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Episode 97

Are You Burned Out or Are You Bored?

Sarai and Haley talk about 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.

Burnout and boredom can often be confused—and neither of them are enjoyable. In this episode, Sarai and Haley will help you use sewing to move past burnout and boredom.

Podcast Transcript

Sarai
Welcome back to Seamwork Radio. Today we’re talking about burnout and how to tell if you’re really burned out or just bored. We’re going to cover what the symptoms of burnout are and how to recognize them, why it’s so easy to confuse burnout, and boredom, and three questions you can ask yourself in order to use sewing and creative activities to move past both boredom and burnout. So this conversation was partly inspired by a really great book that I read called Burnout by Dr. Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski, and I’ll be sharing more about some of the insights that I’ve learned from that book and how they might apply to our creative lives. So I’m really looking forward to this conversation today.

And we’re going to start with our icebreaker. As always, today’s ice breaker comes from a Seamwork brand ambassador, Kari. And Kari asks, “what percentage of your wardrobe is handmade. Do you ever feel guilty purchasing a clothing item that, you know, you could have easily sewn yourself?” What do you think, Haley? Do you have that kind of guilt?

Haley
Not so much anymore, I would say. I think to answer the first question, I think that about maybe 30% of my wardrobe is handmade, but that 30%, those are the items that are in rotation the most, which is a good thing. Probably tells me that I’m on the right track with my things that I’m making. I think that I used to feel more guilty about purchasing things that I could have made, but I think that that kind of guilt kind of sucks the joy out of sewing for me, because my why behind my sewing—and this is different for everyone—is not to be totally self sustaining when it comes to my clothing. My why is creative joy, and I think that if I let that material need get in the way too much or cloud my vision too much, then I lose track of that creative joy. So I just try and focus on enjoying the things that I’m making and the things that I have made that I do get to wear, if that, I don’t know, makes sense.

Sarai
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

Haley
What about you?

Sarai
I would say my wardrobe is, I don’t know, 30% to 40% handmade, something like that. I do have a lot of second-hand clothing I’ve acquired over the years, and there are certain things I just don’t really want to sew, but I do wear a lot, like jeans. I’m just not that interested in sewing my own jeans. I mean, I would try it. I would do it, but I wear jeans most days, and I’d really rather buy a really well made, like, American made pair of jeans in a great fabric. Same with overalls. I wear a lot of overalls because I live out in the country. I’m always out in the yard doing yard work and things I’d make fashion overalls, but for just like, utility, things like that. In terms of guilt, that’s a really interesting question because I don’t think I feel guilt about not making things and buying them instead, per se. But I do have some guilt about buying things I don’t need. And sewing is kind of tied into that because I think, well, if I really needed it, maybe I would just sow it because maybe I am just acquiring more clothing than I actually need.

And so I do have those thoughts, but I don’t really feel guilty about buying something instead of selling it, necessarily. It’s just more like sometimes I feel like I’m buying things just because they’re pretty or attractive to me, or I just have this want I just have this desire, and it’s either not based on a true need or I’m doing it to make myself feel better about something else. Because I think there have been times in my life where it’s like, maybe I’m just bored or maybe there’s something else going on psychologically and buying stuff in order to make myself feel better about not having enough time or whatever it is. I just try to be mindful of that. I don’t know if the word I would use is guilt, but maybe a little bit. So that’s a really interesting question.

Haley
Yeah. Little regret sometimes.

Sarai
Yeah. And just kind of a questioning, which is good. It’s good to question yourself about things like that. It comes to mind right now because I feel like I’ve been going through one of those periods lately where I am buying a lot of stuff right now, and some of it is stuff I need and some of it is not. And I think it all started with, like, the Memorial Day sales going on. What I like to do is keep wish lists of things that I want, and then when they go on sale, I’ll buy them, I’ll wait. And that way I know it’s something that I really wanted for a long period of time and not an impulse purchase. But then when you start buying stuff, for me, it’s kind of like a cumulative effect. And once I start, like, buying stuff on sale, I tend to start buying more stuff on sale. So I kind of feel like I’ve been in one of those little periods and I’m kind of questioning myself right now.

