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Burnout

Advice on what to look out for as a musician, strategies to prevent and recover from burnout for individuals and organisations, as well as further resources.

Last updated: 05 January 2024

What is burnout?

Burnout is the result of emotional exhaustion and is usually experienced in a work context, where there may be excessive stress and a lot of social interaction with other people.

Someone experiencing burnout will feel exhausted and may feel overwhelmed by the needs of other people. They may have lost enjoyment for what they do, and withdraw from social events with colleagues, cancel meetings or rehearsals, have emotional outbursts, not seem ‘themselves’.

For musicians this is less likely to arise from creative practice, and more likely to be triggered by social and professional interaction with fellow musicians, managers, industry contacts or fans.

Symptoms of burnout might include:

  • Feeling drained and used up - emotionally exhausted
  • Lacking in motivation
  • Overwhelm
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Emotional detachment
  • Depersonalisation of people you view as causing the problem (feeling cynical, negative or insensitive towards people around you, or simply feeling like you ‘don’t care’ anymore)
  • Cutting back on involvement with others, and thereby damaging relationships
  • Self-doubt - this crumbling of self-esteem can spiral into depression
  • Low mood
  • Feeling that you are accomplishing less, or not as much as you should be
  • Fearing that you are turning into someone you don’t like.

Certain signs to look out for as a musician

Musicians may:

  • Cancel gigs or work
  • Withdraw from practise sessions or practise too much
  • Increase their use of alcohol or substances
  • Increase other addictive behaviours, such as use of social media
  • Find it difficult to work with other people

Causes of burnout

Burnout is a result of bad situations rather than a weakness or lack of resilience in the individual. The music industry can be a challenging environment to work in. Research shows that around 80% musicians have struggled with mental health worries, and that incidence of burnout is high.

Work-related risk factors for burnout in the music industry include:

  • The unpredictable and sometimes precarious nature of being freelance, including financial worries.
  • Touring and being away from home.
  • Working inconsistent, long hours with late nights
  • Being unable to create a routine.
  • The emotional highs and lows of being on and off stage, or of working intensely on music projects like recording, composing and producing.
  • Tolerating intense work environments due to fear of being seen to complain
  • Working in a competitive industry
  • The social and emotional demands of networking and self-promotion, both in person and online

That said, there are factors and traits that may make certain individuals more susceptible to /at risk of experiencing workplace burnout such as:

  • Having a poor sense of self-worth and a need for external validation and approval
  • Working intensively to the exclusion of other activities. Musicians often struggle to get some balance in their lives, and because of the demands of their career they may neglect other activities.
  • Having traits of perfectionism
  • Being neurodivergent and the associated stress of over-compensating behaviours such as masking to adapt to neurotypical systems.
  • Having a highly developed sense of empathy with others to the point of over-empathising.
     

Strategies to prevent and recover from burnout

By anticipating the things that may be hard to manage, and what we can do individually and collectively to help ourselves and others cope and stay well, we can reduce the risk of burnout.

Advice for individuals

  • Regaining a sense of personal power and agency is vital to recovering from burnout.
  • Don’t delay getting help. Consult a health professional as soon as possible. Problems are easier to solve when tackled early on. Talk to your NHS GP and consider seeking counselling. Therapeutic or skills-based support can go a long way in helping to understand who you are, how you work and what you need. Specialist services such as BAPAM provide free expert advice from clinical experts who understand a life in music.
  • Burnout is usually the result of a bad situation, and if this is due to your work or a job, trying to improve your working conditions is important. MU who are concerned about their working conditions can contact their Regional Office for advice and support.
  • Establish boundaries. Each person will implement boundaries differently, but by understanding what you want and what you don’t want, you can better manage your mental, physical and creative energy and decide what you can and cannot commit to. Be clear about what you will and will not do and the extent of your responsibilities. Maybe your boundaries need to be restated and re-communicated if they have slipped or been breached.
  • Psychologically prepare for stage performances, creating a routine to step into your ‘performance self’ and then to return to your ‘private self’. This is to enhance and to preserve creative energy, and to implement boundaries. Recognise the pressures of maintaining an ‘artist persona’ and learn how to switch off.
  • Work on maintaining a healthy routine – aim to get enough sleep to sustain your mental and physical health, schedule time for creativity, emails, social media and proper meal times. Very importantly, schedule free time and time doing other hobbies and seeing friends and family outside the industry.
  • It’s worth thinking about any other changes you can make in your life which might reduce stress or introduce more calmness.
  • Remember the basics: take care of your diet, exercise, fitness and sleep. Avoid smoking and alcohol or substance abuse.
  • Manage social media and time away from it.
  • Practise techniques and exercises that support mental health e.g. breathing techniques/ meditation / journalling / yoga.
  • Set realistic goals but make sure to think about the journey as well as the destination. Remember what you love about music. What is good for your mental health in your creative practice?
  • It may be necessary to consider changing job or ending a creative project and focusing your energy elsewhere if improvement is not possible.

Advice for managers, employers and organisers

  • Support musicians to work in a healthier environment by increasing awareness and access to help and information.
  • Create a culture in the industry where it’s ok to speak out about mental health issues without fear of losing work or being judged. Encourage open communication and collaboration. Show that it is normal to experience difficulties as well as successes.
  • Understand health risks for music professionals, your responsibilities and duty of care.
  • Plan schedules and tour routes to enable musicians to have regular breaks, pre- and post-performance routines, time for healthy eating, sleep, time away from work, keeping physically fit and practising techniques and exercises that support mental health.
  • Act quickly and effectively to provide support when needed.
  • The MU and BAPAM can provide further advice to organisations on supporting health in the music industry.

Further advice on managing burnout

MU resources

BAPAM resources

Other resources

 

The content of this page has been produced by BAPAM with Denise Devenish, psychotherapist and Fiona Macbeth, psychotherapist.

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