Creator Burnout: What It Is and How to Prevent It
In today’s rapidly evolving online landscape, creators are faced with the ever-increasing pressure to continually produce and stay ahead in their respective fields. Despite the growing emphasis on self-care and setting boundaries, platforms such as TikTok and Instagram have witnessed a surge in reports of creator burnout, endangering the very livelihoods of these individuals.
“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on
forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist”
-Kenneth E. Boulding, Economist, 1973
What is Creator Burnout?
Creator burnout, also known as creative or artist burnout, is a state of profound emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion. While burnout can affect individuals in any profession or aspect of life, it presents a unique challenge for creative individuals such as content creators and artists due to the extended periods of intense creativity. If left unaddressed, creator burnout can transform the act of creation into a burdensome and joyless task, depleting the motivation for further creative output.
Signs and Symptoms of Creator Burnout
Creative burnout can manifest in many ways, including:
This might include relentless fatigue, a feeling of being utterly depleted, a significant drop in energy, tension coiled in the body, aches and pains that won’t quit, sleep that eludes you, trouble focusing on anything, decreased motivation, appetite swings that come and go, an immune system that’s on strike, and a general feeling of unease in your body – like you’re constantly fried, tired, exhausted, overwhelmed, and just plain “over it.” And it doesn’t let up for weeks, months, maybe even years.
Creator burnout can lead to feelings of being drained and unable to perform, accompanied by emotions such as anger, resentment, inadequacy, self-judgment, anxiety, depression, irritability, sadness, self-doubt, perfectionism, isolation, cynicism, edginess, feeling overwhelmed, misunderstood, guilty, easily frustrated, impatience, and a sense of detachment and loneliness, becoming disconnected from the underlying why.
These may include a loss of motivation, withdrawal from social activities and relationships, procrastination regarding creative work, neglect of self-care, difficulty in “switching off,” impatience and irritation with others, indecisiveness (decision fatigue), disorganization, careless mistakes, personal task frustrations, reduced quality of output, and challenges in effective communication within important relationships.
Creative burnout can be especially common among digital content creators, social media influencers, visual artists, writers, freelancers, musicians, and other creative professionals. Nevertheless, it can also affect anyone who engages in creative work, such as students, service professionals, entrepreneurs, and even parents.
The 12 Stages of Burnout
Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger coined the term “burnout” in the 1970s to describe the severe stress conditions that lead to physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. In his analysis, he identified twelve stages of burnout progression:
Here is our interpretation of Creator Burnout:
- Excessive drive or ambition: feeling an obsessive compulsion to prove yourself or to establish yourself in your field. It can also stem from wanting to demonstrate worth and value.
- Working harder: Pushing yourself harder to meet the new expectations. Unable to turn it off and, in fact, doing even more. Obsessing over doing a great job. Work and creativity is your major priority. Driving yourself to create excessive amounts of content to keep up.
- Neglecting needs: self-care is deprioritized or non-existent in the way of erratic sleep patterns, isolation, eating too much or not enough, ignoring physical maintenance and not feeling good in your body. Friendships, play, relationships, social interactions, and care are sacrificed for content creation and analyzing your performance.
- Displacing conflicts: dismissing problems; we may feel threatened, panicky, and jittery but unclear as to why. Denial of obvious problems. Lack of boundaries, blame game, lack of accountability, victim mode, projection, and other unhealthy relationships and communication behaviors.
- Revision of values: values are skewed, friends and family are dismissed, and hobbies are seen as irrelevant. Compromising your core values, authenticity, and core beliefs for the sake of your output (content, art, creativity). Creating a persona that is out of alignment with who you are because you believe you’ll be more widely accepted. Over-editing to present yourself in a way that you believe will be better received by viewers.
- Denial of emerging problems: intolerance; perceiving collaborators or team members as stupid, lazy, demanding, or undisciplined; social connections become more difficult; cynicism, aggression; blaming problems on time pressure and work demands versus a willingness to address them.
