As bloggers, our minds and bodies are our most vital assets in our business. So it's important to keep them in good shape. In our Healthy Blogger series we give you tips and practical strategies to keep you in top form. Today we're talking about Creative Burnout. Creative burnout is rough. But it's even harder when you blog for your living. Here's our tips and strategies to help bloggers cope with creative burnout.
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If you've been blogging for any length of time at all, you've felt it. Those first quiet whispers in your head that you're not digging this anymore. You ignore them and power on through. But they get louder and louder until it's deafening and you know blogger burnout is creeping up on you.
Creative burnout happens to us all at some point. Just like it happens to painters, designers, writers and photographers. There's no special treatment for bloggers!
While feeling burnt out with your hobby - whether it's blogging, painting, designing, etc - is upsetting, there is some relief in knowing you have the option of putting down your work and walking away until fresh inspiration hits.
But when you create for your living, and a significant portion of your family income relies on your creativity, creative burnout can be terrifying!
Creating On Demand
There's a big difference between creating for pleasure and creating on demand. It's something most people don't realize when they decide to take their enjoyable hobby and turn it into a business. Suddenly they find themselves in the world of creative for hire and it's a completely different ballgame!
You can create for pleasure whenever the mood, or inspiration, strikes. If three months go by without producing anything new, that's ok. You get to decide whether or not to share your work on-line. If you want to sell the occasional piece of finished work, you can (but if you don't, it won't affect your ability to pay your mortgage!).
But when you create for a living there are deadlines, clients, readers, traffic to generate, emails to answer, invoices to send, algorithms to figure out...
And just like that, your enjoyable hobby has become a job! A job where you have to be able to produce fresh, new work consistently, whether you're feeling inspired or not. Your business depends on it. And burnout can threaten your ability to do just that.
And that can be very scary when you're self-employed.
Understanding Your Creative Rhythm
Before we dive into creative burnout, it's important to understand that creativity has a rhythm and it's different for everyone. International photographer David duChemin wrote about it beautifully in this article back in 2014 that I still reread whenever I'm stuck. (he's much more eloquent about creative rhythms than I ever will be).
Essentially, creativity has highs and lows. The highs are when you're inspired and the work is exciting. You feel like you're riding a beautiful wave. The lows are when you've exhausted the creative well and you feel spent and uninspired.
The point is you can't have the creative high without the creative low. They go together like peanut butter and jelly. But the beauty is, that just like the ocean, when one wave comes into shore, there is always another wave behind it.
This can be one of the hardest things to accept when you're a new creative. When you're in that low it can feel desperately low. You can't imagine how another wave will ever come. But if there's one thing I've learned after 10 years of creating for a living, the next wave always comes. And as you learn to trust that it will come, it becomes easier to ride out the lows and actually make them very productive (more on that in a bit!)
What is Creative Burnout?
Everyone experiences burnout a little differently. But here are some of the common signs that you might be approaching burnout:
- disinterest, apathy or lethargy with your work
- feeling uninspired for more than a few weeks
- short temper, frustration, or irritation with clients or readers who you normally enjoy or working or interacting with
- resenting your audience
- mood swings
- at its worst you may experience issues with sleeping, eating or depression
When you create for a living, feelings of burnout can also trigger even more feelings of stress and anxiety as you worry about generating income when your inspiration levels are zero. This can create a perfect storm for overwhelm and additional mental health issues.
Creative Block is NOT Creative Burnout
This is an important one to understand. We all have moments where we sit down in front of the screen or the page or the canvas and don't know how to start or where to start. That is not burnout.
Creative block can usually be solved by sitting down and doing the work. By picking up a pen or typing a sentence. The only way to get past creative block is to start doing something... anything.
Creative burnout, on the other hand, can often be made worse by trying to push through to do the work.
So You Feel Burnt Out - What Should You Do?
Ok, first things first. If you're feeling burnt out, you need to stop what you're doing. It's not working for you. You need to take a time out and step back and evaluate your situation. Ask yourself some hard questions like:
- when was the last time I took a proper vacation?
- when was the last time I completely unplugged from social media for more than a few hours?
- when was the last time I had a decent night's sleep?
- am I eating properly?
- am I moving my body every day?
- do I actually like what I'm doing? Does it fit with my values and my life goals?
- am I creating good work or am I phoning it in just to get the job done?
- am I feeling blue, depressed, anxious or stressed out?
