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How to: manage when you're struggling and burned out

Hands up if you get to winter feeling more than a little burned out?  Managing your business throughout the summer, travelling for shoots, trying to keep on top of your editing pile, trying to manage your existing clients and market to new ones, all while maintaining that elusive work/life balance can leave a lot of wedding photographers feeling fried by the end of the season.

Throw in the fact that a huge number of photographers seem to struggle with mental illness, and winter can be a really tough time for a lot of us.  

I personally had to take a month away from Facebook and a few weeks off work in December because I was feeling totally frazzled.  I experienced a period of debilitating depression and that combined with work stress left me feeling pretty broken.  Since then I have been concentrating on looking after myself, and finding ways to keep my stress levels down and energy levels up.  

When you're struggling, you find comfort in the strangest of places and it was a Call The Midwife Netflix marathon where I heard this quote, which stuck with me.  

I definetly don't want to make this post all about me and my recent experiences but I thought I'd share a little, because stress, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are still not talked about that much and I know that SO many photographers are battling these issues.  

Even if you don't have mental health considerations, it's likely that you're feeling a little burned out and exhausted at this time of year so I asked the SNAP community for their suggestions about how to avoid burn out and how to keep going when you feel like you can no longer keep going.  

All of the beautiful images illustrating this post are by Elly Lucas.

managing burn out for photographers

Write it down. I bought a weekly planner and split the work load every day.. so Monday - cull and edit 200 images.. Tuesday Cull 300 images, Wednesday - finish editing and do slideshow etc. Thursday Cull next wedding etc. Once I have done what is written for that day I can spend a few hours on a different project entirely and then once that's done.. I am FINISHED. IT makes the mountain a lot easier as every day I can actually complete the smaller mountain and my brain gets tricked in to feeling like I'm done.. I can then do something non work related and not feel the weight of what's left to do.  Emma Case Photography

"Go and spend some time with friends. When I'm snowed under with work I have a tendency to become a hermit, saying no to everything as I'm just 'too busy' and couldn't possibly take time out. I'm recently making more of an effort to spend quality time with the people I care about, and I always feel refreshed and do better work afterwards" -  Remain in Light Photography

managing overwhelm freelancers

"Make sure you find time for yourself and some sort of treat. Whether it's just sitting on the sofa with a cuppa and biscuits in front of the tv or a trip to the seaside. Sometimes you need to remember 'you' and what you're about and get away from work for a bit. Returning with a fresh head always helps me rather than just forcing myself to over-work"  Becky Ryan Photography

Learn to delegate. What don't you love doing? What can you outsource? 
• Get a plan. Where do you actually want to be and what's the best way to get there?
• Take some time out to look at your business process. Rather than just running headlong into getting stuff done and just making ends meet. This means literally taking time out of your usual work and putting real time into working out how things work and where you're stumbling. Think of it as planting seeds that will help your business grow in future.
• Ask for help. It might seem like you're failing if you're asking for help but in reality your business is going to fail if you don't ask for help. You are part of a community that is supportive and inspiring. You know you'd give help if you were asked. Start asking. - Lauren O'Farrell

One thing I've found really useful is simplifying how I spend my time, with a realistic work/body/mind balance at the core of it. So rather than planning days/weeks/weekends with hourly slots for everything like a regimented activity diary, I still plan work tasks *but* I also aim to do something that can tick off body care, achievement, connection, and enjoyment. Ideally everyday, but at least every couple of days. We are not but mere robots to churn out client comms, edited photos, accounts, business plans etc (and day job work for those of us still straddling the two). We have to keep ourselves healthy and connected as well.  Annie Lovett Photography

depression anxiety freelance life struggling

"STOP - step away and take time for you. Being a wedding photographer is so much more than just clicking a button on someones wedding day. We all give so much of ourselves to our couples to ensure we give and get the best we can and sometimes we can lose who we are / we forget to have a life and to take care of us!  We are able to pass on super, amazing photos which mean the world to our couples. BUT they are exactly that, just photos (and you know I don't, just mean just photos....They are a huge deal, you get me.... right?!) But if your couples have to wait 1 more week, to get them, so you can stop, re-charge, breathe, spend time with your kids, rebalance or just sleep - DO NOT FEEL BAD OR GUILTY about that.   You are what people are investing in. YOU need to be OK!  So my tip, always no matter how hard it is, not matter how pushed for time you are - find the time and prioritise you!  Kirsty - This and That Photography

