Trying to write when you're stressed out is tough no matter what your goal is. And — even better — not writing because you're stressed out just happens to stress you out even more. Burnout is something that can happen in any career. However, some careers seem to be more susceptible. Or perhaps they just attract more susceptible people? Teachers, therapists, and writers all fall under this category. In fact, back in graduate school, we had an entire class devoted to how we as therapists and psychologists could avoid burnout. That's how big of a problem it can be listening to others' problems — that's how much of a threat burnout is. And I don't believe it's any different for writers or teachers — I just think writers and teachers get less formal training about how to watch for and prevent burnout. There are things you can do to prevent getting burned out from writing, and it starts with following these tips for self-care for authors.
The Warning Signs of Burnout
Wondering if you're already starting to get burned out? Here are some of the symptoms you can look for:
- Drastic change in appetite
- Elevated reaction to stress (compared to normal behavioral habits) / increased irritability
- Unexplained headaches
- Ignoring work duties, client correspondence, and deadlines
- Fatigue / poor sleeping habits
Notice, a lot of these symptoms also happen to be the same symptoms as being under extreme stress. I'm not talking about the normal, everyday stress we all go through while we're trying to organize our thoughts or meet that deadline. I mean the extreme stress that only happens when you've been shouldering the entire world with little to no help for far too long, and without stopping to breathe (much less take care of yourself). It's an easy trap to fall into. Thankfully, there are things we can do to try to prevent it.
Change Around Your Writing Space
No, I don't mean redecorate your office every few months (although, that would definitely cheer me up!). But every few weeks, change up your writing space. Declutter and organize all those notes scribbled out on sticky notes and scrap paper. Give everything a home, put everything in its place. Reorganize what you can and you'll see how much better it feels to sit down and write every day.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Other Writers
Every time I give this piece of advice out, people tell me they know. But they don't know, because they keep doing it. Your direct competition is the writer you were yesterday. Are you writing better than you were six months ago? Can you write faster than you did last year? These are the only comparisons that you need to be making. How other writers work, how well their words flow onto their keyboards, how easy they make it all seem — none of those things matter. Not to you. When you catch yourself comparing your writing or your writing habits to those of another writer, stop and remind yourself that their progress is not your failure.
Reward Yourself for Small Accomplishments
Writers have a tendency to set big goals. Publish that book by the end of the year, write 50,000 words in a month, get recognized as a leading expert in my field…big goals. Having these big dreams is awesome, and gives us something to always strive for. But one major downside to only having big dreams and big goals is that we forget to celebrate the smaller things. Sure, you might want to get that book published by the end of the year, but does that mean you can't celebrate a little as you finish each chapter? Or pat yourself on the back as you send it off to the editor? Every goal, big or small, requires some level of devotion and discipline to accomplish. Reward yourself and appreciate the progress you've made for each step you climb on the way to your big dream.
Take a Break from the Computer
Even if all you do is take a walk out to the mailbox or sit and veg in front of the television for half an hour, get away from your computer for a few minutes every day. This can sometimes be easier said than done, especially if you have deadlines coming. But there have been plenty of days in which I sit down at the computer within twenty minutes of waking up, and before I know it, it's suppertime and I haven't even stopped to go to the bathroom. Take a break. Stretch your legs, take a shower, forget about everything you're writing and give your mind some much-needed rest.
Take a Break from Life
Sometimes, stepping away from the computer isn't enough to really give you any peace (although it can be a good start). With smartphones and watches the way they are nowadays, it's still a little too easy sometimes to get sucked right back into work. All it takes is one ill-timed email to come through, one text from a client asking for a quick answer for you to cut your break short and get right back to work. Sometimes, it's good to disconnect. Log out of all your social media accounts. Turn your phone off. Disconnect and make yourself unavailable for as long as you need.
Diet, Exercise, and Lifestyle
You might have a picture in your head of an author chain-smoking and drinking coffee from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed, but too much caffeine and sugar is not the way you want to go. Diet and exercise have a tremendous effect on your mental well-being as well as your physical well-being. Eat a well-balanced diet complete with all the vitamins and minerals you need, limit the caffeine and extra sugar, and make sure you get plenty of rest at night. Give your body and your mind the rest and fuel they need.
Stop Working and Write For Yourself
Writing as a career can sometimes be daunting. Whether you're a freelance writer serving clients or writing the next book in your series, the amount of focus and energy needed to take on such tasks can be draining both mentally and physically. You can rejuvenate your mental well-being and your writing by taking a break from your work and writing something for yourself. A poem, a short story, start a new novel, general rambling, a journal — it doesn't matter what it is as long as it's something that makes you happy just to write it and get it out of your head.
Don't Forget About Naptime
Sometimes the best feeling in the world is sprawling out over the sofa or flopping onto the bed and relaxing for an undetermined amount of time. And if you can fall asleep for an hour or two all the better. We've been conditioned to think that napping is something only for children and lazy people. But naps are necessary, and if your body is telling you it's time to take one, then start listening.
Burnout is a real phenomenon with real consequences. Trying to pull yourself back out of burnout, or trying to rediscover your passion for writing after it's been lost because of burnout, can be done but can also take a lot of time and energy. Taking simple steps to take care of yourself can help you avoid burnout and keep your writing motivation running high.