Creative Burnout: How To Get Over It For Good

Creative Burnout: How To Get Over It For Good

Napkin with words associated with burnout written on it is set under a mug of coffee, a pen, thumb tacks, and office supplies.

What Is Creative Burnout?

Creative burnout occurs when an imaginative person becomes overwhelmed, feels frustrated, or burnt out by their work. The creative person experiences emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion, and even the easiest task sends your stress levels soaring.

You feel a huge lack of motivation to do much work. And before you know it, your ingenious spark has disappeared.

The quality of your work begins to suffer. Daily habits become monumental efforts. The creative spark has left the building along with all of your fresh ideas.

In other words, you’ve figuratively hit a brick wall and your creative batteries have run out of juice.

The good news is, know you’re not alone. Many people in the creative field will go through at least one period of burnout in their careers. How long it takes to recover is up to you.

So if you are in a creative slump, take a deep breath and admit to yourself it’s time to look for help. If left untreated, the effects of burnout can impact your physical health as well as your mental health.

What are The Symptoms?

There are many signs of creative burnout, and it hits different people in a variety of ways. Here’s a list of some of the more common symptoms:

  • You find you are procrastinating more and avoiding completing tasks.
  • You seek ways to spend more time alone.
  • Simple things cause you to become irritable or angry.
  • Productivity noticeably diminishes.
  • Even thinking about taking the first step toward starting a new task causes you to feel emotionally and physically drained.
  • You can’t remember the last time you felt rested and excited to go to work, even after spending an amazing long weekend away from the job.
  • You feel depressed or become emotional very easily.
  • Bad habits are starting up to counteract the stress you are feeling, like excessive drinking, smoking, drugs, or mindless eating.
  • Physical symptoms can also occur, including nervous tics, nausea, headaches, or inability to fall or stay asleep.
  • It’s difficult to come up with new creative ideas or you are experiencing writer’s block.
  • You check out by watching hours of television, using social media, or playing computer games.
  • You resist learning a new technique or doing anything that takes you away from your comfort zone.
  • Brain fog or staring into space with a blank mind is happening often.

Who Gets Creative Burnout?

Most people associate creative burnout with artistic people like artists, writers, art directors, or musicians.

But in reality, this type of burnout isn’t limited to just the creative industry. After all, each of us uses creative tasks in our work and personal life every single day!

the words balance or burnout are printed on a white piece of paper with black ink and there are small oval-shaped white pills scattered across the page. Photo is for article about creative burnout.

In America, the business owner often has high expectations of their employees and expect them to carry heavy workloads with very little pay. Work can feel like a pressure cooker, with you being the main ingredient in some cases!

These feelings and situations can cause resentment and feelings of unworthiness – both of which can lead to burnout.

As creatives, we are constantly seeking success in an ever-changing world. We need to be able to pivot quickly, or risk being left behind in the dust. After all, we’re only as good as our last innovative endeavor, right?

Wrong!!

More on this later.

What Causes Creative Burnout?

Burnout usually happens when we develop a not-so-healthy work-life balance.

Let’s say you have been working long hours to meet deadlines, day after day after day. Or your boss keeps giving you specific tasks to do in addition to expecting you to complete your regular workload.

Or you spent the past year using your energy to solve someone else’s personal problems while not tending to your own home life.

You can also feel creative exhaustion when you feel diminished or not appreciated for your best efforts.

Any of these scenarios would cause you to feel mental exhaustion. And that exhaustion takes away from how you think about your own creative projects.

Mental exhaustion can cause physical inertia, which makes you want to basically stop doing anything.

And, when creative beings avoid using their imagination or stop flexing their creativity muscle, they can quickly find themselves in a very deep rut.

My Story

I’m no stranger to creative burnout. Or professional burnout, for that matter. In fact, I’ve done it three times.

My first burnout occurred in 1995. I owned half of a large property management firm and after twelve years, I was fried. I ended up selling my portion of the company and going on medical leave and disability for eight months.

The second time was in 2011. I was in a high-stress position with a commercial real estate development company and already knew the signs of burnout. So I resigned to follow my passion and became a full-time artist.

In the beginning, I did really well! My paintings were selling and I was getting my art in galleries everywhere. But when things slowed down, I had to start dipping into savings to pay my monthly expenses.

When the savings got low, financial pressures mounted, and then my energy and passion hit the skids. And when I needed to find a way to supplement my income, I foolishly went back into the property management business.

Best creative burnout quote from Albert Einstein about insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Yes, I actually returned to the property management business – a HIGH-stress industry if there ever was one!

But this time when I saw the dark cloud of burnout coming, I did something to pre-empt the effects.

I got out before I hit the wall.

I realize this is not a solid solution for everyone. But the main point is I left. And I did it before I went into another full-blown case of burnout.

So when you’re experiencing burnout, know that leaving the situation can easily be the best solution to take. Just be sure to recognize what’s happening and take action before your life begins to crumble around you.

This may involve taking a leave of absence or walking away from the situation before it does you in. But what’s important is putting space between you and the circumstances that have forced you to this point.

