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Digging Your Way Out of Burnout

You're feeling helpless, frustrated, and stressed at work, which bleeds into your daily life. It's becoming harder to be productive, and you find yourself procrastinating more than normal, losing focus, and generally not getting anywhere. Activities that used to make you happy no longer have the same impact, and you're starting to feel like nothing you do matters.

This phenomenon is called burnout, and it's incredibly common in working adults. It can be challenging to work through burnout, but when you don't it can become near impossible to do much of anything or find joy in your life.

Burnout doesn’t just happen with work — you can get creative burnout, too. When you start losing interest in hobbies you used to love, it can be disheartening.

It may not be easy, but it's completely possible to overcome burnout and reignite your joy again, both at work and in your creative practices. Understand how to identify burnout, why it happens, how to overcome it, and best practices for avoiding it going forward.

What Does Burnout Feel Like?

Burnout can be hard to identify at first. Especially during winter months when seasonal affective disorder is at its peak or if you’re particularly used to feeling stressed, you may not notice you’ve burnt out right away.

Feelings of burnout will show up differently in everyone. You may experience the following:

  • Decreased satisfaction in your work or art

  • Disinterest in your standard responsibilities or hobbies that used to bring you joy

  • Struggling to focus on tasks you need — or want — to do

  • Feeling like you’re drowning in work or struggling to keep up with expectations

  • Constant exhaustion, but experiencing insomnia that keeps you from getting quality rest

  • Increased irritability, stress, and anger

  • Feeling hopeless and struggling to see any positives

Remember that if you’re experiencing burnout, you’re not alone. A whopping 77% of workers say they’ve experienced burnout at some point in their careers.

Why Do We Feel Burnout?

There isn’t any one trigger for feelings of burnout. Burnout typically happens as a result of multiple factors impacting your work or creative practice for a prolonged period.

According to a Deloitte study, the top driver of burnout is a lack of support or recognition from leadership. However, at work, burnout may also be triggered by…

  • Lack of control

  • Inability to see how your work impacts others

  • Unclear expectations

  • Challenging workplace dynamics

  • Poor work-life balance or working excessively long hours

  • Aggressive deadlines and fast-tracked project timelines

Creatively, you may begin feeling burnout if you…

  • Overextend yourself or force yourself to create more than you enjoy

  • Try to monetize a hobby

  • Are overly critical of yourself and your work

  • Spend too much time comparing your work to what you see online

In both scenarios, a lack of social support and positive recognition can contribute to feelings of burnout. We need a support system to feel like our efforts matter.

How to Find Joy After Experiencing Burnout

Recognizing that you’re feeling burnout is a critical first step, no matter where it stems from. Next, you have to start reversing the impacts of burnout by seeking out support and managing your stress. Finally, once you’re starting to feel back to normal, you can begin building your resilience, so you’re less likely to feel as much burnout in the future.

You don’t need to work through your burnout alone. You’ll be better off leaning on the support of your community. “The cure for burnout is not self-care,” explained Amelia Nagoski as part of TED's How to Deal with Difficult Feelings series. “It is all of us caring for each other. We can't do it alone. We need each other.”

The Clara Healing Institute's Wisdom Collective has some great groups for those seeking support. If you’re in the Milwaukee area, the following might be valuable resources for reigniting your joy.

Radical Self Love Group (Based on The Body Is Not an Apology-Sonya Renee Taylor) facilitated by Brush Box Founder, Amber Thomas ATR-P LPC-IT

  • Coping Skills for Women of Color (multi-part workshop) facilitated by Karisse Callender, PhD, SAC, LPC

There are a few additional strategies you can consider if you’re feeling burnt out at work.

Consider “quiet quitting.” A recent Gallup poll found that at least 50% of workers are quiet quitting. This is the act of doing no more than your job requirements. While it isn’t for everyone, quiet quitting can be a profound experience for individuals who struggle with work-life balance or setting boundaries in the workplace.

Be more social with your co-workers. Building friendships can provide a healthy buffer from your burnout at work. In fact, workers are 40% less likely to burn out when they have an ally in the workplace. However, avoid using your new friends as an outlet for complaining. When you and your co-workers spend too much time venting about your work stresses, you’re likely to feel worse, not better.

Explore other options. Is this the right job for you long-term? The sunk-cost fallacy is the idea that after investing so much time in something, you should continue to make your investment worth it. This idea may keep you from pursuing other options, which can be exponentially detrimental. Just because you’ve invested time in your current career doesn’t mean that you have to continue forward on the current trajectory. Instead, making a shift can help you find more joy long term.

Meanwhile, if you’re feeling burnout in your creative practice, you might consider the following techniques to overcome it.

Connect with other creatives. Spending time with other creatives can help renew your sense of joy and excitement. If you don’t yet have one, take time to find your creative community and engage with others who have similar interests as you.

