Creator burnout: what it looks like, why it happens, and what you can do to heal from it

Personal Development
23 min read
In this Article

Burnout is among the most deceptive—and misunderstood—adversaries any creator can face.

That’s because the experience of burnout is unique to each creator. It’s deeply personal in how drained it leaves you and how painful it can be.

You probably tried some quick-and-easy ways to cope with that. The challenge? Quick fixes don’t work. Taking a day off or magically hitting inbox zero doesn't cut it.

Quick fixes deal with symptoms, but you can’t heal from burnout until you deal with its root causes. And no matter how unique your burnout feels, no matter what the root cause may be, there’s a universal core—a pattern that leads to it.

That’s good news, believe it or not. And even though I’ve had my fair share of struggles with burnout like all creators, I knew that this piece could have never been about myself, or a single creator. Instead, it’s about many creators and their stories and experiences with burnout.

Dive in to learn what burnout looks like for these creators, what causes creator burnout, and what to do to start the journey to overcome it.

What creator burnout looks like

When I asked creators about what burnout looked like for them, and dug into their essays and videos about it, I expected to hear and read about tiredness, exhaustion, and overwhelm.

And I did—but I also uncovered depression, anxiety, distractions, and dread. I found pain and detachment. Creator burnout shows up in more layers and shapes than I ever could have imagined.

For Tara McMullin, a podcast host and community builder, the biggest contributor to burnout is emotional labor. Burnout comes from “projecting a happy, confident, in-control demeanor that’s not aligned with how I actually feel or what I’m doing in the moment,” she tells me. “Part of my lived experience of burnout right now is feeling like any time someone emails/texts/Slacks me, I’m not going to have the capacity to respond in a positive way and help them with what they need. It’s enough to cause a panic attack about the smallest stuff.”

Charli Marie, a designer with a thriving YouTube channel, podcast, and blog, says that for her, creator burnout is a deep exhaustion “where all of the things I usually love doing—making videos, writing, talking to my audience—feel like a chore or even a burden. It really sucks to feel that way about something you created for yourself!”

She also mentions the guilt of feeling like she’s letting down her audience and herself for not being able to keep up with her regular schedule.

“Not wanting to do the things in my creative work that I used to enjoy,” says Daniel Wallace, a creator of workshops and conferences for writers.

It’s enough to cause a panic attack about the smallest stuff.

— Tara McMullin

Rob Hardy, the creator behind Ungated, describes some of his experiences with burnout as wanting to run away and live in the woods, but no one knowing as he’d put up a great façade.

But he adds, “Other times, the burnout would hit me like a depressive tidal wave. I’d disappear off the face of the earth for weeks at a time—buried beneath takeout boxes while binging The Office for the sixteenth time.”

For Elise Darma, an Instagram business coach, it was the lack of energy and focus. “I was chugging coffee and it wasn’t doing anything for me. I felt more tired after coffee. I also couldn’t focus and had no energy until 2pm. At meetings, I was being grumpy, even when it was with consultants I was paying,” she explains in a video.

Being a creator means earning a living online doing what you love. ConvertKit’s tagline states ‘Whatever you make, make it known with ConvertKit.’ And the creator economy article by Influencer Marketing Hub argues that “In many ways, the creator economy consists of people performing their dream job.”

But the above experiences show a darker side—and a potential risk of being a creator.

Burnout is clinically defined as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It presents itself as a feeling of overwhelm, being emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.

On top of that, burnout can make you feel detached from your work and question the meaning behind it.

Maybe you’ve already recognized yourself in one or more (or all) of the experiences these creators have shared. It’s likely why you’re reading this. But if you haven’t, you’ll learn the warning signs of burnout so you can catch them early and act before it’s too late.

Why creators burn out

Burning out at work isn’t unique to creators. People burn out in traditional workplaces because they:

  • Don’t feel they can be the best version of themselves
  • See a poor fit between their values and those of the employer
  • Struggle to envision their future in the company
  • Keep bringing negative emotions home from work

But you’re a creator—none of these apply to you because you are the employer and get to set up your work exactly the way you prefer.

So why do creators burn out? There’s no universal reason, but there are underlying causes, and you might feel some or all of these four.

1. The pressure to post content everywhere, all the time

Post to Twitter every day. Craft a perfect Instagram post. Show your face on Stories. Be funny on Reels and TikTok. Send a value-packed newsletter. Educate on your blog. Record, edit, and publish a YouTube video.

Even just listing these is painted with exhaustion. It’s the idea that you need to be everywhere, all the time, and with your best face on, so you can do your dream job and have all the freedom.

The platform algorithms certainly don’t help. With the exception of your blog and your email list, you’re supposed to show up every day or every week to show Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube you’re still here and worth showing up in people’s feeds.

