Spotting Burnout in the Creative Industries

Before I started working at a record company I had no idea that I’d be required to work such long hours. It was the great unspoken, the silent, implicit contract you make when you land an exciting job in the creative industries. All good fun at first. But you don’t earn much, you’re often out late at gigs, launches and showcase events when you’d rather be curled up at home watching Friday Night Lights on Netflix.

You can barely drag yourself out of bed in the morning due to adrenal exhaustion but you really, REALLY want to keep that job. Because let’s face it, there’s a queue of (younger, more talented/connected/energetic) people impatiently waiting behind you to dive into your empty swivel chair. Or so we think.

The record company hours were ridiculous. But, ironically, when I started my own business all bets were off. The hours I put in were nothing short of stupid (and of course there was no paid overtime). In fact, the pay cheque was not at all commensurate with the time and effort being put in. Not even close. As the boss I was in control of my hours. So why was I flogging myself to the point of illness? It definitely wasn’t for the money! 

Some stress is good, even helpful. And let’s be real. Every job has its stressors. But burnout is stress on steroids. It can creep up on you, the result of months or years of cumulative stress. Or it can result from one single major stressful event.

In my case, it was a combination of both. And it took me a while to figure out that the way I was working and my mindset about perfectionism and people pleasing were major contributing factors. 

No-one else was creating the burnout. It was my own beautiful mess. I’d gotten myself into a habit of over-delivering, sometimes doing things twice or three times before I was satisfied. Oh dear. Would my client have noticed any ‘imperfections’ the first time around? Probably not.

So what should we be looking out for?

  • Exhaustion (physical, mental, emotional)
  • Chronic stress (feeling unable to cope with even the smallest stressors)
  • Brain Fog (inability to concentrate for any length of time or focus on even the most basic tasks)
  • Chronic negative emotions including irritability, frustration, cynicism, pessimism, resentment and anger
  • Insomnia
  • Suffering frequent illnesses
  • Lack of: Motivation, excitement (the thrill has gone), productivity

What can you do to prevent burnout? Small changes can help. Consider these questions.

  • Is being ‘busy’ defining you?
  • Think honestly about your stress levels. What or who is causing them? Are your work practices contributing to your stress levels?
  • Answer this question truthfully - how much of your workload is of your own creation? Do you routinely do more than is required of you? 
  • Is perfectionism or people pleasing playing a big role in your stress levels? 
  • (Someone once told me that my 70% is like other people’s 100% - does that sound like you?)
  • Are your professional standards exacting and if so, are they serving you well?

Sometimes burnout is a result of an entrenched work culture within an organisation, where working harder not smarter is condoned.

  • Are you genuinely overloaded?
  • Is there a culture of ‘scope creep’ in your company? (more on scope creep soon)

Self-awareness is half the battle. And depending on the answers to these questions you might need to re-think the way you approach your work or seek advice in how to manage stress and practice self-care.

Burnout is real but people rarely see it coming. And it’s a slippery slope. Usually by the time we hit burnout stage, we are seriously depleted physically and mentally. And once we’re at that stage, it’s not like a head cold that will disappear quickly. Burnout requires making serious changes and a real commitment to get back to your motivated, balanced and happy pre-burnout state. But it is possible.

Stay tuned for burnout prevention strategies next time.

Thanks for reading..

Coach Viv