You are what you eat. If you are feeling a bit down and can't decide what to cook for yourself every evening, cut yourself some slack and buy easy to prepare meals from the supermarket. It seems silly but I often end up living on toast / biscuits / cake during times of stress and that's not going to help at all. I always make sure that the day after a wedding I don't have to think too much about food, and it really helps with the recovery. Rowan at Ro Photographs

managing burn out work stress

"Take time to breathe. Go do the thing you enjoy that gives you brain space and reminds you that the world is larger than the insides of your office. For me it's walking in my favourite woods up high where I can see for miles and where I can breath air that smells of woods and green. And if I have the time going away for a couple of days and walking on beeches and spending time with my family. It's the reminder that you are more than a photographer alone and that there is more to life than editing. As great as that is, it's not the sole purpose to being" Larissa Joice Photography

"I've started making a point of doing stuff without my phone with me. Even just going to the supermarket. Not being contactable for an hour is marvellous and pretty liberating! Hannah Hall Photography

"In the words of Elsa....LET IT GO!!! Not every wedding will be amazing, not every couple will crackle with love and guess what? It's not your fault. Do your best, make your clients happy and move on the next ones. Swim in the amazing weddings, paddle in the average ones - don't go in too far or you will drown" Lee Allen Photography

business advice wedding photographers

"I took a little time off from any work that I didn't NEED to do. (The hardest part was admitting that there were a lot of things that I didn't need to do) Most of the pressure on me was placed there by myself. I let go a little. I saw a doctor. I spent time outside with friends. I traveled with my husband and I cleared out my home of all the clutter I'd been holding on to. I spoke to people, I asked for help. Time spent looking after yourself is not time wasted. My business wasn't damaged by taking time off, I didn't fall out of the loop like I thought I would, I didn't forget how to ride the proverbial bicycle just because I put it in the garage for a few months..." Shelley at Kindred Wedding Photography

Take a bath. Sounds so simple and stupid but my bath has got me through a lot the last 12 months. My mum got quite ill last year and the only time I felt I could block things out and not have my phone, laptop or carry the whole weight of my family on my shoulders was a nice lush bath bomb and my bath. Plus you feel so much better when you have a cry in the bath as it all blends in.  Lex at Fleming Photo

Think about what ACTUALLY makes you happy and pursue that. Other people's idea of success might not be the same thing that makes you feel fulfilled so don't feel like you have to be like everyone else. Personally I love my corporate event work - simple, great money, repeat clients. I love the creativity and the importance of wedding photography but I don't want to burn out with stress and concern so I choose to do mainly corporate and work towards 5-10 weddings a year. It makes me HAPPY having time to spend with friends, family and the family I'm creating.  Elyse Marks Photography

manage when struggling advice

I think it depends on the root of what is making you feel like you are struggling. If you feel like jacking it in because you feel like you're not good enough or will never be successful my advice is to take a leaf from this advice:  Liz Wan

My own advice.  Get off social media for a while.  When I was struggling the most in December it really helped me to quiet the noise.  I also put my out of office on for a couple of weeks and took a proper break, where I didn't think about work.  Get outside - daylight is important and so is exercise, even if it's just a gentle walk and even if it's the last thing in the world you feel like doing.  Speak to someone - I'm speaking to a therapist through an online service.  If you're really struggling ask for help.  And most importantly be kind to yourself.  Laura at Babb Photo

I'll end with another quote.  This one came via the Blurt Buddy Box which I receive every month.  It's an uplifting subscription box that encourages self care and is designed to counter the pressures we face in modern life.  You can check out their print of the quote here.

And finally, if you want to buoy up your business, find a new support network, learn new skills, get inspired and just take a bit of time out from your day to day life, do think about joining us at SNAP.  I love this account from Kirsty at This and That Photography about SNAP helped her to find a part of herself that she'd lost a bit, through the pressures of juggling life.  

"I didn’t actually take that many photos. I really didn’t feel like picking my camera up much at all, I was quite happy to sit back, watch and take it all in.  My week was so emotionally draining but ever so much fun, I laughed until I cried,  drank a lot of beer,  met some awesome people, slept in a cabin with a roaring fire to keep me warm at night, took showers outside in the fffffffffrrrrreezing cold, I walked, I talked, I had space to think, But most of all, I came away inspired and happy.  So I really must say a really huge, massive, big thanks to Laura for creating this very magical, weird space yet ever so enchanting space where people can make of it what they want. You can cram in the workshops and talks, etc. You can stay up late round the fire, socialise and drink, or you can just take a few moments to stop and take it all in. I can also add that since coming back from SNAP I have found this group of people to be so supportive, motivating and caring. Always ready to listen, advice and make me smile. For that I am really really grateful" 

How do you manage burn out?  Do you suffer with any mental health issues and how do you look after yourself?  We'd love to hear your advice in the comments.