This struggle is well-documented by CNN Business for YouTube, and by The New York Times for TikTok. Creators everywhere are burnt out.

It’s the fear that if you don’t show up on the regular, you’ll lose followers, subscribers, students, and customers. It’s what Tara McMullin called content debt, where every day you believe you should be posting across all of the platforms adds up on your content debt balance sheet.

Content debt is a lot like financial debt in that it weighs on the decisions that we make and the strategies we choose. Imagine if your paycheck depended on what you posted to Instagram daily, the funny Reels or TikToks you make. The videos that you upload to YouTube, perfectly suited to what other people are searching for, (…) all to satisfy an algorithm. Pretty bleak, right?

— Tara McMullin

2. The “your business = you” equation

Creators make a living by showing up as themselves online. Your name, face, and personality traits are what makes up your business.

There’s a beautiful advantage to it: no one will ever be you. Your uniqueness can’t be copied, replicated, or taken out of the context of you. No one can write, speak, or think exactly like you.

But there’s also a downside: the emotional labor of having a personal brand and being authentic. It was an article by Tara McMullin that opened my eyes to just how immense this is. In it, she says:

“My personal brand is a way of externalizing what I believe makes me worthy of others’ attention. Putting my best foot forward isn’t a problem in and of itself, of course. But it becomes a problem when I start to see the only valuable parts of me as those that can be traded on the open market.

Yes, you get to choose how you show up and present yourself; pick ideas and fragments of your life and personality that go online, protecting the rest to just be yours.

But the internet is ruthless and quickly tells you which ideas work and which ones don’t. You become programmed to only share what’s worked before, and stop sharing what “flopped” by social media standards.

This may not feel like work in the traditional sense, but it is. “Because it’s so easy to write off the labor of emotion, performance, and thought, I think it’s important to label this work clearly,” adds Tara.

In an Instagram post, she also shared this emotional labor can look like:

  • Posting a motivational quote when you don’t feel motivated at all
  • Cranking out useful and inspiring content when you’re feeling anything but
  • Converting your most attractive qualities into a brand you show up as, day after day
  • Sharing personal stories to create connections
  • Responding to comments and DMs

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Tara McMullin (@tara_mcmullin)

3. The fear of losing everything if you step away and take a break

When you are the business, it’s hard to remove the financial aspect and pressure from it.

Can you afford to take a break for a couple days? A week? A few consecutive weeks?

When you have a family that relies on your creative business, with rent or mortgage to pay and mouths to feed, stepping away from your work seems impossible.

This is different from the pressure to keep creating content across multiple platforms mentioned earlier; technically, you can batch content creation, outsource non-fun parts of the process, and schedule it to go live whenever you want.

Instead, it’s about not being able to mentally disengage from your work. It materializes as looking at your inbox 40 times a day, working 12-hour days, working through weekends, and never taking a vacation.

It’s about working from a place of scarcity and the fear of losing everything you’ve worked so hard for if you take even a short break.

This leads to emotional exhaustion, which is a leading indicator of burnout. It happens when we lack quality sleep, don’t self-reflect, and don’t take regular breaks (especially from negative momentum).

When our emotional health suffers, our ability to handle stress diminishes.

4. The content fatigue

Finally, there’s the pressure to constantly keep coming up with variations of a topic you know your readers, viewers, or subscribers enjoy.

Fio Dossetto, the creator behind the contentfolks newsletter, calls this content fatigue. The same term also describes what an audience might go through—feeling exhausted from all the content around them—but Fio specifically talks about content fatigue as a creator.

“It’s an unpleasant feeling that shows up when you spend weeks, months, or even years thinking/talking/writing about the same topic. If left unaddressed, it can morph into burnout—and you might eventually even want, or need, to quit jobs or clients over it,” she writes.

Content fatigue feels like you really can’t do it anymore—it being creating content about your topic.

It’s a strange place to be—after all, you’ve taken a creative path because you wanted to think, write, and talk about that topic. But it happens, and I hope this serves as a reminder that that’s okay, and that you’re not alone in that feeling.

Because once you know that, you can do something about it.

What it takes to overcome burnout

The challenge of burnout is that there’s no rule of exactly how it presents—how fast it shows up, how obvious it is, or how intense it weighs on you.

But there’s a universal feeling to it: it’s like running out of battery and operating on about 5% for extended periods of time—and trying to push through anyway. It sure felt like that for me every time, without fail.

We don’t even let our smartphones do that—so why do we do it to ourselves?

If you already feel like you’re on low battery for some time, there’s an uncomfortable truth to accept: that burnout has been chipping away at you, one tiny piece after another, for months and possibly years.

