Burnout - Causes and prevention

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2008

46 Pages, Grade: A-


Table Of Contents


1. Definition

2. Manifestation
2.1. Mental:
2.2. Physical:
2.3. Spiritual:
2.4. Biblical examples of burnout:
2.5. What does Burnout look like practically?

3. What Causes Burnout?
3.1. General
3.1.1. Feeling overwhelmed:
3.1.2. Loss of hope:
3.1.3 The role of stress: How stress works:
3.2. Society
3.3. Job
3.3.1. Specific professionals: Caregiver burnout: MINISTER BURNOUT Ministry burnout:
3.3.2. What causes job-burnouts? Lack of Recognition: Big Consequences for Failure: High-Stress Times with No “Down-times”: Impossible Requirements: Unclear Requirements: Poor Fit for the Job: Lack of Belief in What You Do: Shift work: Bad Leadership:
3.4. Lifestyle
3.4.1. Too Much Work With Little Balance:
3.4.2. No Help or Supportive Resources:
3.4.3. Too Little Social Support:
3.4.4. Too Little Sleep:
3.4.5. Too Little Time Off:
3.4.6. No time for hobbies:
3.5. Personality
3.5.1. Obsessive compulsive personality (OCPD): Type-A personality (TAP): Type-A personality – its effects: The workaholic – most likely candidate Symptoms of Workaholism: The reasons for workaholism: Solution: Workaholism combined with Type-A personality
3.5.2. Pessimism:
3.5.3. Idealism/Perfectionism:
3.5.4. Playing God-syndrome:
3.5.5. People Pleaser:
3.5.6. Others Unfulfilled expectations: Bitterness: Burnout as a virtue Other reasons

4. Who has a burnout?

5. How to get back on track:
5.1. Restoring Hope:
5.2. After recovering burnout

6. Prevention
6.1. Get proper exercise, have a healthy diet and enough sleep
6.2. Carrying God’s yoke, not my own:
6.3. Forgive:
6.4. Carry each other’s burden:
6.5. Know who you are in Christ – get your thinking right:
6.6. Look at the true meaning of life:
6.7. Having the right perspective:
6.8. Join a small support/prayer group
6.9. Prioritize:
6.10. Watch perfectionist tendencies:
6.11. Take regular time off:
6.12. Relax
6.13. Have fun!
6.14. Change
6.15. Know the warning signs:






Burnout, a term heard with increasing frequency these days, is becoming a prominent fact of life in the fast-paced and stress-filled 21st century. People in all walks of life are experiencing burnout, and many end up losing their jobs, their health, and sometimes their families because of it. Some even commit suicide as a way of escape. Since almost everybody will experience burnout to a certain degree in some stage of life, one may ask what exactly burnout is, what the warning signs are, how to deal with it and what can be done in order to prevent it. The aim of this paper is to answer those questions with a special emphasis on workaholic and ‘Type A’ personality burnout, since those people are most prone to the experience it.

1. Definition

Dr. Wendell Friest says that “the word ‘burnout’ is borrowed from rocketry science and refers to the point at which the fuel of a missile is completely expended.”[1] Frank Minirth suggest that “burnout is, when one’s attitude becomes ‘a job is a job is a job;’ a depletion of energy and a feeling of being overwhelmed by others’ problems; a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who do ‘people work’ of some kind.”[2] It is often described as a loss of enthusiasm, energy, idealism, perspective, and purpose. It can be viewed as a state of mental, physical, and spiritual exhaustion brought on by excessive and prolonged stress.[3] Burnout is actually a vicious cycle, because the desire to minimize any interpersonal contact is coupled with a feeling of emotional exhaustion and results in a reduction in personal accomplishment. A feeling of diminishing accomplishment leads to stronger feelings of personal inadequacy, which further reduces accomplishment.[4] This is the cycle of burnout, a cycle many people experience.

