How to Keep Doing Good and Avoid Burnout?

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, more than 77 million adults volunteered through some organization. They spent more than 6.9 billion hours volunteering, which equates to an economic value of around $167 billion.

It seems like some people were just built to volunteer and give themselves to help others. For others, it can be a challenge. Regardless of what side of the coin you fall on, you need to take steps to protect yourself emotionally so that the stress of volunteering to help others does not rob you of joy. Burnout should be prevented at all costs. The following are a few tips that can help you when you are feeling stressed or fatigued while volunteering.

Know When It Is Time to Take a Rest

Burnout has been defined as physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that is the result of long-term involvement in emotionally demanding situations. This definition highlights the role that exhaustion and a sense of disillusionment play in burnout. These concepts apply to volunteers in a way that they might not apply to people who work for money.

Volunteers are committed to their cause. This is what drives them to work hard, be it building houses, offering medical care, doing missionary work, feeding the poor, or protecting the environment, even though they are not getting paid. All of these jobs are physically and emotionally demanding, especially when you are doing them to protect disadvantaged individuals or communities.

You needed to have started from a place of everything being all right. Your fire needed to burn in a healthy way. Burnout leads to disillusionment, which affects a person’s commitment to the work that they are doing and can produce a cynical viewpoint.

Stepping back, taking a break, and getting a fresh perspective of what you are doing can help. Walking away allows you to change your circumstances, albeit temporarily, and can lessen the stress you feel or make it disappear completely.

Modesty Is Key to Success

In this context, we are referring to modesty as an understanding of one’s limits. No doubt, you got involved in volunteering, maybe even taking a gap year to volunteer abroad, because you wanted to make the world a better place. You wanted to see a tangible difference after you finished volunteering. It can be frustrating to feel like the work you are doing and the time that you are spending are not producing results.

It is important to remember that you are just one person. No matter how motivated, committed, or dedicated you are to your cause, there is a limit to the impact that you are going to be able to have. Thankfully, as we mentioned at the outset, in the United States alone there are 77 million other people who are doing their part to try to make the world a better place.

The last thing that you want is to fall into a self-defeating or self-condemning mentality when you are faced with an insurmountable challenge. It is good to do self-evaluation from time to time to see if unrealistic expectations are leading to your burnout. Symptoms of burnout could include:

  • A critical attitude toward your volunteering
  • A dread of going to the location where you volunteer and wanting to leave immediately
  • Low energy and little interest in tasks ahead
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Absenteeism from volunteering
  • Feeling of emptiness

Set Goals That You Can Achieve

You volunteer because you want to change the world. It is a laudable goal, but you may have a greater sense of satisfaction and joy if you take that large goal and you break it down into personal goals that you can achieve in a short period of time.

For example, you may not be able to build houses for everyone in a poor community. However, you can set the goal of working on X number of houses every single year. It may feel frustrating not being able to help as many people as you would like, but you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are able to help a set number of families. And this is more than what many people do.

A good way to go about setting goals is to first create your big picture, perhaps over the course of your lifetime. Next, identify some of the large-scale goals that you want to accomplish, like building homes in certain communities on certain continents. Then take these large-scale goals and break them down into smaller targets that you need to achieve in order to hit your lifetime goal. Next, create a plan on how you are going to achieve these goals.

Every milestone that you hit, like getting a passport, helping communities closer to home, helping countries closer to home, and then travelling farther out, will give you a feeling of success.

The decision to serve as a volunteer is one of the best decisions you can make. The memories and friends you make will last you for the rest of your life. Take care of yourself mentally and emotionally by setting reasonable goals, being modest with yourself, and taking a rest when needed. This will help prevent burnout and increase your enjoyment from volunteering.

Contributed by Kevin Gardner

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