Nov 28, 2022

I had creative burnout: 4 signs & how to approach it

I had creative burnout: 4 signs & how to approach it
Reading Time:
5 minutes

How it all started

I'm a content creator, solopreneur, product designer, Webflow developer and a cat mom. To balance it all, I refined my productivity systems. I implemented time management techniques.

But… even with these strategies in place, I still went through swings of creative burnout. I was exhausted. It felt like no good idea is ever going to come out of my brain again.

As creatives who have turned our craft into a job, the things we used to do for personal pleasure become something we do for an audience, or for clients.

Money. Deadlines. Online comparison. The pressure of keeping up with algorithms.

It’s hard.

If you’ve felt like that before, you’re not alone. According to this report, 6 out of 10 creators suffer from creative burnout.


If you prefer the video version of this article (Video is 7 mins), you may watch it here. Otherwise, continue scrolling below :)


Common signs of creative burnout

Creative burnout manifests in different ways.

Sign 1: Lack of Ideas

For me, the most obvious sign is when my creative tap begins to run dry. I feel like I’ve run out of ideas, and I just can’t muster up the motivation to find new ones, no matter what I do.

Sign 2: Restlessness

The irony is that although my creative levels are low, work still goes on. And I do want to provide the highest value possible to my clients and audience. As a result, I struggle to mentally disengage. And there’s this need to cram my creative pursuit into any spare moment I have.

Sign 3: Exhaustion

There are also days when I was dead exhausted. The mere idea of creating feels tiring and no amount of coffee gives me the needed buzz.

Sign 4: You’re never happy with what you produce

I may even find myself despising my creative work. Like everything I make comes out “wrong”.  All the things I usually love doing, like making videos, designing, writing, suddenly feel like a chore.

How I approach creative burnout

As someone with high expectations, ambitions, and a growing front-log of creative projects, creative burnout feels a huge roadblock. I’m not perfect. But somewhere in the midst of figuring it out, I learned some mindset shifts and lifestyle adjustments to help find peace with myself and my craft.

Approach #1: Mindset

We need to stop demonizing burnout.

It’s one thing to be burnt out, it’s another to beat yourself up for it like you’ve committed a crime. We’re not perfect. Stress is inevitable.

The anti-burnout or pro-worklifebalance pursuit can sometimes make it seem like work is all bad… and life is all good. But this isn’t always the case - especially for those of us who are privileged enough to turn our craft into a source of living.

The perfect work-life balance doesn’t exist. So, why are we trying so hard to play a game that we can’t win?

You see, work-life balance is not a linear see-saw.

Imagine trying to always maintain a perfect balance on a scale. Constantly ensuring that both sides hold an equal amount of weight. It’s like expecting yourself to give your 100% at work and squeeze out another 100% for your social life and family.

Isn’t it exhausting? You’ll never feel like you’re measuring up.

Instead, it helps to see work-life balance as an ongoing cycle — like catching a cold. Everyone catches a cold, even the healthiest of us.

But instead of blaming our immune systems or the weather, we learn to accept it, take meds, get some rest, and slowly get back on our feet.

Approach #2: Work-style

Depending on the season of our life, our style of work might change.

Last season, my work routine was more structured, and this season, I’m going more with the flow.

This doesn’t mean I’m going off the grid and slacking off. Rather, I’m learning to be versatile. I adjust my routines according to my energy levels.

Instead of fitting into someone else’s mould, find a system that works for you.

If you’re super happy working 9 to 5 and watching Netflix every night, that’s amazing! If you’re a seasonal sprinter who pulls all-nighters for 3 months and takes the following month off (like me), that’s amazing too.

On any given day or season, it’s important we understand how much creative work we can handle. Then, reserve blocks of time for deep and focused work.

Work can be stressful but there will also be moments you feel inspired. Embrace these spindles of busyness and calm, and you’re good to go.

I also need to say this:

Don’t talk down on those who genuinely enjoy hard work.

Don’t tell them that it’ll make them unhappy long term.

There are no universal formula for what people “should” or “shouldn’t” do.

There’s only what’s right for you.

How to recover from a creative burnout

Dealing with a creative draught may require more than a mindset shift. Here are some things you can do to address those underlying factors.

Redefine your worth

There seems to be a romanticized idea that as creatives, we need to eat, live, and breathe our work.

More so when our craft lives online today. Our name, our face, our  personality are all interweaved into the work we produce. The emotional labor of balancing between your creative brand and your authentic self can be stressful. It takes a lot of inner work and self-reflection.

But you’re more than your craft, your résumé, your blog posts.

No vanity metric and no amount of money you make can ever define your worth as a human being.

You’re much more than that.

Reconnect with others

Sometimes, working on client projects feels lonely, and writing can seem like typing into a void.

If you can relate, find a good support system to lean on, join an online community of other creatives, or seek professional support.

Social connection has been proven to improve our overall emotional and physical well-being.

When you collaborate with others, you may even create something more amazing than if you worked on it by yourself.

Even if you just collaborate on one or two passion projects, it can still help reignite your creative fire.

So don’t suffer in silence. Make sure you have people to go to when you’re struggling (and when you’re thriving, too!).

Reset the basics

When we get too caught up with doing work, or thinking about our work, we tend to neglect our basic needs.

We tend to neglect ourselves.

Sometimes, creative burnout can be due to chronic stress. It compromises our physical and mental capabilities, and hence our ability to create. It sounds complicated. There’s a lot of science behind these mechanisms of stress.

What I learned is that it helps to go back to basics - get our sleep, nutrition, and exercise in check.

If you’re constantly getting sick or having sleep problems, seek advice from a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying causes.

To sum it up...

Preventing burnout is important, but creative burnout is often inevitable. That’s why I want you to know that it’s okay to slip up sometimes.

We don’t need the perfect work-life balance to be happy.

Instead, accepting that we’re on the wrong side of the see-saw may be better than trying to force a shaky equilibrium.

There are times when I work 14-hour days, commit to more projects than I should, scrap an entire YouTube video, just can’t seem to produce anything at all.

But instead of demonizing any of these behaviors, let’s pause, reflect, show ourselves some compassion, and adapt to our needs in the different seasons of our lives.

No matter what season you’re in right now, I’m here to celebrate every part of you and remind you how great you are regardless of the work you produce.

Thank you for reading :)

Rachel How
Hey, I'm Rachel How 👋
Designer & Solopreneur. I'm passionate about solopreneurship, diversifying our income, UI/UX design and productivity. Currently building my 8th income stream and sharing the lessons learnt along the way.

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