Blog: Battling Burnout

In our blog feature, we invite different contributors to write about current issues, creative practice, Dundee and much more! You can read some of the archive blogs here. For this edition, Director of Creative Dundee, Gillian Easson writes about the discussion on Burnout at the We Are Next Forum.

Burnout and the arts all too often go hand in hand – deadlines, the freelance and self-directed nature of our work, and potentially holding down multiple jobs whilst we pursue our creative practice, can be overwhelming and exhausting.

The end of the year can be a busy and difficult time of the year for many of us in this context, so we felt it was about time to share the summary of a discussion which we hosted on the session of Burnout at the We Are Next Forum in Sheffield, part of the European Creative Hubs Network.

The two sessions included over 40 individuals from all over Europe, who live and breathe these challenges daily, so inevitably we had a really interesting conversation about how to spot burnout and what we can do to support our mental wellbeing.

 

What is burnout to you?

Burnout can be the perfect storm – it can come after both your best and worst days.

Burnout takes many different forms but ultimately detrimentally impacts your emotional, physical and mental wellbeing – your body literally collapses.

Sometimes you don’t know you’ve burned out until well after it has happened.

How do you spot when you are burning out?

  • I’m addicted to working at high speed when this is happening – also replying to emails even when your out of office is on…
  • Unable to answer the question ‘Why am I doing this job/activity?’
  • The digital addiction kicks in and starts sucking you into work, at all times of the day and night.
  • I become resentful of things/people.
  • It’s a very physical reaction, my nerves go and I have panic attacks.

What are the challenges associated with Burnout for you as a creative practitioner/business?

  • We live in a culture that loves the glorification of being busy, self-care isn’t a priority.  A society which enjoys knowing that everything is great! These conditions foster unhealthy lifestyles of eating on the go, not stopping and only sharing things which are ‘great’.
  • In the cultural sector, it can be like fruit machine jackpot culture – addicted to the lifestyle of occasionally winning the funding jackpot! Being accepted and rejected continually can be an ongoing trauma.
  • There are so many channels for work to find you – I literally had to go to the forest to escape!
  • How do you show vulnerability to those beyond your close networks – funders and stakeholders who expect you to be ‘resilient’ and strong? Vulnerable people can also be confident, able and persuasive.
  • The leadership of self and others – we need to nurture a good work/life balance in colleagues as a good leader – our teams should hold each other accountable. Don’t tell employed colleagues to work one way and ignore your own advice!
  • Creative businesses don’t always have formal policies in place to encourage and protect a good work/life balance.
  • If you have no else in the team to step in and deliver if you burn out, what do you do? Maybe it’s time to change the business model? Where on the journey do you draw the line? Are we replicating irresponsible behaviour by keeping unfeasible models going?
  • Working in the festival sector, burnout is built into the model! Festival culture should be challenged – you have to be 100% on all the time, purely fuelled by adrenaline.
  • Failure is part of everyone’s story, be more open about the challenges. Vulnerability makes you more human, it makes it worse when you try to hide things. Small and kind gestures towards others and yourself make a big difference.
  • Organisational bureaucracy can put unnecessary pressure on teams – one example is a team supporting senior management well above and beyond regular work. They make snap decisions without thinking of the impacts beyond – 60% of time is spent dealing with these pressures, rather than delivery of work.
  • Doing more for less. Is this what ‘resilience’ really means, rather than independence?

 

Do you have any hacks for supporting mental wellbeing?

  • Switch off all forms of media and screens when eating your dinner each night. Have a screen curfew time.
  • Invest in a real alarm clock, rather than reaching for your phone each morning.
  • Use news feed filters to block out the noise on social media.
  • Stop phone notifications, so that your home screen isn’t covered in red unread messages.
  • Trick your brain into thinking that doing budgets and emails are ‘breaks’ from your full-time creative activities. :)
  • Support networks are really crucial. I’ve found Action Learning groups useful – where your role is to listen and be supportive, not interpret or provide solutions. Your community is part of the solution. The community protects you and wants you to be well – make your communities understand and help each other through.
  • Work 3 days, rather than 5… if you can…
  • Have two containers in your office, one with ‘good’ and the other with ‘bad’ written on them. Ask each person in your team how they feel today and get them to place a tennis ball either in good/bad, to check how the office is feeling.
  • When going on holiday, set your out of office message to say that ‘Your email has been deleted’ and ask people to contact you when you return.

What would be in your manifesto for battling burnout?

Be self aware – know your burnout triggers, don’t treat burnout as the only option. Know it’s time to take care of yourself. Find the woods to escape to, within your own home.

Get support from mentors and allies, remember your community is your biggest support network.

Keep physical – do sports or reflective activities like tai chi – don’t take devices and use this time to set your intentions for the day ahead.

Walk your dog – even if you don’t have one – get into a routine.

Remember no one will die if you don’t achieve everything you intended. Prioritise but don’t set unrealistic expectations of yourself/others and manage expectations of others as best you can.

Celebrate your achievements and create a ‘Done list’.

Celebrate your failures and remember to always find at least one positive from the situation along with the identified negative.

Speak to the people you love – schedule in specific time to phone your loved ones. Make the effort, you’ll both feel better because of it.

Take breaks and eat slowly – anything less is counter-productive.

Say no. It’s ok and knowing when to, allows pauses for other opportunities to emerge.

Go slow – create a ‘slow week’ for you and your team and stop being an adrenaline addict.

Delegate where you can and always consider how you can liberate yourself that little bit more each day.

Let others be heroes – support others, step back and ultimately give less f*cks.

Hilariously given the subject, it’s taken me over a year to share this, but we hope you find it useful and encouraging – if you have anything to add, get in touch and we can update this resource and share as we go. 

 

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