Haley
Just that dopamine, man.

Sarai
I know.

Haley
Chasing that dopamine high.

Sarai
I know. So that’s a great question, Kari. And I’m interested. I know we had a thread on the community about this, about the guilt around purchasing ready to wear items recently. And some of those responses are really interesting. So if you have a chance, you should go over there and read it. And I think it’s a really interesting conversation to have with yourself or with other people. So if you have an icebreaker that you want to share on a future episode. If you’re a Seamwork member, you can do that at Seamwork.com/go/icebreakers, and that’ll take you right to a thread on the community where you can share your ideas for a future Icebreaker, and we’ll probably use it on the show.

Alright, so let’s get into our topic today, which is burnout. So I read this book about burnout. I think it was last year, and again, it’s called Burnout, and it’s by Dr. Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski, and it was a very interesting perspective, and I want to share a little bit about that. But I also wanted to talk about this idea of burnout and boredom and how those two things relate to each other, because I also had this conversation with a friend at the end of last year about burnout.

I don’t know how you feel about this, Haley, but I feel like at the end of the year, we all kind of start to feel a bit of burnout, just with the holidays coming, and we closed down our office for one or two weeks at the end of December. So there’s always kind of a little bit of a rush to get everything done, and we’ve usually got family things going on, and just a lot of work kind of accumulates at that time of year. So I was feeling a little bit of that at the end of last year. So we had this conversation, my friend and I, about burnout, and she pointed out that burnout and boredom can often feel really similar, and sometimes you really just need some kind of a new project that will reinvigorate your passion rather than maybe ceasing work on something. So I thought that was really interesting, and I kind of wanted to talk about that today because I think it’s something that we can feel towards life, towards work, towards our creative activities. It can really manifest in all these different ways. So I thought I would start by talking about the term burnout and what it really means.

So I think we all have an intuitive sense of what it means. And maybe in the context of your sewing or your creative hobbies, I think we all kind of have a sense of what it means to get burned out on them. You’re just like, you’re tired of them, you’re sick of doing this, and maybe that is something that is going on throughout your life, and it’s something that you’re noticing in the things that you normally enjoy. But I wanted to start by just talking about the actual term burnout. So in the book, in the book Burnout, she says that the term was coined by Herbert Freudenberger, and he defined three components of burnout. So the first one is emotional exhaustion, and that’s the fatigue that comes from carrying too much for too long. So I think we all know what emotional exhaustion is sometimes. If you might have heard the term compassion fatigue, things like that. Just 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 one is depersonalization.

So that’s the depletion of empathy, caring and compassion. That kind of goes with the first one. So if you notice yourself losing your sense of empathy, losing your sense of caring, that’s the second symptom of burnout. And then the third one is a decreased sense of accomplishment, an unconquerable sense of futility, feeling that nothing you do makes any difference. And I think that’s the one that can often feel so similar to boredom. It’s kind of like this general sense of malaise or apathy or just feeling, like, lack of efficacy in whatever it is that you’re burned out on. So I thought I’d start with those because I think it’s really interesting to think about those and how they might be manifesting for each of us and then how they relate to boredom. So I wanted to talk about that. So for you, Haley, what similarities do you see between boredom and burnout?

Haley
Well, I think that, like you mentioned, that the decreased sense of accomplishment is a feeling that I heavily associate with boredom as well. Maybe a bit of exhaustion as well, but not so much as how it’s defined here with burnout, not so much this emotional exhaustion, but just more of, like, being tired of something. When you’re bored, it’s hard to rally the energy to do the thing that maybe it is that you used to like a lot. There’s a lot of similarities. I see a little bit of overlap. It kind of seems like a symptom. Boredom seems more of a symptom of the burnout as I’m seeing it here.