- Withdrawal: social life and personal connections are deprioritized. Isolating. Avoiding meaningful contact with others (outside of to create content). Being in the Iago Trance
- Behavioral changes: obvious and negative changes in behavior (often recognized by others) such as irritability, mood swings, and substance abuse. Decreased creativity.
- Depersonalization and inner emptiness: feeling like neither you nor others are valuable; feeling empty inside. Going through the motions and disconnected.
- Depression: feeling hopeless, worthless, uncertain, and unmotivated. Having a difficult time with everyday stressors. Reduced coping abilities.
- Exhaustion: complete physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion and depletion. Hard to fill up and refuel. Constant exhaustion. Decreased productivity and creation.
- Mental and physical collapse: a breakdown, extreme burnout requiring professional attention and care.
Feeling drained from your creative work? It might be time to pause and check-in. Notice any burnout symptoms like fatigue, frustration, or isolation? These can be signs you’re slipping into the 12 stages of creator burnout. Understanding where you are on that spectrum helps you take the right steps to recover.
Early burnout? Easy fixes like setting boundaries and taking breaks can get you back on track. Deeper burnout? Don’t hesitate to consider more drastic measures like professional help or a creative retreat.
Get More in depth Information About self-care for creators
The Causes of Creator Burnout
Creatives and content creators face a unique set of challenges that can lead to burnout. Here are some of the most common reasons why creators burn out:
The Pressure to Perform
Digital creators face a catch-22: slowing down risks dropping views, which means financial instability. With ever-shifting algorithms, they’re constantly chasing viewers just to stay afloat. This pressure leaves many feeling trapped and unable to take breaks, even when burned out.
Public Scrutiny and Criticism
Creators are constantly exposed to public scrutiny and criticism. Fearing the swift punishment of a suspended account, many creators spend countless hours filtering, editing, and overthinking every word they say, or self-censoring their work. This can stifle creativity and lead to anxiety. The stress can often be exacerbated by public scrutiny, mean online comments, and feeling the need to justify creativity as a career choice to well-intentioned family members and friends who disagree.
The Fear of Failure
Sharing your creative vision is nerve-wracking. Public image, failing big, and proving naysayers wrong? The pressure’s on. Creators are entrepreneurs sharing many of the same concerns, pressures, and inherent challenges, with added fear: failing not just with their art, but their work and livelihood.
The Lack of Work-Life Balance
Work-life balance can be a struggle for entrepreneurs, including creatives and creators. While the freedom of working for oneself offers a refreshing alternative to more traditional career paths and schedules, it can also create blurred boundaries between personal and professional time. Having your home double as your workplace can make it even more difficult to step away (especially given the 24/7 nature of social media). If you find yourself in a routine of staying in for days at a time, it may be time to create a strategy for healthier work-life balance and self-care.
The Financial Insecurity of Being a Creator
Digital Creators, specifically, rely upon their presence on social media platforms to reach their audiences and generate income. However, these platforms are often unpredictable, ever-changing, and are prone to shift their rules or policies at any time. This can lead to financial insecurity for creators, especially if they rely on a single platform for their livelihood.
Sudden changes to platform rules:
Social media platforms can change their rules at any time, which can create a cycle of playing “catch up” for already busy creators who then have to figure out new ways to gain new followers and to retain their community. These sudden changes can have stressful and detrimental impacts on a creator’s income.
The Lack of Support
We seek support on our artistic journeys, but family and friends often don’t get it. This can leave us questioning our dreams, fearing the doubts we hoped they’d quell. Putting ourselves out there is scary, and not having support makes it harder to be vulnerable. So, many silently suffer rather than face discouraging, though well-meaning, voices.
Unrealistic Expectations of Oneself or One’s Work
Creators often have unrealistic expectations of themselves and their work. They may feel pressure to produce high-quality content on a regular basis, no matter how they may be feeling on the inside. They may also compare themselves to other creators who they perceive as more successful, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and of second guessing their own journey.
