A Writer’s Year of Burnout and Recovery

In sitting down to write this blog on a writer’s year of burnout and recovery, I first had to overcome my embarrassment.

After all, I wrote a blog in 2020 on how writers can avoid burnout and thrive. Yet I experienced the deepest burnout of my life in 2022.

Luckily, I’m very much on the mend as the new year begins. I’m hoping this piece shows other writers dealing with burnout that they aren’t alone, and that it is possible to heal.

Note: I am not a medical professional, and the opinions contained in this blog are my own and are based on my own experience. If you are dealing with burnout, please speak to a professional.

Lessons I learned from a writer's year of burnout and recovery in 2022.
Lessons I learned from a writer’s year of burnout and recovery in 2022.

A Writer’s Year of Burnout and Recovery: My Journey

At the beginning of the year, I set a goal to write 100,000 words in 2022. In and of itself, I felt this was completely manageable. I had done the math, set monthly, weekly, and even daily goals, and mapped out a plan.

No matter how good my plan and time management looked on paper, however, life quickly intervened. Work obligations, family commitments, the loss of a loved one, and a general breakdown of boundaries meant I had very little spare time or energy. What spare time I did have, I spent completing more tasks on my to-do list, or crashing in exhaustion.

This had serious consequences for my mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Not only was I generally overworking myself. I felt I was failing at the goals I had set, and failing at life in general. Someone once asked me what I did for fun, and I drew a complete blank.

I have experienced burnout before, but never at such a serious level. In fact, I was riding a wave of momentum so strong that I had become stuck in a toxic cycle I couldn’t break.

By the summer, I felt I had moved through all stages of burnout to complete numbness. I didn’t feel joy in almost anything and was going through the motions of my day-to-day life. As I began to heal over the next several long months, I became embarrassed by the lack of progress I’d made in my goals earlier in the year, and that paralyzed me. I felt completely stuck, unable to move forward in any meaningful way.

It has only been in the last few months of the year that I have begun to heal and feel re-centered. I feel joy again in all of my interests (including writing), in trying new things, and am looking ahead to how I want to live my life in 2023 and beyond.

Lessons I Learned During My Writer’s Year of Burnout and Recovery

As I have started to heal from my writer’s year of burnout — an ongoing process — here are some of the lessons I have learned, in no particular order. Please note: This is not an exhaustive list, and everyone’s will look different.

Set Priorities in Your Life

Determine what is most important to you. Not the priorities of your workplace or your loved ones — your overall priorities in life. Remember that priorities, and indeed success, will be different for everyone.

At the moment, I’m prioritizing my mental, physical, and emotional health. These foundational parts of my life were severely neglected during my burnout.

Priorities in Turn Help You Set Boundaries

Once you identify your priorities, you can better set and commit to your boundaries. In 2023, I will not bring work home with me on nights and weekends, for example. Boundaries will be critical to avoiding another writer’s year of burnout and recovery.

Keep Reminders of Your Priorities and Boundaries on Hand

It’s easier to ignore your priorities and boundaries if you aren’t reminded of them on a continual basis. Yes, there may be emergencies and times when you need to be flexible. However, I would recommend spending a little time thinking about what you define as a true “emergency” (e.g., a family member is in a life-threatening situation) and what may be a matter of “urgency” from someone else’s perspective (e.g., an after-hours work email).

Write your priorities and corresponding boundaries down on paper or on your phone where you will see them regularly. A sticky note on my refrigerator is my current strategy.

Find Methods of Active Rest and Recovery

The term “active rest” or “active recovery” comes from the world of fitness. This is when athletes spend a non-practice or non-exercise day doing something that is both restful and beneficial (e.g., going for a walk). This Greatist article does a good job of explaining it in more detail.

As a full-time writer, editor, and project manager, I was not engaging in any active rest last year. My “free time” filled up with additional to-dos, errands, and TV. If I had carved out time for active rest, it may have made a significant difference in my healing journey.

That isn’t to say that you don’t also need days during which you do absolutely nothing. Yes, that includes binge watching the TV, scrolling social media and taking a long nap. The major lesson I learned, however, is that everything is better in moderation. If I watch eight episodes of a show back-to-back in a day, then the next day I should probably engage in one of my other active rest hobbies. Be gentle with yourself and know that there is a time and place for everything.

Consider picking one active rest activity and incorporating it into your life slowly. In the last several months, I have reintroduced stretching and walking, cooking, going out to new restaurants, reading, gardening, and journaling. As I continue to heal and move into 2023, I want to be deliberate in making room for more of these things in my life.

Fill Your Own Cup Before Serving Others

Related to the above, ensure you are “filling up your cup” on a daily basis. I often find myself depleted when I spend an imbalanced amount of time serving others and neglecting my own well-being. As a creative person, and someone whose job and personality tends toward serving others, an imbalance can quickly occur if I don’t stay aware and take corrective action.

