Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Are You Overwhelmed and Fatigued?

Tired leaders are everywhere.

Actually, it’s a badge of honor to be tired in some circles.  I am constantly around people who talk about the long hours, lack of sleep, and their crazy schedules.

Here’s the deal:  I used to be one of those people who bragged about how hard I worked, and was prideful enough to believe I was invincible.  The truth, however, is that I was dumb because it was hurting me.

When tired, we operate with brain exhaustion and mental fatigue.  As I have read and studied on this topic I have discovered that the brain will shift into a “fight or flight” state when fatigued.  This means we will make decisions based on reaction instead of wisdom.  As we become more fatigued we:
  • Learn less A tired brain doesn’t have the energy to learn and expand
  • Overreact – A tired brain doesn’t keep things in proper perspective
  • Under react – A tired brain makes us not care about the things we should care about
  • Become Afraid – A tired brain will create massive amounts of fear that things are falling apart when they may not be
  • Experience a Desire to Escape – A tired brain leads to overeating, over drinking, sexual temptations, feelings of quitting, and just walking away
  • Deflate Your Self Worth – A tired brain makes you feel like a failure
  • Withdraw – A tired brain tells us to withdraw from our family, friends, and team emotionally
  • Criticize – A tired brain makes us see things more negatively
I’ve experienced all of the above.  If you follow my blog you will recall that I wrote a great deal about the topic of burnout and exhaustion at the beginning of this year.  I had the kind of fatigue that sleep didn’t fix.  Being around people triggered anxiety.  I was operating on auto pilot.  And it was taking its toll on me.  Funny thing is, for years I believed it was normal to be stressed out and exhausted all the time as a pastor.  This is stupid.  But I was trapped.

Knowing something needed to be done, I started taking action; mostly giving myself some margin and establishing boundaries.  It’s six months into 2012 and things are better.  I’ve learned a lot – mostly about myself – but I’m still work in progress.

Here’s what I have been doing:

1.  I got counsel from trusted advisors (close friends).  For me, my best counsel is found in other pastors.  They know the world I live in, and they know the ropes.  Having a confidant such as this helps me see why I do the things I do.  Most of the time we try to deal with the symptoms and never get down to the root issues, but a trusted advisor can offer a clear perspective.

2.  I created a diversion.  This year I have adopted a new hobby – gardening. I have gotten a great deal of enjoyment from this endeavor.  The labor intensive work gives me exercise, I like working outdoors, and harvesting the vegetables is very rewarding.  More importantly, this garden project has created a diversion for me – taking me away from work-related pressure and personal problems.  I have a place to go and something to do when I get there, which is a diversion.  It has been very therapeutic.

3.  I have built margin into my schedule and calendar.  I’m not plugging every slot with another obligation or activity.  I have left open spaces on my calendar.  I am working regular work hours, and taking time off at regular intervals too.  There is less noise, fewer phone calls, shorter to-do lists, and fewer evening meetings (which are the bane of family life).

4.  I have changed my definition of success.  God.  Family.  These are my highest priorities.  I will not be married to the ministry.  And I will not allow the demands of ministry (which is my vocation) to destroy the work of God within me. 

5.  I turned my phone off.  This sounds shallow, but it has really helped me.  They reason people get so exhausted is because the brain is never turned off.  Disengaging from work is impossible if you are connected to social media and your phone 24/7.  Just by turning my phone off so that I was not being constantly contacted was a big help for me.  It helps me to be “in the moment” with the people I an actually with.

6.  I am virtually inactive on Facebook nowadays.  This too may sound shallow, but it has really helped me for the same reasons mentioned in #5 above.  Since the first of the year I have posted about one comment per month on Facebook. 

Let’s face it. Facebook is fun, but it is also unhealthy. There are very few filters on Facebook, so it's easy for people say things online that they wouldn’t say in a normal conversation. They post pictures of themselves that are compromising. Not good. Then there are the middle-schoolish arguments, family secrets, and dirty laundry that gets aired.  Plus, the constant inflow of messages from people (we sometimes barely know or don't even like) can consume a huge amount of time. It’s like a monkey on your back.

7.  I’m staying physically active.  The last few months I have taken a break from running and jogging because of hip pain that has plagued me for years.  However, I am maintaining an active lifestyle by eating smart, limiting sugar, exercising, and doing lots of outdoor work.  I can feel the stress literally drain away when I’m physically exerting myself.  I also intend to resume jogging soon.

8.  I am going to take a Sabbatical – a long one.  The world will do just fine without Ron Christian, and so will PCC.

9.  I am thinking about succession planning.  (No, I'm not going to elaborate on this point right now.  I will in the future).

10.  I am working primarily on the things I am good at.   One of the reasons I was so exhausted is because I was involved in too many things with too many irons in the fire.  Being a church planter/pastor means that everything I initiated over the years, by default were added to my maintenance list.  In the midst of this maddening pace I found myself managing more than leading, and dropping as many plates as I was spinning.

This hectic pace leads to inside erosion and a diminishing self-life for pastors.

So I have pushed back from the workaholic pace, limiting myself to doing the things I am best at.  I have also become very guarded about not allowing additional responsibilities to be added to my maintenance list.  This makes me more effective in work performance, and keeps me mentally healthy as a person.  Some things can go undone so that the necessary things get done.

This is an update of my journey out of the fog.  I hope it will help you realize that being an exhausted leader is not merely a side effect of the ministry.  It is a sickness.  As soon as I began to wade out of the swampland of mental fatigue and back to solid ground, the better I started getting.

If you are overwhelmed and fatigued yourself (because of work or personal pressures), I hope that my experience and what I have learned will help you navigate your way through this difficult place.  Don't give in or give up.  Take charge.  Take the bull by the horns, slap him across the face a couple of times, and remind him who is in charge.  It's your life.  If you won't protect yourself, no one else will.



Samantha Webster said...

Thanks for this entry!Most encouraging.

Ron said...

Thank you Samantha.