Everyone needs a break from work, however brief. Working harder doesn’t mean working better: people who never stop working risk exhausting their creativity.
“I need a holiday!” is something we’ve all said at some point. Yet time is scarce, or at least it seems that way. Whether you’re a freelance or in-house creative, it makes little difference in a hyperconnected 24/7 society that never stops. Freelancers have to organise their own work, find new clients and try to hold on to existing ones, not to mention do all their own admin. In-house creatives, on the other hand, have to stick to predetermined timetables and schedules, which often lead to working days that far exceed the standard eight hours.
As a result, we tend to never switch off and end up feeling exhausted, lacking creativity, focus and inspiration. We lose concentration and motivation. We juggle several projects at once, proud of our ability to multitask, only to arrive at an end result that’s unsatisfactory. If you’re one of these people, the concept of Mindfulness and active recovery can help you improve the quality of your personal and professional life. It’s a state of mind that can be cultivated through the practice of meditation.Mindfulness is a translation of the term “sati”, which means “to bear in mind” in the pāli language, the liturgical language of Theravāda Buddhism. Shorn of the religious element, it allows practitioners to develop a deep and intuitive understanding of what is happening in the moment, in other words, it’s an exercise in attentiveness. A protocol devised by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s, MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) has been studied and validated by international scientific literature. It’s also used in some fields of medicine and psychotherapy in the western world.
Thanks to mindfulness meditation techniques, like conscious breathing, which can be used inside and outside the workplace, negative thoughts can be more quickly intercepted in a world that’s always in a rush, where it can seem impossible to pause for a second to work out what makes us happy in that moment. Often, it isn’t possible to take time off, which means we need to learn how to change our attitude towards the world around us to improve ourselves and our work. Using mindfulness techniques is a scientifically proven way to gradually achieve better focus, creativity and mental clarity in the little breaks we manage to carve out for ourselves every day.How to prevent creative burnout
Avoiding burnout may seem impossible in some cases, but small changes can make a difference. At this point, for our mental and physical wellbeing, our defence mechanisms need to kick in to manage any moments of downtime constructively and prevent chronic exhaustion. How?Working with creativity also involves a fundamental economic aspect. We often work non-stop out of fear: of losing a job or client, of losing money, of feeling guilty about missing a deadline. In the meantime, our lives are sucked into a downward spiral and our sense of balance, a precarious one to start with, crumbles. It’s called creative burnout, a state in which we feel exhausted and devoid of motivation. It affects us psychologically and mentally. Creative burnout occurs when we are stressed for too long. It doesn’t matter if we work from home or run a large agency, creative burnout wipes out our drive to move forward.
– Say NO: limiting your responsibilities is a vital step in preventing burnout. Don’t ask any more of yourself; you don’t have to push yourself to the limit.
– Take a real break: after working for several hours, this isn’t optional, it’s necessary. Even walking for 30 minutes a day can make a difference.
– Don’t ask the impossible of yourself: Doing everything that you planned to do in a day sometimes just doesn’t happen. This doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it just means you’re being overambitious with your daily tasks.A few days off (or meditation) can change everything.
And this isn’t based on some wacky theory. Disconnecting, even briefly, can really refresh the body and mind and there are scientific studies that prove it. It allows us to recharge our batteries, as confirmed by recent research from the Icahn School of Medicine, the University of California and Harvard. Conducted on 94 women aged 30 to 60, the study found that just six days of holiday or meditation can lead to changes that reduce stress and improve the immune system for at least 30 consecutive days.
Researchers talk about a holiday effect and a meditation effect: “Based on our results, the benefit we experience from meditation isn’t strictly psychological; there is a clear and quantifiable change in how our bodies function.”
Which brings us back to the concept of mindfulness: what is it exactly? Daniel Goleman, the father of emotional intelligence, citing various studies, emphasises that mindfulness meditation techniques are “mental gymnastics”. This means not shutting out thoughts, and that when meditating, thoughts need to wander and create new connections in the brain to increase our capacity to concentrate.
This, together with emotional intelligence, which is based not on calculation or logic but on the ability to understand our emotions and those of others, enables us to change our behaviour at times of intense stress. We must first acknowledge that we are stressed to the limit: this depresses many people, while others fly into a rage. There are, however, many exercises that can be practised every day for just a few minutes, including:
– Grounding, to generate awareness of your body and feelings. You need to think about every part of your body, from the legs to the arms to the hands, not forgetting the chest and neck, areas where we feel stress especially. This helps you become less susceptible to negative thoughts, for example, while driving.
– Listening to sounds: you should listen to the sounds around you at that moment. Whether it’s the chirp of a bird or the sound of typing, it doesn’t matter. Try and listen to the silences between one sound and another too.
– Not blaming yourself: assume a non-judgmental attitude. You can become distracted when meditating, but don’t blame yourself: accepting your weaknesses is the first step in understanding yourself.
Alternatively, forget all of this and book yourself into a resort and completely disconnect. This can do you good too.