It’s no secret that the last few years have been enormously stressful. Facing unknowns, changing routines, and insecurity over income have all contributed to a general feeling of stress and anxiety for a lot of us.
Artists have been one of the groups most affected by the global pandemic with shows cancelled or postponed, and while there has been financial support available, the uncertainty of knowing when things will return to some sort of normal has been difficult for people to navigate.
Given that, it’s no surprise that many artists may be feeling a higher than normal level of stress and this can play out in many ways.
Studies have revealed that there’s new kind of burnout that’s become prevalent during the pandemic and it consist of three elements:
1) emotional and physical exhaustion
2) a sense of being disconnected from family or work
3) a feeling of being less effective.
All of these things feed into a general feeling of fatigue and exhaustion. This in turn can create a general feeling of negativity and impatience.
If you’re feeling this, you’re not alone.
Have you noticed that your interactions have been slightly more impatient or aggressive lately?
Anecdotally, we hear there have been more instances of angry phone calls, emails or meetings between arts organisations and artists.
And while it’s understandable to sometimes lose your cool when you’re tired, there is a danger of burning bridges if we make a phone call or send an email that may have been written when emotions are running high.
But there are ways of managing stress and burnout. Here are a few tips:
- Recognise that you may be feeling much less engaged and focussed than usual. Don’t internalise this as failure. Sometimes knowing that other people feel the same way as you, or just acknowledging that you feel less enthusiastic or less sociable can help make you feel better.
- Ensure you are doing things to help yourself – even if they don’t seem like much fun. This includes getting enough sleep and exercise and making sure you’re eating healthily.
- Find ways to detach yourself from stress. This might mean simply listening to your favourite playlist. Reading a book. Or going to an art gallery. When you’re feeling stressed, take a break from social media as that can also amp up your stress levels.
- Some artists find that stress can be helpful to create new work. Others find that a spot of procrastination never hurts. Don’t force yourself when you’re exhausted. You just have to find what works for you.
Now back to those fraught interactions.
While there’s understanding in the arts sector of the wider burnout issue, firing off an angry email or yelling down a phone can have some unintended consequences.
So, here are some tips for better communication that won’t lead to burnt bridges.
- Remember that almost everyone is feeling the same sort of frustrations and exhaustion that you are. Everyone is dealing with unknowns and external pressures, so bear in mind that while you may feel better unloading in an email, it may be the 3rd such email the recipient has received that day.
- Don’t make a call or send an email when you’re feeling angry or exhausted. By all means write the email, but make sure you put it in your draft folder until later. Step away for half an hour and only call or email when you’re feeling calmer. While it might feel great in the moment to press send, it’s not the best way of dealing with frustration.
- Remember that emails always sound more negative in tone than you may mean them to. Research has shown that even a neutral email is perceived as negative; suggested improvements are read as criticism; and a slightly critical remark is perceived as highly critical.
- Have someone else read over your email before you send it, if you are feeling impatient or bad tempered. Or if you don’t have someone available to read your draft, ask yourself how you would feel if you were the person receiving it.
- Never use insults or swear in an email.
- Don’t cc people into any email that may be personal or confrontational. And don’t ‘reply all’ is your response is snarky.
- If you do send a particularly grumpy email that you regret, it doesn’t hurt to apologise. You’d be amazed how few people do apologise, and how effective an apology can be.
These are uncertain times for everyone and fatigue has well and truly set in. In time, this will pass, but for the meantime we all need to be a little more understanding of each other and try not to let emotions and stress get the better of us.