You can’t reverse it with a day off, a long weekend, or a vacation. Yes, your battery will replenish itself slightly, and you’ll come up for some air. But once you return to the same habits and schedule that led you to burnout, you’ll drain that battery back to where it was just days or weeks prior.

Healing from burnout is about digging deep into what brought you to burnout and rewriting that script. Use these tips to build resilient, sustainable routines for your creative work. They’ll take time to implement, but the effort will be worth it.

Learn to close the stress response cycle

In their book Burnout, sisters Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski describe burnout as a cycle.

It’s called the stress response cycle, and it implies that our bodies are wired to have a physiological, neurological, and hormonal response to what we perceive as a threat. From our muscles and cardiovascular system firing up to quicker breathing and a spike in endorphins, this is our body’s reaction so it can keep us safe.

Many years ago, this threat came in the form of a lion that wanted to eat us. Today, it’s caused by an overflowing inbox, a stressful interaction with a customer, or a collaboration that flopped.

The issue is that even when we’ve dealt with the stressor, we often haven’t dealt with the stress. Our bodies are “soaked in stress juice, just waiting for some cue that you are now safe from potential threat and can now relax into celebration,” the book explains.

The solution? Closing the stress response cycle. Physical activity (20 to 60 minutes), deep breathing, positive social interactions (even a simple compliment to your local barista counts), laughter, affection, crying, and creative expression all signal to our bodies that we’re safe.

If you leave the cycle open and power through it, it builds up and forces you to do more to complete the cycle—and leads to burnout.

“The goal isn’t to live in a state of perpetual balance and peace and calm; the goal is to move through stress to calm, so that you’re ready for the next stressor, and to move from effort to rest and back again.”

If this speaks to you, I highly recommend this 22-minute talk by the Nagoski sisters, the authors of Burnout:

Make deep rest a part of your daily routine

Burnout is a state of exhaustion—emotional, mental, and physical—and you need regular rest to heal from it and prevent it in the future.

Brittany Berger, a content repurposing strategist and the creator behind Work Brighter, said:

“I’ve tried everything, and literally nothing is as effective as just sleeping. A lot of people think if they can just get inspired or motivated enough, they won’t need to take a recovery break. But everything else that can work only works after rest.”

Rest can look like dedicated lunch breaks, pausing for 10 minutes after an intense work session, and weekends free of work. It’s also regular deep, quality sleep.

Many studies prove we become more creative and productive at work, as well as physically and mentally healthier, when we make sure to pause regularly. It gives us the time to reflect, relax, and let our minds wander.

Essayist and cartoonist Tim Kreider wrote about the ‘busy’ trap back in 2012 and emphasized the importance of idleness:

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, (…) it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

The most important point is to make rest intentional. Wudan Yan, a magazine and enterprise reporter, shared this after starting to heal from burnout:

“Vacation isn’t rest. Sleep isn’t rest. Rest isn’t the liminal space between tasks; it is a task in and of itself. I had to learn that, and what rest meant for me.”

Don’t hesitate to take vacation and longer breaks

When you’re a creator, switching off for a week or two might seem impossible.

But if you feel like you’ll burn out, a vacation will help you get some deeper rest and take a step back to reflect on what brought you here (and prevent a full burnout). And if you’re already in it deep, you might need a complete reset, a longer break, to start your healing process and rebuild your schedule and routines from scratch.

Josh Garofalo, a consultant and copywriter for SaaS companies, decided to take 6+ weeks off from client work to rethink everything. He told me his burnout isn’t what he would describe as typical, because it’s not from working too hard or having too many things on his plate.

He explains, “My burnout is a product of comfort and repetition. For six years, I’ve been head down mastering my craft with amazing clients, I’ve done great work, and made more money than I thought was possible. I know how fortunate I am.”

But something changed:

“I began to feel annoyed when prospects would email me because they needed copy. And now that I’ve taken some time to think about my business, I realize that I was annoyed because I’ve outgrown the position I gave myself in 2015. I’m overdue to give myself a promotion, but I don’t yet know what that looks like. It’s one of the main questions I’m grappling with during my break.”

Josh is considering new and different business models and ventures. “I'm dealing with burnout by giving myself space to think and dream again,” he adds.

Dave Nemetz, the co-founder of Bleacher Report, suggests taking a seasons approach just like TV shows and podcasts do—and planning it in advance. He also mentions Khe Hy, the creator and coach behind RadReads, who took a two-month break from his weekly newsletter in summer 2021:

creator burnout
Khe Hy’s email announcing a two-month break.

At the end of that email, Khe wrote: “​​I'd be lying if I didn't admit to being nervous about this break. But I know in my bones that it's the right decision. The only decision.” Khe gave himself the permission to step off the hamster wheel of content, and knew his true fans won’t disappear in the meantime.

