Creative work is not synonymous with artistic work. Everyone needs creativity to solve problems and navigate the world, regardless of whether or not they can draw a stick figure.

Being creative is at the core of our being, yet some of us believe you're either born with creativity or not.

While creativity is not the privilege of the few, there is a distinguishable difference between those who work in the creative industries and those who don't.

A creative specializes in making pictures, bringing the imagination to life, and designing solutions. These artists, illustrators, designers, art directors, filmmakers, animators, photographers, dancers, content practitioners, crafters, etc., enrich our lives with new images and ideas.

As much as it's fun to be a professional creative, it's also a challenging career path. Creatives must constantly be at the top of their game and present fresh, innovative ideas to their teams and clients daily.

While every job has its stresses, creatives are especially prone to burnout.

If you've started feeling apathetic, anxious, uninspired, or as if your creative batteries are drained, it's time to learn how to manage stress and use your negative emotions as creative fuel.

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What it means to be a healthy creative

What does it look like to be a well-rounded creative? Besides being generally well-rounded individuals with a good work ethic, high quality of work, and healthy personal care and relationships, creatives have very specific work routines.

Working in a creative role means you know how to establish a creative flow, find new angles to approach creative projects and solve problems in new ways. You find connections between seemingly disparate concepts to form new ideas.

Creative flow is a cognitive process of extreme focus on a particular task where you become less conscious of yourself, others, and your fears of failure. It's a completely controlled environment where the unexpected can happen.

This kind of fruitful focus has also been observed when people participate in sports, religious rituals, strategy games like chess, and perform surgery. 

As a creative, you tend to develop your own work hacks, always upskilling and learning new things. You have a high emotional capacity to overcome limitations and adapt to challenging situations.

People have different names for this state of mind, such as "creative juices," "creative sparks," or "creative headspace."

This way of working brings challenges not necessarily faced in other situations (even though we can be creative in many other ways besides art and design).

Some of the challenges faced by creatives include:

  • A high level of cognitive work that can lead to mental fatigue
  • Experiencing and overcoming creative resistance and negative feelings associated with imposter syndrome
  • Nonlinear ways of working that can lead to emotional exhaustion
  • Not being taken seriously in the boardroom
  • Blurring the line between work and home life

Naturally, it can be stressful to constantly deal with ambiguity and find innovative solutions to complex problems. Many creatives also have personal projects that, even though they're enjoyable, can add to the stresses of their work lives.

Running out of margin to deal with the stresses of creative work can negatively impact your mental and physical health. If left unmanaged, it ultimately leads to complete burnout.

What's creative burnout?

We're sure you're familiar with the concept of workplace burnout, which has been highlighted especially over the past couple of years.

In a practical sense, burnout happens when a fire runs out of fuel or an electrical component overheats. In the same way, we can run out of "creative juice" if we don't replenish our tanks.

Stressed creatives are especially susceptible to mental fatigue because of the nature of creative work.

Late nights in a dark room in front of a screen is not how most of us picture a flourishing career as a professional digital illustrator or designer, but this is a reality for many creatives.

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Reaching tight-to-impossible deadlines, taking on ambitious projects, and generally having too few hands to do all the work can take a dangerous toll on your mental health and the quality of your creative output. Or you're working on-site in a creative team but feel like you're hardly bringing your B-game to the projects lately.

Creative burnout differs from barriers to inspiration or creative block, which form part of the creative process.

The WHO defines "burn-out" as a work-related phenomenon that shouldn't be translated to other areas of life.

Burnout is long-term, mismanaged work stress characterized by feelings of depletion or exhaustion, mental distance from work or negativity toward your job, and reduced professional efficacy (the confidence and ability to complete tasks).

So, does creative burnout happen when there’s too much of a good thing? Let's examine some symptoms of burnout in a creative work context.

9 warning signs of creative burnout and their causes

What common signs of burnout do you need to watch out for? Whereas employee burnout is a risk in any workplace, creatives are especially susceptible because creative work requires constantly pushing ideas to innovate, achieve marketing goals, and make clients happy.

This can drain the creative lifeblood from your veins if you're not great at managing your stress and negative emotions.

1. Losing interest and motivation

It feels like your dream job has lost its luster, and you face a 9-to-5 abyss each time you open your laptop or iPad.

Why? Feeling stressed for a long time leads to physical exhaustion and negativity, making it hard to care about or feel up to doing your work. Feeling unmotivated can stem from prolonged stress, leading to mental exhaustion. This exhaustion makes it challenging to be enthusiastic about tasks, resulting in a sense of detachment from your once-exciting job.

2. Feeling completely uninspired

The moment you start a task or project, you feel like you've hit a brick wall and can't think of a single good idea.

