Coping With Creative Burnout

Coping With Creative Burnout: How to Get Back On Your Feet When You're Stressed and Unmotivated. Think you're experiencing creative burnout? You might be feeling: exhausted, stressed, wrung out of ideas, inefficient, and isolated. Find out how we cope.

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I'm willing to bet that a lot of us have been there— furiously paddling with an inefficient dog-paddle to keep afloat, sinking further and further beneath the waves of work and responsibility.

It seems like there isn't a moment to catch up, and if you stop, even for a just a moment, you'll be lost, to never catch up. This is certainly how it feels, but it's not the truth. I know. I'm in the middle of my own personal ocean of work, school, and business, desperately trying to make it work. I've got assignments to finish, a blog to run, shifts to work, a trip in just a few weeks, and an apartment to pack up and move before the trip can happen. But I'm no different than anyone else. Everyone has their own work, whether it seems like a puddle, or the Pacific.

You might ask, how do I know if I'm experiencing burnout?

Well, you might be feeling:

  •  Exhausted
  •  Stressed, or depressed
  •  Inefficient
  •  Wrung out of ideas
  •  Isolated

Now burnout is not just for the creative— anyone can experience burnout, by not giving themselves time to recover. If you think you're suffering from burnout (and let's be honest here, it probably couldn't be clearer), try some of these tips to get yourself back on track— without the stress.

1. Reassess

Many a time I find myself with too many things to do, no idea where to start, and no time to do it. I'm a firm believer, though, that there is almost always time. Time is pretty stretchy. We just need to reprioritize (that'snotaword/itisnow). It doesn't help to have so many things to do that you feel as though you are making progress on any of them— unvisualized progress is the enemy of... something. Progress, probably. Write out a list of all the things you need to do over, say, the next two weeks. Order them by the date they need to be finished. Now, cross out the things that can truly wait— and you need to be honest with yourself here. Once you have a clearer picture of what really needs to happen over the next few days (and it's probably not cleaning the baseboards, reorganizing your photo collection, or discovering long lost DIY projects that need completing— that's called procrastinating) you can get moving and really see some progress on the things that need finishing soonest.

Oh, and get rid of that other list. You don't need to worry about those things yet. Think short-term list, long-term list.

2. Connect with your best self

A lot of creative people are introverts, but I'm not going to make the mistake and say that they all are. I personally understand the introvert perspective a lot clearer, being a raging homebody myself, but this principle can be applied to either type (or those unicorns, Ambiverts). Whether it's sitting in your favourite chair with a book and a tea, even just for half an hour, or cramming yourself into a room with twenty of your closest friends, skanking to Rancid (thank you, Gilmore Girls, for that one), these moments are important. You may not think you have time for them, but you do. Your sanity, and productivity will thank you.

3. Be gentle

With yourself, that is. It's hard sometimes to really do this one. We would all like to feel like invincible superpeople who never tire, never run out of ideas, and never get Strep throat.

But we do get Strep throat. It happens. And when it happens, you might not be able to keep up as well as you could. You may not be able to tackle eight days of work in a row, plus two family dinners, an important meeting, and three overdue assignments. When you need to take some time for yourself and say 'no', you probably know it. And the more you do it, the easier it gets. 'No', is a complete sentence. Let people know what's going on, but don't be afraid to acknowledge you need time for yourself to get things in order. Your friends will still be there when you come through (or else they probably weren't keepers anyway).

4. Be an arch, not a pillar

And by this I mean, you don't need to stand alone. Arches are two supports that come together at the top to hold things up— and they're a strong shape. In an interview, J.K. Rowling's husband said the hardest thing about living with Jo when she was stressed is that she withdrew further and further, and the only person she trusted was herself. She didn't accept help from anyone, which of course made her more stressed.

Now, I love me some Jo Rowling, but don't do this. It might be your tendency to want to do this— I think perhaps it is mine, too— but at these times, reach out to the people around you. They're probably more than willing to help. From the time I started to think more about partnership and collaboration, these things leapt into my life from every direction. People are usually very willing to help, and are often very understanding. The words of Neil Gaiman, on making art, are very useful here. People succeed in freelance

"...because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don't even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They'll forgive the lateness of the work if it's good, and if they like you. And you don't have to be as good as the others if you're on time and it's always a pleasure to hear from you."

So don't worry so much about that.

5. Catch those Zzs.

Seriously. I couldn't count on all my phalanges how many people I hear talking about how they haven't slept in several days, how they've spent fourteen straight hours on campus working, and have had nothing but Redbull and corn chips for sustenance. It might work short term, but it's not sustainable. You might still be typing, talking, and attending, but it won't be good quality, and you won't really be present. If you're a creative person striving to come up with new and interesting things, or to present old things in new and interesting ways, running on snatches of sleep will not end you up with a result you will really be proud of when the crunch passes and you've got time to look back.

It's better to call it quits and go to sleep a little earlier (whatever your early is) and get up refreshed and ready to start again. Seriously, make mornings a beautiful, glorious, shining Restart Button. If you've had a shitty day? It's over. Frustrating week? Gone. Unproductive, wasted hours? Well, now you're at the beginning of your day and you can try again. Embrace mornings, and you'll see results, I promise.

I hope these tips have been some help to all the struggling burnout folks out there. I need to follow them myself, as I'm experiencing a crunch like no crunch before.

Have you dealt with creative burnout before? What did you do?

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