The longer you work at creating things, whether it’s websites, essays or paintings, the greater the odds you’ll have day where you don’t feel like doing it anymore. Until that day you may have heard others describe burnout, but you just shrugged it off as superstition, or perhaps you believed yourself immune. But the day it hits you, the world seems suddenly grey.
What was once fun and challenging feel empty and pointless. Or perhaps the things that used to motivate or move you don’t resonate at all.
Creative burnout can manifest itself in different ways, and it can vary greatly from one person to the next. You might feel stuck in a rut, overwhelmed, or unable to get started. You might just feel exhausted and incapable for doing work that normally comes easily to you. It is also common to feel bored, irritable, depressed and tired, to lose your temper easily. You may have more frequent headaches or stomachaches, and even lose interest in things that you normally enjoy.
Worst of all, you are probably beating yourself up for feeling that way by asking yourself "what in the world is wrong with me?"
Just as the causes for burnout are different for each of us, the solutions can be unique to every individual. Ideally, the first thing to do is to step away from your computer! You need to give yourself a break – even if it is only a short one – to get yourself back on track.
I’ve found that talking with other people won’t dramatically change the way you feel. It’s important to talk and express things, since expressing feelings is the only way to work through them, but in the end, change only comes from within. Since everyone’s different, the approaches for how to work through it often have to be discovered by you. Here’s some of the things that I know have worked for me, and other designers and artists I’ve worked with, but I recommend serious experimentation on your own:
- Plan an escape.
Take a day off and do the most dramatically easy but fun thing you can think of. Go see a matinee downtown, have a fantastic lunch, shop, browse, and walk. Be as indulgent as you can stand, and drag as many of your friends along with you. (Offer to return the favor with them when they’re burnt out.). Use a vacation day, or a sick day (Isn’t burnout a form of poor mental health?)
Whatever it is you find funny, bring more of it into your life. Whether it’s certain people, films, tv shows, plays, books. Choose to laugh.
I’m a believer in screams. I always feel better after I’ve yelled at the top of my lungs for no particular reason, doubly so if I’m pissed about something. Practice different screams, such as yelling ordinary words vs. generic scream sounds. Get friends and co-workers to participate if you can. Even if alone, and you have to do it into a pillow or underwater to not upset the neighbors, do it anyway. You’ll feel better, I promise.
- Fun time.
How much time per day do you do stuff purely for fun? Just because you like it and for no other reason? Why isn’t this number larger? What is more important than fun and happiness over the course of a lifetime?
- Sleep & Exercise.
Unfortunately, our minds are connected to our bodies, and if we treat our bodies poorly, well, our minds kind of get pissed off. I’ve found that if I’m not getting enough exercise, I’m about half as useful to the world than otherwise. Start taking a walk every day. Go swim. Have more/better sex. Free up your body, and your mind will follow.
Get in the car, pick a direction, and drive. Grab your friends, or not. Bring food, or not. Play music really loud, or just roll down the windows, and stick your head out (this is a good time to scream, hint, hint). Use some vacation time, or ask for time without pay so you can stretch out your time (and your time may be more valuable than your money).
- Forgive yourself.
This is something that happens to all creatives from time to time. Don't beat yourself up, feel guilty, or doubt your abilities. Berating yourself is only going to make you feel worse. Save your energy for something constructive instead!
Thanks to Scott Berkun for his input