if you're anything like me, you're not unfamiliar with this term.
"a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands."
as writers, creatives, and entrepreneurs, more often than not we catch ourselves redhanded: we're the one's creating these "constant demands", but how can we not? whether we are working on a book, or developing a product, or building a business, we are our own bosses: we are self-motivators.
so...how does one avoid stress and the burnout that comes from an excess of that when work and home are one and the same? when we can't look in the mirror without seeing our bosses? (haha)
well, i believe that burnout can largely come from viewing our work and ourselves through a skewed lens. see, often we like to put things into boxes.
WORK <-------------is over here, while------------->EVERYDAY LIFE AND WELLBEING, is over here.
much of this concept comes from societal culture that, through day jobs, separates work life and home life. this barrier tends to vanish physically for creatives and entrepreneurs (because home and work are interchangeable), but often not mentally. we see work and life outside of work as two very separate things, but in reality they aren't separated at all. they are very much interwoven.
life, everything that happens outside of our immediate work, like our daily routines, how we talk to ourselves, who we spend time with, what we spend time doing, what we eat, what we do for hobbies - every last bit of that affects and shapes us as individuals, and in turn affects our work. this is constantly happening, for better or for worse. but the good news is that we can harness this and use it to our (and our art's) benefit.
it's never our creative work that burns us out: ever. our writing doesn't give us writers block. our project doesn't stress us out. our creative work has never once burned us out.
(i know, i know - big statements! but hear me out)
we are the ones at the helm: we are the artists. we are the creators. we are the ones in control. being able to identify ourselves and our own ethics as the source - the very root of our burnout is a massive first step in overcoming it; it's not so much our work as it is how we go about our creative work - how we go about life.
here's a true story: there were days i would sit down at my computer to write, completely petrified. this was a defining moment: would i be able to write today - would i feel inspired, write well, and as a result, be happy and fulfilled for the rest of the day? or...would i feel uninspired, be unable to write the way i wanted to, and as a result, feel unhappy and unfulfilled for the rest of my day?
this feeling of anxiety was so real and intense, i would often dread and even postpone sitting down to write because of it.
because of this unhealthy relationship i began to develop with my creative work, burnout would often ensue. it wasn't until i began to notice just how unhealthy this was that i was able to pull back and look at the bigger picture:
it wasn't my writing that was giving me the trouble: it was me. it was my thoughts, my habits, and my outlook - and best of all, there were things i could proactively do to help stop this feeling of my work spiraling out of control.
because our lives and our work are interwoven, what we do all the rest of the time shapes our work. so that means that how i start my morning, how much sleep i get, what i eat, what content i consume, and who i spend time with will all mold my workflow in the short and long-term.
if i chronically don't catch the (at least) 8 hours of sleep i need, if i skip out on nourishing food, or if i physically stagnate by not getting my body moving, i've already taken a few big steps in creating an psychological environment that isn't conducive to creativity.
my creative work doesn't start and end when i sit down at my laptop to write, it starts when i wake up in the morning - actually, it starts when i go to bed.
how much we sleep, how much we exercise, and how we nourish our minds and bodies all play a huge roll in fueling our creative work, and well-being in general.
how many times have we seen the stereotype of the burned-out, sleep deprived student pulling an all nighter at their desk with bottles of five hour energy scattered around them? this is practically the poster child of what it means to experience burnout. and that's because all the right ingredients are there: sleep deprivation, lack of nourishment, and lack of physical movement.
but enough science, let's break down a few super practical ways you can help create a healthy relationship with your work and kick burnout.
#1 (wait for it...) get enough sleep. most adults need an average of 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. sleep is a personal favorite of mine - and it's super nourishing to the body. according to a HelpGuide article, "sleep isn’t merely a time when your body shuts off. While you rest, your brain stays busy, overseeing biological maintenance that keeps your body running in top condition, preparing you for the day ahead. without enough hours of restorative sleep, you won’t be able to work, learn, create, and communicate at a level even close to your true potential. regularly skimp on “service” and you’re headed for a major mental and physical breakdown." so basically...pulling late/all-nighters may not be helping you "hustle" as much as you think it is.
