Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Self-Care for Healthcare Chaplains

As a healthcare chaplain, it’s your goal to serve others. Unfortunately, chaplains, pastors, and other people involved in ministry run the risk of burning out if they don’t take the time to care for themselves. Why is burnout a problem for those in ministry? Surveys have shown that 90% of those involved in ministry work over 46 hours a week, 75% report significant stress-related crisis, 70% don’t have someone they would call a close friend, and 80% believe that their ministry negatively affected their families.

Think about the life of Jesus. We know that during his public ministry, he still took time alone to pray and reflect. He went out on a boat to escape pressing crowds, climbed a mountainside, and even when to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray alone the night before his death.

Why is it so hard for individuals in ministry to take time to care for their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being? Unfortunately, it’s so easy for chaplains and others involved in ministry to start believing that taking care of themselves is selfish. It’s easy to start feeling guilty when self-care keeps you away from your work in ministry. The truth – self-care is necessary if you’re going to serve others in an authentic, effective way, and caring for yourself is a way to honor the fact that you are called and loved by God.

Working in a healthcare environment can be very draining, and it’s easy to work yourself to the point of burnout. Taking time for physical, emotional, and spiritual self-care can ensure you’re at your best when you walk into that hospital so you’re able to minister to patients, their families, and medical personnel.

Physical Self-Care

When you think about self-care, it’s physical care that probably comes immediately to mind. You know that you need to eat right, get exercise, long enough hours of sleep, and work on reducing your stress. However, when you spend long hours at a hospital trying to minister to those in a medical crisis, it’s easy to forget about meals, grab the wrong foods, skip exercise, and work so hard that you don’t get enough sleep. Your stress levels rise, and if you continue on that path, you not only put yourself at risk for burnout, but also for serious health problems.

Remember, taking time to sit down and have a healthy meal is not selfish – it’s fueling your body so it can go on ministering. Getting enough rest at night is what you need to be alert and helpful when you’re working with others. Exercising keeps your body at its best so you have the endurance you need to keep going when you’re tired.

Emotional Self-Care

Emotional self-care is also essential for the healthcare chaplain. As you work in a healthcare environment, you’ll be dealing with very sick people. You may see people who have been through serious physical traumas. You may deal with people who have been through unspeakable emotional and physical abuse. You will deal with families who lost the people they love most. You’ll speak with medical professionals who did their best and still lost patients. This job can be emotionally overwhelming.

Make sure you’re taking care of your emotional well-being by staying in touch with how you are doing by identifying your emotions, listening to your feelings, and working through the things you feel. Many people in ministry find that writing down their feelings is extremely helpful. Having someone that you can talk to about your feelings is important, too. In fact, building solid friendships is an essential part of emotional self-care and can reduce your risk of burnout.

Spiritual Self-Care

Don’t make the mistake of believing that spiritual health happens automatically when you’re involved in ministry. Completing chaplain tasks does not build your relationship with God, and taking care of your chaplain tasks will never supplant the need to pursue your spiritual health. Spiritual self-care is a never-ending process that involves building a relationship with God that’s always growing and deepening. Just like any other relationship, your relationship with God takes persistence and consistent time.

Spiritual self-care involves taking time daily to deepen your own relationship with God. This includes things like Bible study, scriptural meditation, prayer, and solitude. As a healthcare chaplain, you want to bring the love of God to others, and in order to do that effectively, you must continually work on your own relationship with God so you’re spiritually equipped to continue your ministry to others.

Remember, when you don’t take time to eat properly, sleep well, cultivate friendships, and nurture your spiritual life, it’s tougher to minister authentically to others because you are not at your very best. You’re left running on fumes and after so long you’ll run out of both physical and emotional energy. However, when you take the time to care for yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually, you’ll be best equipped to minister to others authentically because you’re at your best on every level.


Joy Burgess