Tips on Dealing with Creative Burnout in a Healthy Way

Hit hard by The Recession of 2009. ©Giulio Sciorio

Hit hard by The Recession of 2009. ©Giulio Sciorio

To become skilled at photography takes a lot of work. It’s not easy pushing yourself to see when you don’t feel like it or to create something powerful when you don’t feel like. You're serious about the craft of photography so it’s important to see the signs when you’re approaching burn out and to have steps in place to minimize damage.

Yours truly, burned out and feeling like garbage - 2015

Yours truly, burned out and feeling like garbage - 2015

When I get burned out I want to sell all my gear and hide out from life. Hiding out to me means not marketing my business, planning a shoot or sometimes I just buy a pint of amazing ice cream and go to town. None of that impacts my life in a positive way so when I get the urge I know I’m approaching burn out.

A Downward Spiral

Becoming burned out can lead to a strong desire of giving up which can lead to depression and overall feeling crappy about yourself in general all of which is not a healthy place to be. The creative brain is a sensitive and delicate part of who we are and we need to treat it as such. It’s a very complex instrument that needs protection and so you should do your best to not burn out.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the blues sky when you’re surrounded by clouds. When this happens, it’s ok to seek professional help. Getting professional help for your mental health does not mean you’re crazy. I’d argue that it’s a smart move to get help from a professional that’s only goal is to help you get back on track. If you are ready to make that move check out BetterHelp online counseling.

But there's Some Hope

What’s amazing about noticing that you are burning out is that you can do something about it and swift action will help you not only to recover but to grow as an artist. Quite often, when I pull out of a burn out I find myself having a breakthrough in my creative life.

Clip from The Miles Davis Story on creative burn out.

How to notice when you’re burning out

You might not like anything creative - If you find yourself being overly critical of your work or others art you might be burnt out. Even if you’re simply dissatisfied with photography in general, take that as a sign.

  • Negative Feelings - In addition to the above are you simply not pleasant to be around? This is where you might ask your close friends or significant other to watch out for. Be warned though, if they call you out don’t rip their head off! If you do, you’re definitely needing some help.

  • Fatigue - if you’re fumbling with your everyday camera or worse, find that your eyes are tired, take that as a sign.

  • Personal Care - When was the last time you showered? Sometimes when you are just excited to get to work you might not shower. That’s me today but if you can smell yourself or if random neighborhood dogs come to sniff you it might be a sign.

  • You Want to do something drastic with your tools - This is me right here friends. Back when I shot film and would burn out I’d often just shred rolls of developed film. A couple years ago when I hit burn out hard I nearly erased all my work but my wife noticed and stopped me. This week I nearly sold off all my digital gear but my wife had a talk with me about it.

What to do when you’re burning out

Now that you have an idea of warning signs of burnout, here are some things that you should do when you are approaching burn out.

  • Have a plan - When I feel burn out coming on I have procedures that I do to avoid getting into a bad funk. I don’t over plan this stuff, it’s simple things that I know work for me but I know what I need to do. Borrow from my list but make your own and save it in something like Evernote so that you can easily share it with your loved ones. Helping them to help you is awesome and your loved ones will appreciate the help. If you’re cranky, sick and depressed and they don’t know what’s up that will only make things worse for everyone.

  • Slow your roll - You need to slow down and take notice and ask your loved ones to keep an eye out for strange behavior before you burn out. Also, tell them how you would like to be approached so they know what to do in advance and you won’t feel attached when they’re simply trying to help you.

  • Get off of social media - This is a huge help. Social media is designed to keep you addicted and too much consumption will accelerate your burn out. Although the urge might be strong, don’t delete your accounts. Just take the apps off your devices and take some time off. As a preventative measure, I take at least one 30day social media sabbatical a year.

  • Eat Well - Yes, you know this already so don’t pollute your food. Go super healthy for a week or a long weekend. If you’re going to travel, plan your food in advance. When I’m on the road I always find the nearest grocery store and stock up as soon as I get to my hotel and for goodness sake, chill on the booze and caffeine for a bit. It will be there when you’re well.

My wife Valdese and I would exercise, journal (analog) and get out of the house daily during the recession of 2009. Later, we would loose a house and were forced to sell our studio but didn't loose our minds. Shot with film on a junky  Holga .

My wife Valdese and I would exercise, journal (analog) and get out of the house daily during the recession of 2009. Later, we would loose a house and were forced to sell our studio but didn't loose our minds. Shot with film on a junky Holga.

  • Go Analog - I make it a point to write every morning when I wake up and I do this with pen and paper. There’s something magical about analog anything. I shoot film and wear a wind-up watch or none at all. I turn off my cell phone data. I put my computer into Do Not Disturb all day if I have to use it. I make sure to go outside. Shooting film saved my brain this week which inspired me to write this post (digitally because I’m feeling better) and I got some rad photos.

  • Go see some art - if you live in a big city you can easily see some world-class art but don’t let that stop you from getting off your ass and out of your home/office to feed your creative brain. Also, don’t see photography every time. If you're feeling like crap already, seeing more photography might not be a good idea. Go see some paintings or just go to a flower garden and see natures art. Don’t take photos though. Just practice being present to what you’re experiencing.

  • Have a support team - You know the signs, you have a plan but who can you trust? Write all of this in a document you can access from any device at any time. Soon as you feel burn out coming on reach out.

If you’re pushing yourself to grow as an artist it’s not a question of “if” but “when” you’ll burn out. Know the signs to look for, have a plan and have a support team ready. When you’re past the burnout, you’ll feel refreshed and often be a stronger, more creative artist. If you have successfully dealt with burnout help the community by posting what worked for you in the comments.

Further Reading

10 Signs You’re Burning Out (And How To Stop It)

What Being in a Devastating Creative Burnout Taught Me About Life

Six ways to avoid creative burnout

How To Survive Creative Burnout

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