Why going away is the best thing you can do for your sanity

I had my first extended holiday overseas for two weeks after 3 years of working non-stop, and I just came back. Between this and the last time wanderlust bit, I’ve been majorly productive – there was a major website overhaul and redesign, a wedding, a funeral, a major freelance project, teaching assignments, a big launch and lots of other fun and serious stuff in between.

Suffice to say, I needed to go away. I had to – for my sanity’s sake. My engine has been running on full speed for the past few years that I almost found it impossible to stop. What would happen if I did? Would things stop? Would time stop? Would I stop?

And stop I did.

I stopped to look, listen and explore again. And this time it’s without a purpose other than the sole pleasure of drinking things in. I took great joy and pride in re-learning routes on the Tokyo subway, and I stopped caring that my sputtering of Japanese vocabulary had regressed even further since my last trip in 2010. I stopped caring about what others thought of me as I walked around wearing socks and sandals because I was most comfortable walking around in them (my feet can’t quite stand fully covered shoes – they hurt and blister my feet!)

Mainly I stopped beating myself up for taking a break. I used to think that if I stopped just for a while, the balls that I had juggled in the air all these while would all fall on the ground – bouncing off the floor, mocking me as they rolled to a stop. None of that happened. In fact, I felt a lot better for allowing myself to stop and just breathe.

No phone calls.
No SMS’es.
No replying of emails unless it was absolutely urgent.
No social media (except for Instagram – I cheated on that one).

While I was away, I felt that the heart, time and energy that I’ve poured into my projects had left a void inside me. Much like the theory of energy transference, I transferred my hopes and dreams into something tangible, and now I was the one in need of a refuel. Like designers and artists who use their energy to create, their fuel is gathered through the experiences – whether it’s through those that they seek out, or those that seek them. An imbalance in the cycle – whether through a lack of input or output, would cause things to break. People. Relationships. Work. Something always breaks.

The trick is to recognize before that break happens, and do something about it. It’s not always easy to know it before it’s too late. So the best course of action is to go away before you need to step away.

Otherwise you might never make it back.


Have you ever been burnt out, and what did you do to overcome it? What soothes your weary soul and recharges you?

[P/s: if you’re on Instagram you can see where I’ve been over here!]


If you think this article is helpful, there’s more coming your way! Just sign up for our free and fun weekly email newsletter to get notified when a new post is up so that you’ll never miss the good stuff!

10 Replies to “Why going away is the best thing you can do for your sanity”

  1. Che Kumar says:

    I find traveling and getting away from the norm is the perfect tonic. I always find I’m refreshed and inspired with ideas from my trip. I also recently went to Japan, went to Tokyo and loved it. Did you buy lots of stationary? I found so much great pens! 🙂 I’m looking forward to creating some work inspired from the trip…

  2. Ella says:

    Absolutely couldn’t agree more Amy. My most inspirational times are always when I get away from it all. I do hope we’re going to hear more about your trip though!! I’m off to Japan too next September, a while to wait yet but at least lots of time to save spending money! It’ll be my second visit and it can’t come soon enough.

  3. Shelley says:

    That ice cream looks like it was worth the trip! I’m finally taking a short 4 day trip to NYC over xmas just to get away from everything. It’s been 4 years since I’ve had any kind of trip so I’m long overdue. I totally agree that it’s very important to stop and look and recharge your visual battery by going away somewhere. It’s good to stop and enjoy the ice cream. 🙂

  4. Oh YES I understand!!! I’m actually at the tail end of my two week escape. I head for Maine. Sleep really late. Eat a lot of chocolate. Walk by the ocean. Think a lot. Try to sketch and write down ideas. And I blog it. It’s hard to go home!! I have one more day left…

    (I’ve been writing about it here: http://www.BeezInTheBelfry.com)

    Japan is a bit extreme (for me) as a runaway destination, but I did find it stimulated a lot of great ideas when I was there. Can’t wait to see what you create from the experience. 🙂

  5. Eliza says:

    Now I have a craving for green tea ice cream! 🙂

    I have recovered from a few burnouts so far. Once I traveled around the country by train for a month. Before that, I could not afford to travel so far, so I took a “vacation of the mind” instead. I went to a lot of quiet places nearby where I could just lay back and let my thoughts drift. Idleness was the cure for me. I always had a much better time at work afterward.

