writing advice about burnout at The Writers College

Burnout can be described as a state of extreme exhaustion or emptiness caused by stress and overworking. According to the World Health Organization, it is now officially a medical condition. But is this relevant to you as an energetic, passionate journalist? The answer is a big bold YES! Especially if you are a dedicated, diligent young writer looking to make your mark.

INE BOTHA explains how to stop burning out while trying to burn bright.

What are the symptoms of burnout in writers?

According to this study published on Science Direct under “Burnout research”,  journalists that run the highest risk of burning out are younger, inexperienced females.

No matter your age or gender, don’t ignore the following signs: 

  • You have feelings of extreme tiredness: mentally, physically and emotionally.

If you are forcing yourself out of bed every morning with increased effort and you don’t have energy to do any form of exercise, red lights and sirens should sing in your mind.

  • You have reduced creativity.

You are on autopilot and can’t seem to think on your feet. New angles evade you and you constantly have creative blocks.

  • You are no longer interested in hobbies.

You don’t look forward to activities that used to be fun and revitalizing. Nothing excites you anymore.

Alexandra Michel indicates in her 2016 cover story “Burnout and the Brain” that a trend can be seen among patients: They feel they simply don’t have the energy and drive to do their jobs (or anything else for that matter) anymore.

What causes writers to burn out?

Already in 1976, Christina Maslach, professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, published an article: “Burned-out” in the magazine Human Behavior. Over the years, she put together a model that indicates that burnout is caused by (but not limited to) a combination of imbalances in reward, community and workload. 

  • You feel unappreciated.

This can typically happen when you’re pitching up a storm, but get rejected repeatedly. Especially when writing articles for “on spec”. You don’t get any reward for the work you have done.

  • You don’t have a community: When starting your own business as a freelance journalist, you have limited support and may end up feeling unwanted and unimportant.
  • Your workload is unrealistically large.

On the flip side, when you do get some desperately needed work, you frantically accept every job. Your passion and determination over rides your perception of what you actually have time for. You can’t say no and just work longer hours and put in more effort.

  • You bring your work with you everywhere you go.

This problem is becoming more and more relevant as technology makes it easier to work remotely. So, you take your laptop with you on holidays or write over weekends instead of actively engaging with your family or resting. You never really “leave work at work”.

“When you are burned out, the first place that you should start, is your body.”

Creative Writing Courses at The Writers College

How can writers prevent burnout?

Kate Donavan, burnout expert and host of “Fried. The burnout podcast” says: “When you are burned out, the first place that you should start, is your body.” This can be as simple as drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, exercising and taking a vitamin D supplement.

Here’s some other preventative methods you can try:

  • Re-evaluate your workload.

Assess whether you can comfortably handle the number of tasks you have. If you have to commit more than 8 hours a day, scale down and SAY NO.

  • Don’t take your work everywhere you go.

For example, if you are a work-from-home professional writer, you can choose a room and write only in that room. No laptops in the bedroom or at the dining table!

  • Book time off to spend on yourself, your friends and your family.

If you keep a diary or write a to-do list, slot in some downtime. Taking time off will increase your performance and creativity in the long run.

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About the Author

Ine Botha, student at The Writers College

Iné Botha has always been a curious thinker. A writer with the heart (and qualifications) of a scientist, she has a passion for health and wellness and uses her unique skill set to delve into the science behind popular health claims. She strives to separate fact from fiction and allow her readers to walk away with an educated opinion. She believes that optimal health is achieved when there is balance and harmony between the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical body. She hopes to carry over messages that will allow readers to heal and thrive on all levels