Our bodies are remarkable machines but they need proper care and maintenance and sometimes, they need some re-calibration. Once you've had an honest discussion with yourself about where you're at, the next step is to re-calibrate and rehabilitate the machine.
It sounds ridiculously simple but, it will likely go against all your instincts (especially if your instinct is to look after everyone else before yourself).
If you are feeling like this is more than burnout and you're bordering on the edges of depression or anxiety your first step is to visit your family doctor and get some help. Don't mess around with your mental health!
Burnout Can Be A Cycle If You Don't Make Long Term Changes
An important thing to recognize with burnout is that it can be cyclical. If you don't address the root causes and make long term sustainable changes to the way you work, burnout won't go away. I know from personal experience that short term changes are just that - short term. And if you don't address the root causes, each time burn out comes back it tends to be worse and harder to climb out of. In my case, that led to the worst case of burnout I've ever had in my career. It lasted over a year and it was horrible.
But it's also what made me realize that I needed to make big changes to how I live and how I work. Changes that became long term habits, not short term band-aids.
So here are my tips for getting out of burnout and, preventing burnout in the first place.
Treat Your Body Like a Professional Tool and Take Care Of It
Think of professional athletes - their body and its ability to perform on the playing field - both physically and mentally, are crucial to their ability to earn a living doing what they love and what they're good at. Injury - physical or mental - can be the end of their playing career.
They know that to be at their best they need to fuel their bodies, warm up their bodies and rest their bodies.
They work with teams of people who help them perform at their peak - doctors, physiotherapists, massage therapists, nutritionists, sport psychologists and coaches. Even specialist coaches! There are hitting coaches, defensive coaches, dry land coaches, goalie coaches, base running coaches... you get the idea.
And... athletes have seasons. They can't keep up the grueling pace that they put their bodies through 365 days a year every year. So they have an off season, where they rest, recalibrate and rehabilitate.
When you work for yourself, you are no different than a professional athlete. The exact same principals apply. Your body IS your business. If it doesn't work, neither do you. Do you do these things consistently?
- move your body regularly - multiple times a day
- give your body good fuel so it can run properly
- give your body rest and recovery time
- prioritize your mental health
- get specialist care
- proper maintenance on a regular schedule
Move Your Body Multiple Times a Day
Our bodies were designed to move - constantly. We're not meant to sit or stand in one place for long periods. You don't have to run marathons or even go to the gym every day but you do need to move! It gets your blood flowing and your mind clicking.
Get A Step Counter: This isn't about getting 10K steps a day. It's about getting a baseline for how much you actually do move. Getting a baseline can give you ideas of small changes you can make to bring more movement into your day.
Move Hourly: Do 50 jumping jacks by your desk or 2-3 minutes of yoga stretches. It will get the blood moving and probably help you clear your head!
Find Excuses To Walk Every Day
- how many errands could you do without using your car or transit? Probably more than you think!
- Walk the dog. Walk the kids! Walk with your camera.
- Have walking meetings instead of coffee meetings or lunches.
- Walk around your house while you're on the phone.
- Put your headphones in and listen to a book that transports you to another world, or an inspiring podcast or some good tunes. Or try no headphones at all. If it's raining, get out an umbrella.
Move Your Work Environment Around: Try working in different parts of the house for different tasks. Got to a cafe or meet up at another blogger's house for an afternoon. I follow Austin Kleon's analog/digital desk approach and that really works for me!
Bonus Points if You Move Around Outside
Being outdoors can work wonders on a bad mood, a headache, a blocked brain, an antsy mind... you name it. Mother Nature is good at soothing our souls. Go for a walk, do some gardening, sit on your deck and watch the world go by for 15 minutes.
Ok, before you say "oh that's too woo woo for me" hang on a second. I'm not a woo woo person. But meditation every day (or focused breathing, uninterrupted mindful thought or whatever you want to call it) was a game changer for me. It's one of those things that you're not really sure if it's working... until you stop doing it. And then you realize it was working far more than you thought.
Meditation can clear our heads. It teaches us how to use our breathing to anchor ourselves in the present while also helping us calm ourselves down when we're anxious, overwhelmed or angry. Meditating in the morning can open your brain up for the day. Meditating in the afternoon can help you put the work day behind you so that you can be fully present for your family or friends in the evening.