Sarai
Yeah, I noticed a heavy theme of energy here, like this lack of energy. And I feel like that’s present for both boredom and for burnout. If you’re really bored with what you’re doing, you just don’t have the energy for it because you don’t feel like it’s just not lighting you up. And then I think with burnout, maybe it’s been lighting you up for too long and your energy has just been taken up by it for too long. So it’s sort of two very different processes that kind of sometimes have the same result.

Haley
Yeah, definitely. I’m curious if you’ve ever been burnt out on sewing before.

Sarai
That’s a good question. I might have said yes in the past, but after this discussion, I think it goes more towards boredom. Yeah, same than burnout. I don’t think I get burned out on it because it’s fun and I don’t take it that seriously. If I did take it very seriously, like I do some other aspects of my life, then maybe I would get burned out on it. But I think maybe I would have said that I had been burned down on it, but actually, I think I was just kind of bored. What do you think?

Haley
Yeah, when looking at these kind of parameters a little bit more closely, I definitely feel like I have experienced burnout before, but never in sewing. Not in sewing. I think I’ve experienced boredom, and that’s why I’m kind of a chronic collector of hobbies, as I know you are, as well. So when I’m feeling bored, I just kind of hop onto another hobby and get excited. And I know I’ll always come back to it.

Sarai
I think, for me, a lot of times in my sewing or in other creative hobbies, if I do get bored, I just need to challenge myself in a new way or find something else that’s inspiring about it, maybe explore a niche in sewing that I haven’t done before or try something adjacent, like making shoes, making bags, making hats, making home goods, and just, like, find a new entrance into it again. Whereas I think if I was totally burned out on it, it would be more like, I need to do something else for a while. I need a break from it, but I don’t usually have that.

Haley
How have creative hobbies actually helped you with actual burnout?

Sarai
That’s a good question. I think about the areas where I do experience burnout in life. Some of them are work, obviously. I think everybody experiences burnout at work from time to time because work is by its nature. I mean, maybe it’s not for some people, but for most people, it’s challenging. And if you care about your work, which I do very deeply, then it can definitely lead to burnout from time to time. And I think in those cases, sewing or any other creative hobby, it could be drawing or gardening or whatever it is in different ways. They give me something else to care about. They kind of shift my brain into another mode of thinking, another mode of being, and remind me that there are other things that are outlets for my creativity and for my sense of who I am and a lot of the other benefits that I get from work, that there are other ways to realize those things besides work. So that’s one example. I think another place that I experienced burnout might be with relationships. If you’re dealing with a crisis in your family or a medical crisis in your family, things like that, which I have, I think in that case, it has given me at least a chance to reconnect with myself and kind of make sure that I feel fed so that I can give to others.

So those are the two things that I’ve really noticed in my life. What about you, Haley?

Haley
Yeah, I think I struggled with, like, an all around burnout a couple of years ago when we were kind of in the early pandemic times. I had a brand new baby. I was working full time. It was just like a lot. And I felt like I was very pedal to the metal for every single waking hour. And when you have a young baby, all of your hours are waking hours. So it was just kind of like a nonstop marathon. And I think that allowing more time for creativity, not just in sewing, but in other parts of my life, made me stop living my life like it was a checklist, which I think was something that really contributed to that feeling of burnout. And I had to learn to take the path of least resistance where I could to allow myself more room for those creative pursuits that made me feel like me and rested kind of emotionally and creatively while also making time for actual rest. So I did lots of that was my first time having like a big garden and baking a lot and sewing more often and really kind of scheduling those kinds of things for myself.

And it was one of the things that it wasn’t just that, but it was one of the things that helped me kind of like come around again. But it was a process.

Sarai
Yeah, I think that’s one of the things that is really hard about this is when you feel like you don’t have enough time. That’s often when you really need to schedule that time. And so it’s a little bit of a conundrum. It’s really hard to resolve sometimes because you know, you should be doing these things, or at least it would help you to do these things, but you honestly feel like there’s no way you can fit in another one more thing into your life. And I think that’s what makes it really so hard. And when people talk about self care, it’s not something that’s always easy to accomplish or as easy to accomplish as it’s made out to be. Sometimes it’s a big challenge.

