Burnout. Burnout has a way of sneaking into your creative process without warning. We’re even talking now about how millennials are the burnout generation. It’s not always a screaming match, where you throw a stapler across the room and quit your job. It’s often more subtle than that.
Burnout occurs when the reward for what we do is less than the effort we put into it. Creators and creative business people are particularly susceptible to burnout because the reward is always changing, says Patreon creator and licensed therapist Kati Morton.
At the heart of burnout, it’s the relationship between reward versus effort. Reward isn’t always money — maybe you helped someone and it felt good, or your work gives you the freedom to do what you want, where you want. Or maybe it simply gives you the security you seek to pay your bills. Folks in other professions can relate; teachers and nurses may fall under these categories where money doesn’t equal high reward, but their passion does.
Still, if you’re working all of these hours and you get no engagement as a creator, you can feel burnt out, says Morton. “We have to create no matter what.” Creators continue making content through a cold and even if they’re on vacation; Morton says she’s guilty of that as well. “The fact that we have to create no matter how we're feeling or what we're doing, I think that that makes us the most susceptible to this,” she says.
Other factors that cause creators to be more vulnerable to burnout:
- Constant focus on numbers/analytics
- Lack of boundaries because the internet never sleeps
- Instant criticism/overwhelming amounts of interaction
- Evolving digital landscape (different rules, shuttered apps, algorithms, etc.)
Are you constantly fatigued and easily irritable even if you got a full night’s sleep? Do you resent your patrons/fans? You may have burnout.
In this 1-hour video of her workshop from PatreCon 2018, Kati offers insights into what burnout is, the symptoms you should look out for (it isn’t always what you think it is!), and how to find the balance between effort and reward.
We gathered up the top 13 insights you need to know about identifying and dealing with burnout as a creator.
Burnout starts in the brain. It’s not you, it's not that you’re crazy or spiraling out of control. If you feel a little anxious, irritable or agitated, you can rest easy (easier?) because something’s happening in your brain. Burnout enlarges the amygdala, the part of your brain that’s responsible for emotional reactions and increasing moodiness. It’s also what causes your “fight or flight” reaction when startled. Burnout makes it larger than it needs to be so it could get triggered more easily and it may sound the alarm for longer than necessary.
Burnout also affects your memory and response time. When you’re stressed out for prolonged periods of time, it starts affecting the pre-frontal cortex of your brain so it’s really hard to remember a specific word, for example. It also affects your memory and attention span, making you read a paragraph over and over again. You just can’t focus. “When they look at those brains that are burnt out and they look at brains that were traumatized, they look very much the same. But the cool thing is that our brain can heal. It's really adaptive,” says Morton.
Burnout looks different on everyone. While there are several symptoms of burnout, they may not all apply to you. Take some time to think about it and start tracking your habits as we’re not often aware of burnout until it’s really bad or we can’t function. As you write down those habits, you can identify early how they affect you earlier and start creating good coping skills.
The reward may not be worth the effort — and that’s okay. If you’ve examined your workflow and despite working long hours, you’re not seeing a satisfying reward, it’s time to rethink your strategy. It’s okay to go back to the drawing board and restructure how you do things and how much effort you put behind your work.
Negative self-talk is a symptom. With a slow money month, a crisis of confidence usually comes right behind it. But it’s how you react to it that may highlight your burnout. For example, did your family ever tell you this wasn’t a real job? And do you start talking negatively about yourself every time you think about that experience? If this is the case, reconsider your reward/effort balance and pay attention to what’s triggering these negative feelings within your workflow.
Take REAL time off. Since the internet never sleeps, we as creators can fail to turn off our brains and set boundaries between work and life. It’s all mixed up. It’s important to let your brain recharge and take a break — whether it’s a lunch break, a walk around the block or an actual vacation. Yes, this means not creating content on your self-care days. Even sleep falls under this category — without enough sleep, we don’t function at a full capacity and our brain doesn’t reset.
Find out what fills you up. Morton shares that creating and time off should be a trade-off like breathing. When we create, it’s when we exhale. In this scenario, we give our content, our passion to our patrons, as we exhale. When we do self-care and take real time off, we breathe in new air and fill ourselves up. You can’t breathe out without breathing in. Find something that feels good to you, that fills you up (AKA your breath in), and do it more.
Let go of that guilt. Just like anything else in your to-do list, self-care is a bullet point on that list. You have to get it done, there’s no way out. As your own boss, guilt quickly creeps up if you take the time to turn off your brain and do what feels good for you. It doesn’t go away immediately, but over time it eases up.
Listen to your HALT. Have you eaten today? HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired. Stop and ask yourself throughout the day — are you hungry? Are you angry? Are you lonely? Are you tired? Check yourself as your day goes on and set alarms on your phone, Apple Watch or AI personal assistant if needed to snap you out of your focus.
Know your limits. Comparison is the thief of joy and the internet is the perfect vehicle for this. Remember that we all have different limits and you can’t compare yourself to others, no matter how successful, since they’re not in the same circumstances. You don’t know what happens behind the scenes. Continue tracking your habits and moods to get to know your body and its limits.
Set boundaries with your fans. Being a creator online often sets you up for criticism from both your fans and trolls across the internet. It’s the Wild, Wild West out there. However, it’s okay to set boundaries regarding what’s okay for your fans to do and not do; it's okay to set expectations for both parties. If needed, let them know that you’re taking a few days off because you’re feeling burnt out. They’ll understand. It’s important for those boundaries to not be crossed so keep the lines of communication open with your audience and be upfront about your needs.
Keep a routine with shorter lists. Our brains can’t hold more than seven things at a time so focus your to-do list on small, achievable tasks for the day. As you cross off things on your list and you keep up with your daily schedule, you’ll feel better about accomplishing goals in a small amount of time and not get overwhelmed. This works too during the winter when SAD hits creators the hardest. Be patient as you’re learning new skills, like building muscles at the gym or learning a new language.
It may be time to grow your team. If after resetting your workflow, you’re still having issues managing your burnout, it maybe time to outsource certain tasks and build a good team. The best way to hire a manager is through word of mouth. Talk to your network and even if your preferred candidate is unavailable, they will have other contacts that will fit your brand.