2. Manifestation Minirith suggest three burnout areas:

2.1. Mental: Burnout shows up mentally in the form of a feeling of disillusionment or failure as a person or worker. Signs of anger, cynicism, negativism, or increased irritability spring up. Burnout victims may feel frustrated by a sense of helplessness, hopelessness, or self-doubt, which then may lead to depression. Another common sign is guilt –false guilt over trying to be overly responsible or committed, a feeling of not doing something perfectly or well enough. Other symptoms of mental/r emotional burnout include apathy, difficulty concentrating or paying attention, decreased self-esteem, feelings of disenchantment, disillusionment, disorientation, or confusion.[5]

2.2. Physical: Continued stress and burnout may bring on backaches, neck aches, headaches, migraines, insomnia, loss of appetite (or a never-satisfied appetite), ulcers, high blood pressure, constant colds, digestive problems, allergies, or in the most severe forms of continuing stress and burnout, heart attacks and strokes. In many people, unrelieved, unresolved tension and stress result in their turning to alcohol or drugs for temporary relief. The decreased energy and fatigue symptomatic of drugs tend to worsen an already burnout-out feeling.[6] Brooks R. Faulkner adds to this list exhaustion and sexual dysfunction.[7]

2.3. Spiritual: Some people experience spiritual exhaustion with burnout. Such individuals seem to have lost perspective and have failed to recognize their own limits. They usually experience a gradually increasing feeling that God is powerless and that they themselves are the only ones with the power to help in their current situation. Without realizing what they are doing, they refuse –consciously or unconsciously- to rely on God’s power and try to play God themselves. Then as time passes, they realize that their own power, or energies, are not enough either. They feel like giving up, believing that others, including God, have given up on them.[8] One spiritual warning sign for burn out is the increasing sense of self-effort rather than trusting God or even others’ God given abilities in particular circumstances. Those Christians may start giving more lip service to their trust in God in order to cover up their decreased dependence on him[9]

However, the signs of burnout tend to be more mental rather than physical. They can include feelings of:[10]

2.4. Biblical examples of burnout: King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 2:17-23, Moses in Numbers 20:10, and Elijah in 1 Kings.

2.5. What does Burnout look like practically?

- A missionary who uses a relatively minor health problem as an excuse for escaping the burdens and frustrations of living in a foreign culture
- A pastor, who is idealistic and overcommitted, trying to please everyone in his congregation and feeling guilty when he doesn’t.
- A nurse in a large hospital who takes her time even ignores a patient’s buzzer request for attention.
- A mental health worker who just doesn’t seem to care any more
- A doctor who finds himself avoiding certain patients
- An alcohol rehabilitation counsellor drinking more and more, while complaining about his clients who drink.
- A business executive who finds himself unable to function at his previous level
- A salesman who has become so depressed that he is considering suicide[11]

3. What Causes Burnout?

3.1. General

3.1.1. Feeling overwhelmed: Burnout can occur when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place. Burnout reduces your productivity and saps your energy, leaving you feeling increasingly hopeless, powerless, cynical, and resentful. The unhappiness burnout causes can eventually threaten your job, your relationships, and your health.[12] As this paper will investigate in a later part, feeling overwhelmed is usually caused by stress, which in turn is boosted by lifestyle, job and personality. Workaholics and ‘Type A’ personalities are most prone to burnout due to their constant intensity of stress which leads to being overwhelmed resulting into the loss of hope and strength, which ends in burnout.

3.1.2. Loss of hope: One of the most common characteristics of advanced burnout is the loss of hope. “I don’t feel there’s any hope of changing the situation” Hope is an essential ingredient to withstanding the difficulties and pressures of life. The author of Hebrews refers to hope as ‘an anchor of the soul’ (Hebrews 6:19)[13]

When someone undergoes burnout, it involves the loss of two important elements from that person’s life: strength and hope.[14] When Christians neglect appropriate spiritual priorities, compromise biblical convictions, and allow their personal commitment to Jesus Christ to be weakened by such factors as personal pleasures, desire for material possessions, and effort to achieve power and influence, the results will by a loss of spiritual strength, which ultimately can lead to a loss of hope.[15] The loss of hope means the loss of the perspective of life. Carelessness, self-pity, depression, and suicidal thoughts are ways the ‘loss of hope’ can be expressed.