Haley
Yeah, I feel lucky that I had resources to accomplish that. I have a partner who is really supportive and, you know, is like an equal shareholder in parenting, so that allows for it. But I know that it’s tough, it’s really tough to do. And I can’t like, pretend like creative hobbies are like the sole answer. But for me it was really, really helpful. What do you think makes it so hard to address feelings of burnout?

Sarai
Well, I think in addition to the time thing, which we just talked about in the book Burnout, she talks about how it’s really important to complete the cycle is the term she used. So complete the cycle in your body and with your emotions. So not just dealing with the external causes like we’ve talked about, some of the external things that are going on and some of the external issues might be making time and those kinds of things, but also that you need to deal with the actual symptoms that you’re having within your physical body in order to process it. And so I have this quote that I pulled out from the book that I think speaks to this. So she said, for a lot of people, the most difficult thing about completing the cycle is that it almost always requires that they stop dealing with whatever the cause of the stress, step away from that situation and turn instead toward their own body and emotions. So you have to set aside your problems in order to care for yourself for a moment. And I think that is really hard to do. Not just on the practical level, like we’ve just talked about, but just on the emotional level.

It’s really hard to convince yourself that that’s what you need to do is actually deal with how you’re feeling and your actual physical emotions, which I think is really interesting because I think it’s easy to forget that emotions are not some fairy dust that’s happening in your brain, but they’re actual things that you’re experiencing in your body. Emotions happen in your body and they’re very real and very important. So I think dealing with them is not something that we’re often trained to do or taught how to do. And that causes a lot of problems. I don’t know. What do you think? Have you experienced that?

Haley
Yeah, well, emotions are like there is, like, physiological event in our body. If I had some other bodily thing I needed to deal with, like I don’t know, if I sprained my ankle, I wouldn’t keep running on it. I would address it. And I think treating your mental health, your emotions, in the same way is vital. It’s hard in a culture where it’s not like prioritized as much. It puts the onus on the individual.

Sarai
For sure, yeah. Took me a really long time to understand this concept. Like an embarrassingly long time. I kind of feel like for most of my life, I denied stress completely until it was overwhelming. So basically, until I reached the breaking point, I would just pretend it wasn’t happening or tell myself that I just had to get through it. That’s just the price I have to pay for doing what I wanted to do or whatever it was. And so I think now that I’m a little older, I can see it ahead of time and going to see around the corner a bit and do things to address it. And creative activities are one of those things for me. So I’m curious about how you feel like it manifests for you. What are the symptoms that you tend to notice when you’re starting to feel burnout?

Haley
Definitely, I think that the precursor to the emotional exhaustion is this general sense of being emotionally afraid. If I feel, like, extra sensitive, like anything is just going to set me off into being a ball of tears, I am a crier. But it’s pretty predictable. I think I had, for a while maybe the reputation of being the person at the office who cried, but I was the person who had to read all of the personal essays that people submitted and they were really sad. But I usually know the things that are going to be like emotional for me or make me cry. But when I feel like my emotions are getting a little bit out of control, a little bit less predictable, that’s like when I start to assess some things in my life. I think also when I’m not feeling like, I don’t feel like I have the capacity to be super empathetic too. That’s another sign. I’m just generally just impatient and I’m having trouble having empathy in the same way that I typically do.

Sarai
Yeah, I definitely feel that one a lot. I think one of the things that I deal with is you’re just taking on other people’s feelings a lot. So if somebody else seems upset or if somebody else seems like they’re in a bad mood and they might not even be like I might just perceive a tone of voice or something like that. This is mostly at work. I worry about it all the time and so when that can be really exhausting. So after a period of that, I can start to feel that kind of emotional exhaustion and just feeling like not wanting to take that on anymore. So that’s definitely something that I look out for. I think another thing for me is just that sense of and this is where I think it comes into the boredom thing is that sense of malaise. And just like I stopped caring about the things I normally care about. And that could be boredom or it could be burnout or it could be some combination of the two maybe, I don’t know.