How To Pre-empt Creative Burnout

It is possible to avoid getting to the creative burnout stage altogether. So if you’re not already in the throes of a breakdown, then consider implementing these techniques today.

  1. Learn how to say “no.” If something doesn’t align with your schedule, values, or priorities, then just don’t do it. Start setting boundaries and begin saying “no” more often. Remember – the word “no” can be a complete sentence. So above all, don’t feel the need to expound on it!
  2. Stop taking on other people’s problems. It’s human nature to want to help others, but there are energy vampires that can suck you dry if you let them. Watch out for one-way relationships where someone is always droning on about their issues, and never stops to ask about yours. These life-suckers will stop dumping on you once they notice you stop making time for them anymore.
  3. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. If you have a full workload already, then taking on just one more thing can tip the scales toward burnout. And if something is going to take three weeks to complete, don’t overcommit to get it out sooner just to please someone else. I’m not saying don’t challenge yourself, but realize if you do it once, then don’t be surprised if it’s expected to happen again and again.
  4. Take a break. Don’t forget to take regular breaks from what you’re doing or concentrating on. Often, a brisk walk around the block or a change of scenery will actually help inspire you! And it gives your brain a chance to rest so you aren’t so focused you can’t think straight. Leave your desk or go outside and do something else for ten to twenty minutes. Play word games like Wordle or Phoodle to get your brain thinking differently.
  5. Use affirmations. Start using affirmations and watch how quickly your outlook can change. Here’s a post about using creative affirmations that can help switch your feelings of being overwhelmed to seeing things in a brighter light and getting your confidence back.
A list of words associated with creative burnout.

If You Already Have Creative Burnout

First of all, know that healing from burnout takes time. It also takes a delicate balance of patience coupled with a heavy dose of grace. In other words, allow the process to unfold and cut yourself some slack. And here are some more tips to help you along the way:

  1. Get professional help. There’s no shame in seeking medical help or seeing a therapist. If you need professional intervention or pharmaceuticals to help your situation, please seek the right people who can make that happen immediately. This might mean a trip to the ER or a call to your physician but do it. A professional can prescribe something to ease the anxiety or depression you’re feeling, and they can also provide referrals to a good therapist so you can talk about your fears and emotions.
  2. Join a support group. Ask around to find a support group in your area for others going through burnout. If you’re seeing a therapist, they may have a group in progress. Likewise, go look into other different networks online like Meetup or even Facebook groups.
  3. Start a daily to-do list. I know this is a simple task, but the benefits are huge. Even if the only things on your to-do list are to brush your teeth or feed the cat, once you’ve done the deeds, you can cross them off your list. Believe it or not, crossing things off your list gives you a sense of achievement. And when you’re burned out, these accomplishments will help lift your spirit and makes you feel better about yourself.
  4. Get a long vacation, take time off, or quit. Removing yourself from the situation that’s causing the stress is critical. Talk to your employer about a leave of absence or a sabbatical. If they refuse to give you the time off, then use your vacation time if you have any. And if they still refuse, then it may be time to walk away. If the workplace is a toxic environment, then it is unlikely time away will change the problem, so leaving may be your only way out. Another option is going out on a stress claim. If you have a private disability policy, ask your doctor if they will help you make a claim. If you don’t have a disability policy, check to see if you’d be eligible for social security benefits if you need to take an extended leave of absence. Some employers have human resource departments that can help with this.
  5. Self-care. Your body and mind are crying out to be nurtured, so don’t ignore their cries. Get plenty of sleep and engage in relaxing activities like yoga or meditation. Go on hikes or short walks. Indulge your inner child and take a trip to the zoo or have a picnic in the park. If you live near the beach, put your feet in the sand and watch the waves on the shore. If you can focus, read some good books. Take up a new hobby that you’ve never made time for. Make yourself some healthy meals and drink lots of water. Listen to music that soothes you, and if you’re up for company, reach out to family or friends and set up a movie date or other activity that doesn’t require you to do a lot of talking. When you’re ready to talk, call a trusted friend to check in and say hello.
  6. It doesn’t last forever. One of the most important things to understand when you’re burned out is this is a temporary state. Let go of time constraints and don’t push yourself too hard to go back until you are truly ready. More than ever, it’s time to be gentle with yourself and allow your body, mind, and soul the time it needs to heal.

Conclusion

If you are experiencing creative burnout, know there are steps you can take to overcome it and get back on track with your creative work. One key approach is to make time for rest and self-care. This can include getting enough sleep, engaging in relaxing activities like yoga, hot baths, or meditation, or simply taking a break from your creative work to recharge and refocus.

With time and the right strategies, you can overcome burnout and return to your pursuits feeling refreshed and reinvigorated.

If you are concerned about creative burnout, then talk to your doctor or a mental health professional for guidance and support. With the right plan and self-nurturing practices, it is possible to overcome creative burnout and get your creative mojo back.

And if you want to ensure creative burnout never comes back, follow the pre-emptive tips I’ve outlined above. They really do work!

chalk drawing of a stick man with a battery at 1% capacity on his back for an article about creative burnout.

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