How To Overcome Creative Burnout As An Artist

Most of us got into art because we enjoyed its creative and therapeutic benefits. Yet we have all experienced utter frustration with it too. Learn how to avoid creative burnout and maintain more balance in your artistic practice.

Many creative people believe that we should enjoy every second of our work because it is a 'labour of love'. This is a romantic notion but not necessarily realistic. Being an artist can have difficult and vexing moments too.

When we take a closer look at creators' lives, we notice a few peculiarities. Often people expect that you should create free work for them because you enjoy it. Fussy clients take the joy out of your creativity. If you are on the bottom rung of your career, you are subject to exploitative conditions. If you are a freelancer or work from home, your home and work time all blur into one.

The need to 'make it' in your art career is a demanding pursuit. The doubt always lingers in our minds... "Maybe I should have listened to everyone else and chosen a much more stable career."

The doubt is worse when you experience the fierce competition that many creative industries are characterised by. Artists can feel uncertain about their next pay check, client or next deadline. This can lead to serious mental issues.

Artistic burnout

Depression or anxiety around your artistic work can hinder your creativity. Many people stop enjoying their work and burn out. Some will quit altogether.

I recently injured my index finger and thumb from overuse as I created a book, and it left me feeling inept and useless. I felt that my body was failing me.

"Why was I feeling tired again? Maybe I wasn't a real artist. You'll never make it."

My mind tortured me.

I wanted to keep going even though my body kept saying 'no'. The more I fought it, the worse it got.

I was clearly burning out! And I did not notice it until it started to manifest in my body.

I knew something needed to change. Here are a few things that worked for me. I hope you will find these tips helpful if you struggle with burnout.

Find ways to switch off

Being an artist can mean that you don't clock out the moment you step out of your workplace. You are not at your desk, but your mind is bombarding you with things you could have done and ideas for the next day. In such a case, take your notebook and jot every thought that comes your way. Sort through them the next day with a fresh mind.

Try mindfulness exercises.

Try some calming activities after your workday wraps up. Try cooking or spending time with your family. On hectic days I love yin-yoga before bed which helps me unwind.

Listen to your body

Learning to honour your body is a skill, and it is certainly something all of us can add to our lives. Most of us have got into the habit of ignoring our bodies and pushing through no matter what. For example, with my injured fingers, I could have stretched them out much earlier and prevented them from getting to a state where I could not work.

Find other hobbies

When you turn your hobby into your career, you realise that time not drawing becomes a necessity. Permit yourself to be creative in other ways. I have been enjoying gardening recently as I have found it deeply restorative. Find a hobby that gives you peace and clarity of mind.

Try a relaxing and calming hobby.

Respect your limitations

Don't feel guilty about exhaustion! We are surrounded by motivational quotes telling us that we are failing if we take a break. This is easier said than done. This is a toxic example of a 'productivity tip'.

"I've got a dream that's worth more than my sleep."

Sleep is imperative to your physical and mental health. Chronic lack of sleep can cause high blood pressure, depression, a weakened immune system and even heart failure. Don't wreck your wellbeing in an attempt to achieve your goals. Taking breaks and time off work has been proved to regenerate your body and mind. You'll only work better after resting.

Spend time in nature

Being out in nature can soothe and restore your body and mind. Studies show that spending time in nature can reduce blood pressure and heart rate and lower stress hormones. We have evolved to be close to nature, and now we get glimpses of it during weekends if we are lucky. So go on a long walk in nature and watch your anxious and despairing feelings dissipate.

Don't compare yourself to others

Yes, we are hardwired to compare ourselves to others. But your creative journey is unique and cannot be compared to others. So I suggest spending lesser time on social media.

"Comparison is the thief of joy", said Roosevelt. This is so true!

If the comparison monster comes knocking again, reach out to a friend who might understand your situation. You might discover that you have made more progress than you realise.

Journaling prompts for burnout.

Prompts to Self-Reflect on Burnout

Write down and contemplate these prompts in your journal:

  • What are the things I accomplished today?
  • What emotions did I feel during each task?
  • What is difficult about my tasks?
  • What are the things that I am grateful for?
  • How do I reduce my feelings of burnout?
  • Am I prioritising my mental and physical health?
  • What is not important about my tasks and why?

Recovery from creative burnout

Pay attention to the thoughts and emotions that you are having. When you feel burnt out, your body and mind warn you that something needs to change. Perhaps a break or vacation is all you need. Sometimes you might need something much more drastic such as seeking out a therapist.

I am still learning to recognise those first signs that I need to step back.

Resuming your work after burnout is like trying to work out after experiencing a muscle injury. Take it easy and feel your way back into your usual capabilities. You will have to tread lightly.

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