Thursday, July 30, 2020

7 Ways to Deal With Burnout

By Bethany Henry

Part of The Writer's Life Series

JH: Burnout is a bigger problem now than ever. Bethany Henry shares tips on how to overcome and prevent these stressful times.

Bethany Henry writes fantasy novels and blogs about writing and wellness at When not writing, she can often be found on the frisbee field, drinking tea, or reading picture books with her two little girls. Sign up for her email list for weekly posts on writing craft- along with fun extras like quotes and freebies.

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Take it away Bethany...

With life stressors, upended routines, and endless news stories surrounding us these days, self-care is more important than ever. Burnout can seem to strike faster, harder, and without warning.

Burnout is when we don’t have anything left in us for our writing. This can look like frustration, loss of focus, lack of motivation or interest, depression, anger, or any number of negative symptoms. It’s more complex and ongoing than a simple “writer’s block” episode or a bad day.

Burnout is often associated with chronic stress and being overworked and can be exacerbated by stressors outside of our writing. Which is why with life being extra uncertain these days we want to be extra aware and proactive about our mental well being!

(Here's more on Writing Through Difficult Times)

Preventing Burnout

This sounds simple, but by far the best way to deal with burnouts is to prevent them before they strike.

Practicing ongoing self-care strategies is helpful for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Knowing our own personal mental health struggles and warning signs can help us track our own wellness.

(Here's more on Wellness for Writers (with Worksheet))

Besides prevention, what do we do if we feel we’ve hit a wall, are burned out, or are getting awful close?

7 Ways to Deal with Burnout

1. Identify Our Personal Mental Wellness Levels

An important first step is to identify where we are and be honest with ourselves re: our mental health. Are we doing great? Are we in a pre-burnout stage, an early burnout, been feeling terrible for a while, or in crisis mode?
Note: If you feel like you may be in crisis, please reach out for help right away especially if there may be a danger to yourself or others. There are professionals who are experienced dealing with these issues. You are not alone.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Live Online Chat
Identifying where we are at with our mental health can give us a starting point for determining how to be well.

Be honest about how your mental health is at this moment. 

2. Take a Break

Taking a break from our writing (or from other responsibilities) isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it’s the healthiest and best thing we can do in the long run.

Whether it’s taking a day off, a month off, or even longer- there is nothing wrong with taking a break.

Rest is important, both physical and mental.

It doesn’t mean we’re quitting our writing forever or that we’re never going to create anything again. It means we recognize that we need a break and so we are taking time to be healthy again.

Use the time to take a nap, get outside, or engage in activities that make you feel good. (Aka self-care activities.) Drink some water. Treat yourself well and let yourself enjoy it.

This is good for us, body and soul.

Take 15 minutes and rest today.

(Here's more on It’s Okay to Take a Break From Writing)

3. Do Something New

Sometimes our burnout is linked with a particular project. By setting that project aside and doing something new we may be able to find fulfillment and enjoyment in our work, which can help break the hold of a burnout.

This may look like experimenting with a totally different creative outlet, such as taking up painting or an instrument. Or it may mean writing poetry or essays instead of fiction.

Doing something new gives us the chance to create without the stress of a particular project and can spark inspiration and new ideas.

Pick a new activity to try this week. 

4. Do Less

Sometimes big goals are important and we need to push ourselves toward deadlines and to finish projects.

Bethany Henry
But sometimes when life is hard (and especially when burnout is close or already upon us) we need to let the big goals go. We need to reevaluate where we’re at and lower the bar for ourselves.

We need to give ourselves permission to do less.

Not always and not forever, but for a time.

Setting tiny goals for ourselves can give us little bite-sized pieces to work on each day. Five minutes of writing. 10 minutes of research. Write the title of your project at the top of the page.

Whatever the tasks are, they can be tiny. And that’s okay.

These token amounts of work are important.

They keep us writing and working- which gives us the semblance of routine, keeps us thinking about our creativity, and gives us a little boost of productivity when we check it off our list. And even these token amounts will add up over time!

We shouldn’t feel guilt over not always having big goals. Giving ourselves permission to move slowly helps us to stay healthy and to keep moving forward over the long haul.

Give yourself permission to set smaller goals as needed. 

(Here's more on 10 Strategies for When We Can’t Write)

5. Reach Out

Writing (and life) should not be a completely solo activity, no matter how introverted we may be. Having someone else to share our ups and downs with can make the low points more bearable and the successes even better.

When we’re struggling or experiencing burnout, sometimes the last thing we want to do is reach out to other people. We want to hibernate and lick our wounds. We don’t want to admit everything isn’t hunky-dory.

However, this is when being connected with other people is vital.

Whether it’s joining an online group or calling a friend once a week, being in contact with others can help us feel less overwhelmed. They can remind us to care for ourselves and that we’re not going through this alone.

Identify someone you find encouraging who may be a good support and contact them this week.

(Here's more on The Benefits of Writerly Camaraderie)

6. Know This Will Pass

Burnouts and hard times don’t last forever.

We have difficult seasons in our lives- but seasons change and are followed by better times.

Sometimes when we’re struggling it can be easy to think that things will always be hard, that there is no hope of anything changing. This is demoralizing.

But there is hope. We can cling to the truth that improvement is possible, and we can fight for that.

Remind yourself today that there is hope.

(Here's more on Writing with Grace Through all Seasons)

7. Remember Priorities

It’s important to take time to review our priorities. Why do we write? Why do we do anything at all? What motivates us?

One of our priorities and values should include ourselves and our own self-care.

These are important truths to remember, especially when we are struggling.

You are valuable, dear writer. You are worth caring for.

Reflect on what motivates you.
Remind yourself that you are precious and worth caring for.

(Here's more on The Hidden Risks of Emotional Burnouts)

Burnouts are hard and exhausting, yet they can be overcome.

Practicing self-love and self-care helps nurture our physical and creative selves so that we can break out of burnout and rise even stronger then before.

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