209 | Stress Management—Avoiding Burnout

January 19, 2012
Thursday, 3:00 p.m.
Letter #209: Stress Management—Avoiding Burnout


Dear Family,

Last night was mercifully the final night of the “Pre-Release” class I’ve been part of for the past several months, every Wednesday evening. Next week, we’ll have our mini-graduation with certificates, handshakes (more rare than certificates in prison!), and sweets. The teacher—my Case Manager, Ms. Cully—is from the deep South (Arkansas) but has none of the ladylike qualities my Southern friends have.

The Pre-Release “Crass,” as I like to call it, is meant to prepare us for a healthy re-entry into society. I determined from the start that I would make the most of the class, which was sadly lacking in both substance and decorum, using it as an opportunity to demonstrate to staff my seriousness in my own rehabilitative efforts as well as an opportunity to forge relationships with other inmates whom I otherwise wouldn’t be around on a regular basis. Thus, despite a constant barrage of explicit, vulgar, and suggestive language, I think I learned some helpful information. This week’s topic: Stress Management—Avoiding Burnout.

I have never considered myself to be stressed-out, depressed, or burned-out. My upbringing has something to do with this, I’m sure. Boredom was banned in our family, and if you found something distasteful, stating such outright was punishable by heavy fines or death. Instead, we were encouraged to say, “No, thank you,” and then eat it anyway. I learned to be grateful and content in all things.

According to the experts—whoever they are—physical symptoms of burnout can include headaches, chronic fatigue, muscle aches, sleep problems, and high blood pressure. Thanks to God, I don’t experience any of these. The emotional symptoms of burnout can include apathy, frustration, anger, emotional volatility, high irritability, and a negative or cynical attitude. Awesome! Sounds like loads of fun, but those aren’t in my Top 10 Emotions, gratefully.

However, I want to avoid possible burnout in my life, so I paid attention to the common causes of burnout. Here they are:

  1. Work with no clear goals. My official job in the pod is to clean the railings. I do not like the job. It isn’t about the pay (I net $5.14 or so every month) or that somehow I consider it “beneath me” to clean railings with a rag. It’s more about the fact that we have six men in a 120-man pod whose sole responsibility for six hours every day is to clean the exact same railings I’m assigned to. I am unclear what the goal is in this, so I choose not to do the job. I don’t sign in; they pay me anyway.
  2. Conflict between personal and business values. This is a delightful one, eh? My employer is a for-profit prison corporation that wants to pay me just $.08/hour to keep their buildings clean for them. I am a prisoner who would rather not see my little job help the profitability of my own incarceration.
  3. Unprofitable or unsatisfying relationships. What?!? My relationships are spectacular! Most of my family I haven’t seen in three to four years. My best friends leave me behind, and I’m becoming convinced my wife must have been aborted. I’m now staunchly pro-life.
  4. Hitting the invisible ceiling—you know, when you realize you’ll never get that promotion or when you realize no one believes in you anymore. Ha! This could never apply to me! Besides, living in a concrete bathroom, I hit the visible ceiling often enough.
  5. Powerlessness to change something important to you. Hmm. I’m sure that there is something I’d like to change but am powerless to do so. I’ll really need to think through that one, though. I mean, wouldn’t it be crazy if you couldn’t, say, change your living situation, job situation, church situation, singleness situation, clothing situation, food situation, political situation, etc.? Now that would be truly horrible, and I could see that it could lead to burnout.
  6. An overwhelming workload. Ah, now we may have it. Full-time college, and I’m teaching music, business, choir, and exit strategies nearly full-time. Yep. I see the possibility.

I met with my mentor and discussed with him my need for a more full, vibrant, and meaningful prayer life. I’m now making a concerted effort to set aside time with my Savior, whose “burden is light.”

With my goals set by what He has for me to do, I can do my work for Him rather than as unto man, yielding satisfying relationships that go beyond all I can ask or think (including ceilings), making for true, lasting change in every area that is important to me. I’ll burn out for Him.  🙂