Artist burnout is an ever-present specter, hovering over our busy, productivity-driven lives just waiting to pounce and drain us of motivation. But, the worst part is, it’s sneaky. Often we don’t see it coming until it’s already there, waltzing into our lives, inviting its good friends, depression and anxiety, to come crash indefinitely in our brains.
Burnout can be a very real threat. It can wreak havoc on mental health and physical wellbeing and bring artistic projects to a screeching halt, if not prevent them from starting entirely. But how do you slay such a dragon? Below are a few weapons with which to arm yourself before battle.
1. Know Your Enemy.
Burnout can look different for different people. You can’t stop something you don’t recognize. Think back to times when you know you hit a place of burnout. What does it feel like? What are the patterns of behavior you can recognize? Equally important, what were the signs leading up to burnout that you could look out for in the future? Knowing your personal tells of stress and exhaustion can help make you more aware in the future. If you can learn to recognize these signs and listen to them, you can take steps to rest, nourish and replenish before it’s too late.
2. Check in With Yourself.
When you’re in the thick of it, it can be tough to recognize warning signs. The best way to make sure you’re keeping tabs on burnout is to get into a routine of checking in with yourself. Plan regular self-care rituals, even if they’re very small. A bit of journaling, or a weekly bath, a few minutes of meditation in the mornings… making a habit of checking in with yourself (and taking care of yourself) can help you spot burnout before it becomes overwhelming.
3. Make Sure You’re Refueling the Tank.
I once had a friend pass along a metaphor that compared artists to sponges. Once we’ve wrung out our artistic output, we need to soak some art back up. We can’t always be producing without feeding our inspiration. Make sure you’re making time to absorb the kind of work that feeds your soul. Get out and appreciate your artistic community. Make sure you’re fueling yourself as an artist and not just constantly emptying the tank.
4. Celebrate Your Wins.
I am so bad at this one, but it is honestly so important. We must be aware of the messages we’re sending ourselves about our art. If we are constantly telling ourselves nothing we do or produce is good enough, if we let our victories go unappreciated, we’re internalizing the message that the effort isn’t worth it. Motivation doesn’t just come into being, it must be cultivated and nurtured. Try to be aware of the way you talk to yourself about your craft. Constant criticism is like tinder for the burnout fire. Holding yourself accountable is a good thing, but make sure you’re celebrating your wins along the way.
5. Invest in a Support Network.
A community of support is so important. No one can weather this industry all alone. Invest in friendships, colleagues and connections to your community that can support you when you’re feeling insecure and unmotivated. Having a strong network to lean on is vital to staving off burnout. Plus, helping friends avoid burnout might give you some insight into your own.
Sometimes, despite our best efforts, burnout is going to hit. Don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s a signal from your body that you need to slow down, care for yourself, refuel. Pushing through it is only delaying the inevitable. So, if you can’t avoid it, take your preventative measures and make them reactive. American society tends to treat its workers like machines and the acting industry is no exception. We must be vigilant and militant in our insistence on the right to function as humans. Humans need rest. Humans need recovery. Humans need patience and compassion. Be proactive about giving yourself these things. Remember that you’re building a lifelong career. It’s so easy to become hyper-focused on just getting through the next thing, and the next, until you’ve completely forgotten to breathe and live along the way. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve done this. It is unreasonable to expect great art if you don’t take care of the artist. Treat yourself with the care you deserve!