Burn Out!! And how to deal.
It was only late last year that I had to admit to myself that I was burned out. It was my PhD classmate, creative director Chitchat Diangson, who pointed it out to me. First she pointed it out, then she followed it up with, “Oh, my gawd, that’s bad!” Plus a complete description of what happens when a creative director burns out.
After that conversation, I handed in my resignation from my Assistant Director position at Asia Pacific College and opted to just work as a part-time professor. Thing is, I should have seen it coming. I was juggling a full-time management job, a teaching job AND studying PhD. (I also sometimes take writing projects, though I’ve declined lots of design projects.) It was bound to happen, even if people echoed the president’s exasperation: “I was a full-time student when I took my PhD! And you’re taking 9 PhD units per term?? What are you, superwoman?”
But that’s me. I think I’m old enough to know how to handle self-inflicted stress.
I’m looking at our students now and I see more wrinkles, more dark circles, gaunt complexions (which no amount of concealers can veil) and worse…temperamental outbursts. When they say I blend in with the students, I don’t think it means I look young. I think it means our students look old. Many of them are not aware that they are burning out for two reasons: (1) lack of time management, which results in inept cramming (like I mentioned before, there’s such a thing as cramming fabulously) and (2) they piled too much on their plates when they actually have the option of saying “no”.
I’m talking to the working students here. Many just accept projects while overestimating what their bodies and minds can handle. If you really have to make money, cut down on your academic load. That’s the choice you have to make, if you don’t want to spend all that money on hospital bills.
Burning out does not happen overnight or in a span of months. It takes years of physical and mental abuse. In my case, it took two years. Some people have lesser energy to expend, yet expend they still do. Here’s the biggest kicker: You don’t know that you’re burning out until you’ve actually hit that final point: You have no ideas, cannot produce quality output, are perpetually cranky, are getting sick in ways you’ve never been, and you blame mental/writer’s/artist’s block.
The good news is, it can be avoided. Here are a few tips I got from a couple of friends.
- Take a day off and do absolutely nothing. (This doesn’t work for me anymore, even if I take three days off. That’s how badly burnt out I am. Don’t let yourself get to this point.)
- Go to the biggest bookstore you can find. That would be Kinokuniya in Singapore and Fully Booked (Bonifacio High Street) in the Philippines. Browse through art books.
- Go to record bars and look at CD covers.
- Unplug yourself. If you can take a long week off, look for a place where technology can’t reach you. Many people don’t realize that the internet is a huge source of stress, especially social networking sites.
- Exercise. Yes, you need to get those endorphins flowing.
- Eat a balanced diet. Munching on the wrong food (even if you feel that you’re getting comfort from it) actually worsens your fatigue.
- Balance your brain load. If you’re regularly doing art, find something left-brained to do. If you’re stuck on a desk job, crunching numbers (and other logical things), try delving into right-brained activities like music, literature, etc. One of the things I did when I was still in the corporate rat race was to buy myself a jumbo coloring book. Believe it or not, I would fall into a meditative trance every time I worked on a page…
- Indulge your other senses. Most jobs require your hands and eyes. Try pampering your sense of smell and hearing to counter the work load.
- Curl up in bed with a good book. If literature doesn’t interest you, then go for graphic novels.
- I know people say that gossip is bad, but sometimes, talking about the misery of other people can help you understand that you’re not alone. LOL. (Especially when you’re the type who has difficulty talking about what’s ailing you.) You’d be surprised at how you sometimes get a different perspective from other people’s lives. (If you really can’t stand gossip, then go read in-depth biographies of historical figures. It’s nearly the same thing.)
Here are a hundred other tips, by an artist blogger. My colleague, Angelo Magno gave me the link when he heard I was despairing over creative block.