Mental exhaustion is, well, exhausting. We all experience it—at home, school, work and every aspect of life in between. For creative professionals, mental exhaustion’s wicked little cousin, creative burnout, also likes to come out to play.
What is creative burnout and what are some mental exhaustion symptoms?
Creative burnout is when a person in a creative career feels they can no longer create work to their typical standards on a consistent basis. Some compare it to feeling like the well of creative juices has run dry. Writer’s block is a well-known type of creative barricade. However, ongoing, unmanageable, crippling writer’s block can be a sign of chronic creative burnout. For high-performing digital marketers in the travel industry, we may feel uninspired or apathetic towards creating our beloved destination content.
Do you generally enjoy your job and industry but simultaneously dread coming to the office, procrastinate on projects you once loved, or feel particularly agitated at work for no reason? You might be experiencing creative burnout. That’s right, you can love your job and still experience creative burnout. In some cases, it can even cause physical distress, from increased heart rates to feelings of nausea and anxiety. It’s important to remember that creative burnout looks and feels different for everyone. The good news is you’re not alone, you’re not terrible at your job, and you can get through it.
What causes creative burnout?
Mental exhaustion happens when the perfect storm of complicated, sometimes uncontrollable, factors come together to create a supercell of stress that wreaks havoc on your emotional state. In creative careers, overworking while being under-compensated may be one of those many factors. Another reason could be not having an effective physical or mental space to create.
Specifically for digital marketers, the explosive demand in volume of content creation combined with rising quality standards, slashed support teams, and mounting responsibilities has led to record levels of creative burnout. For social media managers caught in the online crossfire of socio-political unrest, natural disasters and international crises, they’re particularly susceptible to mental drain. And for traditional office cultures denying creative roles environments where they can thrive or work most efficiently, they’re simply not getting the best work out of their creator.
If creative professionals are secret weapons, then creative burnout is their kryptonite. Most creative career superheros uniquely utilize both their left and right brains. We are both the “big idea” people, as well as the “make it happen” people. We have soft “people” skills and creative knack. We are constantly running fast, running hard and doing it with a smile.
As thought leader and creative professional Natalie Sejean explains, creative burnout happens when we overuse creative muscles without giving them proper rest. Imagine a professional athlete. By taking time to rest between seasons, the athlete is not less dedicated, capable, deserving or successful. In fact, athletes are better at what they do because of rest. The way we push ourselves in industries like travel, where until recently the number and impact of creative roles was not realized, is not sustainable long term without conscious rest periods. Yet, over the last several years, tourism professionals have worked relentlessly and harder than ever, especially in creative departments, leading to creative burnout that companies are either unwilling or unable to address. Enter: the Great Resignation.
Why is addressing creative burnout important?
First and foremost, understanding and addressing creative burnout is important because it is part of the larger discussion of mental health in the workplace. According to a 2022 Deloitte study, nearly half of Millenials and Gen Z say they feel burned out at work. The study also indicated that these individuals are tired of companies being all talk and no walk. By addressing creative burnout proactively with open dialogue and actionable solutions, companies position themselves to attract and retain the world’s two rising generations of talented leaders. Likewise, by becoming better advocates for mental exhaustion and creative burnout solutions as individuals, we become more trusted leaders, colleagues and friends.
What can we do to prevent or control creative burnout?
Full disclosure: Preventing creative burnout entirely is nearly impossible, as there’s no foolproof way to totally avoid stress. Plus, creativity is supposed to ebb and flow a bit—it’s part of the creative process! However, there are some ways you can keep your creative juices flowing within a healthy range.
First and foremost, take care of yourself. This may seem like a no-brainer, but when we become stressed, our needs are often the first ones sent to the back-burner. Get plenty of sleep, drink a lot of water, and exercise. Maybe bring an old hobby back into your life, like journaling or cooking. Remember, we are our best mentally when we take care of ourselves physically.
Next, learn some safe-for-work stress management techniques. Don’t save it all for your drive home at the end of the day to give your steering wheel an ear-full. Emotional freedom techniques, or EFTs can often be done discreetly at your desk or even in meetings. Try gently tapping the meridian lines of your face or massaging the palms of your hands. Take five and go for a walk around the block or practice controlled breathing techniques when you start to feel pressure or anxiety escalate.
Sometimes, creative burnout requires action from your employer, supervisor or team. Bounce ideas off a trusted colleague or close friend that understands the demands of your job. Come up with reasonable solutions and pitch them to your supervisor. This sends the message that you’re not just a complainer and instead willing to put in the work to resolve the issue. Emphasize how your suggestions will allow you to work more effectively and provide examples, if possible. Understand that maybe not all of your demands will be met and that change takes time.
Lastly, lead by example. Whether you’re the one dealing with creative burnout or managing a person who is, be the change you want to see. Listen, be open to change and encourage work-life balance.