#2 nourish your body. and I'm not talking about a bowl of cheerios. grab an avocado and some eggs, or a bowl of fruit with dairy or non-dairy yogurt. i'm always amazed (and amused) by how I can typically pin-point some of my roughest, and most "uncreative" days only to find that those were the days i ate poorly, or skipped breakfast. food - GOOD food - is fuel. are you sitting down to write/work on an empty stomach? are you fueling yourself with sugar or processed foods? your brain burns roughly 300 calories A DAY. so if you find yourself beating your head against a stubborn plot hole, or just unable to think clearly, you might be able to actually beat that writer's block by taking a break and making yourself something substantial to eat. i've found a lot of good, healthy recipes here and here.
#3 nourish your mind. how do you start your day? do you dive directly into work? do you find that your mornings are often filled with frantic energy - pressure to accomplish? how we start our day is important: it sets the tone for the rest of our day, framing up our outlook. this is the moment we're going to look back on at night and either be proud of how we began, or wish we'd done things differently. i highly recommend starting your day with something positive. create a vision for your day - and your life, and keep that vividly at the forefront of your imagination. listen to positive affirmations, watch a motivational video, spend time in prayer or reading something spiritual or uplifting. have good, meaningful conversations. spend time with people you love and look up to. go for walks. meditate. exercise for at least 15 minutes a day.
#4 take breaks. life doesn't begin and end with work; there's so much more. if you're feeling stuck, take a break. do something else. draw, paint, dance, yell into a pillow, go for a jog, go on a trip, talk it out with a friend or mentor - do something completely different. it's amazing what taking the pressure off yourself can do. i know that i often create best when i'm not trying soooo hard. so in a sense? stop trying. create some space between yourself and your creative work and remind yourself that your value is not dependant upon your output.
#5 fill yourself with things that inspire you: literature, films, conversation, places, people, hobbies, scenery, forms of exercise - identify a few things that make your heart absolutely hum, and turn to those things when you need some r&r and perspective. for me, time spend out in the waves surfing, hiking, practicing martial arts, or listening to a podcast are all things i enjoy: things that help to nurture my creative mind.
#6 stop before you want to. this one has helped me in so many big ways. in the past, i would often write for eight hours a day - until i "couldn't" anymore. until i felt as though i had exhausted every ounce of creative energy i had inside me. some days i still do exactly this, and it can be great fun, but more often than not, what i typically practice is stopping before i want to. when i've written a good amount and feel as if i could go on forever - that's when i stop for the day. see, i think it's so much better for us psychologically to end on a high note and to pick up from there the next day, than to end on a low note and not have the energy to begin again the next time we sit down to write/work on our creative projects. when i feel like i've burned myself out, i will often still feel like that the following day. but when i stop when i still have loads of energy and passion about what i'm writing, that always leaves me excited to write again; i look forward to it. this might be the biggest thing that has helped me prevent burnout.
so those are a few things that have really helped me, and that i hope may help you too, whether you're feeling burnt out now, or simply down for adopting some fun ways to prevent it.
the bottom line? happiness comes first, success follows. not the other way around. i'm still learning this in a million ways, still reminding myself of it, and still making it a daily practice. it's a process...be patient with yourself - be kind.
making stuff is great, yes - we are created to be creators. but it's not the only reason we're here. if we make nothing today, we still live, breathe, and have so much to be thankful for; so much to savor, enjoy, and look forward to. life and work aren't separate...those are just the words and labels we have assigned to them. so let's find joy in all of it. let's allow one to support the other. let them hold hands and harmonize.
you'll thank yourself for it - and so will your creative work.
alright, now it's your turn: what's your one BEST way to prevent or kick creative burnout? comment below and share your thoughts, because i would absolutely LOVE to hear them!