Tips + Techniques

3 Ways for Creative People to Kick Emotional Burnout

February 1, 2019

By Daryna Barykina

© Daryna Barykina

A self-portrait series with a subtle message: "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." Green vines, with its own ecosystem, symbolize purity and growth, so whatever we put out and whatever we take in should be positive and nurturing for both ourselves and others.

Nowadays in the photo industry—with such wild competition in a market overflowing with professionals, as people on social media portray themselves as perpetually successful and happy—it is extremely hard not to put extra pressure on ourselves. Creative people seem especially prone to going down the rabbit hole of comparison, setting unrealistic goals that lead to burnout.

Burnout is not something we like to talk about; we tend to hide our weaknesses not only from the outside world but from ourselves. We shame ourselves for not being able to get out of bed in the morning when there is always so much to do: retouching a batch of images, sending out estimates and contracts, updating the website, working on marketing campaigns, following up with potential clients, maintaining relationships with sponsors, then remembering to communicate with friends, be present for our family, go to the gym, eat clean, read books, continue learning… It’s anxiety-provoking just thinking about it!

An extra emotional toll comes with not being able to separate our work from ourselves. A product of our imagination and brainwork, our work can feel like our children sometimes, which is why comparing ourselves to others is so traumatic as we question our worth and our talent.

Not so long ago I had burnout, and it lasted for about a year (it was my lesson of 2018). I had to make myself put in any effort to building my photography career. I felt indifferent—nothing about it made me excited, and I was questioning whether I had made the right career choice. Intuitively I was looking for a hobby, a different medium that would help take my attention off of photography. Makeup was doing that for me for a bit, but I was still spending my time capturing different looks and I felt a lot of pressure to create something beautiful within a new medium that I felt I barely knew. I had fear of missing out (so I could not stop shooting) and fear of wasting my time (so that the makeup looks I was creating had to be good). I was setting myself up for failure, in a way, and very quickly, all of this exhausted me even more.

Then, I read a phrase that went something like this: “All good things lie on the other side of fear.”

“See no evil.”

Facing Your Fear

One of my biggest fears was public speaking. I’ve always wanted to record photography tutorials and do voiceovers for my videos, but somehow, fear always paralyzed me. I knew this fear held me back from so many opportunities that I could be getting if I could confidently speak publicly. I thought about all of the requests and questions that I would get from hairdressers about photography—I work with them a lot due to my current focus in photography on hair—so I decided it would be easier to address and answer them publicly.

I pitched Cosmoprof an idea that would put me in one of their hair shows (hosted around the U.S., with classes taught by hairdressers, business and social media consultants and other pros in the beauty industry). My idea was to teach that community the different ways of lighting hair to photograph, and how to perform basic retouching on the photos (to make skin look more natural, for instance) using a smartphone. Cosmoprof decided to include me in their program, and I started presenting right away. I was scared to death, but the most important thing was that I wasn’t photographing anything. I was only talking about photography, and my entire focus shifted to developing this new skill.

After a month of presentations around the U.S., I came back home to my business in Florida with a totally different perception, having taken my mind off of my craft; the space from it that I took helped me look at my career path from the outside. I could suddenly see my achievements, which took a lot of anxiety and worry off my shoulders, and I had a renewed desire to photograph, with multiple photo concepts written down in my notebook. In a sense, the change of scenery and pumping adrenaline that came with trying something new shocked my flatlined passion for photography and made it rhythmic again.

“Hear no evil.”

Practicing Radical Acceptance

According to Svetlana Komissarouk, a professor of social psychology at Columbia University, emotionally burned-out individuals are intuitively looking for a source of extreme emotions to shock their lingering indifference—to make them feel something again. (Unfortunately, not everyone looks for healthy ways of doing this and many resort to destructive, damaging solutions.)

One of the best advice Komissarouk gives in her interview for RTVI, a Russian news network, is to learn what she refers to as “radical acceptance”—accepting your imperfections as well as your strengths; accepting that your career, body and life is a work in progress; allowing yourself time. She calls for us creatives to stop comparing ourselves to others, to track your progress by comparing yourself today with yourself yesterday. Sometimes, she insists, it’s okay to admit that you can’t finish a task on time and ask for an extension. It’s okay to acknowledge that you don’t know something. It’s okay if you need to sleep in, to take an extra break. Stop criticizing yourself for these things and instead, notice your daily achievements.

“Speak no evil.”

Upending Your Surroundings

Komissarouk also recommends that when you feel stagnant in your career or feel you’ve reached a creative block, try changing your work environment completely. If you can work remotely, go to one of the digital nomad camps like this one, a co-living and co-working locale that gives “working remotely” a whole new, literal meaning. Hosted in the most exotic places on Earth, they provide people with a balanced experience between work and adventure. With a specific time set aside for work, you would also meet new people, socialize, have access to all kinds of different activities and be able to explore a completely new environment. These camps promise to enrich your daily routine and help you walk away with a fresh look at your life and career.

It would definitely take a committed decision and financial investment to move somewhere for a month, but there are easy and cheap alternatives to buffer a nomad plunge in the meantime. Move your “office” to a coffee shop or park for the day, somewhere you can focus on your tasks and spend time without the usual homebody distractions. Just that simple shift in environment will help you regroup. Personally, I love doing all my planning and goal-setting when I’m on a plane. Being in between places makes me feel like anything is possible, and I use this time to write emails and reach out to people, clients and brands that I was at first scared to contact.

What’s on your list of burnout solutions? Share with me in comments.

Daryna Barykina is a beauty and fashion photographer currently residing in Florida. Clients—Covergirl, Kat Von D and Matrix, among others—seek her out for creative lighting concepts, use of color and high-end retouching. Most recently, she wrote about how to photograph portraits that prominently feature glitter.

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