Burnout for Dummies: It’s Inevitable If You DON’T Follow These Rules


Burnout.

Is it a buzzword? Yes.

Is it still real? Also yes.

Undergrads, recent grads, and employees like the best website designers, graphic artists, and other creatives are especially prone to it.

So here’s a crash course on how burnout happens, what it feels like, and ultimately, how to prevent it.

Burnout, simply put, is the consequence of long-building, untreated stress. It is physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion.

In the workplace, burnout has always been around. But as wages fail to keep up with inflation (especially for current undergrads or recent grads), creative work isn’t as valued as other equally necessary jobs, and technology allows more and more people to work remotely (where there’s no “coming home” and disconnecting from the office), burnout has been getting a leg up on employees. And even though awareness of the issue is rising and it’s being taken more seriously by employers, working individuals are still at great risk.

What does burnout feel like?

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of sleep or too much sleeping
  • Anxiety / Inability to disconnect from your job, e.g. dreaming about designs or stressing about assignments when not at work
  • “Monday dread”
  • Brain fog, e.g. losing your logo inspiration or creative energy
  • Anger or other emotion-management issues
  • Feeling a loss of control in any and all aspects of your life
  • Being short with your colleagues or friends
  • Self-critical inner monologues (“Why can’t I just get everything done like I’m supposed to?”)
  • Ever-increasing, chronic stress

On top of these symptoms, burnout intertwines with other aspects of your life, creating more unfortunate symptoms and a potentially uncontrollable spiral.

The “Inevitable” Burnout Spiral

Due to any of the symptoms above, you may, for example, start spending less time on your meals. As you dedicate more time, resources, and/or energy to your job(s), you become unhealthier in your eating habits by skipping lunch or doing something quick for dinners like fast food or ramen. Work hours overtake your gym time. Texts from your boss interfere with sleep. Deadline anxiety screws with your focus.

Quickly, burnout can expand and negatively impact all areas of your life including meals, exercise, sleep, recharge/self-care time, time with friends/family, and even your drive to do cool things outside of work like win web design awards to enter creative competitions. It’s no reason the slow, creeping effects of burnout seem to be able to take over your whole life, not just your job.

How can you fight impending burnout?

Well here’s the deal. You can either let burnout run its cycle all over you — building up and up and up, causing an eventual breakdown of some sort (especially if mixed in with mental health issues) until you’re forced to take several unplanned days off to recuperate and rethink your schedule. This is often preceded by “powering through,” doing all-nighters, and a whole lot of “get it done at any cost” mentality.

But here’s the better way.

No employer wants burnt out employees. Burnout for them, even at the most superficial level, means low morale and low productivity.

Even if you don’t think they care about your mental health, your life beyond the office, your passions, or your worth outside of their workplace, they do care about making sure you’re able to do your best for them. And if they don’t, it might be best to find a healthier job before you burn out again and again and get fired. Don’t fret though, every employer must also eventually learn how they’re contributing to burnout, and they’ll start to pay more attention when they have high turnover rates.

While some bosses (or freelance clients or professors) are more aware of burnout risks than others, you regardless have the opportunity to prevent burnout altogether. Instead of seeing it as inevitable: take a mental health day when you START to need one, not when you need a whole week desperately and feel bad about taking it last minute. You can also get better at saying no to things asked of you, including to your boss.

An employer wants the best work from their employees consistently. They should want an employee that knows their limits, will take a break when they need one, and be back consistently doing what they do best. NOT– an employee that can’t decline a project and suddenly needs a week off because of chronic stress, lack of sleep, and a cold because they haven’t been nourishing their body properly for the last year.

Speaking Up & Being Real

At Rock Candy Media Ad Agency in ATX, we understand that not everyone has the benefit of a boss that understands burnout and/or mental health days. That’s one of the reasons we created our creative competition to find and acknowledge people doing awesome things even when things like pay and job logistics get in the way. It’s a competition to bring out raw talent, and that’s it.

To continue doing what you do best, coming up with the best websites, the coolest logo ideas, the most ingenious web design trends, the most groundbreaking articles, or the best whatever-it-is-you-do, you must learn to speak up for yourself and your mental health. Be real with how you’re doing given recent workloads and explain how a single mental health day now can prevent full burnout for you later. Learn and relay that you know how to consistently do your most dedicated work, and that includes taking care of yourself when work stress expands to other areas of your life. If your boss wants 100% from you, they must accept the fact that “100%” requires recharging.

Burnout is not an excuse for doing your job poorly, so learn to NEVER HIT burnout by keeping chronic stress and exhaustion from building up in the first place.

Burnout is not a newfangled term for a newfangled anomaly.

Burnout is and always has been a constant risk for working people. It’s a slow and creeping cultural event that many employees don’t know how to deal with. But it’s not inevitable. In summary:

  • Listen to your body
  • Know your productive hours in the day (do you get more done 7am-noon or 5pm-midnight? Take advantage of your brain’s natural activity)
  • Know what aspects of your job are energy-drainers vs energy-boosters
  • Ask for things that help keep burnout in check – like adjusted hours, off-hour communication limits, or an improved workspace (it can be as simple as getting a standing desk or plants or free coffee)
  • Be realistic with turnaround estimates
  • Speak up for yourself and your health– your worth is not determined by your constant perceived productivity (and in fact, your success with projects will come easier if you are more consistently at the top of your game, AKA not fatigued)

Take it from one creative to another: Keep doing what you do best, win awards for it, be real with your employer, learn about your stress habits, take preventative measures (not disaster cleanup measures), and you’ll be able to kick burnout’s ass before it kicks yours.

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