16 June 2009

My Debriefing - Topic: Stress

Twenty-five percent of all missionaries burn out on the mission field on their 1st term and never go back (according to Vern Dyck, US Center for World Mission).

Stress is the uninvited companion of every missionary. “Burnout” is defined as: A state of mental, physiological, and spiritual exhaustion brought on by long-term, unrelenting stress. It has even been said that depression is the “common cold” for missionaries.

I now believe that my recent health issues were, in large part, due to burnout.

Amy Carmichael left Japan after just one year, due to bad health. Later, she left Ceylon after less than a year, once more due to bad health. She spent her last two decades in India in bed… again due to bad health.

On day two of the debriefing, we discussed stress.

We listed various types of stressors, including: life events, daily hassles, situational factors, traumatic events, and our own personality as compared to the culture where we serve.

My own personal life events that I had to deal with during this last term were:

· Normal ongoing grief regarding my dad’s death

· My accident and recovery

· Finding a new place to live (not an easy task in Kenya)

· Birth of another grandchild in my absence

While listing daily hassles, we ran out of room! Some of the ones I listed:

· Horrible roads and traffic

· Inconsistency of utilities (power and water randomly and unexpectedly unavailable)

· No hot water from the taps (washing dishes and clothes by hand in cold water)

· Dealing with beggars

· Safety of food and water

· Bureaucracy (only being told one step at a time, which then requires multiple visits to government offices)

· People always staring at you

· Odd cultural things, like the apparent inability of local people to properly stand in line and wait their turn

Some of the situational factors that I listed:

· Kenya’s post-election chaos and violence

· Wild and unruly public transportation

· Theft, pick-pockets

· Feeling like you’re being used, in personal friendships

· Dust, dirt, mud, noise

· Government corruption

· Tribalism

· Lingering effects of colonialism

· Class distinctions

· Having white skin and always being viewed as a foreigner

· Somewhat major difficulties involving three key friendships

There are also numerous personality conflicts between me and the foreign culture in which I live, such as:

· A communal society vs. me as an introvert

· Kenyans share possessions, but not knowledge vs. American culture of sharing knowledge, but not possessions

· Major differences in keeping time

· Americans tend to confront issues vs. Kenyans sweeping things under the rug

· Kenyans seem to tell “little white lies”

· Hosts expecting me to eat large quantities of food

We also took a “stress test”, of sorts. We checked off a list of over 40 life-event stressors. My total for the past 30 months (since my dad died) came to 488. According to the people that developed the test (Holmes and Rahe), a score of 300 or higher has a 79% probability of creating health issues. Oh, my! I was way off the chart, and the test didn’t even include the many, many issues related to living in a foreign culture! I think we all realize that the effects of stress can accumulate over time.

Well… the good thing is that we also learned some great practical ideas to avoid burnout. I know that this day’s discussion alone was highly worthwhile to me!

“The human body was not made to run non-stop. Violating certain biblical principles bring heavy consequences, no matter how much you love the Lord.”

- Connie Sydnor Coffman, Weary Warriors

“Emotional fatigue can result from excessive work, but more often it is simply because the out-go is greater than the intake.”

- Dr. Bob Bremner

“Pain is God’s megaphone.”

- CS Lewis

“If the activities of your life consistently burn up more emotional energy than they replenish, you may fall victim to emotional fatigue.”

- Connie Sydnor Coffman, Weary Warriors


Anonymous said...

So what are some of the practical tips for avoiding burnout and fatigue?

Anonymous said...

Very helpful, missionary or not.

Anonymous said...

This was helpful info for me, so I know it had to a very informative time for you. You look rested in the CO pics. Thanks for sharing the contents of your sessions. Hopefully, it will be a helpful source from which to draw daily.

Anonymous said...

It looks like you have outlined all of the things that you know cause you stress - and ultimately burnout. Now you need to come up with a plan to avoid these things or a coping mechanism to deal with them.