  6. Traveling, especially outside of my home country, is my personal way of hitting my “reset” button! I love seeing, tasting, hearing, and experiencing places, languages, and things I’m not used to in my every day life. It really feels like a cleansing of the senses when I take a good vacation and I often come up with new inspiration soon after I return home, as well as a new appreciation for the local ice cream. ; )

  7. Shia Lynn says:

    I know what you mean. I recently went away too, even though it was just to Cameron Highlands, but nothing beats staying away from all digital stuff and just using good ol’ journalling with a few sharpies and my trustee film camera to take photos. Everything was just about letting go, being free and being in the present moment. It was beautiful. And I can’t wait to do it again. =) This is what I call balance.

  8. I don’t know if I can call it a burn out, but I guess it is. I had a burn out the last year and I’m slowly growing back into making art and having motivation for it again.

    Last years I’ve been so busy with trying to get illustration jobs and working hard on jobs that I had actually little motivation for and didn’t really get paid well or at all (that next to my boring parttime job). I thought I needed to sacrifice my creative-self to earn money. Because, you know…I really want to earn money with my art.

    Last summer it just was enough, I cancelled the jobs that were on the line and just stopped thinking about illustration and art and jobs for a while. It took a really long time to not think about it…I guess it took 3 months to accept the fact that I needed a break…even when I was already in that break. And even now I’m still feeling ‘bad’ for still not working as ‘hard’ as I did or ‘should’ in (part of) my opinion.

    The result of my burnout was that I just wasn’t motivated at all to draw or make art. Which is a really weird thing when you have made art for the last 5 years or so and am ‘just’ 25/26 years old. I felt really empty and dull inside. And also bitter and a bit jaded because I thought that ‘I guess I’m not made to work hard or to easily get jobs and I’m probably not made for the ‘working world’.

    I started to go to a coach who let me look at the different sides of my personality and what they need. Like: you have voices inside of you that tell you to be productive or to relax etc. (a good article about this: http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2013/07/your-beautiful-personality/ ). I worked all sides and needs out by describing them (yes, writing it down helps a lot more than just thinking about it).

    Then suddenly I discovered what you are telling in this article: that I needed a better balance of having time off, giving myself ‘permission’ for that because I really need it. But also taking my time to discover things, to just take walks outside or visit museums or taking trips to other cities or countries. That is what gives me new perspectives on things and also inspiration..some things you just don’t get only by surfing on the internet. And it’s really important to take that time and go and do whatever you want.

    After a month or so I felt the motivation coming back. I’m not really sure I want back into the work-hard-for-money-mode and I really need a new side job that I just can’t find in my neighbourhood, but at least I’m having fun making art again and that’s such a precious thing you don’t want to lose as an artist or designer!

    1. amy says:

      Good for you Petra!! It’s not easy when you’ve burnt out, so making small strides everyday is so important and I applaud you for taking action to work through it. Throughout the years I’ve noticed that I needed the time off and away (and by this definition, to not do anything at all, or to read a book quietly) especially more, depending on how hard I’ve worked. It has even become something that’s non-negotiable for my sanity! So while on the outside people might not understand how I can switch off completely at times, it’s because I’ve been working extremely hard before. That’s how I find my balance – my body tells me what it needs!

  9. Dana says:

    I really appreciate what Petra says, and I can relate. I think traveling is a great way to unplug, but I don’t have the resources for that. So, I walk outside as often as possible. Daily I walk for about an hour and sometimes I go for a few hours. I find this recharges everything about me, including my creativity, and it’s cheap!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *