The Dark Mental Health Side Of Content Creation

The Dark Mental Health Side Of Content Creation
Photo by name_ gravity / Unsplash

Should I be creating right now? 

Do I have to find a real job? 

I wonder how my latest video is doing? 

This video essay could have been better. 

Should I be doing schoolwork instead? 

What is my next piece of content going to be on?

Questions like these chaotically crash inside my mind all the time. Burnout, perfectionism, and hedonic adaptation have slowly become old friends since I started my content creation journey three years ago at 17.

I love my job. I do. I get to exercise my creative freedom every day through YouTube, my newsletter, and podcast, while still in college. 

There are few greater feelings than seeing someone change through my content. 

It’s wild. The combination of typing some words and publishing videos of me speaking them to the internet can have a lasting effect on people’s lives.

But alongside this, there is a dark mental health side to content creation. Three dark horsemen continue to plague me in seasons during my journey.

The Three Dark Horsemen Of Content Creation And My "Solutions"


As a content creator, you are always working.

You have no set hours. You create them. Sometimes, it can feel like my brain is always on.

I could be sitting watching a movie with friends, and suddenly, the thought pops into my head: Should I write about this in my newsletter? Yes! it would perfectly describe my transformation from someone who struggles to stop working to someone who can relax and have fun!

The irony...

This type of thinking can lead to everyone's favorite b-word: butter, no, burnout. I have experienced–and have to be careful not to continue experiencing–not just one type, but the whole three-muskateer trifecta of burnout! 

At one point, I was in three clubs, a full-time student at Cornell, had a girlfriend, and still publishing a newsletter, podcast, and YouTube video every week. I was experiencing overexertion burnout, working too hard over too long a time.

I thought it was okay because I had times where I wasn’t scheduled to “work.” The problem was I didn’t have any meaningful rest activities to fill this time with. Naturally, my brain started to drift back to content creation. This led to the second type of burnout I have experienced, depletion burnout, which comes from having too little meaningful rest outside work. 

As a content creator there have also been times when I feel a constant pressure to “publish or die.” I can convince myself if I don’t post a YouTube video every week on something people want, my audience will forget about me, my business will crumble, and a meteor will hit the Earth and bring Dinosaur Death 2.0 (okay maybe not that extreme). This can result in the third type of burnout I have experienced misalignment burnout, burnout which comes when you feel your actions conflict with your values. 

What's my "solution?"

My Work Cycle: Craft, Collect, Reflect (C2R)

The best "solution" I have found for navigating burnout as a content creator is having clear expectations for what I should be doing on a day, week, and month-long cycles and having meaningful rest activities to fill the time I’m not working. Being intentional about my expectations allows my brain to turn off when I know I should rest. And it gives me clarity for what I should be doing when.

I played Minecraft way too much as a kid, so the game-inspired work cycle I use is Craft, Collect, Reflect (C2R). I spend the morning hours crafting: writing articles, YouTube scripts, or building a new product. I spend the afternoon hours collecting insights from books, podcasts, conversations, articles, and doing administrative work. I spend the evenings reflecting through journaling and philosophizing, but also plain resting through video games, fiction books, or a good movie.

I don't just apply this cycle on a day scale but on the week to month as well. I have times where I'm more focused on crafting like while building The Art Of Linked Reading. I have times where I'm more focused on collecting in between big crafting projects. And I have times where I'm more focused on reflection like while writing my 2023 annual review.

This work cycle stops me from working too hard over too long a time, fighting overexertion burnout. It ensures I schedule time for meaningful rest throughout my days; rest that heals the soul, fighting depletion burnout. Finally, I try my best to alternate between content that expresses my self and has business potential, fighting misalignment burnout.

Even with my C2R work cycle, I’m not fully protected from one of the other most insidious dark horsemen, perfectionism. 

The Illusion Of Perfection

How many pieces do you think I'm truly proud of after three years of content creation?

Three. Three pieces. If you're wondering which one I'm most proud of, it's Life Is A Game: Here's How You Play.

Every time I post a piece of content, the same thought comes into my head: that could have been better.

It's the great tragedy of any creative art: balancing quantity versus quality. You know the longer you spend on a piece, the higher quality you can make it. Unfortunately, if you want to make your content into an income stream like I do, you have to sacrifice your babies on the altar of consistency to appease the algorithmic gods.

If you don't temper it, perfectionism can eat at your heart. It can make you feel ashamed every time you see an old piece of content rather than grateful. It can keep you from ever posting a piece in the first place. It can ruin you.

For a long time, I let it. I edited my first video ever for my YouTube channel for over 30 hours. Thre are still articles I have written I’ve never published because they aren’t good enough. The tentative "solution" I have made comes from the realm of video games.

Grind Now, Fight Later

In many video games, like World Of Warcraft, there are phases of the game where you spend a lot of time grinding--investing lots of time and energy simply in upgrading your gear and levels without fighting tough bosses. The idea is you must get through this slump to be powerful enough to fight.

I apply this idea to content creation.

Create. Write. Paint. Do. Act. Repeat. Quality will emerge from the little iterations made between endeavors.

I create a video, newsletter, and podcast every week. That may seem insane, but it's allowed me to improve drastically in the span of three years. Now, I'm starting to focus more on quality, but getting the reps in first is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

But even with an understanding of perfectionism, to this day, the most pervasive dark horseman for me is the Hedonic Treadmill. 

The Toxic Hedonic Treadmill

I remember the first video I ever posted.

It was a fitness day in the life that got 40 views first day (mostly friends lol). I felt exhilarated. 40 people watched something I made?! As I posted more and more the excitement only increased as my average view counts went from 10 to 100 to 1,000 until I got my first viral video of over 100,000 views.

 I was high on life.

Then the video I posted immediately after only got around 1,000.

I was devastated. My run was going so well. What happened? 

I had experienced hedonic adaptation, the universal human tendency to adapt to positive and negative changes in our lives and revert to a baseline level of happiness. When we desperately search for more and more material validation, thinking it will make us happy. I instead call it the Hedonic Treadmill. We're like rats on a treadmill forever chasing cheese, dancing with the devil of hedonism, blinded by the promises of instant gratification.

Journey Over Destination

The "solution" I have found comes from the Ancient wisdom of Stoicism.

Turn the pursuit of pleasure into the pleasure of pursuit.

In other words, focus on the journey of creating over the destination. The Stoics understood we can only control two things: our reactions to our thoughts, and our actions. By focusing on what we can control, we put our wellbeing in our own hands.

Applied to content creation, we can only control how much effort we put in, not how well it does. Separating ourselves from the outcome is us metaphorically stepping off the hedonic treadmill and leaving the piece of cheese for someone else. There was probably a mouse trap at the end anyway.

Separating DOES NOT mean detaching.

That makes you a robot. Of course, you should care how your videos do, but don't put your self-worth on their performance. I dedicate 20 minutes a week to going through my analytics and trying to extract insights. By setting aside purposeful time to analyze, I not only come in with a better frame of mind, but I'm able to use the analytics to make better content.

Content creation is a gift. We live in a time when practically anyone can create something that can potentially influence thousands. Imagine how much better content would be if creators did this with good mental health as well.