Self-Care for Designers: Don’t Burn Out

In a world where work never seems to turn off, there’s a growing movement to prioritize self-care. It’s way too easy to neglect yourself when you have work and meetings and then all of the “life” things after work, from networking events to taking kids to soccer games.

The time to start practicing self-care is before you start to burn out. You’ll stay fresher and have greater mental capacity to tackle projects with creative spark.

But how do you do it? How (and where) can designers find time for self-care? We have a few ideas for you.

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Understand Your Value (And What You Find Valuable)

self care for designers

I always know the burn out stage is coming when I feel like none of my projects seem to pay what I think they are worth. Every client wants way more than what we agreed on. Every assignment seems to take twice as much time as it used to.

If you are feeling that way, maybe it’s time to give yourself a raise.

Your experience as a designer should make you more valuable as you grow in your career. Know that value.

If you are a freelancer, take a look at your rates and types of jobs. When was the last time you made a change? Are you taking the types of projects you want to do? Do you have work that engages you?

And if not, figure out how to make that change.

Knowing your value has two parts:

  • Financial value: What income you need to draw for work to feel meaningful
  • Happiness value: What makes you feel good about what you do? What projects get you excited about design again? (Take more of them.)


self care for designers

It may sound cliché, but you have to find that sweet spot between work and play.

This can be most tricky for freelancers or remote workers that don’t actually get up and go to an office every day. The lines between home and work can be easily blurred.

Set some ground rules. Set them with your family, clients and even yourself to ensure that you have a time and place for work and play.

Work Out

I have found the best solution to a creative rut is a good run.

Sweating out whatever design problems are tormenting me almost always leads to a potential solution (or sometimes several).

You don’t have to run. Any type of physical activity will do. Go to the gym. Take a long walk. Punch a bag. Whatever gets you doing something active and not thinking about your design problem.

Find a 5-Minute Diversion

Small five-minute breaks can also help you get out of your head and practice self-care.

This can be anything from zoning out to your favorite song to playing a round of a game on your phone. It can be grabbing ice cream with a co-worker or even taking a walk around the block (or down the hallway and back).

These mini-breaks can be just what your brain needs when it gets “overheated.” But “me time” can mean even more when you aren’t stressed or in the middle of big projects.

Be Social (Not Just on Social Media)

Get out and talk to people!

Own your feelings. Good and bad. Celebrate wins and commiserate losses.

While no one wants to talk to a downer all the time, chatting with your networking group or other designers can help you feel more at ease.

There is real value to talking out what you are feeling. That’s a big part of taking care of yourself. Own your feelings. Good and bad. Celebrate wins and commiserate losses. It’s all part of the process and makes everyone feel a little more human.

Getting out and being social can be an even bigger part of your self-care routine if you work alone or at home. Even the least social of people crave that interaction from time to time.

Find a designer meetup, WordPress group or book club with a regular schedule to keep you in the social loop.

Don’t Overbook Yourself

self care for designers

If you say yes too much, you won’t actually have the time to do anything well.

The biggest thing that helps me is saying “no.”

While saying yes all the time does contribute to caring for others, it can be a little overwhelming. It is OK to turn down projects, or after-work happy hours or any of those little things that add a meaningful contribution to your work or life.

While it sounds pretty easy, saying no can be quite tough for many people.

Just make sure to be polite. You don’t have to over-explain yourself and don’t feel guilty. If you say yes too much, you won’t actually have the time to do anything well, and that’s insanely stressful.

And then with that extra time, take a bath, meditate or just spend some time enjoying the quiet.

Tackle a Passion Project

Have you been wanting to build a new portfolio or learn to draw hand-lettering?

Put it in your weekly calendar and do it!

Make time for passion projects or to learn new things that interest you. Not only will it make you a stronger designer but it can also help you generate more interest in your work.

And who knows? You might even pick up new clients or projects because of it.

Get Some Vitamin D

self care for designers

There’s plenty of science to back up the value of a little natural sunlight.

Vitamin D deficiencies are on the rise. The solution for most people is to get outside. (And if you can’t do that, open a window next to your workspace.)

Imagine the warm sun on your face after hours of programming or wireframing a project. Now think about how good that feels. Don’t you wish you could bottle up that feeling?

You almost can. Just a few minutes of fresh air and sunlight can boost your mood and help you regain focus. Soak up the sun (Just make sure to slather on some SPF if you plan to stay a while.)


Self-care starts with figuring out what you need to be the best version of yourself. It’s part work and part knowing what makes you feel good about what you are doing and where you are heading.

The biggest part of self-care is taking a minute to breathe. It’s OK to admit you need a break. You’ll be better for it, I promise.