I'm a very emotional person and I wear my emotions on my sleeve. This is part of what makes me good at what I do. But it also means I feel things - whether it's happiness, sadness, anger, etc - very deeply. Often to the point where it can be overwhelming for me. It can also make me rather high strung and all over the place which can be frustrating for me and the people who are close to me. Meditating helps keep me on an even keel. I still feel all the same emotions, but I'm not as reactive as I would be without meditation and I don't feel constantly overwhelmed by them.
Try an app like Headspace or Calm if you're a beginner or if you prefer guided meditation.
Activities You Can Do That Help With Focused Thought
If sitting still with your thoughts feels too hard for you, try doing 20 minutes of yoga by yourself. Focus on your breath and the movements. Running and other repetitive exercise can also be meditative if that's something you enjoy.
There are lots of activities you can do with your hands that can be very meditative and allow for focused thought. Repetitive activities work the best. Some to try are:
- doodling or colouring
- knitting, needlework or macrame
- gardening - especially weeding
Put away your devices while you do any of these activities and focus on the task of doing one step and then the next step. Don't do activities that are too closely related to your work. You're trying to remove yourself from work, remember?
They key with meditation is doing it regularly. It's a good daily act of mental and physical maintenance.
Get A Good Night's Sleep
I recently heard sleep described as a wonder drug. And it really is! Our bodies need sleep as much as they need water and air. More and more studies are coming out talking about the physical and mental benefits of sleep (as well as telling us how we're not getting enough).
But getting enough sleep - especially if you have young children or you're struggling with stress or anxiety - is hard.
First of all... if you regularly struggle with sleep or you're suddenly experiencing unexplained sleep difficulties, it's worth getting checked out by a doctor or visiting a sleep clinic. You might be surprised at how just a few small changes to your daily routine can result in much improved sleep.
If there's no physical or mental issues in the way and you know you're not getting enough sleep because there's simply not enough hours in your day, can you rejig things? Realistically you might not be able to go from 6 hours a night to 8. But can you go from 6 to 6.5? Can you carve out another 30 minutes by going to bed earlier? Or by meal prepping lunches or breakfasts or getting the kids clothes out the night before?
Putting away your screens an hour before bed can really help with getting a better night's sleep. But putting your screens away for a day or two can be enlightening. If you've never done this before, I'm not going to lie... it's hard and pretty uncomfortable... at first.
That's because all those little pings (aka dopamine hits) make us feel important, wanted, needed, liked. That is until we read the email that wants something right now or the social media comment that makes us feel small and worthless. And that is not a good thing for anyone on the verge of burnout.
Learning to disconnect and manage my screen time was one of the hardest things I had to do on my journey back from burnout. But it's also been one of the most beneficial. Nowadays I only get text notifications on my phone (because... my mom. lol). And guess what? Once you stop getting notifications about what you're missing out on... you stop caring if you're missing out! You actually start living your life again!
- try to have one day a week where you disconnect fully from all screens
- try to find ways to disconnect for longer periods regularly - like a vacation or long weekend
- limit social media throughout the day
- check emails only during designated times and only respond to emails you deem as urgent - not that others deem as urgent
- set aside a designated time to catch up with all other emails that aren't urgent
- try to spend time on your digitial detox days doing things completely removed from all the things relating to your blog
- give yourself time to be bored - the best ideas come when you're lying on the floor staring at the ceiling bored out of your tree!
Get Help With Tasks You Don't Love
When you first start out running your own creative business, cash can be in limited supply and it can be hard to justify spending money on additional help. But as soon as you're able to find a few extra dollars a month to offload some tasks that you really dislike or that keep you from spending much needed time with your family or friends or looking after yourself, do it. This is actually known as buying back your time - your one finite resource.
Here's some areas where a little help might make all the difference and it doesn't have to cost a lot:
- hire a Virtual Assistant - sometimes spending $100 a month on a VA to do one or two tasks you really dislike can be a huge win!
- a housecleaning or yardcare service
- a bookkeeper
- 1 or 2 days a week of childcare
- a meal prep service
Fill Your Creative Well
Back when we were talking about creative rhythms I mentioned that the lows can seem really low but once you learn to trust that the next wave will come, you can make the most of the lows. That's where filling your creative well comes in.
All creatives need to take time to fill their creative well. This is so important that it should be scheduled into your calendar. Think of it as a training session.
