Acknowledging Burnout

Burnout is a danger for anyone in any profession, and individuals who wrestle schedules, finances, and energy to make writing—or any artistic pursuit—even a fraction of their lives are no exception.

After pondering (and relating to) an article on artistic burnout making its rounds through my circle of creative friends and colleagues, I started searching for additional recent discussion of the topic. Survival techniques and prevention tips are everywhere. Stress relieving exercises, reminders to get more sleep, and the sage advice of learning to say no are repeated ad nauseam. One website advised the “high-octane woman” (who is apparently unlikely to buy into the everyday relaxation methods) to take an expensive and adventurous vacation to break out of the routine of busy-ness. Wouldn’t that be nice? (Coincidentally, one of the symptoms of burnout is cynicism. I’m not going to fall into the “high-octane” crowd.)

acknowledging burnoutBut hold on. Aren’t we missing something with all the tips and checklists? Burnout is the result of high demand (personal or external) and repetition, and the first step of breaking the cycle is acknowledging that there is one. That alone takes time. I can’t jump off a roller coaster I’m strapped into halfway down the first hill and expect to make a healthy landing.

The technical symptoms of burnout include fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness, anxiety, apathy, irritability, and more. But I also display a lot of those when I have the flu (illness can also be a symptom), so how can I tell if I’ve simply contracted something or am creatively tapped out?  Everyone experiences stress in their own way, but to gauge your current status, ask yourself a few questions:

  • What am I passionate about? How much do I care about it now?
  • What am I excited about that’s happening today or in the future?
  • Does the success or motivation of others inspire or annoy me at present?
  • Do I feel like I’ve accomplished something at the end of the day?

Assess the situation without rushing to fix it. Finding a quick solution often perpetuates the original issue or creates a new one. Stewing in the ashes of burnout is in no way enjoyable, but taking note of the surroundings can prevent future thrashing about in an unproductive and even injurious manner. Time is arguably the most important ingredient in any response.

Are you burned out? The first step is to closely observe and call it like it is.

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