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How to Overcome Animation Burnout

Burnout can happen even to the best and most experienced animators. This type of work-related stress can lead to physical or mental exhaustion, ultimately affecting efficiency and the way we handle projects. 

Though rewarding, the animation industry can be demanding. It is a career that requires you to perform and thrive under pressure, meet tight deadlines, and is the perfect balance of technicalities and creativity. 

So, if you are an animator looking for ways to deal with the constant stress of animating for big studios and companies, the Business of Animation is here to help you out! 

In this blog post, we'll share with you the causes, signs, and phases of animation burnout, the best ways to overcome it while working in the animation industry, and why maybe working as a freelance animator could be what you need to avoid burnout altogether!

What Is Animation Burnout and Why Do Animators Experience It?

an animator who is burnt out

GIF by Hulu via Giphy

Often considered as the founding father of the term 'burnout,' psychologist and psychotherapist Herbert Freudenberger characterized it as a state of "becoming exhausted by making excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources" in the workplace. 

Animation burnout is more than just fatigue, and when left on its own and untreated, it can negatively impact your physical and psychological health. But burnout isn't only a result of your work environment. 

Internal or personality-related factors also play a role. Individuals who experience burnout are often perfectionists, dedicated and committed to honing their craft, those needing to be in control, and pressured to meet deadlines.

That is why it doesn't come as a shock that many animators, especially those working in established animation companies, are subject to burnout.

Animations require laser focus and meticulousness and can take days to weeks and even months to complete. And when an animator experiences burnout, it could lead to a creative or animation block.

It also doesn't help that some animators are grossly underpaid. According to Vox, some animators earn about 200 yen or less than $1 per drawing, like those in the anime industry. The workload, long hours, and low pay that animators may go through are all contributing risk factors to burnout.

Luckily, there are ways to deal with burnout in the animation industry. The first step is to acknowledge and spot its signs.

Signs of Animation Burnout

an animator sees a sign that they are burned out

GIF by Travis via Giphy

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of animation burnout, let's get one thing clear: burnout ≠ lazy. Animation burnout is a real thing and has been since the early 1970s! Stress and burnout also shouldn't be confused with one another, even though these two terms are connected.

Stress is when you are handling many things at once that it may cause you to feel a loss of energy or basically when you have too many balls in the air, while burnout is when you've run out of steam.

And though not recognized as a medical illness, the World Health Organization recently classified burnout as an "occupational phenomenon" characterized by three dimensions

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
  • Increased mental distance or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job.
  • Lower professional efficacy.

Other than those stated above, animators can even start having trouble animating and conceptualizing ideas for upcoming projects or finding that the animation work they've produced is not on par with their usual standard.

Sometimes, animators can also experience headaches and changes in their appetite and sleeping habits. Animators undergoing burnout may also be moody or easily irritable.

That means that your temper is running on a short fuse, and you may find yourself losing your cool with co-workers, friends, and family.

Animation burnout can, too, result in a creative block. But just like burnout, there are ways for animators to overcome a creative block. If this seems like something you can relate to, there's a high chance that you are indeed a burned-out animator and maybe in need of some rest and recreation.

Stages of Burnout That Animators Should Look Out For

Burnout doesn't just happen overnight. It is progressive and occurs gradually. Herbert Freudenberger initially described the chronological development of a burnout syndrome using a twelve-stage model, but the process was later simplified into five stages: 

1) Honeymoon Phase

animators who don't realize they're burned out due to the honeymoon phase

GIF by E! via Giphy

Likened to the honeymoon stage experienced by new couples, this burnout phase is all sunshine and rainbows! This stage happens to those who have just entered the animation industry, got a raise, or were newly assigned to spearhead or take part in exciting projects with clients.

There are no telltale signs of burnout during this phase, and productivity, efficacy, and satisfaction are at their peak. However, entering a new role may cause some animators to take on more than they can cause them to overwork.

If not handled correctly, the honeymoon phase will end, marking the start of the next burnout stage.

2) Onset of Stress Phase

animator slowly realizing they're feeling stressed out because of work

GIF by Netflix via Giphy

This stage is when the stress of working in the animation industry becomes more prominent. During this stage, try to take note of any mental or physical tells. 

Signs that an animator may be in this phase are disruptions in their work-life balance where they have less time for family and friends, feelings of anxiety and lack of motivation have arisen, and an inability to focus for long periods.

