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Going Through a Creative Burnout and How I Got Out of It (Sort of)

Posted on Jan 24, 2023 by

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Creativity can be such a finicky thing! One day your head is full of ideas, and the next you stare at a blank page. I think it’s Maya Angelou who said that “you can’t use up creativity; that the more you use it, the more you have”. I tend to agree with this, but at the end of last year I felt like I used up all my creativity and there was nothing more I could give. There was nothing more I wanted to give, actually.

I work as a social media manager and writer. Apart from that, I have my blogs, YouTube channel, my own social media to take care of, my photography and the stories I want to write (but only grew with a few sentences last year). There are many ideas I have to come up with on a daily basis, for other people and various domains, many words that I need to write and many images I have to prepare. All these are things I love doing, and I think I’m quite good at, but they are draining me, especially when I bite more than I can chew.

How to overcome creative burnout 01

And so I found myself in December last year, exhausted and feeling as if I was creating stuff just to throw it into the void of the Internet, without any meaning, any purpose. Words and images that would simply pass before people’s eyes, without anything sticking, without anyone stopping to look at it or give it any thought. Or so it felt.

I am a creator at heart, and I want the things I do to touch others, to resonate with someone, with something. And when that is not happening, because of algorithm rules or other issues, it makes me feel useless. There’s a lack of attention plaguing everyone, combined with a lack of meaning from most of the content that is thrown out there. It’s a vicious circle, which I don’t know if it can be stopped. Our work, as writers or photographers, can feel totally useless sometimes.

My work felt useless and I didn’t want to create anymore. I kept postponing stuff and considering if I should close my blog (I have this every time I reach a block). Not only I couldn’t create, but every time I would try to read an article, the words would mix and I would close the page. Every post on social media would make me feel tired and as if I’ve seen it 100 times before. What was happening was that I was experiencing a creative burnout.

How to overcome creative burnout 02

This wasn’t the first time I experienced it, and I recognised the symptoms, after a while. At first I thought it’s just a creative block, but that’s a child’s play compared to a burnout. Luckily, I could take time off in December to recover from it. In the past, I tried various tactics to recover from a creative burnout, and there are a few that helped me a lot; however, they required more time than I had on my hands now. Instead of focusing only on recovery, this time I put some time and effort in creating more sustainable work systems for myself, so I don’t get to this point in the future. They are not perfect, but it’s a good start, and it made me more confident that I can work on everything I want to in the future.

The new year has started and my time off is gone. My creativity is back, but I’m balancing on that fine line between recovering from the creative burnout and falling right back in.

I postponed working on my own creative projects, and only did what was required for my paid projects. I tried to take it as slow as possible, and that helped. It’s been more than a month now and I think I am ready to go back to creating. Writing this article feels good, not tiring or useless. I might have to proceed still with a lot of care, but I’m slowly back to my creative self.

Bouncing back from a creative burnout is very tricky, but there are some things that help, so I thought I would share with you a few tips on how to get out of a creative burnout and a few on how to stay out of it in the first place.

How to overcome creative burnout 03

What is a creative burnout

A creative burnout is more complex than a creative block. While a creative block is a difficulty in coming up with new ideas, a burnout is more similar to being depressed. I know I reached that point, when I start doubting everything I do, when I feel I don’t want to do any of it anymore. There are a few signs that can indicate you reached a creative burnout:

  • Long-term procrastination
  • Constant comparison
  • Self doubt
  • Unhealthy habits (binging on food or movies for example)
  • Constant exhaustion and stress
  • Morning dread

If you tick more than two of these, you probably experience a creative burnout.

How to recover from a creative burnout

  • To recover from a creative burnout, acknowledge you have a problem and take a break from the activity that got you burned out. If you can’t take a longer break, take at least a few days of disconnecting. It’s hard to find the time for a break, I know, but the alternative is doing low quality work, if we force ourselves, and that is not good for anyone involved. Not to mention the impact it has on your mental health! Talk to your boss, clients or colleagues, and take that break. For me it helps to stop with everything, abruptly. When my brain will still think about the work, I would redirect the attention to something else.
  • Do things that you love. During this break, do only things that you enjoy, or that you haven’t done in a long time. For example, I experimented with new recipes (a thing I love but I didn’t have the time for lately), I wrote more on my other blog, where I don’t feel any pressure, and I cared for my plants (all 15 of them). Some people recommend consuming what others have created, as a way to bounce back from a creative burnout. I don’t find this to be helpful for me; it works for creative blocks but not for burnouts. When things get bad, I prefer to cut all connections.
  • Spend time in nature. This one is usually super helpful for me, but didn’t work very well this time: the weather in the Netherlands is just not inviting for walks and I have to say I was craving staying on the couch more than going out. I went for short walks in the park daily, but I also listened to my body and slept a lot.
  • Take care of your health and well-being. Exercise, sleep, do beauty rituals – whatever works for you.
Foggy days

How to prevent creative burnout

I am not sure that we can avoid a creative burnout here and there, not in the world we live in and at the pace we live at. But we can try making them as rare as possible. People who work in creative fields have their own systems and ways to cope with the requirements and keep the creative juices flowing. I’m still learning and developing the right path for me, and I implemented a few things that I think will help preventing a creative burnout in the future:

  • Set better systems for work, to use your energy and time in a sustainable way.
  • Set boundaries and make time for self-care to avoid overworking and burnout. I work with calendar blocking a lot, but when I become overwhelmed with work, I tend to ignore that and work without schedule. This time I’m trying a new system of keeping track of my worked hours, and it seems to be working.
  • Prioritise tasks! I am the queen of setting unrealistic goals and expectations, but I’m working on this, because tasks are not just things you write on a paper, they are actually energy and brain power spent to achieve the result. For this, I have to do continuous work on my mindset, and I hope I’ll succeed.
  • Make a conscious effort to switch off from work when not on the clock. I recently came across the term “shutdown ritual” and I loved it. This is something I work on creating right now, to see what works best for me. For example, it could be that the last 30 minutes of your working day is reserved to some simple tasks like answering comments or emails. After that, you are done, your mind is supposed to switch off (good luck with that, Dana!) as you switch off the computer and all the work related accounts.

I’m sure I’ve read about doing these things, many times, but I never truly implemented them. Maybe I’ll inspire you to consider them and help you be a happier creator. As long as we don’t hit the bottom, we feel we are invincible and with a lot of energy and creativity to throw around. We don’t care about the good practices, or we think we can’t afford them, but the price we pay is high and we will see it later. I hope this article made you think about your own creative work and inspired you to take actions for a better balance. Happy creating!

If you want to chat more about this, send me an email or leave a comment below!

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for this insight and I hope you are finding your balance and loves again.
    Burnout can be brutal. And I think the online world of creativity must be especially isolating. Thank you.

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