Have you sometimes felt like you’re on a roll, making art consistently every day, so madly in love with your craft, until suddenly, one morning, you don’t want to do anything even remotely creative?
As artists, it is impossible to stay productive every single day. Sometimes you have moments of “I can’t do this anymore,” even in a career you love. These are times when you feel you need more motivation to go through the creative routines that you otherwise look forward to. I’ve been there, and I know you’ve been there too, even if you haven’t quite been able to put your finger on it. But as they say, if you can’t beat the enemy, at least be friends with it.
What is Creative Burnout?
There are days when our mind is overflowing with ideas; we’re brimming with enthusiasm and confidence, so immersed in our creative careers that we lose track of time. On the flip side, we also go through times when we feel stuck, unable to either come up with “good” ideas or accept that our thoughts are worthwhile.
This state of not feeling creative enough, where we feel anxiety, overwhelm, and both physical and emotional fatigue, is called creative burnout. Creative burnout can often go unidentified, and that’s why, to manage its crippling effects, it’s essential to know the signs to look out for.
Symptoms of Creative Burnout
Some early signs of creative burnout can be a sudden lack of interest in activities that you earlier enjoyed and being too hard on yourself. It could also manifest as the dreaded perfectionism rabbit hole and an endless cycle of content consumption on social media – including Pinterest. I’ve included a few of the most common symptoms of burnout (that I’ve experienced myself), but the list isn’t exhaustive.
Do you sometimes go, “I am not a good artist,” or “I’m never going to hear back from XYZ company,” or “Who am I to talk about surface design”? I hear you because I’ve been doing that a lot lately. Self-doubt is a tell-tale sign of creative burnout — no matter what you do, you keep telling yourself that you’re not “good enough.”
Frustration and Irritability
When you’re in a constant state of self-doubt, you’re putting yourself through so much pressure that frustration is inevitable. You get annoyed at the slightest provocation and find it hard to control your temper. You snap at people for no reason, only to regret it shortly after.
If you’ve ever found it challenging to prioritize your tasks or complete them on time, chances are you’re burnt out. Procrastination is when you postpone important work until the last minute and then scramble to get it done or, worse, not complete it. Procrastination = creative burnout red flag!
I can’t tell you how exhausted I’ve felt the last couple of months. More than lacking ideas, I’ve been too tired to take out my sketchbook or write my newsletters and blog posts. Sure, I’m writing this article, but trust me when I say this, I am writing this at the last moment. I’ve been experiencing what feels like a perpetual state of brain fog.
Observe your activity on social media. How often have you caught yourself thinking, “This person is so successful, I’m never going to be like them?” Unhealthy comparisons, where you believe you have no skills or talent, whereas other artists seem to have it all, can be a significant symptom of creative burnout.
Headache and Digestive Issues
Headaches and stomach problems are a given when I’m experiencing burnout or any kind of stress in general. My migraines go on for days, pills don’t help, and I visit the loo many times during the day. Studies have shown that our state of mind significantly impacts our gut health. So, if you notice frequent bowel problems, take a step back and assess whether you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.
What Can You Do to Ease or Prevent Creative Burnout?
Plan for Creative Slumps
Watch for some signs of creative burnout and plan for such times. Re-evaluate your to-do list. I’ve noticed that I invite burnout into my life when I’ve got way too much on my plate each day. I juggle a day job that takes up more than twelve hours, a toddler and an infant, AND a surface design career. Whew!
Something I’ve learned from my therapist is to use a post-it note that has space for only five tasks each day. This forces me to slow down and prioritize what needs my immediate attention, freeing up some time to at least sit down for a quick sketching session.
Related Article: How to Set Realistic Goals
Take a Break
Nobody said you have to make art every single day. Just do something else. Don’t force yourself to be creative when you aren’t in the right headspace. Remember, you’re tired and disinterested for a reason — you need rest, so you might as well take it. Take a nap, exercise, meditate, cook a hearty meal, spend some time with family and friends, take a vacation, or do whatever helps you feel at peace.
No, I’m not asking you to change your profession. As artists, we often wear many hats in our businesses. So, do something else for your creative business instead of beating yourself up about not making that new pattern collection you’ve been stalling for days. I often draft my pitch emails, do some company research, or just recolor (with zero effort, mind you) an existing pattern. This way, you aren’t directly creating anything, but you also aren’t “wasting” time.
Enjoy the Process
Not all art is meant to make you money. When you factor in art made purely for joy and playing around, you take the pressure off your plate. This is the time to bring out that box of gouache that is otherwise neglected among materials you usually use. Soak in the fun that experimenting brings — it is an excellent, no-strings-attached way to get your creative juices flowing.
Set Healthy Boundaries
It is common for our work-life boundaries to get blurry. We end up overworked and exhausted when we forget to draw a clear line between work and personal life. Learning to say no is crucial in such cases, even if you are your own boss.
Avoid responding to emails on weekends or after 7 pm, chart out when you will be on vacation, and set up out-of-office auto-responders as needed. Switch off from social media at night, and give yourself some time to do absolutely nothing. Honestly, I could go on and on about boundaries.
Want a few more ideas to avoid burnout? Shannon rounded up her 10 favorite ideas to help remove artist’s block.
While it isn’t easy identifying and accepting that you are burnt out, you might find some solace in knowing that with rest and time, you are bound to get back your creative mojo, even if at a slow pace. Delegate or ask for help with repetitive tasks that can take up a lot of your time. This will leave you with room for creative pursuits that you enjoy more. What’s important is not to go on a guilt trip. Instead, try out some of the strategies that have been useful to me in the past.
Written by Priyadarshini Das Sharma
Priyadarshini is the founder of Anthea Designs and The Happy Post. She is passionate about art, organization, productivity, and mental health, and loves sharing her knowledge. When she’s not working on her next masterpiece, Priyadarshini loves spending time with her daughters and three rescue dogs.