Artistic Burnout: How Do You Preserve It at Bay?


Burnout has been a particularly hot topic last year, and understandably so. Even as more people are receiving their vaccines and resuming normal activity, reports of burnout continue to increase.

Editor’s note: This post was updated in July 2021.

In a survey by Indeed, 52% of respondents said they would be burned out in 2021, up from 43% in a pre-COVID-19 survey.

For those of us in the creative fields, creative burnout is more than inconvenient. In some cases it can even be harmful to our work.

If you are a freelancer or an entrepreneur, you are likely responsible for securing your income. This lifestyle can be especially difficult if you are creatively feeling choked or bankrupt.

So what can be done about it? Let’s take a look at what creative burnout is and hear from some of our in-house creative teams about their strategies for keeping it in check.

What is creative burnout?

Creative burnout can mean different things to different people. Ultimately, there is a creative burnout when employees in creative areas feel overworked by their projects and lack drive.

Phil McKinney defines it this way: “Creative burnout is often associated with the feeling of doing the same thing over and over or standing in your own way.”

Whatever your personal definition, you know how stressful and isolating burnout can be. In this article, we’ll discuss how to recover from burnout and focus on the processes of professionals who are in the same boat.

This is how you can recover from a creative burnout

  • Change your environment
  • Take a break
  • Focus on your health (physical and mental)

Change your environment

The change in your surroundings may not seem particularly profound, but studies show that your surroundings strongly influence your creative process and your ability to concentrate.

In fact, sounds, colors, temperatures, lighting, and the space around you are all factors in your creativity and cognitive abilities.

If you’re looking to increase your creativity, consider moderate background noise: 70-80dB to be precise. Enjoy an organized, dimly lit space where you can unconsciously relax. And use the color blue if you can! Studies suggest that these steps actually increase creative flow.

Take a break

Taking a break from the hustle and bustle can feel counterproductive, but breaks can be healthy, whether you’re taking a quick break from your desk or on vacation.

Breaks from the computer

Not leaving your computer can make you feel more productive. In reality, you may suffer the consequences of overwork. Without breaks, your productivity and mental health suffer.

So think about how you can escape. Coffee dates with coworkers, the occasional long lunch, and eating outside of the desk are healthy ways to relax and recharge your batteries.

Vacation from work

Maybe you need more than a short break. If so, consider taking a vacation.

If breaks seem counterproductive, vacations likely seem downright absurd. In fact, studies show that people who don’t take vacation are more likely to be depressed, have heart attacks, and even less productive at work. So go on vacation. For your productivity and your well-being.

Focus on your health

Creative burnout could also be related to health problems in general. Because of this, it is important to take a step back and consider your physical and mental health.

Physical health

We all know that exercise and a good diet are essential. But they can seem more impossible the busier you are. However, busy professionals should also make time for their health, as healthier employees are statistically more productive.

To focus more on your physical health on a busy schedule, try replacing old habits with new ones.

For example, instead of going out with people from work, you could try a yoga class with them instead. Substitutes can also be applied to food. Replace a processed breakfast with a smoothie or try switching the late afternoon snack to fruits and vegetables.

Mental health

You probably use psychology in your own work, so why not incorporate it into your personal life?

If you are feeling depressed or anxious, take time to care for yourself. Meditation can help to some extent, but professional help is also a great long-term mental health plan. A therapist can provide objective, informed opinions about your work environment as well as your personal life.

Professionals tell us about their creative burnout strategies

Once you have taken the time to freshen up and relax, consider incorporating other people’s methods into your process. We asked various professionals for their tips on how to treat stress fatigue. Here is what they said:

For me, it’s really about changing habits or routines. That means moving to different rooms or work areas throughout the day instead of being planted in the same spot.

I also switch channels and mix up my work soundtrack. Different tempos, styles or genres can change and re-inspire your mood.

And I switch projects a lot. It’s easy to feel burned out after spending hours immersed in a project. Unless the deadlines dictate otherwise, I sometimes have to close certain projects and literally forget about them for a few hours or days. Amazing how you can come back with fresh eyes and new ideas when you’ve been away from something for a while.

Randy Kershner, Senior Copywriter, Selligent / CM Group

Don’t put yourself under pressure to have a “creative moment” during work hours. I usually think of my “aha moments” when I least expect it or when I step away from the screen. That leads me to my next point:

Get away from your screen! Take a walk, change your surroundings – it’s like giving your mind a little nap. 15-20 minute meditations are great for just sitting back and refocusing.

Oh, and make sure you set limits. This is different for different people. Some like to come in and hammer out an 8/9 hour day at a time. Others like to break up the day with various activities and get things done later at night or earlier in the morning when it’s quiet. Find out which times work best for you and stick to them.

Becky Chastain, Sr. Art Director, CM Group

For me, burnout is almost always related to a lack of personal connection with my colleagues. Someone once shared an insightful tidbit with me that I will never forget; “If you really want to be happy in your workplace, make a goal of working with people instead of working with tasks.”

I appreciate the time I can spend on a quick (virtual) coffee with teammates because it allows me to breathe, connect and be human. I would advise those who suffer from work burnout to just put some time on the calendar to greet a new colleague or to catch up with an old one.

It’ll make a big difference – I promise.

Brianna Glenn, Marketing Content Manager, CM Group

Wrap up

As you can see, when you become blocked, you can not only change your surroundings, take time for yourself and focus on your health.

Like the professionals above, you can visit other creative institutions for inspiration or reach out to other professionals for feedback and one-on-one meetings.

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