3.1.3 The role of stress: Stress is defined as our body’s response to any demand made upon it. Dr. Hans Selye divides stress into two types: (1) distress –excessive levels of continued, damaging stress caused through work overload, death of someone close, financial tension, etc. and (2) eustress – a good, positive kind of stress one feels at times of happiness, fulfilment, or satisfaction caused through accomplishing a challenge, getting married, promotion, etc..[16] Minirth says “because some stress is necessary for everyday living, we should not try to eliminate all stress from our lives, but we do need to learn how to better handle and manage the necessary stresses of life.”[17] Why? Too much burnout, without learning and applying certain coping techniques, can lead to clinical depression.”[18] In short he says: stress can lead to burnout, and burnout leads –if untreated- to depression. In line with that, Ester Schubert stated that “burnout is usually a preliminary stage of depression.”[19] Brooks R. Faulkner observes that“the more successful a person is the more likely he is to be depressed.” He continues and answers the questions ‘why success is so depressing’ and says ‘For the same reason failure is: It’s a source of stress.”[20]

Since everybody is facing stress, Rowland Croucher states that “Stress now contributes to 90% of all diseases. Half of all visits to doctors are stress-related'. The statement that 'anxiety reduction' may now be the largest single business in the Western world,”[21] is even more alarming. However, just because somebody is feeling stressed does not mean that he is experiencing a burnout.[22] Melinda Smith answers the question of how to know the difference between experiencing the normal reaction of hard work or stress and a burnout.[23]

illustration not visible in this excerpt How stress works: Stress comes from 'outside' the organism, causing your body to respond in either 'fight' (when angry)or 'flight' (fear). Actually, stress is the transaction that takes place between you and your environment. The outside event impinges on your belief system; your brain interprets what's happening, and tells your body how to respond. Adrenaline is pumped into your bloodstream; blood is diverted from various organs to brain and muscles; pupils dilate (making vision more acute); hands and feet perspire; breathing and heart-rate increase, etc. The body is on 'red alert', the alarm response. Most of us are not subject to physical danger very often, but whenever you are 'driven' by a very tight program, or threatened by a demand or expectation you don't think you can meet, your body reacts in the same way. In fact, medical experts are now saying that 'Type A' people in particular may be suffering a kind of 'adrenalin addiction'.[24]

Dr. David McClelland, professor of psychology at Harvard, says stress addiction is similar to the state of physiological arousal some people derive from a dependency on alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. A recent book Management and the Brain (Soujanen and Bessinger) suggests that some professionals are actually 'hooked' on stress. They get a 'high' out of controlling people and making complex decisions. Dr. Paul Rosch, president of the American Institute of Stress, says the Type A male (Dr. Arch Hart claims that 50% of all pastors are Type A[25]) who is 'living in the fast lane... has become addicted to his own adrenalin and unconsciously seeks ways to get those little surges'.[26]

In the next section I am going to examine the areas which cause and booster the burnout-syndrome. They fall into these five main categories: society, job, lifestyle, personality and others.

3.2. Society

Schubert says that “we are increasingly vulnerable to depression (and burnout) in the western society because we now have a new generation with increased expectations.”[27] Myron Rush says that another contribution to burnout is made by a society that strongly promotes competition, which makes winners and losers; the constant pressure to ‘be better’ than others.[28] Consequently –and sadly likewise-- the society provides the perfect ground to nurture workaholics and ‘Type A’ personalities.

3.3. Job

3.3.1. Specific professionals: The job is considered the prime factor that causes burnout;[29] it is the end result of prolonged job-related or personal stress. Beverly Potter discovered that service providers like nurses, counsellors, and police officers who often become cynical about their work and openly hostile to the very people they're dedicated to serving are hit the hardest. Jobs that involve life or death decisions such as being a platoon captain or a heart surgeon have high burnout potential. Managers, team leaders, and others who work with people are also at high risk. Other burnout-prone professions are those that require working under demanding time schedules such as newspaper journalism; those that require exacting attention such as air-traffic controllers; those that involve detailed work, such as proofreaders; those that are "politically incorrect" such as nuclear plant supervisors and IRS agents, for example.[30]

Doctors and pastors, people dealing with other people’s individuals’ problems, are particularly prone to burnout.[31] No one is immune from job burnout. Any person, in any profession, at any level can become a candidate for job burnout.[32] Minirth and his collegians’ survey at the Minirth-Meier Clinic reveal some more insights: More than 90 percent of physicians and 75 percent of ministers who have been tested lean primarily toward workaholism and Type A personalities[33] Caregiver burnout: Outside the world of paid work, the people more prone to burnout than any other group are caregivers: people who devote themselves to the unpaid care of chronically ill or disabled family members. The stressors of caregiving — changes in the family dynamic, household disruption, financial concerns, and the sheer amount of work involved — can be overwhelming. The rewards of caregiving, if they come at all, are intangible and far off, and often there is no hope for a happy outcome.[34] MINISTER BURNOUT

