8 Signs You Have Creative Burnout — And It’s Affecting Your Mental Health

by Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro
Oli Scarff/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Even the most successful of authors get writer's block; talented artists can't seem to pick up their paint brush; and unique musicians keep strumming the same old tunes. Creative burnout can happen to all of us, even those who consider themselves naturally creative people: It's normal for your creativity to ebb and flow — especially depending on factors like your stress level, sleep and work, as well as whatever else may be going on in your life.

The challenge is, of course, not just figuring out how to get your creative spark back, but realizing you may have lost it in the first place. When life bogs you down with responsibilities, it's easy to lose touch with the part of your mind that thrives from creating and working on new exciting projects.

However, as Medical News Today reported, exercising your brain's creative muscles can play a big role in your maintaining your mental health. In fact, expressing yourself creatively can help you overcome trauma, improve your emotional wellbeing, and improve cognitive function. So, if you can help it, don't let your creative process fall to the wayside. Here are eight symptoms of creative burnout to look out for, and what you can do about it.


You're Doubting Yourself

One sign you need to revamp your creative process is that you're constantly down on yourself. "You might be experiencing self-doubt, or be worrying about what other people think about the work you produce [if you're in a creative rut]," Dr. Patricia Gerbarg, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College, and the co-author of The Healing Power of the Breath, tells Bustle.

If self-doubt is the reason behind your lack of imagination, you may need to spend some time focusing on developing skills that boost your confidence.


You're Being A Perfectionist

Matt Lundquist, LCSW, a psychotherapist and director of Tribeca Therapy in NYC, explains that "being hard on yourself, moralizing, and being down on your work" can all hamper the creative process. Perfectionist tendencies, such as constantly judging yourself not only hurts your creativity, but is also toxic to your mental health overall. If you can't stop criticizing your own creative process, it may be a tell-tale sign you need to revive your creative spark.


You're In "Defensive Mode"

"You need to do a self-assessment to identify where you are, and what might be affecting you. Are you in the 'green zone' or a 'defensive mode'? When you’re stressed, your body goes into a defensive mode. And, when you’re in a defensive mode, it cramps your creative flow and emotions," explains Dr. Gerbarg. "The green zone is the mental state where you feel safe and confident. In this zone, you have the confidence to work out problems, and are open to creativity and taking risks."

In order to address defensiveness and let go of stress, so your creativity is uninhibited, Dr. Gerbarg says, "Specific breathing techniques can rapidly reduce the sense of defensiveness and strengthen the part of the nervous system that puts us into the green zone. Using techniques, such as coherent breathing where you focus on four to six breaths per minute, helps to restore balance."


You're Feeling Stuck In Other Areas Of Your Life

"Humans get in all kinds of creative ruts," explains Lundquist. "I've found in working with artists, and other creative professionals, that their creativity in their vocational life mirrors that in other parts of their lives, and vice versa. If they're stuck in art-making, they are likely stuck elsewhere."

So, ask yourself where else in your life — whether it be at work or in your relationships — you are feeling stuck. Once you can identify what's lacking, Lundquist says, "if [mental health professionals] can help someone get unstuck in one area, we can help them get unstuck everywhere." Or, you can try to develop new habits at-home that keeps the energy flowing in every aspect of your life — including when it comes to your creativity.


You Feel Physical Symptoms Of Stress

Anyone who lives with a physical health condition can vouch that chronic pain can cause intense brain fog (aka, mental fatigue), and interrupt your ability to think clearly and create. Dr. Gerbarg tells Bustle a clear-cut sign you need to respark your creativity is when you are regularly experiencing the physical symptoms of stress, including "headaches, stomach aches, muscle or back pain."

Luckily, studies have found that simply walking can give you a creative boost, and it can relieve physical symptoms of stress — making it an effective way to beat a creative block caused by stress.


You Don't Enjoy Art Anymore

If you are not in a creative headspace, Lundquist says you'll probably be less likely to appreciate the art that you make, as well as the creative work of others. A lack of interest in the arts may be your cue find new ways to boost your own creativity.

"Engage other people in the creative task," suggests Lundquist. "We have this myth that creativity is this explosion of some inner, self-generating new wonderfulness we do all on our own. But, creativity is much more social than that."


You're Tempermental

Both Dr. Gerbarg and Lundquist agree that another sign your innovative process is at a low point are feelings of irritability, and anger. However, as Scientific American reported, some studies have found feeling angry can lead to "brainstorming in a more unstructured manner, consistent with 'creative' problem solving." All-in-all, anger can be a tool to bolster creative thinking, but only if you know how harness those feelings to work in favor of your imagination.


You Simply Have A Classic Creative Block

Almost every famous writer at some point has detailed the detrimental effects of writer's block. It's typically the most obvious sign that your creative process has gone stale. While it may be tempting to do everything in your power to get push through the block, Lundquist explains, "Sometimes some of the very things we do to try to get unstuck perpetuate the 'stuckness.' We try to force it, cut ourselves off from other people and other tasks, try to tough it out, will ourselves out of it. That often makes things worse."

In the end, Dr. Gerbarg says that "everyone is different, and brings their own individual issues and history," which can affect creativity in unique ways. If you can pinpoint the signs you have creative burnout and why, rekindling your creativity will be easier than ever before.