcasm, excuses and fatigue.

In a word, it sucks.

Some professions are probably more "prone," to it than others. The medical field seems to be a big one. I would say that comedy can probably burn people out just as quickly. As you can see,I haven't chosen the safest two passions to indulge in simultaneously.

Before this entry begins to raise some eyebrows*, I should say that I am not burned out right now. But I was on the verge as recently as earlier this month, which is what made me want to write about it.

Being "on the verge" is what I like to call a "first degree burnout." I'm going to write mostly about occupational situations, but I feel like the same things apply to burnout of relationships too.

Warning: I have made up everything I am about to say. Don't look for this in any books.

First degree burnout manifests as getting easily frustrated with tasks that were once considered challenging and worthwhile. It can also feel like a lack of interest in tasks or outcomes. Usually however, the person also has periods of time or days where they do not feel like this, so they may write off the feelings without recognizing the bigger problem First degree burnout can be fixed with some refocusing of priorities.
Second degree burnout is similar, but the negative feelings are more constant and may begin to disrupt daily activities of the person experiencing it. It can be fixed the same as 1st degree burn out, but also needs more space and a bit of time to gain perspective.
Third degree burnout is serious and requires some major time and space. The negative feelings are almost constant, even when the person is not at work. The feelings disrupt the well being and functionality of the person. They also have a negative effect on the people around the person. It might not be possible to ever return to the person, place or occupation that caused the problem.

I am twenty five years old and have experienced the third type of burnout once with a job already. I was a sophomore in college, taking a semester off to work. Although it was not a pleasant experience to go through I am grateful for it because I am more sensitive to the signs and symptoms than many others might be. At the time, however I had no idea. I just thought I needed more sleep. In the end, I quit. I never want to feel that way again.

So how did I fix what I felt at the beginning of this month?

Prayer. (Ok. Stay with me, Readers of Dubious Religious Stock. I promise to not get too preachy.)

I didn't even realize I was doing it. But it is Lent after all, and I saw that I hadn't been doing much in the way of setting a ton of prayer time aside**. I saw that something was out of balance (work versus play versus prayer) and I adjusted without thinking about it too much more. After spending time one night, and then the next morning before work to focus on my relationship with God I felt immensely better. I arrived at work so full of focus and energy that I couldn't believe it myself.

A co worker asked if I was getting better sleep. I laughed. My schedule hasn't changed at all. I'm working harder at night if anything.

But when I felt like I was burning out and then suddenly felt like myself again, the only thing I had done differently was prayer time.

When I was in college I was once asked to guest lecture at another college in a class called Spirituality and Nursing. I was only a junior, and had NO IDEA the class was for men and women who already held nursing licenses, until I got there. I was shaken off my little Catholic rocker. The pleasant and heartwarming story of how that turned out for everyone is a whole different entry.

I have since lost all of my well planned notes from that afternoon. However, the take aways I would offer now that I've actually been a nurse aren't too different than the ones I remember offering to those men and women with only a CNA under my belt and a well examined 21 year old faith:

Nursing is by nature a giving profession. We give time, we give our intelligence and we give of ourselves emotionally and physically. In order to give so much, it is necessary to know where we are taking from, and to know the limits of that bounty. We take from family, friends, and hobbies, but for many of us our spirituality is one of the biggest areas we'll be taking from because it is limitless. And for that reason, feeding our Spirituality is the most important thing a caregiver can do to stay sane.

Spirituality - not religion, or dogma; not catechism, not guilt or a hero complex, but that real and true relationship with the Divine is what will allow us to be honestly balanced. It will allow us to hear the voices of those who need us plainly and honestly while at the same time listening to the quiet whispers of our selves, knowing when to step back and when to reconfigure our senses.

But it's not just nurses. It's everyone, doing everything. Whatever it is we're doing with our time, most of us have a lot to give, and have found really unique and fitting ways to do that. Hopefully we will continue to find new and interesting ways to give our entire lives.

But if we do that without checking into a place to "take," we're going to come up empty all the time. And burned. So whether it's an organized religion, a personal relationship with Christ***, or your pragmatic awe and scientific respect for mankind, I hope you take note of whatever it is you feel is your life source. That way it remains something you can always return to when burnout creeps in.
* Put those eyebrows DOWN!
** Read this as, "I could have done far better with Lent this year."
*** Which I am obviously biased in favor of.

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