Around this time of year, I start to feel out of sorts – snapping at my partner for leaving his clothes on the floor (whereas for the rest of the year I just blithely ignore it), feeling so weary I long to fall into bed at 6pm, wanting the whole world to go away and stop making demands on me. My own behaviour is a mystery to me and I can’t work out why I’m feeling like this, then a few days into December, I remember – oh yeah, it’s end of year burnout again.
Interestingly, when I Googled ‘end of year burnout,’ most of the articles I found were about end of school year burnout for teachers. Some were about workplace burnout but I only found one article that acknowledged that burnout can affect people who aren’t teachers or employed in a high stress job.
Even Googling just ‘burnout’ produced mostly employment based articles, although there were a couple with a more holistic approach. Even Wikipedia defines it as a ‘psychological term that refers to long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in work.’
While I do have part-time employment which can be stressful at times, it is definitely not this alone which causes my burnout – it’s everything else as well. It’s the juggling act of employment, my creative writing, family and social/community commitments. I think it’s interesting that it always happens to me at the end of the year – it’s as if I’ve been able to keep all the balls in the air for most of the year, then because I can see the Christmas break and a well-earned rest coming up, I just drop them all in anticipation. It’s a similar feeling to when you’ve made the decision to quit your job or a relationship – you just want to get out then and there, and every minute you have to hang around makes you want to tear your hair out.
End of year burnout is obviously an understudied phenomenon and if those organisations that funded the research showing that toast always falls on the buttered side, or that listening to elevator music may help prevent the common cold would throw some dollars my way, I’d be happy to do it myself. Until that happens I’ll have to take a few educated guesses.
As burnout is often about long term stress, external or internal (and I admit some of mine is self-inflicted from setting goals, usually writing-related, that I’m not able to reach), the obvious answer to is de-stress more regularly during the year so it doesn’t build up. And I’ll be the first to admit, I fall down badly on that one.
As a creative introvert, I need regular time alone away from the computer to recharge my batteries, preferably out in nature like walking along the beach. But I rarely do it. Julia Cameron, in her inspirational book The Artist’s Way, calls it the artist date.
The idea is to take time out from your usual routine, at least once a week, to fill your creative well by going somewhere or doing something, by yourself, that interests you, stimulates you or relaxes you. Even though you might not be aware of it, your subconscious is chugging away quietly in the background, and on the odd occasion that I’ve taken myself on an artist date, I’ve not only felt refreshed and energised afterwards, but have come away with some new ideas or inspiration for my writing.
Another solution is to pare down my social/community commitments, which is easier said than done, as when I commit myself to something I don’t like to back out and let others down. But this is something I will definitely be working on next year. I think we writers, if we’re serious about our craft and want to have any sort of regular output, need to be selfish – after our employment (a necessity unless you’re John Grisham or the heir to a small, but wealthy European principality) and family, our writing should take top priority.
In fact, if we’re honest, sometimes our families take a back seat as well. Though hopefully not to the extent of James Joyce, who forced his wife and children to live in abject poverty for 17 years while he wrote Finnegan’s Wake, which was universally reviled and made him very little money. Could Mrs Joyce win the award for the most patient woman in history?
In his blog post When Your Plate is Too Full, Leo Babauta advises you to pare your life down to two main areas of focus. He says, ‘I’ve found that you can do two things well, and one thing really well. With two focuses, you won’t be as concentrated, won’t learn as deeply, but it’s doable. With three or four focuses, you won’t do anything well or learn anything deeply or serve anyone exceptionally.’
When I first read it, I thought, ‘Really? Only two things?’ I have four main focuses at present, but I know plenty of people who think it perfectly normal to have half a dozen. But the more I thought about Leo’s assertion, the more I realised he’s right. There’s no doubt that the pace of modern living is frenetic and we’re trying to jam-pack much more into our lives than any previous generation did. Maybe that’s why we as a society are so tired and stressed; we’re in permanent burnout.
I can feel a New Year resolution or two coming on, which at least brings a note of hope and optimism. But if one more sales assistant wearing reindeer antlers cheerily asks me,’ Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?’ I’ll strangle them with a piece of Christmas tinsel.
How about you? Have you experienced burnout? Any tips or suggestions?
Robin Storey is an Australian author from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. She is a certified book nerd and has no weird hobbies or unusual pets.