Burn Out in the Art World

The topic of “burn out” has become increasingly more popular over the last several years as many people have become more aware of their mental health and the effect the endless “go-go-go” mentality can have on it. Burn out has become even more prevalent in the last few years as, combined with the endless stress of the global pandemic, people are burning out hard.

Working in the art world, both in museum and academic settings, can be a terrible recipe for burn out. Working at museums, especially smaller museums, staff may be overworked, stretched too thin as they work to cover a myriad of responsibilities. A culture created around the idea that “everyone pitches is where ever they’re needed” can mean staff are taking on additional projects and tasks that fall outside their job description under the guise of being a team player. So many of us are passionate about art and museums and we want to dedicate ourselves to what we love so much, but that can also mean boundaries are erased. Work may spill into the evenings or weekends to make a deadline, calls and emails may be answered at all hours of the day, and it can be hard to say no.

In fields such as museums, where jobs can be limited and hard to get, employees may feel they should be grateful they even have a job in their field, that they should put in the hard work because they’re lucky to even work in the competitive museum field. We are lucky to work in a field we love, but that doesn’t mean staff should neglect caring for themselves and their mental health by prioritizing boundaries and healthy work habits. If you are currently feeling the strain of burn out or looking to enter the art world and want to prevent burn out, here are a few tips:

  • Set a schedule and stick to it
    • This can be difficult as the art world is not always a 9-5 job kind of place, but set limits for yourself about when you are working and when you are not and hold firm to those boundaries. If you work a 9-5 kind of job, turn off your work email after 5pm and don’t check it again until 9am. If you make your own hours, designate a specific time to do work and when to stop and make sure anyone you work with is also aware of those time boundaries. Staying constantly in “work mode” by getting work emails, answering work calls, or continuing to do work all hours of the day can keep your brain in a high level of stress. Give your brain and body a break and shift into “leisure mode” at the end of the day!
  • Say “No”
    • As mentioned above, it can often feel like we should be grateful for every opportunity and should take every project and task we’re given because we love what we do, right? But overwhelming yourself with too much work is stressful and doing too much often means something doesn’t get done properly or something gets forgotten. Set boundaries, say “no” to things, it’s okay!
  • Move your body, if possible
    • Build time into your day to disconnect from work and move your body. Turn off your computer for a few minutes and stretch in your seat! Instead of ordering food to the office, walk down the street to pick up your favorite lunch! Walk or bike to work! Take a five minute walk around the block! In the wise words of Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.”
  • Take time off
    • It’s not always possible to take a week-long vacation, but take a Friday off (and taking a Friday off to travel to your cousin’s wedding or to run a million errands does not count) and enjoy a long weekend to relax and recharge. Take a weekend trip away or have stay-cation away from work emails and responsibilities!
  • Make time for things that make you happy
    • During that “leisure time” we’re designating for ourselves (see the first bullet point), do something that brings you joy. Get dinner or drinks with your best friend (and don’t talk about work!), go to a concert or performance, go for a hike on a beautiful day, or just stay in with your dog and watch your favorite movie. Try to find things to do outside of museums or art spaces – they can remind you too much of work! Prioritize making time for the things that make you happy and help you unwind!

None of this is easy, especially when you do love what you do, but prioritizing your mental health and working to prevent burn out will make you a better museum and art professional in the long run!

Now get outside and soak up some sunshine!

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