Creative Burnout – What It Is and How to Deal With It

Woman feeling overwhelmed with creative burnout

I’m not talking about a creative block, I’m talking about a physical, emotional, and creative burnout. One that wipes you out.

Artists burnout occurs when a combination of stress triggers combine to shut your body down. These may include things like self-doubt, perfectionism, long work hours, money-worries, relationships, and over-ambition.

But how can you burnout doing something you love?

It’s soooo easy, let me tell you. I’ve been there.

These are the lessons I’ve learned to keep myself healthy and prevent creative burnout:

  • Avoid conflicts at all costs,
  • Take time off,
  • Turn work down,
  • Don’t compare yourself to others,
  • Don’t ignore family and friends.

Chasing Rainbows – Overwhelm and Creative Burnout

When you write your snappy bio’ it’s only a summary of your real life. Inevitably you end up highlighting the best bits.

Further Reading: How to Write an Artist’s Bio That People Want to Read

No one wants to know about the downtimes. You edit out the crap and end up with an amazing journey.

It’s only partially true.

First of all, there was never a clear path, only obstacles. The path appears only in hindsight.

Yes, you can fulfill your dreams,  but you know what? They disappear as soon as you get there.

Dreams are always on the move, one step ahead. It’s like chasing a rainbow, the pot of gold that is forever out of reach.

And that’s the way it should be. Dreams are important and far better than the reality.

So you pursue your dreams with a passion. You give it everything you’ve got and the good life is just around the corner.

But you don’t realize what’s happening to you. Striving for tomorrow stops you living for today.

You chase the dream and neglect what really matters. You become detached and driven. You convince yourself that working hard now will allow you to relax later.

Except later never comes. Work piles upon work.

You are driven to succeed and you won’t stop until you reach your goal.
So when is enough, enough? At what point do you step back and say ‘Yep’ that’ll do just fine.

Knowing When to Quit Will Prevent Overwhelm Now and Creative Burnout Later

The problem with being an artist-entrepreneur is knowing when to stop.
Some people bumble along in life and never get anywhere while others will knuckle down and race ahead.

But what if you are somewhere in between? You aren’t lazy but then again no one would call you a workaholic.

That’s most of us, right?

I haven’t got boundless energy, I need a good night’s sleep, and I do not thrive on stress.

That’s why I suffered a complete creative burnout in my early 40’s.

You see self-employment is supposed to give you more freedom but for many, it’s the other way around. There are few certainties, business is up and down all the time.

Your income is insecure (and life) is insecure. You make a killing one day and nothing the next.

And so it goes on. There are days when a pay-packet begins to look very attractive.

You end up driving yourself harder. What if tomorrow it all comes to an end? Maybe you’re an imposter? Perhaps you’ll be found out and people will stop buying.

Further Reading: Do You Suffer From Artist Imposter Syndrome? You’re Not Alone

So you make hay while the sun shines and never turn work down.

You’re hard on yourself and before you know it, you are working all God’s hours. You daren’t turn work away.

This happened to me.

On the face of it, I had achieved everything I set out to do.

I was working in the summer selling my prints, and spending my winters traveling.

Further Reading: How Do You Price Your Art? (And Increase Your Profits)

This was living my dream, so what went wrong?

STRESSit’s a killer

When I was selling, I went full steam ahead. I didn’t take breaks, I stopped socializing and I worked all day, every day.

I’m a perfectionist and I strove to excel.

I would beat myself up for not being sharper, richer, more talented, happier.
I even felt guilty if I was late for work. How crazy is that?

Winter would come around and I’d fly straight to India with all the cultural overwhelm, noise, and conflicts that are part and parcel of traveling through that country.

Getting away didn’t slow me down. Far from relieving the stress, I compounded it

Inevitably there came a time when my body said ‘No More!’ and shut down.
I was wiped out.

What Happens When You Burnout?

Believe it or not, at first I thought I had the flu.

  • My energy and strength just disappeared,
  • Simple tasks became monumental efforts,
  • I was dizzy and uncoordinated,
  • I slurred my words,
  • I had mind fog,
  • Headaches,
  • Shivers and Trembling,

But the symptoms didn’t go away and eventually I had to visit the doctor.

Test after test revealed nothing and to cut a long story short a specialist diagnosed ‘burnout’. He’d seen the same symptoms many times with city traders.

The only cure was rest, and his advice?

‘Change your lifestyle!’

What, abandon my dreams?

I did cut out as many hassles as possible, including spending too much time in India.

My recovery was painfully slow and steady.

I still get flare-ups to this day, only now I don’t ignore them. I listen to my body.
As soon as I realize I’m pushing myself too hard, I pull back and calm myself down.

Your business must serve you, not the other way round.

I’ve managed to reduce my problems by reassessing my priorities and cutting out unnecessary stress.

  • I cut down my hours
  • Stopped having targets
  • I take as long as I like to do my artwork
  • Stopped doing commissions
  • Cut down my portfolio

And last year I finally gave up my van. What a relief.

  • No more traffic jams,
  • No road rage,
  • No parking fees (or tickets),
  • No more insurance and breakdown cover,
  • No repairs
  • No road tax,
  • No fuel costs,
  • No annual vehicle test (M.O.T.)

I got a pushbike and a trailer. This year I might get an electric bike.

When I need a car I rent one. There’s a scheme in my town that allows me to hire a vehicle for only one hour at a time. Brilliant – perfect for small jobs.

I have no responsibilities, I keep fit and save a ton of cash while I’m at it.
I also cut out as many people in my business as possible.

I deal with the guy who does my printing and that’s a relationship of trust. Things still go wrong now and then, but we resolve them.

If a company asks me to do work, I turn them down.

Nor do I deal with:

  • Galleries
  • Agencies
  • Publications

I don’t want to be at the end of a phone, deadlines, or be at the whim of dissatisfied nit-pickers.

I make enough money selling my prints and that’s good enough for me.

Refusing commissions comes as a surprise to most but I never enjoyed drawing or painting other people’s pets, especially the dead ones, which I might add, are most of them.

Each commission comes with its own emotional baggage. YUK, no thanks.
I cut out everyone I can.

Further Reading: How to Draw Pet Portraits for Money and Start a Business

I can set up my business, trade and pack away and no one is else is effected.
There’s just me and my customers and that’s the way I like it. If they like what I do that’s great, if not, that’s fine too.

To Sum Things Up

I know after all these years that a few bad days or weeks is not the end of the world. What I lose at one point, I will gain again at another.

It’s all swings and roundabouts.

When I do my end of year accounts I’m always surprised how well my income tends to balance out.

The whole point is to maximize my freedom and happiness and not to make as much money as possible.

Your approach to business has a profound effect on your physical and mental health and you ignore it at your peril.

Don’t lose track of why you are making and selling your art in the first place. It’s supposed to make your life better.

Artists burnout is real so…

Take it easy!


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