Burnout, Writer’s Block, and Emotional Fog
Every writer fears the moment when they need to meet a deadline and the words just won’t come to them. Writer’s block is like not being able to scream in a nightmare; you see the keyboard, your mind feels the thoughts but never will the two comingle for something cohesive. Garble is all that comes out and it sucks.
I shouldn’t be surprised to feel a bit of burnout right now. I started the year with a huge goal of massive content for my own websites on top of the regular content I write for clients every single day. That being the case, I don’t think it was the content that has me stuck in a bit of a fog. It was all the things that come with website problems, graphics and the other host of issues with building online businesses.
Rather than jump back into the normal schedule, I decided to put this together as I have pondered and fought the feelings of burnout, writer’s block and emotional fog over the past couple of weeks.
Identifying the Problem
Burnout isn’t something that happens overnight. Think about a campfire. It will continue to burn as long as there is fuel. As the major sources of fuel diminish, the flames dwindle into embers. To rekindle the fire, you have to stoke it and simply give it more fuel. This is the same thing with burnout in life.
Burnout is typically the result of job-related stress and over-exertion. It leads to mental and physical exhaustion. Those who experience burnout feel less satisfaction performing tasks, underappreciated and a loss of personal identity.
Writer’s Block Definition
Writer’s block is the feeling that you are unable to produce new work. The words just don’t flow and your creative process feels stagnant. It can happen for a short period of time like a day or two or extend for years.
Emotional Fog Definition
Emotional fog is the feeling like you can’t find direction with your life or find the focus to follow the road map. You are distracted by ideas and obstacles and become somewhat paralyzed from taking action to your goals.
What’s For Dinner, Mom?
Ever head to the kitchen to make dinner and not know what to cook? In fact, you feel like there is nothing in the house to eat despite the fact that you just went grocery shopping with a planned menu, have an idea of what you feel like eating but nothing seems to make sense in the kitchen. Maybe you pull something together but forget a key ingredient or burn it just a bit. That is emotional fog. There’s a plan, you know it but can’t quite get it together.
When things aren’t moving along the way you want them to, you first need to take a moment to really see what is going on. Right now, I’m in a state of fog and a bit of writer’s block. It’s not burnout. How do I know? Because my desire is still there. I love what I do and I know the embers are still strong within. I just need to stoke them.
What Do You Do When Stuck?
The easy, cliché answer to of what to do when feeling stuck or burnt out is to be kind to yourself. While I agree with this, there is a warning I will offer with it. Being kind to yourself is a double-edged sword that can lead to guilt that you are not producing and slacking off. Be aware of this and keep it all in perspective.
Change Things Up
Do what is necessary when you feel stuck, experience writer’s block or are in an emotional fog. Get a new perspective on your work environment, your creative process and your health and energy. This isn’t always easy to do but is vital to getting back to productivity sooner than later.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve gotten plenty of sleep yet I’m tired and experiencing serious migraines that just keep persisting. Just when I get a day to catch up, another one pops up. I’ve managed to stare at my screen long enough every day to get enough client work completed, but certainly not at the pace I am used to. This leads to frustration. That leads to angst while I try to work on my own development projects but can’t because I need to revive for client work daily. It’s a cycle and an ugly one.
What I Did To Get Out of Emotional Fog
There are several things I’ve tried over the past couple weeks to get out of the fog and spark my creative juices again. It’s a process and I’m still working through it. But, you have to keep trying.
- Took a night off and binged movies
- Spent a day outside doing yard work and not turning on the computer at all
- Focused on more intense aerobic workouts at the gym
- Changed my diet to reduce sugar and processed foods
- Spoke to my business coach in a vulnerable, I didn’t-get-my-shit-done honest way
- Evaluated my goals and expectations
- Wrote a list of my action items
- Created clunky content and saved it for later
- Got a massage
- Spent time with girlfriends and laughed my heart out
- Looked for a new hobby that would spark creativity non-work-related
In all of it, I still feel like my content is clunky and not clearly communicating my ideas. The process makes me feel like I’m falling farther behind on things with my own businesses. The bottom line is doing all the things experts tell you to do still left me in an emotional fog with a huge dose of writer’s block. Detours are needed to prevent burnout that is always a real possibility even when you love your work.
What Worked and What Didn’t Work
In all honesty, nothing in that list propelled me back into the state of creativity and productivity that I love and embrace on most days. But, they did sustain me and help me connect the dots. Stepping away from the computer is important. In normal periods of work, my weekends are really my weekends and I have a ton of non-computer time and it recharges me. Getting out and catching up with my high-school friends, binging some movie time and building an overdue fence for my dog helped.
Having an honest conversation with my business coach helped me redirect my perspective and set smaller goals to rebuild momentum. (I’m still completing those assignments for another conversation with her tomorrow.) At the end of the day, I know its a process and all of these little things are important to setting the re-boot button.
Everyone will have a different recharge scenario. We are all different and what works for me isn’t going to work for everyone else. I went out with my girlfriends and didn’t even have a drink even though it was a perfect environment to do so. I know that isn’t going to help me refocus. It’s important to learn what works for you.
A Complete Re-Direct
I decided to join college kids for Spring Break in Cabo. Of course, I didn’t decide to do that; that’s just insane. What I did decide to do today is tackle things I really didn’t feel like doing: my corporate and personal taxes. Numbers, details, simple logic that required no creativity. What did that do for me?
The headache returned in full force. That was to be expected. However, it showed me the past year and what I’ve accomplished. It was actually inspiring if I allow myself to say that about taxes.
What did this reveal about my year:
- A 30% growth in my business (in spite of being out and not working for the first 4.5 months of 2018)
- Direct investment into my personal and business growth setting the stage for my growth and next phase
- Streamlined expenses (spending money where it mattered)
- Consistent repeat client work
These are the small wins that show you the rewards to your effort. They spark excitement – even when doing taxes.
Taking Control Back
I’m writing this still not feeling like I’m entirely back to full form. But, I felt it was necessary. I’ve been off on my own island dealing with my stuff. It’s so I can bring more to the table that has value. And when I stop and think about it, outlining burnout, writer’s block and an emotional fog are probably as beneficial for any entrepreneur, business owner and writer as anything I can teach regarding content creation.
These things don’t time themselves well for any of us. But they happen. Build your support networks. Be honest about what you are feeling. Take the time to really dig down and look at why. I’d like to think I’m pretty honest with who I am and my flaws. With regards to this, I have to admit that jumping all-in with work because of a knee injury has skewed my balance wheel. That isn’t healthy and I’m working to get back on track.
What do you do when that fog starts to roll in?