Why? A lack of inspiration often results from neglecting activities that rejuvenate your creativity. Running on empty and not refilling your "creative tank" with the things that usually refresh and inspire you leads to creative fatigue. And then, there are no reserves for you to draw on.

This is why keeping a good work-life balance and using leisure time for the people and things you love is important.

3. Not knowing who to ask for help

You have a vague feeling that you need help, but you don't know what's wrong or who to approach for advice.

Why? Because your mental and emotional capacity is shot, you don't have the energy to think clearly about your problem and how to solve it. Trying to identify the root cause of the problem becomes a problem itself.

4. Heightened susceptibility to illness

You experience health issues more often, such as frequent bouts of cold and flu, loss of appetite, insomnia, fatigue, headaches, bowel issues, or muscle pain.

Why? Stress is a known killer. It affects your nervous system, heart, and bowels. Besides, being physically tired and not getting enough sleep is a slippery slope to health issues because your body doesn't have enough strength to fight off infections as quickly as it used to.

5. You don’t have good days

Work sucks, I know. The lyrics of that Blink182 song feel truer than ever.

Why? Because you're tired and uninspired, you can get stuck in a cycle of negative feelings perpetuated by your disappointment or frustration. This can make you feel even worse and trap you in a rut of boring routines and low motivation.

“You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one. Each day is a different one; each day brings a miracle of its own. It’s just a matter of paying attention to this miracle.” – Paulo Coelho

6. You don't care

It's even more difficult to seek help because you may not care enough to care for yourself or your home.

Why? A kind of numbness starts to set in when you've been worried and stressed for an extended period, which means you can't be bothered about things that aren’t a top priority. This emotional numbness is a defense mechanism against prolonged strain and worry.

7. Isolating yourself

You're not reaching out to people as much, leaving you feeling detached and alone.

Why? Being stuck in a cycle of negativity about your ability to perform tasks at work can break down your self-esteem and make you less sociable. Also, you probably don't have enough energy to hang out with your friends or talk to them over the phone.

But if you had to look at your brain, you'd see that chronic stress causes disconnections between neuron synapses, making you more forgetful and less sociable.

8. Procrastination lengthening

Your tasks pile on top of each other because you take longer to complete them.

Why? Decreasing motivation and confidence leads to further delays in work performance. This delay in finishing tasks results from reduced drive and increased avoidance behavior.

9. Work isn’t rewarding

When you finally complete tasks and projects, you feel less satisfied and accomplished. You don't feel proud of your work anymore.

Why? Chronic stress lowers your dopamine levels, which the reward center in your brain regulates. These feel-good hormones give you a sense of reward and motivation to keep going and help you cope with stress. But too much stress can blunt your reward sensitivity, a symptom related to depression.

While burnout results from physical and mental exhaustion, decision fatigue, and stress over long periods, it's completely preventable.

Let's look at some tried-and-tested strategies for overcoming creative exhaustion so you never reach burnout in your creative career.

How to stay inspired and motivated

In their book Creative Confidence (2015), the brothers Kelley write that your creative muscle can be strengthened through effort and experience. In the same way, you can avoid creative burnout by continually refueling your creative reserves.

In her Skillshare course on creative fearlessness, art director Sarah McKinnon says that a certain amount of stress and negative emotions are an important part of the creative process.

A healthy creative learns to use negative emotions to their advantage to create remarkable work.

It's about reaching deep and finding the 'why' for your creativity, creating your emotional color palette, and using these colors to express and comment on things you care about. Not only does this lead to personal growth, but it also helps you constructively manage your stress.

In her TED talk, lauded graphic designer Paula Scher distinguished between solemn and serious play. Serious play involves experimentation, imperfection, and invention—creativity at its best. It's that precious, focused time of creative flow.

The secret to serious play is letting go of what's expected and allowing your creativity to take the lead and "break the rules" (or break out of your comfort zone). Keep that in mind as we examine some strategies for maintaining healthy creativity.

Tap into your source

What invigorates and inspires you? God, nature, people, art, sport, music, stillness?

Make time to actively seek out and enjoy the things that speak to your soul and produce a positive outlook on life. It doesn't look the same for everyone, but a spiritual connection or time in nature often reinvigorates your creativity in ways that a TV series or podcast can't.

Perfect your craft

Improving your work skills can be highly motivating because you're learning new ways to do things you do daily.

Constantly aim to do better than yesterday. Learn more about your design software, apply different techniques and styles, or practice difficult shapes and effects. The more you learn, the more motivated you will be to grow in your knowledge and practice.