I have added daily and weekly check-ins to my calendar to determine if I’m filling my own cup enough and to course correct as needed.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Vulnerable, Feel All Your Feelings, and Ask for Help

I have a tendency to “push through” stressful times in order to get things done, and then hope that on the other side there is time and space for recovery. Unfortunately, that time and space does not often exist unless you deliberately create it.

Worse, during the time I would “push through” tasks during my burnout, I wouldn’t allow myself to feel any of my feelings, feel tired, feel vulnerable, or ask for help. I’m now working to consistently and fully acknowledge and feel my feelings, adjust how I am working and living to support myself, and then move forward. Better communication is also high on my list of priorities.

This is definitely a process and a muscle you have to continuously use. I find that journaling is an excellent tool.

Do More of What Puts You in Your Flow

Essentially, find more ways to get to your happy place in work and life. If you’re reading this blog, that may include writing.

If you’re experiencing burnout partially because of writing, you may want to explore other hobbies, or even other forms of writing. If you write articles for your career, try writing something completely different, like poems or handwritten notes to friends.

Ask yourself: What do you like to do that makes time disappear? If you could do anything in the world regardless of time or resources, what would it be? Is there a way to incorporate it into your life more regularly?

Know You Have Inherent Value Beyond Your Work and Creative Output

You are not your work. You are an incredible human being in and of yourself. (This would be worthy of another sticky note on my fridge!)

As a writer, I have often attached my personal value to the success of my writing, editing, or project management. But there is so much more to me — and to all of us — than our craft, or what we are paid to do.

I find that making gratitude lists of what you are thankful for in your life, and what you are thankful about yourself, are incredibly empowering.

Do Everything in Moderation

I’ve mentioned this above, but it bears repeating not only for work, but for hobbies and things you love.

I tend to get excited about things and dive into them with both feet, which can be a double-edged sword. More recently, I have discovered that it’s better to do small amounts of certain things consistently rather than spending all my energy on them at once, which can lead to burnout.

While I have a long list of active rest activities I’d like to add back into my life, I also know that there is only so much time in a day. Incorporating these things gradually a few times a week will go a long way to supporting my healing journey.

Plan Things You Are Excited About

I kept my head down during my writer’s year of burnout and recovery. This year, I want to look beyond myself to the things that bring me joy and put them strategically on the calendar. Life happened to me in 2022; in 2023, I want to happen to life. That will only be possible with planning. Also, having something to look forward to can bring immense joy.

You can invite other people into your plans, too, from weekend farmers markets to road trips to movie nights. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but setting a date and time for an activity helps you prioritize it and set boundaries around it — so you can enjoy it!

I’ve already put some fun things on my calendar, including a live rendition of “My Fair Lady” at a local theater and a concert of one of my favorite bands in Nashville.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Only compare yourself (if you’re going to compare at all) to who you were yesterday. Social media has made this difficult, and this year, I plan to spend a lot less time doom scrolling. It inherently invites comparison, and it’s easy to lose sight of your own priorities. Instead, I want to focus on becoming a better person, my health and physical fitness, my personal writing, my relationships, and being more honest and vulnerable.

Celebrate All Your Wins

A powerful tool that I started using a few years ago, and which helped me ride out my burnout storm this year, was a “Wins List.” I talked about it in this blog on why a Wins List is better than a to-do list, and I’m looking forward to creating a printable and fillable PDF version to share with you in the coming year.

Do Less

If you’re clear on your priorities, it will help narrow down the sheer volume of things you must do. Sometimes, you have to let some balls drop — it just depends which ones (a metaphor inspired by this great piece from The New York Times).

I never want my “health and wellness” ball to drop, so sometimes I have to let my “blog writing” ball drop. In 2023, I want to create more breathing space: fewer balls to juggle, with more time in between to flow from task to task, to recover, and to incorporate things that bring me joy.

A Challenging 2022 and a Hopeful 2023

While 2022 was challenging, it has also been eye-opening. Recovering from my burnout has been a lengthy process, and it will probably continue for some time. However, I have also learned a lot about myself as a person, as a creative, as a writer, and who I want to be in 2023 and the years ahead.

It has been critical to practice forgiveness (toward myself and others), gratitude, and vulnerability, among the above points. I hope that anyone reading this who is dealing with burnout or recovering from burnout knows that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that it does get better.

These are the strategies I have explored during my writer’s year of burnout and recovery, and will continue to explore in 2023, but it is not an exhaustive list. I would love to learn about your strategies, too — please leave them in the comments below!

Author: Elise Murrell

After years of slaying all kinds of writing projects and coaching my friends, family members, and coworkers through the writing process, I’m sharing my tried-and-true methods to help you achieve your best writing, ever.

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