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Dealing with stress.

Or: Captain I think it’s gonna blow!

Over the years I have seen a lot of folks leave this industry for one reason or another. Some leave because they wanted a career change. Some were forced because they couldn’t find work in the field. Some simply got fed up. In the last 5 years or so I have seen many people leaving because of stress and the burnout syndrome. This is a relatively new medical diagnosis that became established around 1980 and has been seen as a modern illness.

A quick definition from this site: the burnout syndrome is,

“a prolonged response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job, and is defined by the three dimensions of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficiency”. Exhaustion is the feeling of not being able to offer any more of oneself at an emotional level; cynicism is contemplated as a distant attitude towards work, the people being served by it and among colleagues; ineffectiveness is the feeling of not performing tasks adequately and of being incompetent at work.”

I am sure that many of you reading this will be able to draw a correlation to where your head is at right now but if you read a little further down the page you will find this:

a life event is not what produces stress; rather, it is caused by the appraisal the affected person makes of it.

And then:

A person will be psychologically vulnerable to a determined situation if he or she does not possess sufficient coping resources to handle it adequately, and if at the same time, he or she places considerable importance on the threat implicit in the consequences of this inadequate handling . From this perspective, burnout syndrome may be seen as a progressively-developed process resulting from the use of the relatively ineffective coping strategies with which professionals try to protect themselves from work-related stress


Burnout syndrome may be seen as the continuous perception that efforts made to carry out tasks are not effective, because expected gratitude, recognition or success at work are not being achieved

The research goes on to suggest three types of burnout, “Frenetic”, “under challenged” and “worn out”.

The Frenetic type works increasingly harder and then will try and find satisfaction that it feels is equal to the emotional investment made.

The Under challenged feels stuck in a boring job that has little reward and is frustrated from lack of given motivation.

The worn out type gives up after being faced with too much stress or too little satisfaction from the job.

There is much more detail in the link and it is worth a full read. Of course when anyone starts to read about medical symptoms you tend to notice you have all of them… No matter what the illness you are reading!

How does one find the coping mechanisms to avoid burn out? For me I always try and remember a few things.

1. No lives will be lost in the creation of this cartoon. Try and keep some perspective of what we are achieving. Yes deadlines can become heavy and hard or impossible to achieve but if you think you are going to fail then let it be known. Scream it out that you need help. The world does not rest on your shoulders.

2. What we do may be stressful but it’s not hard work. Hard work is digging a ditch or hanging drywall or pouring concrete. As far as the stress goes: again, remember that we are not sitting there in front of a radar screen making sure two planes avoid a collision. Perspective is everything.

3. You are responsible for your own decisions. Everything that you have done in your life has led you to exactly where you are standing/sitting/lying right now. If you don’t like where you are then do something about it. If you expect the world to do you any favors then I suggest you take the blue pill.

I am not trying to belittle those that have become burned out. I have too many friends that this has happened to. It has almost happen to me on too many occasions. It would be nice, if those that feel they may be heading down this road, to pay attention to the signs and deal with it before it is too late.

As Oscar Wilde once said, ” The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on, it is never of any use to oneself.”

I am a twit on twitter.. robtheanderson

…and my blog


  1. Moocow Moocow April 19, 2010

    The simple fact is that some companies put too much work on their employees. They underbid every company in the country to obtain a project and then can’t afford to pay people enough OR hire enough people to maintain the project or their employees. It’s abusive to the industry and the people working in it.

    This is bad business and it’s happening everywhere. No matter how strong your “will” is if you work for one of these companies get the fuck out and find somewhere else to work for as soon as you can. In these companies your “will” doesn’t mean anything. If you’re a pushover, you’ll do fine though, but even the pushever fake smiling people will burn out eventually too.

    You will burn out because you will be doing too much overtime, and you will have no time for yourself. To not burn out in situations like that is impossible and I don’t care how much mental energy you put towards it. It’s simply not healthy to work for companies like this. If you are in one, save enough money to live for a few months or get the skills you need and then quit.

    I enjoy reading some of your articles Rob, but your view on this makes me think that perhaps you have been a producer for a bit too long… It`s not that simple, and badly run companies exist and are certainly something new animators should be wary of.

  2. Rob Anderson Rob Anderson Post author | April 19, 2010

    I find it interesting that you separate the role of producer from the rest of the project.

    While I completely understand your opinion and do agree with what you are saying I think you have to read the article a bit more carefully. No where do I condone the so called need for any company to make people work long hours. Nor do I say that anyone who doesn’t want to work the hours is a wimp or whatever.
    this article is about trying to help you see the warning signs of burn out. I just noticed that the link I was to give is not there. So here it is now.

