Self-Care for Clergy: Prevent Burnout

Self-Care for Clergy: Prevent Burnout

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect”. ~ Romans 12:2 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) 
 Clergy and healthcare providers are on the front-line helping people manage stress and anxiety. As leaders in faith-based organizations, they are tasked with providing spiritual support, pastoral care, education, and counseling for their flock. Clergy are also often responsible for the administration and financial duties of their faith community. Our uncertain times, in which people all over the world are experiencing fear, anxiety, grief and loss related to the spread of COVID-19, make our clergy and other care providers at high risk for burnout and compassion fatigue. Self-care must be practiced as prevention, physically, emotionally and spiritually, to prevent burnout. All people of faith, clergy, and lay health leaders need to hear and live this message daily.

Take some time each day to check in with yourself.  How do you feel?  Are you anxious, sad, or depressed? Do you feel powerless, or helpless?  Do you have any physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, nausea or excessive fatigue?  These symptoms and feelings may be a sign that you have burnout or compassion fatigue. Your body is warning you that you need to take a break, do something relaxing, get some fresh air, and exercise to prevent burnout. Remember balance in life is a self-care strategy that can maximize your ability to provide the care and pastoral support that fulfills your calling. Time with family, time off from congregational matters, nourishing your personal spiritual practice, relaxation breathing or meditation, and journaling are all helpful ways to prevent burnout and compassion fatigue. Reach out to a trusted friend or colleague to debrief when you begin to feel overwhelmed. Set aside your Sabbath time and guard it carefully. 
Practicing self-care models the importance of balance in our daily lives. Your congregants will learn good self-care skills along with you.  
Here are some excerpts from websites I have found to be helpful when advocating for self-care:  
National Alliance on Mental Illness  This blog was posted in January 2018, but it holds true today; see the full article here: Mental Illness Is Not a Sin. Protestant pastor Kathy Hurt writes from the perspective of her experience with severe depression. She recommends being “gentle with yourself… patient…grateful…vulnerable… and kind” when providing spiritual counseling with others. This, I believe, is good advice for us as well. It will help us recognize our boundaries, our limitations, and allow for time of self-care.  
Christian Century offers Ten Guidelines for Pastoral Care During the Coronavirus Outbreakwhich was shared on Facebook by Rev. Dr. Michael Ciba. Guideline number 10 is relevant to this discussion of self-care. Read these words carefully and take them to heart: 
“Tag out. Remember that you, too, are a finite and limited creature. Tend to your own needs. Lean into your own community for support. And take turns with others giving care. It is tempting to believe in a crisis that we must give or do everything right now. Mostly this is not possible. Sabbath is not a luxury. Self-care is not selfish. As this outbreak continues to unfold, take steps to renew your own energy and hope in the Spirit of God.” 
Lastly, I offer the Serenity Prayer as particularly poignant for the current pandemic we are facing. It helps us recognize our boundaries and gives us permission to let God support us. I leave you with these faithful words: 
God, grant me the serenity to 
accept the things I cannot change, 
the courage to change the things I can, 
and the wisdom to know the difference.  Amen 
Stay well, practice hand washing, cover your cough, stay home if you are ill, practice social distancing, and above all take care of yourself so that you will be ready and able to care for others.  
Please contact me if I can be of assistance.  
Deborah Ringen  
Transitional Minister of Health and Wellness 


Deborah Ringen

Deborah Ringen is the Minister of Health and Wellness for the Southern New England Conference, UCC.

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