creative burnout - tired kitty

Creative burnout is exhausting and frustrating, and most of us have been there at least once. Extended periods of high stress, a crushing workload, and a lack of sleep can deplete your resources over time, making you feel absolutely bushed and unable to accomplish simple graphic design tasks. If you’re feeling burned out right now, the following five tips could help make you feel better, and if you haven’t experienced burnout yet, you might want to bookmark this article for future reference.

Tip One: Take a Break

Rest is essential in the burnout recovery process. There’s really no way around it: you need a break. If you work for someone else and have holiday time in the bank, now’s the ideal time to use it. Write an automatic email response, set your business phone to voicemail, put your Mac to sleep, and take a week off.

Freelancers, on the other hand, often feel unable to stop working. It’s a curse, but it’s one we create for ourselves. In fact, self-employed graphic designers are just as entitled to time off as everyone else. The difference is that you’re your own boss, so you need to grant yourself permission to step back and wind down.

“But I have ongoing projects! Important things I have to do! I can’t just leave for seven days!” Fair enough. In that case, set a timer on your phone or tablet and give yourself a two-hour uninterrupted tech-free timeout every evening for a couple of weeks. No emails, no phone calls, no games: just you, a cup of tea and a book, or a good conversation. Downtime is a tremendously important part of wellness, so it’s worth getting into a good break-time routine.

Tip Two: Reduce Your Ongoing Workload

Good designers with a reliable track record usually find themselves in demand nearly all the time. This applies whether you work for someone else or whether you’re freelance. If you work for an established graphic design company, you could try calling a meeting with your boss, telling them your predicament, and requesting a deadline extension. You might find it helpful just to tell someone how you’re feeling, too. If your firm has been particularly busy for a while, it might be time to hire another talented creative to help take the pressure off you.

Freelancing is often a feast-or-famine situation. Periods of extreme busyness often precipitate total exhaustion. It can be tempting to say yes to every project because abundance could turn into famine at any time. Failing to set limits, however, can stretch your resources too thin. Over time, voila: burnout. To help pace yourself, try assigning time slots for urgent clients on a calendar, and politely request that clients with less pressing projects take a time slot the following week.

Tip Three: Get Extra Sleep

This may be number three on the list, but it ought to run concurrently with every other tip in this article. When was the last time you got seven hours of sleep in a night? According to thorough research, most of us function most efficiently if we get seven or more hours of sleep in a night—preferably unbroken sleep. While we sleep, our bodies concentrate on physical repair, and our immune systems battle bugs. When we dream, our minds process the events of yesterday, leaving us feeling mentally fresher when we awake.

Moving bedtime from midnight or 1:00 a.m. to 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. can leave you feeling reliably better in the morning. If broken sleep is inevitable (if you’re a parent, or you have a new puppy, or you’re worried about something), plan to go to bed a little earlier still. That way, even with interruption, you can score a decent recent most nights.

Tip Four: Examine Your Diet

When we’re stressed out and overstretched, we use our nutrient stores extra quickly. We burn through electrolytes like potassium, magnesium, and sodium, and we don’t always eat the right foods to compensate. Candies and crackers are easy to keep in desk drawers, and energy drinks seem to become a staple food at busy times. In short, we ask our bodies to do a lot without replenishing them properly.

One of the most nurturing things we can do for ourselves when we feel exhausted is to eat nutritious food. Sugar rushes—and the inevitable crashes that follow them—do nothing to restore physical or mental wellness. On the other hand, a balanced diet, with enough protein, fresh vegetables, and complex carbohydrate content, can do wonders. Not drinking enough water is a major cause of mental fog, too. According to the Institute of Medicine, people should aim to drink between nine and 13 cups of water a day, and a large reusable water bottle kept at your desk can help stay on track.

Tip Five: Get Your Iron Levels Tested

If you’re getting enough sleep, eating a decent diet, and working reasonable hours but still feeling totally zonked, you might want to tell your doctor. Iron deficiency anemia is surprisingly common, particularly in women of childbearing age and in people whose ability to absorb nutrients is reduced. Individuals often don’t realize they have a problem until they start getting sick frequently, so if this is the third month in a row you’ve felt awful, or you keep getting canker sores for no reason, head to the clinic for a blood test.

If you do have iron deficiency anemia, supplements can help you feel better pretty quickly. Many people choose ferrous sulfate, but other forms of iron are available, including iron chelate, which is easier on the stomach. Vitamin C and zinc can help you absorb more iron, so many people choose to take those supplements as well. Iron-rich foods include broccoli, spinach, cooked beef, oysters and clams, fish, and beans.

Sometimes, creative burnout results from more than one factor, so you may feel better faster if you take a multi-pronged approach to the problem. If you can get a little more sleep and also eat consciously, or take a short break and also delegate simple tasks, you could emerge from the fog a bit more quickly. Remember: burnout is not a permanent thing. Rather, it’s a temporary state we find ourselves in, and one from which we can recover. Over time, you’ll leave creative burnout in the past and your creative energies will return, as inevitably as the dawn follows the darkest night. So, keep your head up, eat well, and be kind to yourself.

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