Unrealistic expectations can lead to a number of negative consequences, including burnout, stress, and anxiety. When creators feel like they can’t live up to their own expectations, they may feel less inspired to create or may withdraw from creative activities altogether. This can have a significant impact on their productivity and creativity.
How to Prevent Creator Burnout
I cannot stress enough, burnout prevention is essential, as it can take weeks, months, or even years to fully recover. People who have never experienced burnout often underestimate its severity and duration. People who are experiencing it often, themselves, underestimate its severity and how important it is to take it seriously and to course correct their self care.
Here are some additional tips for preventing and recovering from creative burnout:
Set Realistic Goals
When feeling overwhelmed we can sometimes feel like we have to do everything all at once. This is when many people think that they have to do more, work harder, and move faster. However, those moments of overwhelm are the perfect time to hit the pause button so you can get clear versus continuing to barrel through. Use the feeling of overwhelm as a signal that it is time for you to get really honest with yourself. Grab something to write with, or even a post it pad, and jot down everything that comes to mind. Then, prioritize them based on what will make the biggest difference and with realistic expectations from yourself. Try to give yourself breathing room, and don’t be afraid to say no to projects or commitments that you don’t have time, passion, or energy for. Practice saying no to things that simply don’t align.
Growing something can be very time consuming, especially when you are excited about what you are doing. However, taking breaks is an essential part of the creative process if you are committed to preventing and recovering from burnout. Also, you don’t always have to push yourself to exhaustion, leading to the forced break stemming from burnout. Ensure to integrate both short-term and long-term breaks into your lifestyle, as a creative:
Get up and move around every 20-30 minutes during the workday, or do something else that you enjoy that gives you time to recharge. This could include stretching, taking a walk, listening to music, or talking to a friend.
Every few weeks or months, take a break from your creative work and disengage from your responsibilities. This could involve going on vacation, spending time with loved ones, or simply giving yourself planned time to just Be.
How do you keep your business running while you recover? Delegate.
Now, before you shut this one down, please consider that you need the support of others, if you are going to truly grow. This doesn’t mean that you have to have a full staff to delegate things to. Instead, consider that delegating tasks can free up your time and energy so that you can focus on the things that are most important to you and recover from burnout. Think, who do you know that can help you with work tasks or with personal tasks to free you up? Or, who can you share resources with to make your work easier? You may find that you have more help than you think. Here are a few tips to consider when delegating tasks:
Choose the right tasks to delegate. Not all tasks can be delegated. Focus on delegating tasks that are repetitive, time-consuming, or not essential to your core skills and responsibilities.
Give clear instructions. When delegating a task, be sure to provide clear instructions, deadlines, and expectations. What do you need done, how would you like it done, and when do you need it?
Empower your team members. Trust your team members to complete the tasks that you have delegated to them. Give them the authority and resources they need to be successful. For example, when delegating home related tasks to your partner or spouse, let them do it!
Provide feedback. This one is essential. Once a task has been completed, provide feedback to the person so that they can learn and improve.
By delegating tasks, you can create a more sustainable workflow and reduce your risk of burnout.
Find a Supportive Community
Find a support system. Surround yourself with other creative people who understand what you’re going through. They can offer support, encouragement, and advice. Connect with other creative people. Seek professional help if needed
Take Care of Yourself
Your body and mind are your creative vessels, so it is essential to take care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
Nourish yourself: Eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water, and get enough sleep.
Move your body: Exercise regularly, even if it is just a short walk or some gentle stretching.
Calm your mind: Find healthy ways to manage stress and anxiety, such as meditation, breathing exercises, a meditative walk, ocean healing, NLP, or other holistic wellness practices.
Feed your soul: Connect with your spirituality through yoga, journaling, prayer, reflection, or spending time in nature.
When you take care of yourself, you are replenishing your creative energy and setting yourself up for success.
Creator burnout is a temporary condition, but it can take time and self-care to recover. With the right approach, you can return to your creative work with renewed clarity, passion, and energy.