Burnout has a way of sneaking up on someone. One minute you’re moving full-steam ahead with a volunteer project or social action campaign, and then whap! Your energy completely deflates, and you’re left wondering why you ever got involved in the first place. Burnout can also be slow and steady – a gradual buildup of late nights, meetings and endless details that eventually collect into a messy pile of disenchantment.
Burnout can strike at anytime and impact anyone who is involved in service – but it can also be avoided! Read below to find out how you can get the better of burnout.
STEP 1 Find (or create) community.
Establishing or finding a community of like-minded people (folks who are either working on the same initiative as you, or in the same field) is one of the most important things someone can do to avoid burnout. The only thing worse to being stressed out, after all, is being stressed out and having nobody who really understands around to talk to. So find your service friends and establish a network where you can support one another through the ups and downs. (Read how Avodah corps member Elana Bauer found her service community.)
STEP 2 Take a break.
When you’re involved with something you’re truly passionate about, it can be hard to step away. But going going going without a break is a surefire way to end up feeling burned out. Make sure to schedule in some regular personal time – a massage, a daily afternoon walk etc. – that gets you away from the stress and details of service. And every so often, allow yourself a real vacation or retreat away from the work. You will come back feeling refreshed and recharged for the task at hand.
STEP 3 Keeping learning.
One of the major side-effects of burnout is that you can lose touch with your core beliefs around the issue you’re working on. Gone is the sense of excitement you felt when you first started on the project – with burnout, everything feels rote, like you are just going through the motions. The best way to fix this is to reconnect to your passion for the issue. Take a course, read a book or attend a lecture about your service issue. In other words, put yourself back in the shoes of a “learner” (instead of an expert who has “heard everything there is to know about an issue”) and you might just remember what all the fuss is about.
STEP 4 Find religion.
The scholar, poet and teacher Andrew Harvey talks about the notion of “sacred activism” service work that is rooted in a religion or deep sense spiritual practice. “When…the deepest and most grounded spiritual vision is married to a practical and pragmatic drive to transform all existing political, economic, and social institutions, a holy force – the power of wisdom and love in action – is born,” he writes. Jewish tradition offers many opportunities for sacred activism, but regardless of whether or not religion speaks to you, finding some spiritual practice in which to root and empower your service work is hugely beneficial.
STEP 5 Switch things up.
Sometimes you can feel passionate about an issue, but be burned out on a particular task or project. For instance, maybe you’ve spent the last two years leading discussion groups about labor rights in your community. You still care deeply about the issue, but are tired of facilitating the same conversation. Switch things up by finding another way to meaningfully engage with the issue while getting yourself out of your service rut.