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8 Ways to Combat Creative Block & Burnout

Creative blocks are common for artists. Sometimes the ideas are flowing, and other times it may feel like no matter what you do, you just can’t get past the block. However, in some cases, it could be more than just your average creative block — it could be burnout.

What is Burnout and How Does it Affect Creativity?

If your “internal fire” is what keeps you going — what keeps you working, inspired, and motivated — then burnout is a smothering of that fire. It is essentially an exhaustion or depletion of your energies, creative and otherwise.

The term “burnout” was first introduced in the 1970s by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. He defined burnout as “a state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life.” 

Burnout is now a well-known and studied phenomenon that affects many individuals, no matter their field of study. However, it can be an especially difficult thing to battle for artists and creatives.

Creativity requires a person to be open to new ideas. The mind needs to essentially be free and relaxed to thoroughly explore new possibilities.

Unfortunately, when burnout occurs, the mind is neither free nor relaxed. It is stressed, exhausted, and depleted. Thus, instead of an overflowing of ideas, an artist who is burnout is effectively like a well that has run dry, which can feel especially upsetting for creative types.

Symptoms of burnout can include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Feeling drained
  • Frequent illness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Body aches and pains
  • Lack of appetite
  • Feeling withdrawn
  • Procrastinating more than usual
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of motivation
  • Cynical and negative thoughts
  • Feeling detached
  • Lack of creative ideas
  • Feelings of loneliness

What Causes Creative Burnout?

There are a number of things that can lead to burnout. It can often vary from one person’s situation to the next. But some of the most common and known causes include:

  • Poor work-life balance
  • Feeling immense pressure to create and succeed
  • Working too many long days/nights
  • Feeling pressure to please others
  • Having no control over the work you are creating
  • Doing too many things — spreading yourself thin
  • Falling into a monotonous routine
  • Lack of recognition
  • Feeling the need to be perfect or for your art to be perfect
  • A generally poor or pessimistic attitude
  • Feeling too much pressure to create for money
  • Losing sight of why you enjoyed creating in the first place

Tips to Help Combat Burnout and Creative Blocks

In many ways, curing or combatting creative burnout and creative block requires the same things as improving your mental health. Burnout and mental health issues are closely linked, so the more you do things to improve your mental health, the more you will renew your creative juices and energies.

1. Don’t ignore it

First and foremost, do not attempt to work through your burnout or ignore it. Denying that you are burnt out will only make matters worse. The sooner you recognize that you are burnout, the sooner you can overcome it and start creating again.

2. Don’t isolate yourself

For many, the first thing they do when they feel burnt out is to isolate themselves and spend time alone. While giving yourself a break and spending quality time with yourself can help, it’s important to be careful not to rely solely on alone time to heal.

You should balance time alone with social engagement. If you isolate yourself too much, it can make your burnout worse. Burnout can already cause feelings of loneliness, so going into self-inflicted isolation can make you feel even lonelier and lead to depression.

3. Try an unrelated creative outlet

Trying something else creative that is unrelated to your primary work can also help you find new inspiration that encourages creativity and combat creative block. Journaling or even just reading some new books, for example, can take your mind and stress off of your main work, which can help you relax and discover new inspiration.

4. Socialize and connect with others

Creatives often feed off other people’s energy, so it’s important to continue socializing and staying connected to avoid feeling burnt out. Creatives who work remotely can be especially prone to feeling isolated, which can contribute to burnout. So make sure you get out and network with others while working remotely. And even if you don’t work from home, it’s still crucial that you stay connected and socialize.

5. Get enough sleep and exercise

Lack of sleep and exercise can also make you feel physically and mentally worse. And the poorer your physical and mental health is, the more likely you are to experience burnout or creative blocks. So make sure you are getting enough sleep every night, and move your body for at least 20 minutes vigorously every day.

6. Unplug

Sometimes you just need to disconnect and take a break from your work entirely to feel better and renew your creative energies. If you work too much and often don’t give yourself a break, it might be time to finally step away and take a vacation.

This doesn’t have to be an expensive or costly break. You can unplug and relax at home, even just for a long weekend if you can’t get an entire week off. However you choose to disconnect, just make sure you truly let yourself unwind and avoid thinking about your work for more than just one day.

7. Set healthy boundaries

If your burnout is a result of poor work-life balance, then you likely need to start setting boundaries. It’s okay to say no and to decline work/jobs/gigs if you are already overworked. It’s understandable that you might want to fill your time with work to make more money, but it’s not sustainable to constantly do all work and no play.

You have to balance your work life and your personal life if you want to grow and have success well into your future. If you don’t, you will continually burn yourself over and over again.

8. Look into therapy

Finally, if you are really struggling with your burnout, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help. Therapy is nothing to be ashamed of, and it can help you find healthier coping mechanisms that can help you better overcome your burnout and avoid it in the future.

Therapy has come a long way, and there are many types of therapy and therapeutic methods today to suit individual needs, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, narrative therapy, and more.

So even if you have tried therapy in the past and not had success, don’t assume it can’t help you now. You might just need to try or research different therapists until you find the right one for you.

Creative block and burnout can feel devastating to artists and creative types, but you can overcome these feelings. It may take time, but if you are willing to recognize your burnout and put in the effort, you can get back to a better place where you are creating on a regular schedule again.

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