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Are You Burned Out or Are You Bored?

How to identify burnout and boredom and use your creative practice to move past both.

Posted in: Creativity & Mindset • July 6, 2022

Do you remember being bored as a kid? It was agony. As you grew older, you might have also experienced burnout, which is even more agonizing than boredom. Both burnout and boredom can completely zap your creative energy. So how can you tell if you’re experiencing burnout or you’re just bored? And then how can you move past it?

In episode 97 of the Seamwork Radio podcast, Sarai and Haley talk about how to tell if you are burned out or bored. They share the symptoms of burnout and how to recognize them, why it’s so easy to confuse burnout and boredom, and three questions you can ask yourself to use sewing and creative activities to move past both.

Their conversation is inspired by ideas from a book called Burnout by Dr. Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski. The good news is that the book recommends creative activities—like sewing—as the best way to shake off boredom and push past burnout.

What does burnout really mean?

You likely have an intuitive sense of what burnout means, even if you haven’t experienced it. In the context of your sewing or your creative hobbies, you also likely have a sense of what it means to get burned out on them—you usually enjoy them, but suddenly you’re tired of them.

In the book Burnout, the authors say that the term “burnout” was coined by Herbert Freudenberger, and he defined three components of burnout. The first is emotional exhaustion, the fatigue that comes from carrying too much for too long.

You might have heard the term compassion fatigue. If you care about something, and it is something that you've been caring about deeply for a long time, eventually you can become emotionally depleted. So emotional exhaustion is the first one.

The second is depersonalization, which is the depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion. So if you notice yourself losing your sense of empathy and caring, that's the second component of burnout.

The third component is a decreased sense of accomplishment, an unconquerable sense of futility, or a feeling that nothing you do makes any difference. It can feel like a general sense of malaise, apathy, or a lack of efficacy. And this is the one that can often feel so similar to boredom.

How are burnout and boredom similar?

The decreased sense of accomplishment with burnout is also a feeling that’s heavily associated with boredom. Like burnout, boredom can feel a little exhausting. It's hard to rally to do something you used to love doing.

If you're really bored with what you're doing, you don't have the energy for it—it's just not lighting you up. So that’s more likely to be boredom and not burnout.

If you’re burned out, maybe something has been lighting you up for too long, and now it’s taken all of your energy away. It might even take energy away from other parts of your life. This might mean you’re more likely to be burned out than bored.

Burnout and boredom are two very different processes with the same result: you just don’t care as much anymore. However, since burnout and boredom do have a lot of similarities, this also means that they have similar remedies.

So if you’re bored or you’re burned out, what do you do?

How can you work through burnout (and boredom)?

If your creativity suffers from burnout or boredom, the solution is within the problem itself. Creative expression is one of the most powerful ways to work through burnout. Things like physical activity, social interaction, or laughter are all ways that we can help to process our physical emotions. And according to the authors of Burnout, creative expression is another helpful way to work through burnout.

3 Questions to ask yourself

Here are 3 questions you can ask yourself to help you work through both burnout and boredom. The first question will help you distinguish between burnout and boredom, and the second and third questions will help you work through it.

  1. Are you feeling any other symptoms of burnout in addition to a sense of boredom? For example, think about emotional exhaustion and depersonalization. Is this feeling across the board in your life, or just in one specific area? Burnout tends to spread.

  2. What type of creative activity will be most fulfilling for you right now? Think about using a speed dial for your creative activities. If you're bored, you might need a challenge, and you need to crank up that speed dial. Try a project that will introduce new skills or involve risks. Specifically, with sewing, you can explore a niche, like making lingerie or a tailored blazer. Or you can try something adjacent like making shoes, bags, or home decor. If you're feeling burned out, you might need a more gentle creative practice, so turn down that speed dial. Spend time in your sewing space, setting it up, organizing, or just sketching and making mood boards.

  3. What kind of creative activities can you incorporate on an ongoing basis to prevent burnout and stress? Preventative medicine is a thing, and so is preventative creativity! Seeking rewarding creative moments can help pull you out of burnout. Think of it as creating little speed bumps in your sewing practice, so you don't go too fast and crash your car. For example, try setting up rituals, blocking out time to sew on your calendar, or creating a menu of sewing-related activities to browse when you’re feeling bored. If you have these tools written down somewhere, you can just grab your list whenever you start to feel those telltale signs of exhaustion.

Do you have any tips for moving past burnout or boredom? Share them on the Community. Here are a few more resources you might find helpful.

  • Burnout by Dr. Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski.

  • 10 Ways to Avoid Sewing Burnout: Learn how to be gentle with your creativity and stop feeling overwhelmed.

  • Escaping the Cult of Efficiency: An obsession with goals, productivity, and checking things off can be really unhealthy. In this week's episode of the podcast, we explore how the Cult of Efficiency came to dominate our cultures and share 5 tips to help.

  • What Can You Learn from Niche Sewing? What is niche sewing and how can it supercharge your skills and creativity? In this episode of Seamwork Radio, Sarai and Haley talk about how niche sewing can help you rediscover the joys of sewing.

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