Rob Hardy used the concept of seventh-week sabbaticals to build longer breaks into his work. The idea is simple: you work in a focused six-week sprint, take the seventh week off, and repeat. He started it as an experiment at the beginning of 2021 and highly recommends it:

“It’s definitely helped with burnout and energy, and I plan to keep doing it next year. I love that each cycle is basically a blank slate. So I try new projects, ideas, experiments. It’s helped me test and iterate on my strategy way faster.”

Regular self-reflection and taking on projects you love most

Do the projects you work on feel too challenging? Not challenging enough? Do they fulfill you, or do you complete them because you feel like you have to?

Charli Marie says she’s had to relearn how to let go and be okay with not doing all the things. It’s about learning what energizes you and where you feel you can make the biggest impact.

“I try not to take on brand partnerships or speaking opportunities unless it’s a great fit, and I only let myself focus on one big project at a time. And while it sucks to not be able to respond to everyone who messages me for advice, I’ve come to terms with the fact that if I try to respond to everyone individually, I’ll run out of energy to create content that can help a bunch of people at once.”

Take some time regularly—every month or six weeks is a good check-in point—to look back on your recent projects and reflect on how they made you feel. This way, you can course correct and shift your goals and plan before you’re emotionally exhausted.

This might mean letting some part of your creative business go, and Tara McMullin reminds us in her TEDx talk that this is okay. She says that as creators, we’re incentivized to create more and more forgettable content, but suggests an alternative way:

“As business owners and creators, we can instead focus on the remarkable. (…) If creating remarkable experiences, results, products, or content can actually create the stability that you’re looking for, what’s preventing you from doing that? And often, I hear that the main thing standing between them and creating remarkable things is the endless pressure to churn out mediocre things.”

 

Use this as the reminder to not only self-reflect on the regular, but also to check in with your audience. Survey them in your newsletter and on social media to find out what content created the most value for them, and use that to guide you.

Offload tasks from your plate

By now, I hope you know that you don’t have to be on every platform and create every type of content to succeed—and I hope that gives you some relief.

But you can also make the content you do love easier to create by outsourcing parts of it. You can work with a contractor to handle tasks that:

  • Aren’t in your zone of genius;
  • You don’t enjoy doing; or
  • Take too much of your time.

For example, if interviewing guests for your podcast gives you immense joy, but you despise the editing process—and it takes you way too long to do it—there’s no need for you to keep doing it.

In ConvertKit’s outsourcing guide, we suggest you find what you don’t want to outsource; i.e. what you love doing most, can only be done by you, and would be inauthentic if done by someone else. Then, brainstorm tasks you can hand over, including:

  • Content creation: research, outlining, editing, keyword research, social media captions, voice overs, graphic design
  • Admin: invoices, bookkeeping, meeting scheduling, inbox management
  • PR and partnerships: pitching publications and podcasts, managing sponsors
  • Operations: community management, website updates, newsletter sending, video upload, social media scheduling
  • Customer service: collecting testimonials, monitoring comments

Outsourcing has the potential to remove a significant chunk of mental load from your mind and your schedule, and be the antidote to burnout.

Read our full guide on outsourcing as a creator to learn how to know you’re ready to outsource, where to find the best people to outsource to, and key tips for effective delegation.

Seek human connection

Finally, don’t hesitate to find support in groups of people walking a similar path to yours.

Online business makes it too easy to stay in our bubble and lose a sense of connection to a community. Recording videos feels like talking to ourselves, and writing can seem like typing into a void.

Strong social connection lowers anxiety and depression, increases self-esteem and immune system, and improves our overall emotional and physical wellbeing. The lack of it can be detrimental.

The remedy for this is intentionally connecting to other creators and building a support system for each other. Whether it’s a text message group, a community on Facebook or Slack, or a video call every couple of weeks, make sure you have people to go to when you’re struggling (and when you’re thriving, too!).

You don’t have to do this alone—nor should you. A great talk on this topic is the one from Tiffany DaSilva on dealing with imposter syndrome as a marketer—I highly recommend watching it.

You can do this—we promise

Healing from burnout doesn’t come with a nice checklist you can work through when you have some spare time. Neither does burnout prevention.

Instead, it’s about understanding the mindset, schedule, and pressure that leads to it. It’s about rethinking and rewiring your approach to creative work so you can keep doing it, burnout-free, for many years to come.

We believe you can earn a living doing what you love—and do so in a way that doesn’t cost you your peace, joy, family, and health. We hope this article, and experiences of many creators in it, help you set the right foundation for it.

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Marijana Kay

Marijana Kay is a freelance writer for leading B2B SaaS companies. She uses data-backed, actionable content to help them hit and exceed their growth goals. In her spare time, she collects books and logs running miles.

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