Posted on Tuesday, February 14, 2023
We're just about through with the first month of 2023 and I'm really curious how those New Year’s resolutions are holding up for you. Are you still eating better and getting to the gym three days a week? If the answer is yes, good for you, but if you find yourself falling a wee bit short not to worry. While it can be common for us to abandon some of those resolutions, it's important that we're creating time to make good on the promises we've made to ourselves, and that includes learning how to recognize - and mitigate burnout - before it gets the best of you.
While "burnout" isn't a medical diagnosis, it is special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity. This can make doing your job, or even just making good on those New Year's promises, nearly impossible.
Physical (and Nutritional) Health for the Production Professional
Professional burnout is a term that we're unfortunately hearing more and more these days. In talking to production professional around the world, I found that many of them spoke of the same concerns when it came to protecting their own physical health. Now I’m not a physician or health guru, but I think I’ve been in and around enough remote and studio productions to speak to what might work to help curb burnout for some of you.
Here are some of the things that just make good sense, but sometimes get lost in the frenzy of the production day.
Nutrition and hydration are two of the most important elements to keep yourself going during those long production days. I will say in the early days I was the first to the donut box and coffee line. The idea of eating anything that might be good for me? Forget about it.
But now what’s first? Might be a piece of fruit, an egg, some grains, and of course I still love a good cup of coffee or two. Come on, it's coffee! I do look for stuff that will sustain me throughout the morning, but I try to grab a granola bar to tide me over if needed. Yes, I still have a donut once in a blue moon - it's okay to treat yourself sometimes!
Lunch and dinner are in the same vein. Nothing too heavy, always greens at any time. Nothing that will bog me down or make me want to take a nap. On the hydration side, you have to drink water early and often, so you avoid dehydration. I never used to drink enough water but I made it a habit, aiming for 32 oz a day, which is especially true for you out on locations both in the summer and winter.
Stretching and Sleep
When it comes to burnout, industries like TV and film production are definitely succeptable, due to the nature of the business - you're working a marathon, or sometimes a sprint (or both) so it would make sense to be ready for both.
Let’s start with the stretching part. Yes, strong muscles are important, but being limber also matters a lot. If you are running handheld, Steadicam, or remote sound with a boom, you're exerting a great deal of energy but also putting undue stress on those legs, knees, and shoulders. If pro athletes warm up, shouldn’t you? Taking time (I'd recommend 30 minutes) each day to stretch will increase your flexibility and reduce the risk of injury.
Now onto maybe one of the most important tips of all. You need more sleep. We all do. Have you ever seen little kids just plop down wherever to take a break? Their little bodies say it’s time to take a break. Often our bodies are telling us the same, we just don’t listen. Planes with noise cancelling headphones are great for that. Even a short 15-minute quiet rest with your eyes closed might help you push through those long shoot days. Production schedules, long hours, and travel make that really hard, and we have all been there. However, if you are at or near home start by going to bed 15 minutes to a half hour earlier then you used to and make regular sleep part of your routine. I was amazed at how much this helped me overall.
One way to ensure you're getting a good night's rest is by starting your bedtime routine earlier - without your phone or computer. That means no bringing your work to the bedroom. Experts say you should turn off the electronics at least a half hour before you try and konk out. They also say not to drink coffee or have a big meal late. Just ask any road warrior. The idea is to establish a rest and sleep routine as much as you can.
Mental Health and Setting Boundaries in the Workplace
Burnout doesn't only have a physical effect. Creative burnout - especially in our industry - can also be a common thing for us to face. We all react differently to stress stemming from what we do to ourselves to what we feel anxiety on the set or on location. I’m not talking about the nervous energy one might experience before a big shot or event. For some, stress can be an overwhelming thing making this profession a difficult one and to be honest sometimes not so much fun.
The idea then, is to recognize what your “stress triggers” are and to deal with them. Start with understanding that every body wants to do a great job, but “things” happen. If you are around production long enough, you know exactly what I mean. Breath, stay calm, and move on. It doesn’t matter the size or cost of the production. You can only control what you can control. There will always be time to analyze things later, but right now you are in the midst of a production. It will work out, maybe not perfectly, but the job will get done.
On the note about setting boundaries, here's one of my go-to's: I have zero tolerance for rude or demeaning people. This means that people come first especially your own family or your production family. Always. Rule one for me means always keeping you and everyone safe.
There have been times in the past when I wasn’t a great producer or live director. Fortunately, I had an experienced audio op who knew her own self-worth and set me on my ear, lit me up, and really set me straight. Everyone there on that production has a role and wants to do well. You should respect everyone and in turn they should respect you. If you make a mistake own it, but then move on to whatever is next.
Quick Health Checklist to Avoid Professional Burnout
Choose healthy food options Drink a ton of water daily (32 oz) Get in your stretches (before and after work) Take a work break when possible Listen to great music/podcasts Always keep your sense of humor Get a good sleep routine going Set strong boundaries Know your worth In Conclusion
What we have been talking about here is nothing earth shattering or even new. But you can start by taking a step back and say what can I do for my own well-being? Better food? More sleep? Less stress? All admirable goals for sure. Baby steps are okay. Yes, you can still be kind and help other that’s cool. But this is about taking better care of yourself both physically and mentally in order to perform better and to have a better quality of life both at work and at home. Oh, about the pizza. I was once on a winter shoot and the production manager's idea of a hot lunch was dried up cardboard pizza. Boy did it hit the fan. No concept of nutrition and no water either. Save the pizza for dinner.
Stay safe, stay well and have a great shoot!
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Mark J. Foley, MBA BA is an award-winning producer and director and the Technology Editor for ProductionHUB.com. He is on a mission to provide the best in new equipment reviews, along with exclusive analysis and interviews with the best, the brightest, and the most creative minds in the entertainment and production business. Have a suggestion for a review? Email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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