The fall season is upon us and the arts are back! Along with the excitement of a new season, there are still many challenges for people in the arts. And these challenges can lead to burnout on the part of arts leaders and creative artists. Let’s explore five happiness practices that can help prevent burnout in these creatives and allow them to thrive.
While the health crisis that shut down the arts at the start of the pandemic has abated, the arts sector was one of the hardest hit areas.
Government funding during the pandemic which saved jobs and allowed arts organizations to stay afloat is gone. Now, organizations are back to raising money and generating revenues and attempting to balance their budgets. And artist employment, while recovering, is still down 10% from pre-pandemic levels.
And while audiences are increasingly ready to resume attending in-person programs, audiences are still not coming back in pre-pandemic numbers as reported in a recent article in the New York Times.
For those who are leading arts organizations, it’s very challenging to stay positive and motivated. And for performers and composers, how do you stay in the game and make a living?
Burnout in the Arts
For people in the arts, this situation is extremely stressful and is the kind of stress that can lead to burnout. Burnout is a state of mental, emotional, and sometimes physical exhaustion in response to prolonged stress. The signs of burnout include not only exhaustion but also feelings of cynicism, a sense of ineffectiveness, depression, and lethargy.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to prevent and even manage burnout. One great source of strategies comes from the SPIRE Happiness framework of Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar which I have studied at the Happiness Studies Academy. Tal, the co-founder and instructor of the program, is an internationally renowned teacher, best-selling author, and consultant in the fields of happiness and leadership. The Happiness Studies Academy program is based on the science of happiness and offers research-based practices to help us lead of life of whole-being happiness. The SPIRE model summarizes how we can work towards achieving greater happiness and fulfillment in our lives through:
S: spiritual wellbeing
P: physical wellbeing
I: intellectual wellbeing
R: relational wellbeing
E: emotional wellbeing
5 Happiness Practices to Prevent Burnout
Here are five strategies from the science of happiness that can help you to regain your sense of well-being:
- Awareness: meditate
- Tap into your purpose
- Reframe Stress
- Rest and take breaks
- Connect with others
Prevent Burnout with Mindfulness
The first step in dealing with burnout is to recognize the state that you are in. This means engaging in the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is one of the two spiritual principles from the science of happiness that can enhance your well-being.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and who is credited with bringing mindfulness meditation to the West, defines mindfulness as follows:
Mindfulness is awareness that arises through
in the present moment,
The research on mindfulness shows that mindfulness promotes:
- An enhanced feeling of well-being;
- Better physical health; and
- Better mental health.
A government study concluded that mindfulness meditation has the potential to decrease stress and burnout in nurses by decreasing self-judgment and overidentification with experience, and by increasing resiliency, compassion, and emotional regulation.
Formal meditation is one way to be mindful. This is where you set aside time to allow the mind to rest on a single object; return to focus; breathe slowly, gently, and deeply; and allow the thoughts to come and go without judgment.
You can also engage in mini-meditations throughout the day. This means you can pause several times during the day, take 3 deep breaths, and ask yourself how you are feeling.
Mindfulness meditation and deep breathing promote the relaxation response. This is based on the research of Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School who discovered that these practices can counter chronic stress. Based on this research, Harvard has developed the SMART program, with a 3-step process to counteract chronic stress:
Step One: Elicit the Relaxation Response with meditation and deep breathing;
Step Two: Become aware of what stresses you out, and
Step Three: Learn adaptive strategies to manage stress.
Here’s how you can elicit the Relaxation Response, using the 3-step process to reduce your stress.
See how a few minutes a day of mindfulness can help to recharge you!
Prevent Burnout by Tapping into Purpose
Purpose is in the second spiritual principle of SPIRE.
Having a sense of purpose means that you find life meaningful and fulfilling. Purpose is key to creative success and fulfillment. Your purpose is what gets you out of bed every day. It connects you to the people you want to serve. It is your way of making the world a better place. And by tapping into your purpose, this can go a long way to preventing burnout.
