“I can’t write anymore. No. I can’t think anymore.”
This is the inner-dialogue I’ve battled so hard — so many times. As a content creator, and now creative content director, I didn’t feel I had the time to feel so mentally exhausted. So, I pushed. I made myself attempt to be productive.
The vicious circle of burnout spiraled as simple writing tasks took me twice the time. More unfinished tasks piled on top of me. The embarrassment and stress I felt flared my anxiety. Then, the founder of Ride the Sail Marketing, Marikaye reached out. I gave her the good ol’ “It’s me, not you” speech.
I’m a “tortured” creative soul. The majority of my work comes from my own creative processes. So how could anyone else help?
The start of my journey out of the hole that is creative mental burnout began with that one phone call. Through it, I heard an understanding leader. Both her sympathy and empathy showed me it was OK to be in this season of my life.
That discussion led to an epiphany. I had to intentionally find ways to ensure my mind and spirit were receiving the care they received.
“Overwhelmed by an ever-growing to-do list, creative employees may find they never have time to let their mind wander or engage in abstract thinking,” Kayla Kozan, corporate meditation expert and founder of Peak Wellness, shared with me.
Kozan’s words ring so true to where I am in my progress of allowing for space and time to end my anxious cycle and begin to improve my own mental well-being.
For all my fellow creatives out there working fast-paced industries, I see you. Let’s take a moment together to find new ways to break the cycle of creative burnout:
1. Stop waiting for your muse — she might be standing you up
As artists, we like to wait for the ‘right’ time to unleash our creative power. The majority of my brilliant moments hit me in the shower or moments before I’m about to fall asleep. Throughout the rest of the day, there are moments when I think, “I don’t feel ready to write this. If I wait, the words will flow much easier.”
The same is true for artists in various categories. But let’s call this what it is at face value — procrastination. Of course, we want to bring passion into every project, personal or professional. But when you’re spending time waiting for that sweet muse of inspiration to show up, chances are you’ll end up feeling stuck.
Being chained to a project for longer than necessary leads to lowered self-worth, anxiety, and increased pressure. We don’t need more of that in marketing and other creative industries.
Save yourself the stress of piled-up projects. Even if you’re feeling uninspired, tackling at least one part of the project. Spend as little as an hour of dedicated time on it and walk away. Allowing it and yourself time to breathe opens the door for heightened creativity.
Come back to it knowing you’ve made a solid start. This decreases stress and ensures you’re not spending critical parts of your day worried about something you’ve yet to begin.
2. Speak up in real-time with real-talk
I’m blessed to have two co-workers who don’t just care about me, they get me. They know when I’m off, even though we live two and four hours away from one another. Because creativity is so internal, I felt like this was a “just me” type of problem.
My co-workers knew otherwise.
Get out from behind your texts, chatrooms, and emails. Call or sit down with someone you feel comfortable and safe with. If it’s not your boss, find a co-worker who understands your working situation is ready to truly listen. Seek out those who you’ve noticed are naturally empathetic. Be open and honest. Not just about what you’re feeling, but what you need to begin your journey of self-healing.
Allow these moments of real-time interaction to mold your working relationships. Opening up is a sign of strength. It showcases your desire and motivation to get back to your best, most creative self.
3. Practice self-care
I once called self-care the time I took for myself once the kids were in bed to watch trash t.v. (no shame). It was my moment to sit and feel like I wasn’t responsible for anything. While I will never lose my love for reality t.v., this wasn’t active self-care.
It didn’t allow for time to spend with myself doing something that would refresh my mind.
Jeff Previte, content manager at Bluleadz, knows how important mental well-being is in his professional life. “I can get overwhelmed and stressed, which hurts my productivity and causes creativity squashing symptoms, like brain fog and fatigue.”
That’s why he focuses on daily, proactive self-care habits.
“Sleep hygiene is really important to me. I stick to a ‘no screens’ rule 30 minutes before I need to go to sleep. And I follow a simple routine for winding down — journaling, then meditation before laying in bed. This helps me reset after a long day of writing, editing, and managing projects,” Previte shared.
4. Schedule your days full of breaks
According to Bob Pozen, author of the bestselling book Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours, we all need regular breaks to refresh and refocus. Pozen says it’s ideal to take a ‘time-out’ every 75-90 minutes. He found professional musicians are most productive when they practice for this duration in a single setting.
Kayla Kozan agrees with the need for breaks, especially for those of us with creative roles.
“Research shows that under prolonged stress, the ability to think creatively is the first to go,” Kozan explained. “Those who build creative time into their schedules will benefit from refreshed and engaged minds that are primed for problem-solving.”
Kozan advises you that you find a practice that’s all your own, as we all function and relax differently. For Kristen Klempert, a freelance writer and social media specialist, breaks are best spent on mindfulness exercises.
“I learned a mindfulness and refocusing technique that really helps me sustain my creative energy,” Klempert said. “Go outside and find five different things to look at. Spend a few seconds focusing on each. Then, listen for four things and hone your ears in on them for a bit. Repeat the exercise with three things you can touch, two you can smell, and one you can taste.”
Be intentional with your scheduling. Mental breaks are critical but they’re only helpful if they’re not smack-dab in the middle of your most productive hours. I, for example, am most productive in the mornings. I take small breaks throughout to replenish my coffee cup, stretch, and get snacks — you know, the important things — but my larger breaks are in the afternoon when I know my productivity is waning.