I had a date with Creativity and ended up going home with Fear and Loathing: How to survive burnout.

Chefs cooking in Shibuya Tokyo
Above: Shibuya, Tokyo “I made a date with creativity and inspiration”

A few years ago I was working crazy hours, shooting six days a week, 12-14 hour days. I should have been feeling on top of the world. I was being contracted to shoot covers, billboards and promo shoots with all my dream clients. Yet something wasn’t right. I was struggling to keep up and had this constant “black mood”.

I made a date with Creativity and Inspiration. It had been a while since we’d hung out, so I invited them to dinner.

When the day of my dinner date arrived, I wasn’t feeling it. Normally it takes me two seconds to decide what to wear on a date but everything I tried on looked wrong. I was also having a bad hair day and a massive zit was camping on my left cheek, just below the large dark bags that had set up shop under my eyes.

I yawned for the 20th time that afternoon. For a moment, I contemplated crawling into bed for a nap. I’d been feeling so tired those last few weeks but I knew if I got into bed now I’d miss my date and I’d didn’t want to let Creativity and Inspiration down. They were my closest friends. I’d known them my entire life.

Overwhelm and Burnout

I was late to the restaurant. This had been happening a lot lately. I’d picked our favourite spot. We’d had so many beautiful nights there together. When I looked over at our usual table, my heart sank. Creativity and Inspiration weren’t there. Instead, I saw Overwhelm and Burnout who excitedly waved me over when they caught my eye. I put on a brave face but knew I was in for a disappointing night. These guys were energy-sucking vampires. I wanted to turn around and go home… I was so annoyed at Creativity and Inspiration for standing me up.

Dinner was a total disaster. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, Overwhelm invited invited three of their friends to join us: Mild Depression (she was so full of herself), Fear, and Loathing. What a complete bunch of A-holes!

Everyone ended up drinking too much and somehow I got stuck with the tab and ended up spending the night with Loathing.

Shibya crossing Japan
Above: Shibuya crossing, Tokyo at dawn.

The next morning I called Creativity, but it went straight to voicemail. I texted Inspiration, but didn’t receive a reply. I was confused. Why had two of my closest friends ghosted me?

Out of desperation, I called my friend Wisdom, who gave me the following advice:

To “Burn out” means you lack the physical and mental energy needed to work efficiently. This state is caused by overloading the body with too many external stress triggers like stress, lack of sleep and too large a workload. Our bodies can still function but only at about 25% capacity and for those of us in the creative industry, the first casualties are creativity and inspiration.

Nurturing creativity and inspiration

Creativity and Inspiration are fickle. If you don’t nurture these relationships, they will wither and die.

Working long hours, high stress levels, lack of sleep and exercise and a poor diet without taking regular breaks to rest and recharge are ways to guarantee you will be spending more time with Overwhelm and Burnout. These guys love to travel as the Burnout Bratpack: Tiredness, Insomnia, Depression, Anxiety, Lethargy, and Weight Gain.

The best ways to avoid the Burnout Bratpack is to protect your energy at all costs by doing some or all of the following activities everyday:

Warburton forest Victoria. 
Above: Warburton forest, Victoria.

1. Learn to say “No”

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

This is tricky at first because most of us feel obliged to say “yes” to most invitations because we are afraid of offending people. The problem with saying “yes” to everything is you end up being so overcommitted that you don’t enjoy any of them.

2. Switch your phone off and give yourself “me” time everyday.

“And now I’ll do what’s best for me” – John Green

Dedicate at least an hour or more each day to do something that you love on your own. This will help you rest and recharge. Schedule this into your diary and make it as important and regular a part of your routine as brushing your teeth, eating dinner, and sleep.

This might be going for a walk, meditating, listening to music or watching a sunset. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as this activity recharges your energy.

3. Sleep

“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.” – Thomas Dekker

One of the biggest factors that contributed to my burnout was lack of sleep. I was trying to function on 3-5 hours a night. It’s definitely possible but not sustainable. Lack of sleep and poor quality of sleep messes with your body big time.

4. Manage stress

“The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this lifetime.” – Sogyal Rinpoche

The single greatest factor in controlling my stress and happiness levels has been meditation. Yep, as woo-woo as this sounds, I start each day with 15 minutes of silent meditation. I haven’t missed a day for nearly five years.

Imagine your mind is like a washing machine filled with dirty clothes and when you wake up in the morning it’s set to “heavy duty wash” as it agitates the clothes all the dirt and debris (your thoughts) constantly circulate. Meditation simply stops the agitation and lets all the dirt and debris settle giving me a clear mind to start the day.

If I have a clear mind, free of debris, there is more space for Creativity and Inspiration to visit.

If this sounds a bit too much, then you may want to ease yourself in by going for a walk to start your day or sitting outside quietly on your own for five minutes.

The other great way to manage stress is to exercise. You don’t need to run a 10km marathon or become the next Crossfit champion. Twenty minutes of walking will do wonders for your stress levels.

5. Get organised

Write a list of everything you need to do each day, each week and each year. The simple act of writing things down really helps to solidify your goals. It’s also a really good way to organise tasks and I get a huge sense of satisfaction from crossing things off my “to do list”.

Lists can be old school like carrying a pen and paper or new-fangled and kept on your smartphone. I prefer the old school technique because there is something about physically writing stuff down that makes it feel real.

Once I started to really focus on these simple techniques, it wasn’t long before I had Creativity and Inspiration back in my life. And when I needed them, all I had to do was make the call and they would pick up.

Have you ever experienced burnout? What was your experience and what did you do to overcome it? I’d love to hear about your experience.

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