10 Ways To Fight Back Against Stress And Burnout

This post was written by Mark Clark.

Mark is the lead pastor of Village Church in Vancouver BC. Mark and I co-lead The Art of Better Preaching Course, which has trained thousands of leaders in how to communicate powerfully and effectively to unchurched people. 

Every leader I know, including myself, is under more stress than we’ve ever been at this point in leadership.

How do you cope?

A few years ago, my friend Carey Nieuwhof wrote a book called Didn’t See it Coming. In it, he admits he went through a kind of burnout and stress that was so heavy that it led him to consider some pretty dark ways out.

By God’s grace, he got through that time and came out the other side stronger. As a pastor, I am talking with a lot of people in this season who are feeling the same kinds of things that Carey describes his darkest moments to be like. A kind of wearing down emotionally and spiritually.

He says you can spot an unhealthy version of yourself because it looks like a few different things:

  • Your passion fades
  • You don’t feel the highs and lows anymore
  • Little things make you overly emotional
  • Everybody drains you
  • You’re becoming cynical
  • Nothing satisfied you
  • You can’t think straight
  • Your productivity is dropping
  • You are self-medicating
  • You don’t laugh anymore
  • Sleep and time off no longer refuel you

These are ten signs that things aren’t firing on all cylinders for you. And in this moment of social isolation, I am seeing more and more people feel these symptoms.

So what do you do?

Every leader I know, including myself, is under more stress than we've ever been at this point in leadership. - @markaclark Click To Tweet

10 Ways To Fight Back Against Stress And Burnout

Carey lays out a plan that is very practical which I want to share with you so you can get back on track.

Here are the ten things you should do to fight back out of whatever dark place you find yourself.

1. Tell Someone

Swallow your pride and let someone else into the stress and anxiety you feel. Someone you trust.

Nothing good happens when you’re isolated. When you admit it to others, you finally end up admitting it to yourself.

Nothing good happens when you're isolated. Click To Tweet

2. Develop a circle around you

Friends who remind us that “Tomorrow the sun will rise” make all the difference.

You need people who believe in you when you’ve stopped believing in yourself.

You need people who believe in you when you’ve stopped believing in yourself. Click To Tweet

3. Keep leaning into God

The Psalms are filled with pain and isolation and fear and anxiety. At the same time, they run headlong into God, not away from him. Don’t give yourself permission to quit your faith. Read when you don’t feel like reading. Pray when it’s hard. Keep going. Just because you can’t feel God’s love doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you.

4. Rest

Read the Gospels. Jesus took naps. Sometimes it’s the most spiritual thing you can do. 70% of discipleship is a good night’s sleep.

You know when things seem bigger and scarier at night before bed? That’s not just because its dark and quiet outside versus sunny and active, it’s because we’re tired.

5. Find something to take your attention away from your pain

The problem with this COVID moment is that when we slow down our pace, often we only have our pain to focus on.

And pain is selfish, it always demands our attention. Watch a movie. Go for a hike. Refuse to feel sorry for yourself. Not giving up on life helps you get back into life.

Not giving up on life helps you get back into life. Click To Tweet

6. Don’t make any big decisions

In this state, often we are tempted to do things that can ruin our lives and the lives of those we love.

Don’t do those things. Do not quit your job. Do not buy a sports car. Do not cheat on your spouse. Do not make any drastic changes or moves right now if you are in a season of stress and anxiety and ‘dark night of the soul’.

7. Grieve your losses

Life can be a series of un-grieved losses. It’s hard to know what to do with our losses.

The dreams and plans that aren’t happening right now — grieve them. Admit it sucks — it’s part of healing. In the Bible, why do they take 40 days to grieve the death of Moses? Can’t they just go to the funeral and go back to work after?

There is something about grieving that makes life on the other side more than.

There is something about grieving that makes life on the other side more than. Click To Tweet

8. Reopen your heart

This will end. When you feel cynicism and numbness entering your life – maybe you already have – don’t give up and think “this is the way it is now”. Commit to reopen yourself to encouragement, hope, and the idea of a preferred future.

So many of you have experienced broken trust in relationships or more that have caused you to be hurting. Don’t give up on humanity. There are so many good and trustworthy people. Find them and trust them again.

Don’t give up on humanity. There are so many good and trustworthy people. Find them and trust them again. Click To Tweet

9. Live today in a way that will help you thrive tomorrow

Think of trying to get in shape. You eat right. Think right. Work out and it produces results months later. Do the things today that produce results that you will only see tomorrow.

Invest in the future by changing up patterns of thought and life starting today. Make sure you are on point in all five areas of life (spiritual, emotional, relational, physical and financial).

Tomorrow will be something to look forward to in this moment of darkness.