    Yes there are studios that get into deep water and bite off more project than they can swallow. They are legion and are the studios that can push people into the frenetic state of burn out. I too have been in those situations and have had to work ungodly hours. When I wasn’t a production manager or a producer and was faced with those long hours I would do one of three things.
    1. Work them if I felt that I was going to get valuable experience.
    2. Talk with the powers that be that there was too much work and try and help find ways to reduce the load. Usually called an asshole at this point(Oh the stories I could tell!) It is ironic that as a producer I am still thought of as an asshole for doing the same things.
    3. Leave
    That last one is the hardest and I am not saying it can be done every time. 2 is what I prefer as my normal state.
    I too faced a serious case of burn out last year. The project I was on was filled with no end of problems and I ended up working ungodly hours. I am used to this most times but it went on for almost a year. I suspect that you know the project I am talking about and it isn’t a secret. It was called Three Delivery. I wasn’t the only one doing the long hours. Most of the crew was doing it as well. Some more than others but I did what I could to try and help with what resources we had. It was hard. Not the hardest show I have been on but it was hard. I got completely immersed into the project. I was the first one there in the morning and one of the last to leave at night and would take work home as well.
    There was a Sunday where I was sitting at home in my living room and I started to stare at a wall. Three hours passed and that is all I did. I knew then that I was mentally exhausted. At that point there was three months left on the show.
    As I said this wasn’t the hardest project I had worked on but I started to fall into the “worn out” category. you start to ask yourself hard questions. An old friend of mine once said to me,”20 f**king years in this business and i’ve got nothing to show for it”. I had made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t let that happen to me but it happened.
    I forgot my rules.
    The most important one being you are exactly where you are because of what you have done previously. Think on those for a while. Somedays they can be a blessing and others a curse. But they are always something you can learn and grow from.
    The worse thing that you could do is become caught in a fixed point in your past. An event that you feel bitter about or was traumatic in some way. It might take time but reflect and digest.
    Mike keeps asking me to write about my most difficult/rewarding experience so maybe I will soon. I should try and follow my on advice!

  3. Michiel Michiel April 19, 2010

    While at first glance it doesn’t sound too unreasonable, your claim that “Everything that you have done in your life has led you to exactly where you are standing/sitting/lying right now.” is not fact, not even opinion, but a matter of faith, to be taken for granted, that is used to “blame the victim”.

    I find, as you say you do that a different perspective can be illuminating. So try this: Imagine yourself talking to a 12 year old girl in Senegal who is about to undergo FGC, and repeat what you just said.

  4. RAWLS RAWLS April 19, 2010

    Fantastic!! Great advice my friend. I like point #2 the best. Far too often individuals forget why they got into this industry and forget that it’s supposed to be FUN! I remember something John Lasseter said in an interview, ‘if you truly love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.’ I know that’s true. When I find myself really enjoying and putting my heart into what I’m doing, no amount of stress or frustrations can get me down. It’s only when I start doubting or nit picking or complaining, that’s when I start to feel that my job is stressful and hard… when in reality, it’s the greatest job in the world.

  5. Rob Anderson Rob Anderson Post author | April 19, 2010

    Hi Michiel!
    I am not sure what to say to that? My article is opinion, hence the categorization under opinion. Again I think you might be misunderstanding what I am trying to get at. I am not trying to “blame the victim”.
    Nor am I even going to attempt to draw a comparison to those that may be in a situation that is horrific like the one you suggest and I don’t think that it is fair to even try.
    Opinions are based on personal experience and really nothing more than that. This particular article was an attempt to help people deal with stress in a different way or at least that was the hope.
    Like I said in the article, I have had a lot of friends go through this and I have as well. I was simply trying to add some hopeful perspective to the issue.
    I should add that the thought of being in a situation like that 12 year old certainly gives me pause to be thankful that if the stress of a cartoon deadline is the worse that I have to deal with in my life then I really have nothing to complain about.
    The quote you raise can’t and shouldn’t work in those cases.
    I still stand by what I have said and maybe should add that perspective can also be relative? 🙂
    I think it would be fair to say that there have been times in the business that we have all felt powerless and trapped by the pressures that exist.

    Rawls, I agree! I have a real love/hate relationship with this industry. Most of the time I love it and those are the times that it doesn’t feel like work!

  6. Amber Amber April 20, 2010

    Thanks for another great article!

    “The Frenetic type works increasingly harder and then will try and find satisfaction that it feels is equal to the emotional investment made.”

    Having just finished my student film, I was a bit surprised how quickly afterwards I had expected to feel some form of validation. Realistically, though, my student film will likely get me more compliments and encouragement and other forms of celebration from others than my professional work will. I hope my apparent need for that type of satisfaction will disappear!

  7. Rob.A Rob.A April 21, 2010

    Hi Amber
    I always get depressed when I have completed a project! There are an awful lot of loose emotions running around in my head that vary from, “will people like it?” to “Do I like it?” or “I am going to miss this team” and so on. all over the place me. I doubt that there are many people that wouldn’t share in these emotions but I don’t think that is burn out, you are safe. For now!
    The frenetic burnout might happen in the situation of too much work for too little pay but even that is a simplistic description. Everyone at some point will have that happen to them. I think it is when you have become emotionally invested into a project and have started out with a high personal stake into the job. You don’t mind investing long hours into getting it done but then maybe there is no acknowledgment of your input through rewards of some sort (cash is good) or a simple “good job”. Resentment walks in the door and starts slapping you around. I think that’s when the burn out might start.
    This happened to me to some extent when I was on a crew that worked for 6 months on a show for no pay. Long story but there was a load of burnout that time! Don’t do that please!
    If you are loving what you are doing and getting what you feel are the rewards for the long hours and hard work then I don’t think you are in trouble of burn out. Keep on swimming, swimming swimming.

    I remember one Animation Festival a few years back I was sitting with a bunch of my pals who work at various feature studios in the states. Pixar, Sony, Laika to name a couple. These are folks the rest of us look up to and are at the top of the game. We had just watched “Ryan” and were in heavy debate about the merits of the film.
    I remember saying that the most powerful aspect of that film to me was that any one of us could be Ryan. that fear of “am i good enough” might take over and we will become paralyzed and unable to do our job. Everyone at the table went silent for a moment and quiet nods of agreement went around. Someone said, “We all have that voice in our head, the daily challenge is not to listen to it.”
    I think it is important to have that voice in our head. It is something to fight against and to constantly challenge ourselves.
    God I ramble on in the morning…

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