Use graphic design tools to try out different styles, fonts, color palettes, and effects to broaden your mind and expand your skill set. Imagine you want to create an eye-catching animation, but your animation knowledge isn’t great, and starting from scratch is daunting. Here's where Linearity Move comes in.

Linearity Move, with its Auto Animate feature, helps you to quickly turn your static designs into animations. Follow along with a quick Auto Animate tutorial and see how easy it is to bring your ideas to life.

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Always look for interesting learning resources, such as books, videos, online short courses, or webinars. These will broaden your knowledge and prevent stagnation. Creative drawing tutorials also can be a great way to jumpstart your imagination and get those creative juices flowing again.

Get better at time management

Planning and using their available time well is the bane of most creative's existence. A lot of stress can be relieved by simply managing our time better. One of the best ways to manage stress is to have more control over what you can change.

This is really the secret sauce to being a healthy creative. Not only will time management skills help you plan your work projects, but they will also enable you to plan your leisure time and ensure you stay balanced.

This includes learning to say 'no' to certain people, projects, and distractions at times.

Go analog

If you spend most of your time creating in a digital format, it's good to return to the ol' pencil and paper or pick up a real paintbrush and mix paint. Working with art materials can produce surprising results that you can translate back to your digital work with a fresh perspective.

If you're finding it hard to pick a medium, time, and place to do some arts and crafts, why not look for a short course or group of creatives to join (not online)? This will take the load off you when making decisions about the details. All you have to do is show up on time for classes or meetings.

Take (actual) breaks

Just like any muscle, your brain needs to rest to function optimally. Creative work can be mentally demanding, and pushing yourself all day can lead to mental fatigue. Breaks allow your brain to recharge and focus more when you return to work. 

Plus, stepping away from a project can sometimes be the best way to spark new ideas. During breaks, your subconscious mind has a chance to wander and make unexpected connections. 

When you feel uncomfortable in your chair, you should get up, walk away from your desk, and do some stretches or small physical tasks for 5–10 minutes. Moving around improves blood flow to your brain, manages stress hormones, and improves energy levels.

Discomfort is the body’s way of telling you it needs a break. So, listen to your body.

Read, watch, and listen to other artists’ stories

You can learn much from others in your industry and will walk away feeling inspired to try something new. It's also empowering to know that other creatives are going through the same struggles as you. And you can learn from their mistakes and wins.

As a designer, you can lean on creative advice, books, podcasts, videos, and even tools and templates as a source of inspiration.

Creative burnout can feel like staring at a blank canvas. That's where design templates come in as lifesavers. Templates can act as prompts, igniting new ideas. Even if you don't follow the template rigidly, it can nudge your brain in a fresh direction and provide a basic framework for you to follow.

Do something else entirely

It sounds counterintuitive, but focusing on a different interest area often enriches your creativity. For example, you could enroll in dog training, learn how to create a nutrition plan, or host a macramé workshop.

When you're feeling least inspired, doing something off the wall and fun can build your confidence and leave you reinvigorated with new ideas and a positive mindset.


Find other incredible illustrators or designers to work together on a project. Not only will you enjoy the interactions, but working with other creatives will give you a fresh take on your own practice and teach you how you can challenge yourself.

Building accountable and mentoring relationships will help you grow as a creative because, often, other people notice your (negative and positive) patterns faster than you do.

“I’d outline 3 major trends for the upcoming year. These trends are related to the use of video content (a long-lasting trend for the past years), mixed media, and the increased need for collaboration among individuals and teams.”—Nastassia Rybak, Creative lead graphic designer, Poland.

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Set realistic goals and deadlines

Structure is your friend, not your enemy. You may thrive on spontaneity, but inspiration can quickly fizzle out without a solid foundation of realistic goals and deadlines. 

Ambitious goals can be motivating, but they can also be paralyzing. Breaking down your aspirations into smaller, manageable chunks prevents feeling overwhelmed and keeps you focused on making steady progress. 

It is advisable to schedule a dedicated creative time where you block out distractions (e.g., put your phone away) and prioritize creativity. Scheduling regular creative sessions helps you establish a consistent workflow. This consistency allows you to make steady progress without losing momentum between sessions.

Reaching smaller, achievable goals provides a sense of accomplishment and keeps you motivated throughout the creative journey. These small victories lift your confidence and push you forward.

Plus, realistic deadlines force you to be strategic with your time. Knowing you have a specific timeframe to complete a task encourages you to stay focused and avoid procrastination.

Embrace imperfection and iteration

Perfectionism can be the enemy of creativity. Unfortunately, not every idea will be a masterpiece. View failures as a learning experience. Analyze what didn’t work and use that knowledge to refine your approach in the next iteration.

