Service burnout

Originally posted 10/5/17.


It’s all fun and games to talk about how nice things are when you do for others, but what a lot of people fail to discuss is the mental aspect of being in a constant position of service. Some would call this a problem of balance, which can be true for the external factors, but what of our thoughts? I can’t just change where I am at in the heat of the moment, at least I know that I have trouble with that. 

So let’s get some things listed and approach each with a good magnifying glass to really outline some individual issues, and hopefully, some possible solutions. I will be the first to say that I cannot be a perfect example of any of the items below, I’m human. I have flaws. I don’t do everything right. I’m hoping that my insight into my own shortcomings can help you, or maybe obtain some information from you on what you do differently.

Balance – a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.

Balance is thrown around a lot in self-help books where people express that balance is key or important to our daily lives. Many seminars and motivational speakers can state this line without any practical application suggestions, leaving us feeling good for the moment due to the high energy message of hope, only to get home and find that we have absolutely no clue as to what balance really is. 

The mind starts to race with ideas and perceived notions of balance. We think that we’re fairly intelligent and capable of coming up with something. We act immediately. Shortsighted attempts are made, with no vision of the long term goal. When we inevitably fail, we conclude that balance is unattainable or we put the next try off for another time like so many other items in our lives. So what do we do? Where do we turn?

I don’t know you or your personal life. I do know that you want to be of service as best as you can, based upon your reading of my articles. With this information, I can only assume some of the following fit. Many of us have certain spiritual or religious approaches to leading a life of balance, using a Higher Power as the source of internal calm when life feels like it is too much. Some use a schedule, keeping diligent at work until it is time to leave work at work, and try to enjoy the home life. But aren’t you of service in these activities too? Where can you escape for a little while?

I believe the answer lies in a word of my last question: escape. 

Escape – an act of breaking free from confinement or control.

That is a powerful definition, using some words that are hard to swallow, specifically confinement. I don’t want to feel confined to being of service, I want it to be a joy. But sometimes, it feels like a chain tightening around me, without any other direction to go, until I burst. 

Escape is not the entire answer, because it can feel extremely comfortable. Being in full flight from all things and reality is not the goal here. Looking at the exact wording of the definition, we see that escape can be drilled down to taking a break

Break – a pause in work or during an activity or event.

It may seem easier to take a break from doing things we don’t enjoy. A few minutes between mowing the front and back yards can go a long way. Stepping away from a long study session to clear our heads allows thoughts to wander and our brains to re-energize. So how would someone take a break from being of service all the time?

Before we start looking at options to help, let’s look at the mental aspect I mentioned at the beginning of the article. When I’m on a burnout for service, I start to become things I don’t want to be: selfish, self-centered, discontent, irritable, angry, disappointed. And these are only a few of the wonderful defects I have! Let’s investigate these further:

Selfish – Lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

Self-centered – Preoccupied with oneself and one’s affairs.

Discontent – Dissatisfaction with one’s circumstances.

Irritable – Having or showing a tendency to be easily annoyed or made angry.

Angry – Having a strong feeling of or showing annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.

Disappointed – Sad or displeased because someone or something has failed to fulfill one’s hopes or expectations.

The above definitions are not the best descriptor for any individual, but they speak volumes about what we feel and where we are. I believe the most powerful word out of the whole list above is expectations. I know we’ve already gone over a lot of definitions by this point, but this one is the culmination of our woes.

Expectations – A belief that someone will or should achieve something.

Right there we see the root of our problems. When I’m mentally unable to be of service, it is because of my expectations of others. Whether it is something simple, like your kids picking up after themselves, these expectations are set because we perform these tasks. I can sum this up with one phrase:

I expect the same level of service I give to others. 

When I am overwhelmed, I believe you should have learned from all your years on this earth to not do whatever thing is bothering me about you right now. I also expect you to mimic the customer service lifestyle as I implement and employ it, then I get mad when you don’t show anything close to what I conceive as acceptable. It sounds silly, doesn’t it? But haven’t you felt it too? 

This brings us full circle to balance. I believe we can apply a level of practical application to attempt a level of balance. Just like someone on a tightrope, our balance will shift. Here are some of the things I’m trying today:

1. Make a normal daily plan – This plan is not something that encompasses every waking moment and every activity. This plan is your basics with wiggle room so that you don’t stress out with absolutes. For example, I wake up around 7:45 every morning, take a few minutes to gather myself and get a cup of coffee. Sometimes, I wake up at 8:00 or 7:30. I have room to be fluid in the event I might be needed to handle a sudden task. Apply this to the rest of the day for the standards that are a given.

2. Decompress – Some people take smoke breaks at work to de-stress from the work day, others sit in their car at lunch and just enjoy the sound of the air conditioner. In these moments, take in no new information. Unplug from news, social media, games, books, music, and just breathe. 

3. Know yourself – When I was visiting a therapist for some relationship concerns, she mentioned that when I was dissatisfied with life, my blood pressure would rise, and so would my heart rate. Since then, I pay attention to what my body is doing during a task, and if my heart is racing, it’s time for a break.

4. Remember your purpose – Regardless of what your personal situations is, spiritual or not, your purpose is to serve others and to be available to serve others. The previous mention of spiritual or religious affiliation can help with centering the focus with prayer or meditation (if that’s your thing). If not, try to keep your eye on the prize. Remember that service to others is a prize itself in the joy we can bring to other people. As backwards as it sounds, this joy is selfishness in a selfless act.

-James

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