Is it Stress or Burnout

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Working with church leaders, I hear the topic of burnout quite frequently. Am I burned out? What are the signs of burnout? How do I prevent it from happening to me? What boundaries do I need in place? I’m so stressed out; I think I’m getting burned out.

For some, it seems like stress is the norm. Let’s face it, most of the support roles at a church are stressful ones. And as your church gets larger, the stress builds week-to-week and seems to never stop.  I don’t think you can get around the fact that if you’re working at a church, you will probably be overworked, underpaid, and pretty stressed at times trying to hit deadlines.

Most of the support roles at a church are stressful ones.

While there are many aspects of burnout (that we won’t have time to get into in just one short article) the fact is that stress is a symptom of either too much work, poor time management, not being able to say no, and/or all of the above.

I’ve heard other church leaders ask: Is being stressed a sign that I’m getting burned out at my church? The answer can be yes, but I think it’s better to answer that question after the stress has calmed.

A young video intern who wasn’t sure he could continue in his position came to my office. He talked about how stressed he was at the present time and that he didn’t think he could get everything finished by the allotted deadline. He was getting burned out and needed more help (we’ve all been there right?). After I spent some time looking at what was on his plate—rearranging some priorities—I told him we would meet on Monday after the weekend was over.

The weekend was amazing! He got everything done he needed to and on Monday we met and I asked him, “So how do you feel today?”

He replied, “I feel energized and excited from a great weekend.”

I asked, “What about all the talk of feeling stressed, burned out, etc.?”

He realized that, while stress can definitely be a burnout sign, the nature of his job is stressful (air traffic controllers can relate). It’s a given that it will feel crazy while a deadline is approaching, but it is how we feel after the deadline that really matters. If he would have said something like, “I’m tired, I’m worn out, run down, and don’t feel like tackling this week,” I would have transitioned into burnout-management mode to help him.

But instead, he was excited about another week and ready to go. I quickly reminded him how he felt the prior week and that stress will always be a part of a job with week-to-week deadlines, but to not make decisions about being burned out until after things have calmed and he can clearly assess his true level of burnout.

Remember that stress will come and go. But stress is a poor indicator of burnout. We all feel stress. Instead, how you feel after it’s over will tell you if you are experiencing burnout or just the product of a stressful environment. And that comes with the territory of being a church tech.

Stress will come and go. But stress is a poor indicator of burnout.

I’ve found that the biggest impact on feeling burnout is not the never-ending workload, but actually the unhealthy working environments. If you don’t like the team you’re working with or for… If you don’t like the high paced, stressful environment… If you hate dealing with people you are not communicating with… If you don’t feel cared for or respected… Those things will make you feel more burned out than the actual workload itself.

It’s important you guard yourself. You can survive a stressful job, but only if you keep it from becoming burnout.