The words sound so… fluffy, don’t they? I tend to think of some peaceful yogi sitting on a cushion preaching about the wonders of ‘letting go’ and setting boundaries.
However, over the last few weeks I learned the real meaning of self-care after experiencing something that isn’t discussed much in the creative community: burnout.
“Burnout is a psychological response to “long-term exhaustion and diminished interest,” and may take months or years to bubble to the surface,” according to Scott Boms at A List Apart. After years of working a full-time job, going to school, maintaining a growing blog, maintaining a long-term relationship and a healthy social life, I finally reached the point where I literally couldn’t juggle it all anymore. I would come home and collapse on my couch, feeling guilty for not working on something. Small things that I used to be able to get done so quickly were piling up because I’d procrastinate or worse, not do them at all. I was constantly letting people down — including myself.
It was a very strange feeling and I felt paralyzed. I just couldn’t create anymore. So I had to start giving things away — contacting my employers and asking for time off, plus stepping down as editor of my blog. I started to concentrate on myself, letting myself rest and go for weeks without doing anything other than work full-time. And you know what? It was such a relief. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted.
The funny thing is that I’ve only been ‘off’ for about three weeks now, and over the past few days I’ve already felt my creative energy returning. This makes me feel incredibly lucky since I’ve heard of burnouts lasting much, much longer than just a few weeks.
Artists are especially prone to burning out since we’re often juggling full- or part-time day jobs on top of our creative ones. We’re usually responsible for both the business and creative side of our careers as well, causing more stress and outputting more energy. Personally, I find it so difficult to stop working since I’m obviously self-invested and want to succeed. Those early years are often the hardest for us as we start to build a support system and establish ourselves.The catch-22 is that we lose our creativity by trying to push through and force it when we’re overtired until eventually we reach our breaking point.
Experiencing a lot of stress? Here are some signs of burnout:
Lack of interest in things you usually care about. I told my friends and family that I was “over” my blog. Later on I recognized it as a burnout symptom rather than a feeling of simply wanting to move on.
A feeling of helplessness or hopelessness. If you start to feeling like nothing you do matters, it might be a sign of burnout or depression.
Emotional disconnect from friends or family. You may feel like your loved ones don’t understand or even care about what you’re going through.
Acting out behaviours. For me, I find that I’ll start acting out with food, shopping, etc, when things aren’t going well. Watch yourself for any of your ‘acting out’ behaviours.
What to do if you’re burning out:
Find a support network. Call friends or family that understand what you’re going through. If that’s not available, look online or in the phone book for support groups or counselors. Many cities, universities and employers have free or cheap counseling services available.
Journal. If you can’t bring yourself to get creative, try some journaling, even if it’s for only a few minutes per day.
Take time to do nothing. As painful as it sounds, sometimes all we need to do is do nothing. Look on Pinterest, cruise Facebook, or my personal favourite guilty pleasure: bitchy celebrity gossip blogs.
Take care of your physical health. Try to eat something from all food groups at each meal, do some light exercise, get enough sleep. All of this will affect your mental health.