Haley
Yes, I do want to circle back to the boredom a bit. Where do you think that boredom fits into all of this?

Sarai
Well, I think like we’ve been talking about, they can be easy to confuse just because of that general sense of not caring can be present for both of them. And so I think we can kind of maybe tease apart some of the causes and that can help to diagnose it. And I think we’ll talk about that a little bit when we get to the tips that I’ve learned from all of this. But I think the good news is that regardless if you’re burned out or if you’re bored, I think creative activities can really help to alleviate both of those feelings or set of feelings. So one of the things that Dr. Nagoski mentioned in the book is that creative expression is one of the ways we can work through burnout. So in addition to things like physical activity or social interaction or laughter, those are all ways that we can help to process our physical emotions. She says creative expression is actually one of the ways that we can work through burnout, which I think is so interesting I’ve definitely found that to be the case, that just doing things that are creative can help me to process my feelings, even small things, even if it’s not like, you know, painting a masterpiece or something or, you know, writing a novel.

It could be just going out into my garden for a little while or sketching or whatever it is. I think for all the reasons that we’ve already talked about, shift of focus, I think is a really helpful one.

Haley
Yeah. So you came up with some really great questions to kind of ask yourself when you’re questioning whether you’re experiencing some burnout, some boredom, what’s kind of going on? Can you share those with us?

Sarai
Yeah, as we were talking about this, I think there are a number of questions or steps you can go through to figure out what you’re feeling and then how you might best deal with it. So there are three main questions here that I think you can ask yourself. So the first one is, are you feeling the other symptoms of burnout in addition to maybe that sense of boredom, that sense of on we or that sense of not caring, and that can help you to kind of figure out where it’s coming from. So we go back to those three signs of burnout. So in addition to that kind of lack of accomplishment, that lack of efficacy, that kind of general feeling of malaise, which might be burnout or might be boredom, there was also the component of emotional exhaustion. So do you feel emotionally depleted? Is that how you’re feeling? And then the second one was depersonalization or a lack of empathy. And that might not be if we’re talking about things like are you burned out on your sewing practice, for example. Maybe the lack of empathy won’t manifest as much, but I think generally those are two things that you can look for.

Personally, for me, I think burnout tends to infect every aspect of my life at once, and not just one. So it might come from one area, but it tends to kind of spread into other things. So that’s just one thing you can ask yourself if you are just trying to tease apart whether you feel burned out or whether you feel bored so that you can figure out how to address it. Are you feeling emotional exhaustion? Are you feeling that lack of empathy? So the second question you can ask yourself is what type of creative activity is going to be most fulfilling for you right now? If you’re bored, you might need something that’s really challenging and exciting to kind of get you back on track. And if you’re feeling burned out, you might need to just focus on enjoying the process and relaxing into the creativity and not being so focused on outcome. So you can think of it as kind of a dial. What speed do you need right now? Do you need to really push yourself and find that fun again or find something that’s new and challenging and exciting and something you’ve never done before, help you get out of that boredom sense?

Or do you need something that’s relaxing and that you can just maybe in some ways turn your brain off or turn part of your brain off and relax into what you’re doing and enjoy the physical sensations, the motor skills. It can be very soothing to do things that your hands are used to doing, whether that’s sewing or knitting or whatever it is. It can just be very physically soothing. So that’s another thing you can ask yourself is just where do you want to put that dial on the challenging to relaxing spectrum? So that’s the second question. And then the third one is what kinds of creative activities can you incorporate on an ongoing basis to prevent burnout and stress? And I think this is so important because I think stress is a really serious health issue that we probably don’t talk about or address enough. It’s a source of a lot of physical illness. A source or a contributor anytime you have some kind of little malady or you go to the doctor because something like they always ask about your stress. And the recommendation, whether you’re looking at things online or talking to your doctor is always, how can you reduce stress?