10. Believe the gospel

Jesus went through the pain and agony of a kind of dark night of the soul himself. He was a ‘man of sorrows’, in our place, so that you and I don’t need to experience that reality forever. For seasons of life, sure. But Jesus died and rose again and offers us a new creation of life in the present.

Take it, believe it. And look and work toward the joy he brings through the power of his work (Gal. 5:22-23).

I hope this helps you work through a very difficult season.

Solve The Problems Most Leaders Miss: Didn’t See It Coming Will Help

If you want practical help overcoming some of the biggest challenges leaders face, my most recent book Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That Nobody Expects and Everyone Experiences tackles the seven core issues that take people out: cynicism, compromise, disconnectedness, irrelevance, pride, burnout, and the emptiness of success and provides strategies on how to combat each.

I wrote the book because no 18-year-old sets out to be cynical, jaded, and disconnected by age 35. Yet it happens all the time.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’s what top leaders are saying about Didn’t See It Coming:

“Seriously, this may be the most important book you read this year.” Jud Wilhite, Lead Pastor, Central Church

“Powerful, personal, and highly readable. ” Brian Houston, Global Senior Pastor, Hillsong

“Whatever challenge you’re facing, whatever obstacle you’re hoping to overcome, whatever future you dream or imagine, there is something powerful for you here.” Andy Stanley, Founder, North Point Ministries

“Uncommonly perceptive and generous…You have to read this book.” Ann Voskamp, NYT bestselling author

“Masterful.” Reggie Joiner, CEO Orange

“Deep biblical insight, straightforward truth, and practical wisdom to help you grow.” Craig Groeschel, Pastor and NYT bestselling author

“This book is sure to help you.” Daniel H. Pink, NYT bestselling author

Over the years, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about being a public speaker is having opportunities to hang out with Carey…It’s not a matter of if you’ll run into these challenges; it’s a matter of when. Be prepared by spending a little time with a leader who has already been there.” Jon Acuff, NYT best-selling author

“Nieuwhof’s book provides expert guidance…with an accuracy that pierces the heart.” Nancy Duarte, CEO Duarte Inc.

“A refreshingly transparent guide for all leaders in a wide variety of industries.” Bryan Miles, Co-Founder and CEO, BELAY

You can learn more and get your copy of Didn’t See It Coming here.

How stressed are you?

I’d love to hear how you’re doing.

Leave a comment below!

10 Ways To Fight Back Against Stress And Burnout


  1. Brandon Miller on July 14, 2020 at 8:02 am

    Hi, this is such a useful article for me now, thanks for sharing this. Emotional burnout bothers me, I do not want anything, it feels like everything that was interesting to me has disappeared before that. I try to fill this void with work, I work longer because I don’t even know what to do in my free time. I don’t want to bother anyone with this. Thanks for your advice, I will definitely take advantage of this!

  2. Heather on June 5, 2020 at 6:54 pm

    So sad for my life that used to be! There are decent days where leading through this is a decent challenge and there are not so decent days when it’s dark and challenging and not what I signed up for and I just don’t want to! Thank you for speaking into this!

  3. Kathryn Heemskerk on June 4, 2020 at 3:08 pm

    Wish I could share but I don’t know who all is reading this. Let me just say Last Month was hard. Today, hope has renewed itself.

  4. Michael McReynolds on June 4, 2020 at 9:42 am

    This article was right on the mark for me and I so appreciate you posting it. We have weathered the quarantine quite well as a church, but I have felt the slow crawling weight of darkness bearing down on my soul. We have already experienced families making the decision not to return to our fellowship and we are barely getting started so I’m sure there will be more. With that being said, your article really encouraged and blessed me.
    Hanging on to the cross,


    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 4, 2020 at 3:52 pm

      Glad to help!

  5. Brianne Guzewicz on June 4, 2020 at 8:46 am

    Carey, please speak to leaders of the white church about supporting our brothers and sisters in Christ. You have so much influence with leaders. Black people and black churches are suffering right now.

    • Clay Mitchell on June 4, 2020 at 9:44 am

      Hi Brianne,

      Carey had an amazing conversation on IGTV with Sam Collier on this very topic. It was so beneficial to me as a pastor in learning my lane and learning to lead our church and navigate the days in light of the very suffering we are all experiencing.

      Thank you, Carey, for leading us well in the long haul of your ministry but also in the last several months of drastic change!

      • Brianne Guzewicz on June 4, 2020 at 11:36 am

        Thanks Clay, I’ll check it out!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 4, 2020 at 3:53 pm


      I just did an IG live with Sam Collier on this issue. You can find it here: https://www.instagram.com/tv/CA86jJsFxfT/?hl=en

  6. David Nelson on June 4, 2020 at 7:54 am

    So many people are lost right now. Thank you for giving us hope that tomorrow can be brighter.

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