Overcoming Burnout through Arts


Overcoming Burnout through Arts

A pilot project of Cultural Prescriptions
In the last months of 2020, a difficult year for all of us, while work and personal life interfered more than usual, we wanted to find out how arts contribute to our well-being, through a series of creative workshops designed especially for people manifesting symptoms of burnout.
Burnout is a serious condition that affects more and more people. In a study conducted in July 2020, Mental Health America (MHA) reported that 75% of workers experienced burnout, and 40% of those polled said it was a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The outcomes of the pandemic burnout are feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. People are feeling helpless, because they are overwhelmed with tasks and chores and have trouble prioritizing and finishing tasks on time. People also feel hopeless, because they don’t know how much more time they need to work in these conditions, which ultimately can cause more mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression (Queen & Harding, 2020)

What we did

From theory to piloting a cultural intervention

What are cultural prescriptions?

Cultural prescriptions are a type of initiative that encourages people who deal with different medical conditions to overcome their negative states and to improve their health and well-being by using arts.

What was our model of intervention?
The pilot project of Cultural Prescriptions for Burnout, implemented in Cluj-Napoca, offered participation in a series of specially designed creative workshops to a group of people with burnout symptoms.
We worked in a series of 7 specially designed creative workshops facilitated by an artist with a group of 11 people with burnout symptoms. Built on practical exercises using various artistic techniques, the workshops aimed to contribute to the development of imagination and emotional intelligence, stimulate the ability to express, reduce anxiety and cultivate self-esteem with the final purpose to help people overcome their burnout symptoms in time.
There are multiple strategies that are useful for burnout prevention and treatment. In the prevention phase, strategies such as individual singing sessions, making or just listening to music, dancing, different kinds of activities that involve multiple individuals simultaneously, engaged in the same activity (e.g. crafts, singing), participating in dance, art or theatre classes, art activities in schools, all contribute to the individual’s self-concept, sense of social inclusion, improve mental health and enhance social consciousness, help with stress management and lower biological stress and daily anxiety (Fancourt and Finn, 2019).



Initially we enrolled 12 participants in the programme and one of them dropped out.
Gender: 8 female and 3 male participants were involved all throughout the programme.
Professional fields: Health System, Artistic, IT, Management, Education, Marketing or Unemployed (students).
Source: performed by the authors

Behavioral and health-related variables

Most of the participants were non-smokers (n = 8, 72.7%) and were not on a diet (n = 8, 72.7%)
Most of them were engaging in physical activity (n = 8, 72.7%), doing exercise 2–3 times per month (n = 1, 9.1%) or 2–3 times per week (n = 7, 63.6%)
Half of them reported that they were diagnosed with a medical condition (n = 5, 50.0%)
Behavioral and health-related variables
Source: performed by the authors

Connection with the Arts

Only a few participants had connections with art before, one of them practiced it professionally (music), while others appreciated it and had attempts to practice some kind of art.
At the end of the intervention, participants notice an improved relation with the arts, having an increased interest in the world of art and a direct experience of co-creation.
“I have not practiced art, but I am a big consumer of all types of art, I have never weighed the burnout with art.” (Female, 31-35 years old, Project Manager)
“I’m so glad I drew and in the end I realized that maybe I will continue with this thing, so yes, I discovered a few new things.” (Male, 25-30 old, Test Analyst)


„I would like to learn how to be more open and to express such things myself. I mean creative things”
„I would like to reduce the level of nervousness”; „to learn how to disconnect myself faster, to switch faster from professional to personal life”
„to recover my joyfulness and to learn again to do things for myself”; „ to let myself feel”
„to get out of the comfort zone”
„to trust in myself”
„to calm down, to have more confidence in myself, as my confidence decreased during the pandemic”

What we found

Intervention effects on Well-being


Participants' states before the artistic intervention
All of the participants experienced high levels of burnout before the intervention (76-125) and they had more negative experiences than positive ones. Their level of burnout represented an important selection criteria for the participation within the pilot project.
Negative emotions (anxiety, irritability, nervousness, depression)
“I felt a lot of sadness, I didn’t want to interact with anyone anymore, I practically couldn’t find the small joys of life and I felt that it wasn’t good, that I was not well.”(Female, 36-45 years old, IT specialist)
Dysfunctional thoughts
“…thoughts, I mean I was blocked in my mind, I was stuck in my mind for a very long time.” (Female, 25-30 years old, Team Lead)
Physical symptoms
“Anxiety, stress, actually physical, which manifests itself physically.” (Female, 25-30 years old, Team Lead)
Behaviors (impulsivity, procrastination)
“…quite a few resignations out of impulsivity, dismissals also due to impulsivity, raising the tone at people without realizing that I am doing this, a very accentuated state of nervousness.” (Female, 31-35 years old, Project Manager)
Participants' states after the artistic intervention
After seven weeks of intervention participants tended to experience a lower level of burnout, a higher level of well-being, a higher number of positive experiences, and a higher proportion of positive experiences compared to negative experiences.
For all the participants, the burnout level decreased from high level (76-125) to medium (51-75) or low level (35-50). 9 out of 11 people had medium burnout level after the intervention and 2 people had low burnout levels.
Change in burnout score
Change in well-being score
Source: performed by the authors


Participants' conclusions after the artistic intervention
They experienced negative emotions and states, such as anxiety, depression, irritability before the intervention, but after the intervention they developed a more balanced perception about their problems, transitioning from a dysfunctional way of thinking and acting to a more functional one, from a fixed mindset to a more mindful one and from negative dysfunctional emotions to negative functional or even positive emotions and moods.
The participants were even able to transpose in their daily routines some of the techniques they learned, in order to benefit from the positive outcomes of the intervention.
Overall, burnout scores have decreased, and it seems that the art intervention have helped participants manage their burnout-related emotions. Moreover, well-being scores nearly doubled after the intervention, which means that participants started to feel better at the end of the programme.


Healthy behaviours acquired by the participants:
Social interactions
I have learned that I release the stress factor with others and I think that all the techniques that we practiced have changed the way I interact with other people.
(Female,31-35 years old, Project Manager)
Mindful approach
And regardless of the emotion, whether it is positive or not, I try to be present in that state and just let it be.
(Female, 19-24 old, Freelancer Digital Marketing)
Useful behaviors
I think what has changed now is what I do when I feel “overwhelmed”, I mean, when I actually feel the burnout,[…], now I try to do a certain thing maybe to improve my state or to get over it.[…] to do something, I don’t know, to stand up from the desk, to go get another coffee or tea, to go and caress the cat, “I don’t know, anything”, something to get me out of that thing.
(Female, 25-30 years old, Team Lead)
The project piloted an artistic intervention designed to benefit people with burnout conditions and was not intended as an art therapy workshop. The artistic intervention was proposed as an alternative solution to the issues faced by people with burnout and it aimed to explore the potential of art to prevent and overcome burnout.
Research published by: ©Cluj Cultural Centre, 2021