You simply can't keep draining your creative well without replenishing it. Of course it's going to run dry if you do that! If you take the time during the lows to fill that well, oddly enough, that next wave seems to come along a lot faster than when you sat there despairing that you'd never work again!
And guess what - this is FUN! This is one of the best things about being a creative! It's so fun, in fact, that this is why we feel guilty when we take the time to do it. But don't for a minute think it's not 100% necessary.
So here are some tips to fill up that creative well:
Journaling: there are so many ways you can journal. One of the most well known ways in the creative community are Julia Cameron's Morning Pages: doing three pages of free writing every morning (with a pen). It's another one of those things that doesn't feel like it's doing anything at first but once you get going you realize how powerful it is! Other types of journals include:
- a gratitude journal - there is some science behind the importance of practicing gratitude to our overall happiness
- goal setting journals
- five minute journals
- art journals (one of my faves - just get messy with art supplies)
An Artist's Date: this is another idea from Julia Cameron (in fact, Julia's program, the Artist's Way has been around for decades and is a tremendous tool for coping with burnout. All it will cost you is the price of her book and 12 weeks of your time). The concept behind an Artist's Date is that once a week you take your inner artist out on a date. Just you and them. Date night for your inner artist! It can be an hour or an afternoon. You focus your date entirely on filling your creative well. Here's some ideas:
- visit an art gallery or a museum
- go for a picnic in the park with a good (fiction) book
- people watch
- wander a neighbourhood you're not familiar with. If you live in the burbs or the country, visit the city for a day. If you live in the city, leave the city behind for day. Notice patterns, colours, smells - those are all inspiration
- go to a movie you really want to see in the middle of the day on a work day
- buy some magazines that inspire you and sit in a cafe reading them with frothy drink and something tasty to eat
- eat in a restaurant that's out of your comfort zone
- browse old food magazines in the library
Explore Other Mediums
Blogging can feel like a very closed space at times. Especially when your blog is your income. You can easily feel hemmed in by schedules and algorithms and it's way too easy to look at what other bloggers are doing and thinking that you need to do that to be successful as well. All that can kill inspiration.
Don't look at what others are doing. Look at what nobody else is doing. Pay attention to what non-bloggers are talking about. Look at how your friends entertain themselves on and offline. Look at how your kids entertain themselves. Look at what bloggers in other niches are doing and wonder how that could translate to your niche.
- check out other mediums that aren't digital. Flip through coffee table books on subjects that have nothing to do with food. Look at how print magazines are laid out.
- Browse through blogs or YouTube channels that are in completely different niches - like fashion or tech or art - and see if you can get ideas for your niche
- Use your camera to photograph things that have nothing to do with food. Look at photos that aren't food related.
- Check out marketing blogs and publications to see what they're talking about. I listen to a weekly podcast on self-publishing that has nothing to do with anything that I do in real life but listening to marketing ideas for a completely different industry has given me some great inspiration for my own
Nothing gets my creative juices fired up like collaborating with somebody who is as enthusiastic, passionate and curious as I am. I thrive on that kind of environment. To be clear, I'm as introverted as they come, but collaborating with somebody like minded on something new can unleash all kinds of creativity and get me pumped up.
It doesn't have to be a big project. Starting small with somebody you've never worked with before can be a good plan. Meet up with another blogger to style and shoot a recipe together - just for fun. Film a video with another blogger. Combine forces to make an ebook you can both sell or use as a lead magnet.
Don't be selfish with your gifts. There's more than enough creativity to go around and when we join forces, magical things can happen for everyone!
Wrapping It All Up
I haven't shared anything earth shattering or new here. It's all stuff I'd heard many times before and that I knew I should be doing. But the thing is... maintenance can be boring. It never seems to do anything. It's like backing up your hard drive every night. You know you should do it but... you know what? What's one more day without a back up? It'll be fine. Until one day it isn't.
It took being caught up in a year long downward spiral of burnout that led to depression to finally understanding that I needed to do these things every day. Not for a week or a month but forever. Sometimes, you have to learn the hard way. But hopefully, if you do find yourself in that same place, these tips will help you climb your way back out to a more creative present!
If you're looking for more help these four books have been extremely helpful over my career as a working creative. I reread all of them regularly both for inspiration and wisdom and I gift them to the other creatives in my life often!
- The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
- The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
- The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield
- Within The Frame by David duChemin (Visionmongers by the same author is also excellent but it's harder to get a hold of)
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