Growth and innovation often stem from experimentation. Don’t be afraid to try new things, even if they don’t work out perfectly. These explorations can lead to unexpected breakthroughs, especially when editing and revising your work.

“Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while working” - Henri Matisse

Prioritize self-care

Your well-being is the foundation of your creativity. If you’re not feeling in tip-top shape, you’ll struggle to muster the creative brain power you need.

Try the following self-care strategy:

  • Maintain a healthy sleep pattern: Aim for 7–8 hours of quality sleep each night. Sleep deprivation hinders cognitive function and dampens creativity. Feeling well-rested allows you to approach your work with focus and clarity.
  • Exercise regularly: Physical activity is a powerful stress reliever and mood booster. Taking a brisk 20-minute walk each day will do wonders.
  • Practice meditation or mindfulness techniques: Taking a few minutes each day to quiet your mind can significantly benefit your creative process. These practices can help manage stress, improve focus, and enhance self-awareness. 
  • Follow healthy eating habits: Nourish your body with nutritious foods to fuel your brain and optimize energy levels. Make sure you stay hydrated. A balanced diet helps you stay focused and promotes overall well-being.

Celebrate small wins

The road to creative success is paved with small victories. Celebrating small wins, no matter how seemingly insignificant provides a sense of accomplishment and keeps you motivated. These milestones remind you of your progress and fuel your desire to keep going.

Celebrating small wins also helps you combat negative self-talk and self-doubt.  

“The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” – Sylvia Plath

You should always take each day to appreciate your creative gifts. Gratitude fosters a sense of well-being and reminds you of the joy inherent in the creative process.

Spark your creativity

Hitting a creative wall is a common experience. Here are a few quick tips to get your creative juices flowing again:

  1. Doodling: Let your pen wander freely on a piece of paper. This drawing style relaxes your mind and can spark unexpected connections and ideas.
  2. Freewriting: Set a timer for 5–10 minutes and write continuously without stopping or editing. This helps overcome writer’s blocks and allows your subconscious mind to surface new ideas.
  3. Brain games: Crosswords, puzzles, or brain teasers can help stimulate your brain and spark new connections that can be applied to your creative work.
  4. Change your environment: Step away from your usual workspace and seek inspiration elsewhere. Visit a museum, walk in nature, or explore a new part of town. A change of scenery can spark fresh perspectives and ideas.
Looking for more creative inspiration? Check out our list of 100+ drawing ideas to light that creative spark (good activities for kids, too).

Your next steps

We've examined some of the symptoms of creative burnout and developed solid strategies for keeping your tank full and ready for creative flow. You can employ many more strategies to keep thriving as a creative and never reach creative burnout.

Remember that negative emotions are not all bad. Frustration, anger, and sadness are all part of the human condition and can be used as creative fuel to bring remarkable works to life. So, first and foremost, you'll benefit from learning how to use negative emotions to produce creative work.

It's all about keeping a delicate balance between 'good' and 'bad' stress. You need to protect your personal time to stay in touch with what inspires, refreshes, and motivates you to come up with new ideas.

Creative work should be serious play, and Linearity Curve's design platform can help. It streamlines your workflow, letting you brainstorm, prototype, and iterate faster. Escape the cycle of creative block and get designing again—check out our free plan for individuals to get you started.

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What’s creative burnout?

Creative burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion specifically related to creative pursuits. It can cause feelings of being stuck, uninspired, and unable to produce work you're happy with.

How does burnout make us less creative?

Being stuck in a rut can make seeing new possibilities and solutions hard. When you're mentally and emotionally drained, it's tough to muster the energy to think outside the box or generate new ideas. Feeling uninspired and lacking the spark to create can be a major symptom of burnout.

How can I avoid creative burnout?

Setting realistic goals, scheduling breaks, and having a healthy work-life balance are all important preventative measures for creative burnout.

How can I recover from creative burnout?

Taking breaks, trying new things, and finding inspiration outside your usual routine are all helpful. Prioritizing self-care and managing stress are also crucial for recovering from creative burnout.

How long does creative burnout last?

Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to how long creative burnout lasts. It can vary depending on the severity and the steps you take to address it.

  • Short-term burnout might last a few days to a couple of weeks. You can usually bounce back with some rest and a change of pace.
  • More severe burnout can linger for weeks or even months. This is where actively addressing the root causes and incorporating self-care becomes vital.

What causes creative burnout? 

Several factors can contribute, like pressure to constantly produce, perfectionism, lack of work-life balance, and feeling uninspired.

What are the signs of creative burnout?

Common signs of creative burnout include a lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating, negative self-talk, procrastination, and physical symptoms like fatigue and headaches.

How to never reach creative burnout | Linearity
How to never reach creative burnout