And it seems it’s a huge challenge. But I think what I’m talking about is not necessarily the stress of an acute stress. Sometimes it is, but the kind of chronic stress that I think a lot of us deal with that just never goes away. And I think it’s really important for me at least to figure out ways to mitigate that and not have constant low level stress in my life. And for me, creativity is one of the ways that I do that. So maybe you just need some processes in your life that you can think of, like built in speed bumps for yourself, things that you don’t have to necessarily think about, but that just become part of your process of daily or weekly life. And also think about how you want to feel while you’re doing them so you don’t end up using them as a way to just do more and be more productive and hold yourself to an even higher standard. You know, kind of going back to what you were saying, Haley, about feeling everything’s a checklist, that’s a trap that I really easily fall into where even things that I enjoy become things that are on my checklist that I want to get done so I can move on to the next thing.

So I think if you can step back and think about how you want them to affect you and how you want to feel while you’re doing them, that can be really helpful. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I feel like I could use some kind of regular time set aside. I haven’t really figured out when it should be, but sometimes set aside in my life just for creativity, just for fun, like sewing, drawing, whatever it is. I’m struggling to find when that would be just logistically. But I do think for me it’s like something I’m noticing that I really need. Do you have that, Hailey? Do you have like a time that you set aside to do stuff like that?

Haley
It changes on a kind of seasonal basis just because I feel like my schedule changes as the sun kind of changes, the daylight changes. Right now I just moved a couple of weeks ago and the whole like finding a house and all of the build up to moving and then unpacking kind of get away with all of that. So I feel like I need to build that in again. Historically, Eric and I used to split Saturdays so he would have like one half of the day to do his thing, I would have the other half. It was really nice, but sometimes it would stress me out because I felt like this is my chance, this is my 4 hours a week to sew something or do a project. So I like to kind of find a way to build smaller chunks of time in a couple of times a week would be my ideal, but I don’t have that currently. I have everything else scheduled into my life working out, eating, social time, but not that right now it’s bad. I just do it when I can fit it in.

Sarai
Yeah, it’s tough. I was thinking about maybe at our company we do summer Fridays, so we do optional short days on Fridays through the summer because here in Oregon the summers are beautiful and quite short so I want to make sure everybody gets a chance to enjoy them. So I was thinking about maybe using that time Friday afternoons to just as my creative time over the summer, whether that’s being out in the garden or doing some sewing or whatever it is that I want to do.

Haley
Yeah, that’s a good idea. I might have to borrow that. Well, we had a really good conversation today about burnout and boredom. I do want to recap your questions to ask yourself real quick. The first question is, are you feeling other symptoms of burnout? Those being emotional exhaustion and depersonalization? And also, are you feeling this kind of across the board in your life? Because oftentimes burnout tends to be kind of all consuming. The second question is what type of creative activity is going to be most fulfilling to you right now? Think of it kind of like a speed dial. If you’re bored, you might need a challenge. You need to crank that speed dial up. If you’re feeling burned out, you might need a little bit more gentle creative practice. So turn that dial down and do something that has kind of a low point of entry. And then the third question is, what kinds of creative activities can you incorporate in your life on an ongoing kind of basis to prevent burnout or prevent stress and kind of having these little speed bumps we’re calling them for yourself that are built in so you don’t end up going too fast and crashing your car.

I think these are all really good kind of internal conversation to have with yourself. Oh, no. Have it with a friend, have it with a family member, whatever. Good conversation to have. So if you are wanting to learn a little bit more about this, we have another episode of the podcast you can listen to, and it is called Escaping the Cult of Efficiency. That’s episode 55, and it’s all about kind of getting out of that mindset of being ultra efficient in all aspects of your life, which is a trap I know I fall into often, and it feels very heavily related to burnout to me. And if you want to take a little break from actually sewing and refresh your sewing space and kind of rejuvenate all of your creativity, I definitely recommend downloading the Ultimate Guide to Setting Up Your Sewing Space. It’s a free mini guide that has tons of tips and ideas for creating a better, more functional sewing area, no matter how much space you have. I know that having an optimized space for myself really makes me want to spend more time in it makes me want to spend more time sewing.

So check that out.

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