Creative burnout: how to recognise it, and what to do about it

November 2, 2015 . by Aaron B

Burnout refers to a state of extreme emotional, physical and mental exhaustion, most commonly caused by intense work-related stress. Particularly common amongst creative types, burnout can be a huge drain on productivity, health and happiness. In the modern era, we are all pursuing that ever elusive ‘work life balance’ – no one has quite found the recipe yet, but one thing is for sure, creative burnout is its polar opposite.

Burnout occurs at the point where you can no longer sustain the level of activity, stress and workload that you’re trying to deal with. Whilst it is often driven by a desire to be productive, it typically has the opposite effect, as you will inevitably crash, and the resultant down time you need to re-set can outweigh what you have achieved.

The first step in avoiding burnout, is recognising the signs and avoiding it altogether. It’s a slippery slope to taking on too much and when you’re adding to your stress levels bit by bit, you can kid yourself that you’re coping, when in reality you’re far from it. So what are the signs to look out for?

The physical signs of burnout are often the most noticeable, and it may well be that others’ pointing these out to you is your first indication that something is wrong. The most immediate effect is exhaustion; you will feel and appear tired, drawn and perhaps ill, as your immune system, and you, will be running on empty. You might have little appetite, be struggling to sleep and suffering from headaches and frequent bouts of illness.

Your attitude will also reflect your negative state of wellbeing; you might feel down on yourself, pessimistic and de-motivated – hardly something you want to be reflecting in your work. In extreme cases, burnout can lead to depression and anxiety. Don’t let it get to this point.

Be kind to yourself, and look after yourself. Eat well, exercise and get enough sleep. Don’t abuse your body or mind – it will catch up with you in the end. Doing these things to look after your physical wellbeing will help immensely when it comes to the next step, which people typically struggle more with – looking after your mental and emotional health.

This is really important, but too often forgotten. Be kind to yourself. If you’re tired, or ill, take some time off to refresh. Wake up with a positive attitude and mindset (much easier if you’re looking after yourself properly), and carry that around with you all day. Reward yourself when you achieve something, whether that’s something little like a cup of tea once you’ve finished what you’re working on, celebratory drinks when you land a new client or project, or perhaps even a holiday for a really great quarter. It’s so important to recognise and reward your hard work; you need to remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing, so that you stay happy, healthy and continue to enjoy your working life.

So there you go, just a few words of caution, and some recommendations to help you stay on top and live your creative dream to the fullest – don’t let your freelance fire burnout!