3. Missionary burnout: Statistics suggest that about 15% of first-term missionaries bail out.[35] Many of them have faced the exhaustion of fund-raising before going to the field. Culture shock often peaks at eight months into the first term. Language study may seem to be an unending, unsuccessful effort. The time frame of burnout is approximately two to three years into a new experience.[36] Source of Missionary stresses are:[37]

illustration not visible in this excerpt


[1] Esther Schubert, What Missionaries Need to Know About Burnout and Depression, (New Castle: Olive Branch Publications, 1993), 3

[2] Frank Minirth, Don Hawkins, Paul Meier, Richard Flournoy. How to beat Burnout. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), 14

[3] Ibid.. 15

[4] Ibid., 15

[5] Ibid., 19-20

[6] Ibid.. 20

[7] Brooks R. Faulkner, Burnout in Ministry, (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1981), 60.

[8] Frank Minirth, Don Hawkins, Paul Meier, Richard Flournoy. How to beat Burnout, 20.

[9] Ibid.. 34

[10] Help guide: Understand, Revolve & Prevent life’s challenges. Article ‘ Prevent Burnout ’ was written by Melinda Smith, M.A., Ellen Jaffe-Gill, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., and Robert Segal, M.A. The article was last modified on 26th October 2007. Accessed on 14.04.2008. <http://www.helpguide.org/mental/burnout_signs_symptoms.htm>

[11] Frank Minirth, Don Hawkins, Paul Meier, Richard Flournoy. How to beat Burnout, 17-18.

[12] http://www.helpguide.org/mental/burnout_signs_symptoms.htm

[13] Frank Minirth, Don Hawkins, Paul Meier, Richard Flournoy. How to beat Burnout, 135.

[14] Ibid.. 143

[15] Ibid. 144

[16] Ibid.. 15-16

[17] Ibid.,16

[18] Ibid. 15

[19] Esther Schubert, What Missionaries Need to Know About Burnout and Depression, 2.

[20] Brooks R. Faulkner, Burnout in Ministry, 41.

[21] JOHN MARK MINISTRIES --- resources for pastors/leaders & spouses. Article ‘ STRESS AND BURNOUT IN MINISTRY’ was written by Rowland. Releasing date is unknown. Accessed on 14.04.2008. <http://www.churchlink.com.au/churchlink/forum/r_croucher/stress_burnout.html>

[22] To learn more about the difference between a hard worker and a workaholic see ‘3.5.1. Obsessive compulsive’

[23] http://www.helpguide.org/mental/burnout_signs_symptoms.htm

[24] http://www.churchlink.com.au/churchlink/forum/r_croucher/stress_burnout.html

[25] http://www.churchlink.com.au/churchlink/forum/r_croucher/stress_burnout.html

[26] Ibid..

[27] Esther Schubert, What Missionaries Need to Know About Burnout and Depression, 22.

[28] Myron Rush, Burnout, (Bucks: Scripture Press, 1989), 40.

[29] Caltech – Counselling Centre. Article “Burnout” was written by Linda Curci. Date of releasing is unknown. Accessed on 14.04.2008. <http://www.counseling.caltech.edu/articles/burnout.html>

[30] Docpotter: Pathfinding Books & Useful Information Article “THE BURNOUT SYNDROME” was written by Dr. Beverly Potter. Date of releasing is unknown. Accessed on 14.04.2008.


[31] Wikipedia –The free online Encyclopedia, Author of Article “Burnout (psychology)” is unknown. This pages was last modified on 12 April 2008. Accessed on 14.04.2008. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnout_(psychology)>

[32] http://www.docpotter.com/boclass-1syndrome.html

[33] Frank Minirth, Don Hawkins, Paul Meier, Richard Flournoy. How to beat Burnout, 33.

[34] http://www.helpguide.org/mental/burnout_signs_symptoms.htm

[35] Esther Schubert, What Missionaries Need to Know About Burnout and Depression 4.

[36] Ibid..

[37] Ibid., 10.

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Burnout - Causes and prevention
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Burnout, Causes, Prevention, ministry, Thema Burnout
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Christian Mogler (Author), 2008, Burnout - Causes and prevention, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/115580


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