One way you can prevent burnout is to change your perspective on your work. One way is to reframe your job as a calling to find greater meaning and satisfaction. Professors Jane E. Dutton, Justin M. Berg, and Amy Wrzesniewski advocate the practice of job crafting where you redefine your work to incorporate your motives, strengths, and passions.
To find and articulate your life purpose, follow this 4-step process. Then see how you can align your current situation with your purpose. And enjoy the feeling of being on purpose!
Prevent Burnout by Reframing Stress
Another SPIRE element that can help prevent burnout is the “P” for Physical Wellbeing. This starts with understanding the Mind/Body Connection.
Our attitudes and perceptions can affect our physical health. A great example is how we perceive stress. Many people believe that stress is something harmful that leads to anxiety, depression, suboptimal performance, and even death.
However, there is more and more research showing that stress, when properly managed, is actually good for us. It is how we perceive stress that matters.
Psychologist Kelly McGonigal in her TED Talk on stress explains that stress is a way to energize your body and your mind to meet a challenge! Moreover, when you see stress as a way to meet a challenge, you are more resilient. This, in turn, can help to relieve your feelings of stress and help you to recharge.
With this in mind, see how you can reframe stress as a source of energy and resilience!
Prevent Burnout through Physical Wellbeing: Recovery/Exercise/Nutrition
As we have just seen, stress is and of itself is not the problem. The real problem is the lack of recovery: not restoring our bodies and minds after exposure to stress.
Our 24/7 work culture, constant availability on our devices, and being continually plugged in mean that we don’t give ourselves the time to recover. And when you are constantly on and under stress, this is what can lead to burnout.
This leads to another aspect of Physical Wellbeing: Tal’s four-part wonder drug:
Recovery: getting enough sleep
Exercise: moving your body and getting some physical exercise
Nutrition: eating as much non-processed food as possible
Touch: aim for 5 hugs a day!
This four-part wonder drug affects how to think and feel because of the mind-body connection. How we think about our lives can affect how we feel physically. And how we feel impacts the rest of our lives.
Tal’s research on the 4-part wonder drug shows the following
- Better mental and physical healthy
- Boosted energy and self-esteem
- Sharper thinking
- Enhanced creativity
- Better relationships
Here are a few ways to incorporate the four-part wonder drug to prevent burnout.
- Take a break!
Taking breaks throughout the day is a powerful way to reduce the risk of burnout. In addition, Stepping away from work, even for a short break, can reset your brain, improve your mood, and restore your sense of well-being and enhance your physical health.
Recent research tells us that sitting all day can cause health problems, even if you exercise! As Tal says, “Sitting is the new smoking.” That’s why it is important to move throughout the day.
On your breaks, take the stairs or do a 5-minute stretch. If you have a little more time, take a walk or do a short workout. You can even encourage your fellow workers to gather for a weekly yoga class in the conference room or even a dance party.
- Eat well!
Minimize sugar and unhealthy carbs. Avoid processed foods and aim to eat natural foods.
One easy way to implement these changes? At snack time, instead of going for cookies and chips, eat fruit and nuts.
Prevent Burnout by Cultivating Healthy Relationships
The fourth part of the wonder drug leads to another practice that can reduce burnout: social connections. This invokes the first principle of the “R” of SPIRE: Relational Wellbeing: cultivating meaningful relationships with others.
This starts with maintaining close connections with family, loved ones, and friends. Moreover, having social connections at work can reduce burnout and enhance work satisfaction and productivity. This stems from the research that the most important factor in workplace happiness is positive social relationships with coworkers.
So make time to connect with your loved ones. Make a few calls each week to family and friends. Schedule a date night with your partner. And cultivate relationships with your co-workers! Attend those office parties. Make a lunch date or take a coffee break with a colleague. Better yet, take a walk with someone and get the benefit of moving and cultivating closer social ties.
There is a lot you can do to recharge your energy! And next time, we will take a look at how to make time and implement these changes into your busy life.