Creatives often find it hard to know when to take a break. Thanks to fast-paced digital media we’re conditioned to believe that we’re not doing enough if we’re not working our socks off 24/7. We’re prone to comparing ourselves to others who seem more successful, productive and happy. But even those people need breaks from time to time, and chances are they’re successful and productive because they know when to give themselves a rest. Breaks are important for a number of good reasons and burnout is real. If left unchecked, it can be dangerous to our mental and physical health.
I took a big break from work and social media over the last couple of weeks. I had to step away and allow myself to unwind, remember that relaxing is good and catch up with a few things I wasn’t able to do while working on my business and building my social profiles. I’m making this a regular pattern going forward; as soon as I notice the signs, I’ll step back. And I’m OK with that.
But I wasn’t always OK with it and it has taken me time to understand that it’s perfectly healthy to stop working, stop being socially present online, and understand that my world will not collapse as a result (in fact, it should result in me coming back more energised, productive and focused!).
Below you will find five reasons to take a break, plus a few ways to spot early signs that you might need to take a step back.
Five Reasons to Take A Break
Perspective: Stepping away from something gives you the space and time to refresh, recuperate and look at your projects / life objectively. Sometimes you’re in so deep that you can’t see the areas that need work. Distance can give you perspective. When you come back with a fresh mind you’re better equipped to detect problems (and fix them).
Mental and Physical Health: One common side effect of burnout is higher stress levels. Stress impacts people mentally and physically and manifests differently from person to person. By taking a break, you’re giving yourself time to recharge and figure out ways to manage feelings of stress or anxiety. The NHS has a page about stress which includes ways to manage it, but there are many other online resources as well as local groups, therapists and activities that can help (you will need to research to find out what’s available in your area).
Catch Up: Breaks give you the opportunity to catch up on sleep, on other activities and hobbies, plus time to catch up with friends and family. Most of us have long lists of movies, books, foods, hobbies and travel plans that we never get around to because there is always something else we think we should be doing. But you have to give yourself time to enjoy the other areas of life. Otherwise, what is the point of working so hard?
Personal Development: Taking a break can also afford you the time to take stock and work on any areas where you feel there are gaps. This could be anything, from taking a course to learn something new, or simply reading a book that’s been waiting on your shelf for ages.
Mindfulness: Stepping back can give you a chance to find inner and outer peace. Creatives rarely have nothing going on, and many of us work day jobs alongside our side hustles. Add to the mix social media and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. As rich and vibrant and diverse as the online community is, it can also be incredibly fast-paced and noisy. Sometimes you need to shut out the noise and reconnect with your own thoughts.
Signs You Need to Step Back
It’s so important that you listen to yourself and your inner rhythms. Often it will try to give you a warning that you might be on a spiral toward burnout. Believe me, I know how hard it can be to let go of control and admit you need to rest and recuperate—I struggle with it too. But I am a big believer in trusting your gut and if your own body is giving you neon signs that you should step back, you should probably at least consider your options.
Here are a few ways you can tell that you might need to take a break.
- Feeling overwhelmed by everything, even small tasks that normally would not bother you.
- Inability to think through problems or view issues with a calm mind.
- Inability to create / complete what you’re working on.
- Excessive tiredness. This includes not being able to sleep or switch off, and still feeling exhausted even after sleeping.
- Anxiety creeping into other areas of life. This includes not being able to deal with things outside of what you’re working on (e.g. relationships, day to day activities).
- Inefficiency. You work harder and harder but the results do not improve. You find yourself missing things, forgetting things, or not putting out the level of work you want to achieve.
- Irritability. You find yourself snipping at people and everything annoys you.
- Loneliness. You spend a lot of your time trying to push through the stress and mental block. This results in you losing touch with others and feeling adrift.
- Getting out of bed is hard and you’re no longer interested in anything, but you don’t know why. These feelings are similar to depression and could be caused by burnout.
Hopefully this post will help you identify signs of burnout and offer a few ways to tackle it. But bear in mind that what works for me might not work for everyone, and this is by no means a guarantee of a magic fix. Our mileages vary, as do our experiences and circumstances. My best advice is to reach out and talk to somebody you trust.
I noticed after a couple of weeks off that I started to feel excited about my business and social media. I began mentally planning what I wanted to work on next and I was keen to get back into it. These were all clear signs that I was ready to return.
Always trust your gut. 😊
Check out these related articles: