The BOHM System: Burnout Pt. 1

So what is the BOHM System, you might ask? Well if you didn’t ask, I’m going to tell you anyways. It is a system I designed for myself to help stay creative in my work and get shit done. As of this posting I am currently working in Simulation / ArchViz designing environments for the DoD, Aviation, and Medical Field. For about the last year or so my color palette options for projects have looked mostly like this. (DoD project being a nice break from plastic and coated metal.) 

Palette.jpg

In the few instances where we had a colorful prop or piece of equipment, I would go to town on texturing it. Only to later receive feedback to dial it back down to a more muted color. So for about a year now this has been my “creative outlet”. Various grey plastics and metals, and a few colorful props and fabrics. Not all that exciting and creatively flexible as our references are patents and mechanical blueprints. There is some wiggle room with choosing make and models but that’s where it ends.

This is followed by very monotonous work for a few months at a time. At the start of the project I would have high energy and excitement during our brainstorming sessions for the new project. Then after the first few weeks that excitement would decrease as we finished our sprints and the colorful reference photos gathered would be replaced with the rigid patent forms and greys that end up in the final project. Which most projects evolved into functionality over looks. This constant pattern of events started dragging on. So after some self-evaluation I managed to cobble together some habits to flex my creative muscles outside of work, continue to improve my artwork, and also my work and social life. So with that said, the BOHM system is that accumulation of notes, tutorials, and papers across the internet to help an artist to stay healthy and creative.

Now BOHM stands for,

  1. Burnout 
  2. Organization
  3. Health 
  4. Motivation

Other acronyms that were in the works were MOOH, HOB, MHO, and MOB. But BOHM has a certain ring to it that sounds like I might know what I am talking about. In the next few posts I’m going to cover each category of the system. Sharing information that I have gathered, personal stories, tips, and helpful links. As well as some motivation quotes and dog pictures. Because why not.

motivational quote is motivational.jpg

 

Occupational Burnout

In the last few years Game Art has been my main focus. Only recently have I taken the time to step back and analyze my personal life. The first step was putting art back in its spot, as this tunnel vision hasn’t always been the case. My personal list of priorities went Family, Health, and Art, but for the last few years, as I struggled to get into the game industry Family and Health suffered from neglect. Creating and learning art consumed all of my time. This is the one of the many early signs of Occupational Burnout. Now burnout can and will damage any healthy lifestyle. Your art will remain stagnate, while your skills don’t improve much. The first step is to constantly remind yourself that there is no glory in celebrating long working hours or tolerating it. The second thing to learn is the difference between resting and procrastinating. If you’re thinking to yourself that your procrastinating, odds are you’re really just resting and you need that rest.

So what is the scientifical definition of Occupational Burnout? Burnout is a very common mental health related risk that occurs when you become overworked and overstressed in your career. As stated by the Mayo Clinic Staff and many others (I went with this quote cause I get to quote an establishment referred to as Mayo) [Link]

Job burnout is a special type of job stress — a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work – Mayo

Basically it is 3v1 PVP, with friendly fire on. You’re playing by yourself and loosing. This happens to a lot of artists in the game industry. Especially during or after finishing a long “crunch” period. However for a lot of people, creating art was a hobby that they got paid to do. It’s the perfect dream! So most individuals don’t catch on to the early signs of burnout. Myself included. It wasn’t brought to my attention until my very supportive fiance began to notice the few early signs. I was coming home more stressed out then I did the day before, I slept in way longer than I should, and was fatigued way to often, given the amount of sleeping I did.

Many factors can feed into the mental spiraling inferno that is Burnout, including your personal life. So it is quite possible to experience burnout not from your career but from your personal life and habits. This I found interesting as many individual immediately point the finger at work being the prime reason, but an unbalanced personal life may really be the cause for your occupational burnout. So take the time to sit down and examine both ends of the spectrum.

Doggo.png

Causes of Occupational Burnout

The first place to look at is within your office culture and how you view your work environment. So here are a few identifiable causes for burnout within your workspace.

  1. Unclear Job Expectations – Not knowing the full extent of your voice within a team environment, which can lead to an uncomfortable feeling at work.
  2. Under or Overstimulated – This refers to the challenge of the work being done. Understimulating work is mind numbing, repetitive and all around boring. Overstimulating work is the opposite. It could be large tasks that you don’t have experience in (like having an environment artist rig a character), or tight dead lines with a short amount of time to do it. Anything that is high stress inducing on a single person.
    • Bonus: When people refer to being “In the Zone”or “In the flow of things” (whatever the kids say these days) They are referring to being just challenged enough in their immediate work. Imagine the carrot on the end of the stick. To finish your task you just need a little more effort to reach it. However being in the zone for too long can lead to mental exhaustion. You are so focused on that carrot that you are completely unaware to your health or others around you. You may forget to eat or drink for the entire day even. So take the time to step back and get “out of the zone” once in a while.
  3. Dysfunctional Workplace – You feel undermined by your colleagues or are micro managed by your boss.
  4. Mismatched Values – When your values don’t align with the company’s on how they handle projects or other employees.

Essentially most causes boil down to events, people, and processes that cause you to contribute a lot of personal energy towards and in return get over stressed, tired, and a negative feedback. For me it was the Understimulating work. Muted colors, basic props, blueprints. It got to the point that staring at Maya all day then coming home to work on my own projects was mentally painful as I was back in Maya. Honestly the people in the commercial aviation design industry, need to use some stronger colors, other than the 200 different shades of grey. Let’s break open the crayon box and use some of those fancy named colors.

Related image

(Like seriously. It looks like you’re flying an expensive cubicle.) 

The second place to look is within your personal life. Sometimes work wont be the true cause for burnout, it may serve as a fuel but the goal here is to find the root of the problem. So we must also examine our personal lives.

  1. Work – Life Imbalance – This is when work becomes your life, and you find yourself not having the time for other passions and family.
  2. Lack of Social Support – This can easily effect those who work remotely. Being isolated at work can cause stress and a lack of confidence for most.
  3. Lack of Control – Not feeling that you have a voice in decision-making or that your input isn’t taken seriously.

If these continue to influence your stress and energy levels without being confronted they can come at a huge personal cost. It’s best to think of yourself as a plant. You need water, sun, and a nice little breeze of air. Make sure you go outside once in a while, open the blinds, and drinks lots of water.

Image result for plant meme

Symptoms of Occupational Burnout

So what are the early detections of Burnout? All the stressors mentioned above will lead to the following symptoms if gone unaddressed or ignored. Burnout will keep you from working well, it will (oddly enough) make you feel lazy and untalented. People suffering from burnout could have the following symptoms. So if you see a coworker or friend dealing with these emotions, talk to them about it. Give them an ear to vent to.

  • Fatigue [First sign of burnout]
  • Excessive Stress
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Recently Developed Anxiety
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Lack of motivation
  • An increased sense of forcing yourself to finish tasks
  • Detachment from your work and social life
  • Caught in a Cycle feeling, not having enough time.
  • Emotional instability
  • Irritability
  • Dissatisfaction in your work
  • Drop in work quality and performance
  • Suicidal Thoughts [Link] [1-800-273-8255]
  • Imposter Syndrome [Link]
  • Dreading to go to work [Very big Red Flag]

These will all lead to consequences in the form of :

  • Heavy Relationship Stress
  • Weakened Immune System
  • Heart Disease
  • High Cholesterol
  • Substance Abuse (very rare causes but is possible) 
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Obesity

If any of these symptoms hit a bit close to home you can take the test below to determine if you are suffering from burnout.  I actually scored a 47 the first time I took it and is what motivated me to start looking into burnout. As I thought to myself that I was way to young to be experiencing this! (I’m only 23 years young after all.)

Burnout Test

 

Burnout Recovery

If any of the above sounds similar or if you manage to score high on the burnout test, then what are the routes to recovery and finding joy in your work again? To start off the process of recovery is very unique to each person. I can only provide general solutions and what is currently working for myself. This process can take months of reprogramming how you think, act, and diet. The majority of these changes wont be massive overhauls, just minor tweaks and corrections. So what is the first step to recovery?

  1. Resting – Take the necessary time from work to relax and sleep. You wont be able to accomplish change if you’re still mentally and physically tired. For those who are doing game art as a second job or hobby this is even more important to do. You can take your time on projects cause it’s a hobby, and you should have fun with your hobby.
  2. Find the Cause – Just as important as resting is identifying the cause to your stress. Don’t hesitate to be open and talking about it. It’s good to vent to people who are willing to listen. Learn to manage those stressors and come up with a plan to address the issues.
  3. Creating Goals – When handling work related stress and projects, it’s best to break it up into what you can actually achieve first. Breaking tasks down into bite sized goals will help you manage your time better as well as keeping the stress down. Plus it’s fun to take a pen and slash through tasks as you finish them. It gives you a quick shot of dopamine and energy to finish the next goal.
  4. Eat Right – Now this one can be very hard for people and isn’t always accessible for individuals. Eating healthy can be expensive at times. From personal experience I went from a college food bill of $40 a week just living off top ramen, peanut butter sandwiches, fast food, and tuna fish. To now feeding three mouths a “Keto” diet at about $180 a week. Eating carb free cardboard, meal prepping, and cooking every night. (I really miss french fries dudes.) But it is for the better. Cooking every night has become my mini ritual of unwinding and thinking about something other than work or whats do tomorrow. This mental break is something that this diet has allowed for. If you don’t have the ability to do so at least try to cook once a week, even a small mental break is a small step to recovering from burnout.
  5. Mindfulness – Now this one probably the most difficult to accomplish. It’s about changing your thought on how you perceive yourself and overcoming self-doubt. It boils down to how you handle situations and how you treat yourself mentally. First rule to remember is this : Any amount of progress is still progress. I struggled a lot thinking that I wasn’t producing enough art or I was to slow. (Still working on it too) Seeing other artist produce such high quality work in a matter of weeks can be mentally defeating. (Like seriously, just open the first page of Arstation. Like damn, that’s who I am competing with to stand out? Insane amounts of talent in one spot man.) Next is to AVOID Self-destruction. Try to keep yourself from putting your own self down. As well as taking the time to try to rediscover the enjoyable aspects of the work that you do.
  6. Being Self Aware – Being self-aware of your attitude, mental, and physical health. Make sure you take time to rest, sleep, and hydrate yourself.
  7. Alternative Releases – This can be in the form of another hobby or outlet, anything that is the opposite of what you do from day-to-day is generally a good direction to take. This could be cooking, exercising a few times a week, or just something new you want to get into. My creative outlet has been learning Python through the Raspberry Pi and being the Dungeon Master for a Dungeons and Dragons game I run with a few friends. It helps flex the creative muscles in trying to stump other players and coming up with Quests and Worlds. [Art LinkImage result for d&d dog
  8. Building Support – All these changes and steps become 100% easier when you have a friend or loved one helping you out. I’m so lucky to have a supportive fiance and friend to vent to basically everyday. If this is something that is not available to you, there are therapists out there that can help, you can call family up and talk with them, even reach out to similar disgruntled coworkers, or find an unexpecting person on a train as your target and just let it all out to this wandering confidant. (You might get kicked off for harassment, but now you are walking and outdoors! That’s good for you!) 
  9. Mental Breaks – Take short breaks through out the day as well as changing positions. For every hour you sit it’s recommended to stand for half an hour. Also take time every hour to rest your eyes for 10 minutes, hands for 10 minutes, and stand for 10 minutes. Which is about a 30 minute breaks every hour.

Since every case of occupational burnout is different to each person all of these are good first steps in the right direction. You could start off with small steps by just taking mental breaks every hour (just make sure to rest your eyes and hands at the same time.) You can also start of with switching up your diet as well. To each their own, just make sure you do so at your own comfortable pace. Recovering from burnout shouldn’t cause stress that you are trying to prevent.

Burnout Prevention

So far we have identified the sources of our stress, have shown the consequences of not confronting our stressors, and listing off the first few steps in recovering from burnout. The next logical step is preventing burnout from resurfacing. For those who have yet to experience burnout or managed to score low on the burnout test, the following are a few ways to prevent Occupational Burnout from happening.

  1. Shake it Up – Doing different stuff everyday and breaking away from the same routine. Being spontaneous and the likes. Although it’s good to get into positive habits and routines, doing something different occasionally is just as equally healthy. For me this would be jumping between writing, modeling, video games, and going out with my fiance after work. Instead of my previous routine of Work 7am-4pm, Come Home, Cook, Clean, Work 8pm-11pm, Sleep, Repeat.
  2. Break – I don’t think I have stressed this enough throughout this post but take breaks throughout the work day. Could be to shitpost on twitter, browsing instagram, or even getting up to walk around the building. Short physical and mental breaks are key here.
  3. Avoid Multiple Projects – Taking on more concurrent projects than you are able to handle, or taking on roles that your are uncomfortable with.  It is okay to Say NO to people. It’s been a slow process for myself, but it is worth developing the habit. It is advised to only accept projects that you know you can finish, or have the time to decitate. This ability will develop over time as you start gauging your own capabilities and working ability. But with most skills their will be trial an error.
  4. Emotional Spot Checks – As proposed by Ashley Godbold [Senior Programmer with GameSmart] during your breaks reflect upon your current state and compare it to your normal state. Gauge yourself throughout the day.
  5. Working Socially – This one is more for those who work remotely, working or freelance. This would be hanging out in an online environment like google hangouts, Skype, or discord. Don’t be alone. Talk with your team, discuss upcoming deadlines, and express any stress that you are feeling. My fiance works from home and at times when I get home she immediately want to go to Target or grab coffee. Just to get out of the apartment to avoid catching Cabin Fever. Also getting to see what the outside world has become while she was away.  Image result for don't go alone

Conclusion

 

So yeah that’s the skinny to Occupational Burnout. Pretty spooky stuff. Not as spooky as allowing it to continue though. Going unaddressed will just lead you pass the point of no return [Phantom of the Opera reference here]. It will cost you serious time to restructure your life and habits. In extreme cases it may even cost you a relationship or even changing your whole personality, tacking on years to your recovery time.

To Recap and the TL;DR for those few out there.

  1. You’re basically a creative plant. Drink Water, Get Sun, Go Outside.
  2. Confront your issues.
  3. Sleep, relax, and take breaks.
  4. Check your mental state often.
  5. Pet your furbaby, or pet a friends.

(Cause who makes a check list with only 4 items?)

Furbaby.JPG

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