Perhaps you’ve noticed it — you’ve gone from zero or manageable amounts of work to unrealistic amounts of work. We’re talking the get-it-done-yesterday kind. Or there’s a feeling of constantly firing on all cylinders with no logic or real reason for your hyperactivity. Well, unfortunately, the next step is often burnout.
Burnout looks completely different in 2021, thanks to the nightmare of 2020. You’re not alone and it isn’t your imagination. And if you’re a sensitive creative, you might be feeling the brunt of it. Let’s talk about it, shall we? Plus, we’ll offer some tips to help you break out of and combat burnout before it takes over your days.
What is burnout?
Burnout might feel like it comes on suddenly, but it’s actually a silent predator that sneaks up on you over days, months, and years of overwork. One minute you’re saying yes enthusiastically to a project you are genuinely excited about. The next minute the project is consuming you and your time like a boa constrictor. Gulp, indeed.
A lot of factors contribute to burnout—some you can control and others you can’t. The controllables? Your time and how you plan it through the week (check out our article on prioritizing self-care for helpful tips on this topic). The pressure you put on yourself is another thing you can control, using breathing techniques, stretching, and feel-good exercises. The uncontrollables? Well, in “normal” times, we would have pointed to sudden emergencies, sickness, and every day responsibilities we have to fit around all the work we do. We used to know exactly what it was to feel completely burned out. But we are no longer dealing with “normal” uncontrollables...
Why is 2021 burnout different?
Given an entire year of uncontrollable... well, everything, your mood and mental state might have slipped into what some are calling languishing. In years past, your normal burnout could have been lifted by a healthy vacation, rituals of planned mental breaks, or even job-hopping once you’ve plateaued in your current role. Those old escapes were helpful in a relatively stable economy that’s teeming with life. For many, the path to thriving as our best selves felt within reach. Nostalgia for those times is certainly not helping our mental health today, either.
2021 finds us grieving those times, grieving people, and grieving relationships. Uncertainty has us fearful, too, and symptoms of exhaustion from overwork are just layered over these difficult emotions. As working remotely becomes the new norm, we’re pushed further away from healthy, productive collaboration and left wondering if whatever we’re doing now is of any worth or meaning. It’s so much darker than typical burnout—it’s cabin fever on steroids. If unchecked, this kind of languishing can lead to serious mental health issues.
Tips for preventing burnout in 2021
- Break up your time differently
Back before 2020, you probably had your eye on long-term goals and end-product thinking when it came to projects. In 2021, take it from someone who knows what serious isolation is, and plan your time in smaller chunks. By breaking up your day into smaller tasks over multiple activities, you’ll feel more in control, and help stave off loneliness until the next time you’re able to see people.
- Connect with nature
When in doubt, take a break and get outdoors for some fresh air. Pay attention to the flora and fauna around you. Literally, stop and smell the flowers. And if you can’t leave the house? Fill your workspace with things that grow. Have them delivered, even. Treat yourself! You’ll improve the entire atmosphere and have new buddies to care for and admire. After all, plants are the new pets, right?
- Try new angles toward creativity
Sometimes burnout makes us overthink, stresses us out more, and then we feel blocked. Isn’t it strange that sometimes the best way to clear a block is through doing creative, unrelated activities? That’s because you’re relaxing your mind enough to let the good creative juices flow again. Try approaching creativity in different ways by looking at classic creation methods (like hand-lettering), put pen to paper (take up a design challenge or doodle), or get curious and research art you’ve never understood before (surrealism, anyone?). Let your mind get free and relaxed, far away from the task that’s burdening you. Come back another time to work—the mind needs vacations, too.
- Schedule straight-up inspiration time
If you’re feeling like burnout is creeping up on you, one of the best things you can do is go exploring for inspiration. First, set time out of your week to make sure you’re getting this creative nourishment daily or weekly. Then spend time with those things that inspire you. For some, it’s a motivating documentary or virtual museum visit. For others, it’s learning something new, like a hands-on craft. Just be careful how much time you spend on a screen and, if you can, don’t resort to endlessly scrolling Pinterest or Behance (though both sites can be really helpful for occasional inspo). Seek out art you love and spend time with it.
- When all else fails, take a break!
Ideally, we’re talking about a REAL vacation, like camping out in the woods or chilling by water for a weekend. But this planned break could just be a whole day to go somewhere, be with people you love and just find a little escape. You’re entitled to days off, so be sure you’re taking them. Even just taking off an afternoon to sit in a park or get a massage can be healing if your schedule is especially tight.
There’s also the possibility that your workplace is just not working for you anymore. Maybe you’ve plateaued, want to switch companies, or even switch careers, the break you take is all up to you! If you’re looking for a new position, or are in need of talent to shoulder the load of team burnout, we’ve got your back.
Still feeling the heat? Don't worry, we have more tips.