3) Chronic Stress Phase

As the name suggests, at this point, the stress has become chronic or more persistent that it has begun affecting your animation projects and productivity. You may notice that you have started procrastinating and avoiding work-related discussions.

4) Burnout Phase

animator has now reached their limit and burned out

GIF by NBC via Giphy

This stage is burnout itself and happens when an animator has reached their limit. During this phase, animators aren't functioning like they used to and feel demotivated, numb, and experience moments of self-doubt. 

5) Habitual Burnout Phase

This stage occurs when signs of burnout are ignored and not appropriately addressed. Animators will see that burnout isn't just affecting their work, but their relationships and everyday life as well.

You may find yourself not finding joy in old hobbies at this phase. This stage is by far the riskiest of them all since your job status may be in trouble.

How to Deal With Animation Burnout

1) Be Kind to Yourself

animators who forgive themselves and acknowledge their burnout

GIF by GIPHY News via Giphy

To overcome burnout, animators must acknowledge that they are going through a rough patch in their animation career and personal life. Animators should try their best to practice some self-compassion.

Taking the time to understand your situation will help you forgive yourself for past mistakes that you may have made. Doing this will help you move forward, and you may start to see that this is part of the learning process to becoming a better animator.

It can also help you avoid replicating the same missteps and push you to find healthier coping mechanisms when you are stressed and anxious when handling an animation project with a client.

2) Be Open to Other Opportunities in the Animation Industry

animators who look to other opportunities to avoid being burned out

GIF by Masterchef Junior via Giphy

If you are burned out and find yourself unhappy animating for big studios and companies, you could always share your concerns with your supervisor to find compromises or solutions.

But sometimes a change of scenery is good. The great thing about the animation industry is that there are plenty of opportunities that you could explore that could help you grow your career and positively impact your life.

Of these options is becoming a freelance animator. A freelancing career grants you more independence, an improved work-life balance, control over the projects you want to do, and how much you get paid. 

At first, self-employment may seem daunting, but there are plenty of resources you could find online to learn the dos and don'ts for freelance animators

The Business of Animation even has an online Animation Accelerator™ program designed to help animators build successful freelance animation careers and studios! 

This one-of-a-kind program is best for ambitious, experienced, independent, and efficient animators who are ready to make the leap and see that learning the business of animation is more important than the quality of the animation.

3) Seek Support From Fellow Animators

animators help each other to avoid burnout

GIF by Kim’s Convenience via Giphy

Everyone needs a support system. Reaching out to friends, family, or even other animators who may be in the same predicament as you can help you cope with burnout. There are also animation communities that you could join.

Animation organizations have many member privileges that you can enjoy. These communities usually offer training programs, certification classes, podcasts for animators, and more.

Joining is also a great way to network and connect with fellow animators or creative professionals in the animation industry.

4) Find Time to Do Personal Animation Projects

animators who avoid burnout have fun doing personal project

GIF by RuPaul's Drag Race via Giphy

Rekindle the spark you felt when you first began animating by doing personal projects. Since many animators got into the industry by turning their hobby for animation into a career, doing passion projects outside of work can help them remember why they started it in the first place. 

Personal projects are also an excellent avenue for growth. Animators can experiment and try different styles without fearing that it could cost them their careers.

There is also a rewarding feeling that you could gain from finishing personal animation projects since you know that you are doing it for yourself and not for a client.

5) Take Mental Health Breaks From the Animation Industry

animators who take a break to avoid burnout

GIF by ALLBLK via Giphy

Don't be afraid to take breaks to improve your mental health. Breaks can last from a couple of days to months and even a year. Use that time to gain new perspectives, get your creative juices flowing again, and restore your love for animating.

You could go on a vacation with friends and loved ones or take up passion projects and new hobbies like starting a community garden or training for a marathon. Creative sabbaticals are also highly proven beneficial for animators looking to treat animation blocks.

Say Goodbye to Animation Burnout!

Dealing with animation burnout is challenging, but the good news is that it is preventable and curable. Being kind, taking breaks, and having the right support system can help an animator battle burnout.

Other ways to deal with it is by testing out new roles and taking on new challenges, such as starting a freelancing career as an animator. With a freelancing career, animators can work as much or as little as they want, have the freedom to choose their animation clients and projects, and can work remotely or in any location.

To learn more about the business of animation, sign up for our Animation Accelerator™ program and while you're at it, check out our free masterclass, and download a copy of our free marketing handbook!

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