COVID Burnout: When Inspiration Doesn't strike

As the roadmap out of lockdown rolls on, headlines, feeds and Whatsapp chats are filled with optimism and excitement for the year ahead.

For some, however, lockdown induced fatigue is hitting hard - and it’s impacting our creative abilities. 

Back in lockdown 1.0., our collective creativity went into overdrive with doorstop photoshoots, ultra-hype social distancing social media projects and we’re-all-in-it-together warm and fuzzies vibes. Over one year on, that novelty has stagnated. Across professions including journalism, photography, design, animation, copywriting and advertising, many are experiencing COVID-fuelled creative burnout on a daily basis.



Creative Burnout 101

What does creative burnout actually look or feel like? Take a minute to check in with yourself. Are you experiencing:

  • Frustration
  • Finding it hard to relax
  • Procrastination
  • Despair that you’ll never hit your creative groove again
  • Anxiety that you’re letting your team, client or self down
  • Insomnia

If you find yourself ticking down the list, you’re not alone. Prolonged social isolation, screen overload and sustained work/life stress justifiably has taken its toll. It’s a hot topic at Huckletree Ancoats, our Manchester workspace for media and digital lifestyle pioneers, with several of our resident creative businesses and entrepreneurs feeling the burn. Gina Tonic, Co-Founder of The Fat Zine and freelance journalist, had a prolific output during the past 12+ months - but that doesn’t tell the full story of her creative mindset:

“It's definitely been ebbs and flows, I think it's hard to constantly be creative as any creative person will tell you, but being in a state of lockdown can make periods of low creativity feel a lot worse. When you're inside, not able to draw inspiration or find catharsis in the outside/real world, it feels a lot more daunting trying to get back to a creative mindset for sure.” 

Lockdown hasn’t just constrained our social lives, but our brains, too - and digital outlets just don’t cut it anymore. The world wide web hosts a bounty of inspiration, but screen-based creative sparks should be just one part of the creative equation. Our once-lively worlds were minimised to our homes (or even bedrooms alone), and the now too-familiar treads of our local park or neighbourhood streets. Put simply: we’re understimulated, overstressed and exhausted from the almost-overnight evaporation of our industries.



Status: Stasis

The creative industries have been hit hard by COVID, with 47% freelancing - compared to 15% of the wider workforce. Younger, and female, creatives have also been disproportionately affected due to their working status. Ironically, many of the creatives hit hardest worked on the streamed media, music and TV we’ve rabidly consumed whilst under stay-at-home orders.

As the implications of COVID became clearer, many brands pulled back on budgets and pressed pause on audacious campaigns or rebrand projects. Huckletree Ancoats member Christian Gould, Managing Director of creative studio, Blossom, helps independent businesses maximise their potential. For agencies, the usual pitch-win-pitch-win rhythm was disrupted, too - as Christian explains:

“When we went into the first lockdown I kind of lost my appetite for approaching new clients to try and get them to spend money with Blossom, there was so much uncertainty around. I’m one of those unfortunate three million people that’s fallen through the cracks of government support though so I wasn’t sat in my pants playing Animal Crossing. Obviously a ton of other small businesses were really going through it too and struggling to make ends meet.”





Alongside weathering the financial impact of COVID solo, many of those small businesses and freelancers found themselves creatively adrift, too. Christian found himself in frustrating limbo:

“I’ve had so many projects that were expected to start but have been delayed and delayed again without being given the go ahead. My main battle has been staying focused in the quiet times in-between projects; that’s when I struggle to motivate myself. I need something to look forward to, a break in the cycle. The options seem to be either ‘working’ or ‘you should be working’.”

The monotony and mundanity of lockdown has heavily impacted our sense of balance, as we saw in our survey of 200+ startup talent. With no physical boundaries between work and downtime, or activities to stimulate our creativity, there can feel like there’s no respite from the demands of the to-do list, or the push to fill one up.

Positivity in Pivoting

So where to go from here? We can start by releasing the pressure on ourselves to be ultra-productive. Huckletree’s virtual series PURE JOY was created as a space for deep, nourishing, non-OKR-related conversation. No pressure to note-take, or maximise learnings for later deployment. Instead, our community gathers in the liminal world of a Zoom chat room for an hour of conversation with literary, art and culture innovators. Together, we’ve meandered through the dark side of Hollywood, LGBTQ+ love and Roald Dahl with the likes of Clare Conville, Max Webber and Nina Mae Fowler. 

Taking our foot off the productivity pedal and allowing ourselves just enjoy, experience and connect, without pressure to turn that into creative output has had a restorative effect for each of us. So too does stepping outside of our usual channels of creativity. For Christian, it proved a salvation: 


“In May I launched a platform called Manchester Stories which aims to champion and support local, independent businesses and tell the inspiring stories of the people behind them. It helps them to gain some local exposure and connect them with their community and it’s really helping people. Working on that has been a bit of a life saver really, it’s kept me sane. It’s even brought in a number of creative projects too.”


Social Media

There’s strength and reassurance in community, too. Rising Instagrammer @workinsocialtheysaid is a cathartic space for social media specialists, who often juggle the hats of designer, copywriter, strategist, data analyst, customer service all at once. In a recent poll, their audience cited their biggest concern is managing their mental health whilst simultaneously managing platforms during the pandemic. Intrigued, I asked influencer Gina if maintaining such a public personal brand impacted her mental health in 2020:


“It benefits me greatly having this platform to vent, explore and ultimately receive support from hundreds of people. It's important to recognise it can't be the source of my self esteem or self worth but equally, I disagree with those who pretend it does not give you those things.”


That’s not to say that it’s 24/7 dopamine rushes, but Gina raises a valid point. Community doesn’t need to be physical to be a form of support, learning and inspiration:

“Striking the right balance of using social media as a platform for your ideas and thoughts but also not the only place to explore those things has been hard - still is sometimes - but more than anything my mental health has benefited from finding that balance. I really appreciate the community and education I have found online through social media.”

The State of Play

As UK coronavirus cases continue to drop and we cautiously but hopefully enter the latest stage of lockdown lifting, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. For many creatives, there’s solace in exploring newly reopened shops, and soon galleries, theatres and gigs, for inspiration and re-energising. As for Gina, the answer is obvious: 

“The pub, haha. I feel all my best ideas and thoughts come from setting the world to rights over a pint! A great lived experience is the best way to source inspiration in my opinion.”


First round’s on us, Gina.

________

Burnout Busting:

Learn: How to identify and tackle creative burnout

Protect Your Head: tips for social media professionals

Read: Buy the latest issue of the Fat Zine

Watch: Manchester Stories meets the man using cold water therapy to help trauma, anxiety and PTSD recovery 

Reconnect: Founded by Huckletree Ancoats member, Ned Poulter, Neverspoons to find a local, indie pub for a first alfresco pint with friends.