Artistic burnout: five tips for recovery

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Artistic burnout. It’s a big topic, and one that we discuss a lot as ethical indie filmmakers. Almost everyone has encountered burnout at some point in their life, to varying degrees. One time, I got so burnt out at work that I quit my job and fled the country for four months. While this was a very fun way to handle burnout, it’s not possible or advisable for everyone to do that every single time you get that feeling. So, let’s talk about more practical ways to handle burnout, especially artistic burnout. Why does it happen? How do you avoid it? And what should you do if you start feeling burned out… or have been pushing through burnout for a while?

What is artistic burnout?

Burnout is, at its core, a feeling of exhaustion. It happens to everyone: life gets stressful, work gets busy, things happen outside of your control, and all of a sudden you’re tired in a way that a good night’s sleep can’t fix. This leads to a lot of negative feelings; stress, resentment, hopelessness. It can impact your relationships (like snapping at your partner because your nerves are so frayed) or your work (like dropping the ball on a major project because your brain is so scrambled.)

Artistic burnout can happen for a number of reasons. It can happen when other areas of your life get so busy or stressful that you can’t focus on your art. It can happen when you’re pushing yourself too hard to create something. It happens a lot to folks who have made art a part of their job. When I first started this job, which requires a lot of writing, it was nearly impossible for me to do my own creative work. 

How do you avoid artistic burnout?

Like I said, burnout happens to everyone. But there are ways we can structure our life to make burnout less likely and less intense when it does happen.

One of the top ways to avoid burnout is to know the signs that you’re starting to get burned out. It’s a little different for everyone, but for me, I start to get really tired, become irritable, and stop finding joy in my art. When these things start to happen, I know it’s time to listen to my body and take a step back until I’m feeling better. I’d love to avoid fleeing the country again, so I practice self-care to get myself back on track. 

Sometimes, the people in your life might notice you’re burned out before you do. Having a good support system is vital for a lot of reasons, but this is a really important one. My partner will sometimes point out that I’ve been making a lot of negative comments about my work, which is a good sign that artistic burnout is becoming a problem for me. My friends might notice that I’ve been dropping the ball in other areas and bring it to my attention. The key to this is to work hard not to be defensive when someone brings this up with you. If someone gently points out that you’re showing signs of stress, try to be thankful that they care enough about you to bring it up, even if you’re feeling irritable or defensive. It can be hard when you don’t feel like you’re being your best self, but someone pointing out signs of artistic burnout is a gift, and you should try to treat it like that.

Practicing self care is another way to avoid burnout. By this point, I’ve been on this soapbox a million times, but I’m going to say it again. Capitalism paints a very specific picture of self-care, and that usually involves buying things. Things like skin care products, bubble bath liquid, clothes, jewelry… I’m not here to say that you shouldn’t enjoy those things (I certainly do) or even that these can’t be an element of self care. You do you, bestie! But if you’re trying to avoid burnout, self care needs to go way beyond these things. Are you going to bed at a reasonable hour? Are you eating enough, and do the things you eat make you feel good? Are you moving your body? Are you spending a million hours on your phone each day?

Here are some ways I practice self-care as a busy person with a job in the arts, plus personal creative projects:

  • I try to move my body every day, especially on days when I’m spending 8 hours in front of a computer screen. I’m disabled, so my options are limited, but I invested in a walking pad and a standing desk, and I’m walking right at this very moment! This has had a ton of benefits for me; I feel physically good, I’m more focused, I’m happier, and I sleep better when I’ve done some light exercise. If movement isn’t a part of your routine, see if you can find a way to incorporate it into your life a few times a week; sign up for a yoga class, go for a run with a friend, get your own walking pad, whatever works for you!
  • I eat foods that make me feel good. I’m never going to tell you that you should try to change your body or only eat stereotypical “healthy” foods (there’s a box of gluten free Oreos on my desk right now), but one form of self-care is paying attention to how your body feels when you eat certain things. I feel best on a high-protein diet, and I try to pay attention to my cravings for vegetables and complex carbs. Like movement, there’s no one-size fits all solution to nutrition, but it’s important to be aware of what works for you personally.
  • I start winding down for the night by 9:30 each night, and I try to be in bed with the lights out by 10:45. I know to some night owls this may seem absurdly early, and that’s okay; this is just what works for me to get enough sleep each night and wake up feeling my best in the morning. Figure out what works best for you in terms of your sleep schedule!
  • I schedule time with friends and family each week. I work with two of my favorite people, which is amazing, and I live with my partner, so I have plenty of social time, but I’ve found I get less burned out when I’m prioritizing time with my community. It’s hard when everyone has a busy schedule, but I feel my best when I’ve recently had coffee with a friend or gone on a walk with my mom. 
  • I schedule breaks as a part of my creative process. I’ve written an entire article about this, but the TLDR is that you’ll probably feel better if you take a break before burnout hits.

What if I’m experiencing burnout right now?

If you’re feeling burnt out, there are a lot of things you can do to begin feeling better. Depending on what’s going on in your life, certain things may not be accessible to you, but there are always small tweaks you can make to start recovering.

  • Take a break. Again, this isn’t possible for everyone, and I’m not telling you to flee the country like I did. But I want you to take a realistic look at your life and see what you can temporarily step back from. If you have PTO, take a day or two off and rest for a long weekend. If you’re a freelancer, see if you can afford to go a week without gigs. If you’re a parent, is it possible for someone to watch your kids for a night while you book yourself a hotel room and spend 24 hours eating room service and watching bad TV? If you’re working on a personal project that’s sapping your energy, can you set it aside for a month?
  • Reconfigure things. It may not be possible for you to quit your toxic job or take a step back from your other responsibilities, but it’s important to think about what could be different in your life. Can you talk to your boss about restructuring your workflow so that you’re less stressed at the office? Can your partner or roommate take on some of your chores for the time being? Can you tweak or alter the creative projects that just aren’t flowing?
  • Talk to a professional. I’m a huge advocate for therapy, and when you’re feeling burned out it’s really important to find someone you can confide in who isn’t going to judge you. A good therapist can help guide you to solutions that are specific to your life and situation. Another person I rely on when I’m feeling burnt out is my writing coach, who knows me well enough to help me put a plan in place. If you have a therapist, mentor, or doctor you trust, reach out to them; if not, this might be your sign to find one!
  • Think about what feeds you. This can be difficult when you’re feeling burnt out, but take some time to think about what makes you feel good and feel like your old self. Do you have any hobbies you set aside when life got busy? Any projects you shelved because they weren’t practical, but brought you joy? Have you been too busy to spend time with the people you love? Try to make time for yourself by engaging in the things that actually make you happy. I love reading, but I don’t always have time for it, so I have started listening to audiobooks during my commute. I play my favorite album when I’m in the shower in order to make that necessary part of my day feel joyful and relaxing. When I write, I make sure it’s a project that I’m excited about. What can you do to bring more joy into your life without adding a bunch of extra work and stress?
  • Go easy on yourself. You can’t be your best self when you’re burnt out, and you certainly can’t be your most creative self. Give yourself permission to rot a little bit, and don’t beat yourself up for making mistakes or letting yourself down. The kinder you are to yourself, the easier it will be to come out feeling good on the other side.

If you’re experiencing burnout, I’m sending you love. The only way out is through, and eventually things will settle down and you’ll experience less stress. Being an artist is such an emotionally vulnerable way to live your life, and you should remember that you deserve rest and care. Take care of yourself, and reach out if you need anything!

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Molly Stein-Seroussi


Molly is an author, screenwriter, blogger, and brand manager for New 32 Productions. They are passionate about sharing content that helps filmmakers live a more productive, informed, and well-balanced life. They live in North Carolina with their spouse and way too many dogs.

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