The Impact of burnout on our creativity



What impact can burnout and high stress levels have on our creativity?


Problem solving

Our perspective

Seeing the bigger picture

Ability to generate new ideas


I believe all of us have the ability to be creative and when I think back throughout my career, I’ve always been a creative person. The way I work, the way I have recruited people into teams, the way that I have led induction programs, was all about creativity.


Throughout school, although I loved contemporary dance and got an A* for it in my GCSE’s, I hadn’t thought of myself as a creative person. But I loved the movement and the stories you could tell and being able to partner that with powerful music. However, art class wasn't my strong point and I wasn’t artistic at all. If you were to ask me to just draw or paint something right now, I just couldn’t draw anything that resembles anything. But sometimes after my meditation class we are asked to create a picture based on what we saw whilst meditating and I can picture it clearly and get something reasonably good on the paper.


What I had noticed throughout school was because I wasn’t artistic, I was considered not creative. But that’s not true is it? I was creative but in a different way, I was creative in writing stories, in my dancing, picking colours for my house and creative in the way I help my clients.


I believe we are all creative people.


When we look at high stress, overwhelm, depression and burnout, you will probably find that your ability to problem solve, think your way out of a situation, see the bigger picture and generate new ideas, is hampered when you have this feeling of anxiety, stress or burnout.


Let’s look at sleep. The importance of sleep allows us to empty our stress bucket and get our brain into a calmer state and to process our thoughts and feelings. In our REM sleep our brains reflect on our day, we dream and our brain allows us to process everything. If we go to bed worried about something, we often wake up in the morning with that worry gone. This is our REM sleep and our brain has processed it overnight and allowed us to see it was no big deal after all.


Sometimes we are looking at a problem for a while and we just can’t see a solution and it’s likely to just be staring us in the face. The answer is there and it often just comes to us at the most unusual time and pops into our head.


Our brain needs a break.


If we are constantly in high levels of stress or depression, everything feels overwhelming and our thoughts are going round in our heads at a million miles per hour, we are not allowing ourselves and our brains the space to breathe and come up with a solution. If we want to be making great decisions and generating new ideas, we need to take ourselves out of that high stress situation, take a break and into a quieter space. Maybe we put music on, have a chat with someone, switch the TV on, whatever it is, we need to give our brain the space it needs.


A couple of my clients are in senior roles and they have found their ability to be strategic, to generate new ideas and solve problems has been seriously hindered. They have been telling themselves that because of this inability, that they are not capable of doing their job and in telling themselves they are not capable, the feel guilty and overwhelmed. This can also lead to imposter syndrome and both of these women have experienced fear. The fear that the next email, next meeting or next phone call will be the one where their boss tells them they aren’t capable of doing this job and they need to leave.


I have spoken with them about burnout, stress, taking time out and aligning with their core and it seems so foreign to them. They have been spending more time rolling their sleeves up doing operational work and so their team has been coming to them with operational issues. This is stuff that they used to do and know, but it is not their role anymore. In order to feel successful and accomplished, they have been getting involved in work they don’t need to be doing. They then have found themselves in a rabbit hole and have inadvertently taken away control and decision making from their teams and are now so overwhelmed with everything, they don’t have the time or headspace to get back into the strategic way of thinking.


So we pile on more and more pressure, that fight or flight response is there and then the guilt sets in and we become more anxious and start losing sleep. We’re not sleeping well because we’re not taking the breaks that we need. Then we think we don’t have the time to take breaks because being constantly busy is what success looks like isn’t it? We don’t want anyone to think we are failures, so we just keep going.


In addition we might start looking for quick fixes to make ourselves feel better. It might be an extra glass of wine at night, scrolling apps and websites mindlessly, turning to food or watching more TV.


But if we realign with who we are at the core and then set our boundaries, our boundaries will then allow us more time, more calm, and more headspace to allow us to tap into that creative headspace and be able to see things from a different perspective. We might be able to generate new ideas and realise we were focused on the wrong problem all along.


In my corporate days I was involved in a project led by the operations team and I was supporting from a ‘people’ perspective, as this could have an impact on the people within the organisation. There had just been a recent survey and they had some bad customer service feedback, so I was brought in and whilst they were talking about the problem, I asked a slightly different question. As an outsider to this issue, it didn’t seem to me that the solution was focusing on the right problem. Some people in the group agreed with me, but the person leading the project (who was also responsible for 6 other projects at the time) just said no, don't worry, we know what the problem and solution is. A couple of days later the project lead came back to me and told me I was right, they said they had too much on their plate and they couldn’t see it. So we found a solution together as a team. It took a lot for this person to acknowledge that they were overwhelmed and had we continued on the original path, it could have cost the business millions of pounds.


It’s not uncommon for a newbie to come into a project and be able to see things from a different perspective and give another solution. As a newbie we can do this because we haven’t been involved in the build up to this problem and we’ve not had to experience the pressure and stress.


Think of it from a health perspective. Many health professionals deal with just one specific problem. My mum for example sees a specialist that focuses on her heart, another for her thyroid and another for her diabetes. So when those individuals are trying to fix the problem, they are only looking at their areas of expertise. Whereas if some were able to look at the bigger picture, the problem itself may well be a very different problem altogether and may need a different treatment.


We tend to do this in our work and businesses and if we are in burnout mode, we can’t see the bigger picture to allow us to create the right solution.


We need:

Breaks

Time out

Lead from our core

Set boundaries


Are we trying to solve the right problem or are we trying to just solve the problem presented to us. Are we looking deeper? We can’t find the answer if we stay in a state of high stress, burnout and depression.


If we are not living in a core-led way, we will find our ability to come up with the right way is going to continue to be hindered.


Who are you at your core?

What are your boundaries?

Are you taking time for yourself?


Kelly


In 2013 Kelly had a successful leadership career, yet she was burned out, exhausted, and missing out on life with family.

Determined to enjoy the success that she had earned, she's learned to create a life of balance and boundaries that is also highly successful.

Today at kellyswingler.com, Kelly helps women leaders all over the world to prevent and recover from burnout without giving up their career or jeopardising their wellbeing.

Join Me at Power Up 2022