Reframe how you view your creative practice. Not every hobby has to become a side hustle. Not every piece you make has to be a world-renowned masterpiece. By approaching your creative practice with a new perspective, you can minimize feelings of disappointment, and reignite the joy you used to feel.

Change up your practice. The sunk-cost fallacy also applies with creative expression. If an art experience is no longer bringing you joy, take a pause! Sometimes we need to try something new and explore our budding interests. It’s okay to experiment with varying forms of expression to find what will give you new creative excitement. You might try finding your creative spark by…

  • Looking for new art materials

  • Going to a community studio and witnessing others’ art practices (we love the free Bloom Community Art Therapy Open Studio every Saturday in Milwaukee)

  • Going to an art exhibit

  • Taking a virtual class

  • Participating in an art challenge (we’ve got a challenge for you at the end of this blog!)

  • Rearranging the space you create in

Best Practices to Avoid Burnout at Work

After overcoming burnout, it’s important to implement new practices to keep yourself from falling back into those feelings. Often, you need to make serious changes throughout your entire life to ward off burnout long-term.

Consider the following best practices to avoid burnout in the workplace:

  • Prioritize good sleep — try to get 8 hours of sleep every night

  • Get outside on breaks — go for a walk or take your morning coffee outside

  • Take time to exercise — cardio or light physical activity can get your blood pumping and boost endorphins

  • Implement a creative practice to switch your day up — sometimes, we need opportunities to express creativity that aren’t present in our job

  • Practice mindfulness — implement a meditation practice at the start and end of your day, as well as any time you change tasks (our Good Intention Shakers can help remind you to stay mindful throughout the day)

  • Find value in your work — explore how you can see what you’re doing as valuable

  • Set boundaries — determine what your personal boundaries are, and uphold them consistently

  • Schedule a vacation — getting out of your routine by traveling or exploring your hometown on a staycation can help you feel renewed

  • Fall in love with yourself — remember that you’re more than what you produce or the work you do, and you’re worthy of love from yourself first

Remember that you can always speak up in your workspace. Take time to reflect on what needs your current position isn't meeting — it may be possible to reimagine your position so that it better aligns with your goals. You can also implement daily affirmations before work, which can help reset your mind when facing issues of imposter syndrome and burnout. Remind yourself,

I am valuable. My voice is needed. I can and will take up space.

Keep the sunk-cost fallacy in mind. You never need to stay in a job that doesn’t bring you joy or make you feel bad in your personal life. The time you’ve invested in a role or going to school for a career is never wasted — you learned something, even if you don’t end up continuing down that path.

How to Avoid Burnout as a Creative

Avoiding creative burnout also requires changes to your routine, but can be easier to overcome than workplace burnout.

  • Practice mindfulness as part of your creative routine — consider meditating before and after your art practice, as well as if you start feeling frustrated

  • Minimize time on social media and avoid comparing your work to others — inspiration can be helpful, but constantly comparing yourself to others is a surefire way to reduce your joy

  • Switch things up to inspire more creativity — get out of your normal creative routine by going somewhere new to create

  • Take a class in a new medium — explore other techniques and hobbies you may enjoy

  • Make it a habit to connect with other creatives — share your excitement with others, build a community of creative support, and learn about the creative processes your community members lean on

  • Share your art with others — their feedback or encouragement may help you see your work in a new light

  • Slow down — our fast-paced world can be challenging to keep up with, so don’t worry about trying to speed through your work or creative practice

How Does an Art Therapist Work Through Burnout?

Nearly everyone will experience burnout at some point in their life, whether that’s at work or in their personal life.

“I decided I will have a weekly art session that has no expectations. It's not a product prototype, nor an art piece to be sold."

“As an entrepreneur and clinician, I find that I am often pulled in multiple creative directions,” shared Amber, our founder. “I’m constantly curating experiences for others but not for myself.”

“I decided I will have a weekly art session that has no expectations. It's not a product prototype, nor an art piece to be sold. I clean and cleanse my work environment and will often pick out a new material that I am not used to working with. Choosing a new material signal to my brain that I am changing my routine. I release the fear of messing up and embrace the process of creating instead of focusing on the outcome.”

Bust Out of Burnout

You don’t have to feel stuck at work or in your personal life. If you’ve hit the point of burnout, it’s not a lost cause. Make a plan to overcome your burnout, then make changes to prevent it long-term.

Take our Brush Box Monthly Art Challenge for April! This month, connect with your creative community and trade art secrets. Spend time learning more about another community member’s artistic process, then try it out for yourself.

Brush Box was founded to support healing through art. We believe everyone is creative and taking time to channel that creativity can be transformative. Reach out if you’re interested in a facilitated event or accessing therapeutic workshop guides.

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