Creative Burnout: How Do You Keep It at Bay?

Burnout has been a particularly hot topic during the past year, and understandably so. Even as more and more people receive their vaccines and resume normal activity, reports of burnout continue to rise.

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

In a survey from Indeed, 52% of respondents said they’re experiencing burnout in 2021, up from 43% in a survey done before COVID-19.

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

If you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur, you’re probably responsible for securing your income. This lifestyle can be especially difficult if you’re feeling creatively stifled or bankrupt.

So, what is there to do about it? Let’s take a look at what creative burnout is, and hear from some of our in-house creative team about their strategies for keeping it at bay.

What is creative burnout?

Creative burnout can mean different things to different people. Ultimately, creative burnout happens when those in creative fields begin to feel overworked and unstimulated by their projects.

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

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

How to recover from creative burnout

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

Change your surroundings

Changing your surroundings may not seem especially profound, but studies show your environment strongly informs your creative process, as well as your ability to focus.

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

If you want to get increase creativity, consider some moderate background noise: 70-80 dB, to be exact. Enjoy an organized, dimly-lit space where you subconsciously allow yourself to relax. And, utilize the color blue when you can! Studies suggest taking these steps actually increases the creative flow.

Take a break

Taking a break from the grind can feel counterproductive, but breaks can be healthy, whether you’re taking a brief reprieve from your desk or a vacation.

Breaks from the computer

Never leaving your computer may make you feel more productive. In reality, you may actually be suffering the consequences of overwork. Without breaks, your productivity and mental health suffer.

Because of this, consider the ways you can get away. Coffee dates with coworkers, the occasional long lunch, and eating away from your desk are all healthy ways to get away and recharge.

Vacations from work

Maybe you need more than just a short break. If this is the case, consider taking a vacation.

If breaks seem counterproductive, vacations probably seem downright absurd. But actually, studies show people who don’t take vacations are more likely to be depressed, suffer from heart attacks, and are even less productive at work. So, take a vacation. For your productivity and wellness.

Focus on your health

Creative burnout could also be related to health issues in general. This is why it’s important to take a step back and consider your physical and mental health.

Physical health

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

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

For instance, instead of going out with people from work, you might try a yoga class with them instead. Replacement can also be applied to food. Replace a processed breakfast with a smoothie, or try switching that late-afternoon snack to fruits and veggies.

Mental health

You most likely apply psychology in your own work, so why not incorporate it into your personal life?

If you’re feeling depressed or anxious, take time for self-care. Meditation may help to an extent, but professional help is also a great long-term plan for treating mental health. A therapist can offer objective, educated opinions on your work environment, as well as your personal life.

Professionals tell us about their creative burnout strategies

Once you’ve taken time to refresh and recover, consider incorporating other people’s methods into your process. We asked various professionals about their tips for treating overwork fatigue. Here’s what they said:

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

I also change the channel and mix up my work soundtrack. Different tempos, styles, or genres can change your mood and reinspire.

And I change projects frequently It’s easy to feel burned out when I’ve been buried in one project for hours. Unless deadlines dictate otherwise, I need to shut down certain projects sometimes 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, Sr. Copywriter, Selligent/CM Group

Don’t put pressure on yourself to have a “creative moment” during working hours. Usually, my “ah-ha” moments come to me when I least expect or have stepped away from the screen. This leads me to my next point:

Step away from your screen! Take a walk, change your scenery — it’s like giving your mind a mini nap. 15-20 minute meditations are great to just reset and refocus.

Oh, and make sure to set boundaries. This is different for different people. Some like to come in and hammer out an 8/9 hour day straight. Others like breaking up the day with various activities and then get things done later at night or earlier in the morning when things are quiet. Figure out what times work best for you and stick to them.

Becky Chastain, Sr. Art Director, CM Group

For me, burnout is almost always correlated to lack of personal connection with my coworkers. Someone once shared an insightful tidbit with me that I will never forget; “if you really want to be happy in your work space, you’ll make your goal to work with people versus working with tasks.”

I value the time I am able to dedicate to catching a quick (virtual) coffee with teammates because it allows me to breath, connect, and be human. I’d advise those who are experiencing work burnout to simply toss some time on the calendar to greet a new coworker or catch up with an old one.

It’ll make a heck of a difference— I promise.

Brianna Glenn, Marketing Content Manager, CM Group

Wrap up

As you can see, changing your environment, taking time for yourself, and concentrating on your health aren’t the only steps you can take when faced with a block.

Like the professionals above, you may also choose to visit other creative outlets for inspiration, or you may approach other professionals for feedback and one-on-one time.

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