Creating Quality Work When You’re Stressed and Uninspired

Updated: March 16, 2022

I’m a big fan of Jenna Kutcher’s podcast “Goal Digger.” In it, she often repeats “Stressed work isn’t your best work.” I think we can all agree with this statement. We’ve all been in a place where details get missed or mistakes happen because of stress. There are many steps we can take to have better work practices and workflow to ensure that we’re setting ourselves up for success; however, what I want to talk to you about today is how to create quality work when stress is present and unavoidable (For amazing workflow and best practices tips, go check out “Goal Digger”! You won’t regret it).

For some of us, photography is a hobby that we do whenever we have free time. For others, it’s either solely how we provide for ourselves or it’s supplementing our income. We all know that life happens and sometimes despite our best efforts, stress is unavoidable. When our minds are consumed with worries, concerns, a long to-do list, and pending deadlines, it’s incredibly difficult to think clearly, let alone be creative. So, what do we do then? Leave the camera in the bag? If we’re photographing for a living, we don’t have that option.

Even if you are a hobbyist photographer, if you let stress kill your creativity, your expensive camera might only make its way out of the camera bag during holidays or vacations. Life happens at a near Learjet speed whether we’re stressed or not. I’ve found that for me, photography (counterintuitively) is a way to a) relieve stress, and b) force me to appreciate the goodness in my life. Today, I want to give you some tips on how to continue to create quality work when the stress is unavoidable and is largely hindering your creativity.

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Take Time Away.

Step one might seem like I’m erasing all of what I just said in the previous paragraph, but hang with me! For those of you who are doing creative work for a living, whether that is photography or something else, take time away from your craft. I’m not saying take a year sabbatical and sail around the world (although that sounds fun!). I’m saying take a day, a few hours, or even just 15 minutes, and work on something else that lets your mind relax. Do something creative and new, something where you’re not invested in the outcome. Whether that is calligraphy, playing a musical instrument, sewing, painting, drawing, building, etc. — just do something else that interests you and relaxes your mind.

Take some time away in a place you enjoy, go hiking, go for a walk, go paddleboarding, go for a drive, etc. I know what you’re thinking, “Mary, if I had the time to take a vacation, I WOULD TAKE A VACATION! But, this work isn’t going to finish itself and the deadline is looming!” I’ve been there and I’ve thought the same thing many times — but even amidst the frequent 80-hour work weeks, I’ve found time to at least go on a 30-minute walk or woke up 20 minutes early to get a few minutes of reading in. Those short breaks and periods of time away have aided in clearing my mind and have greatly helped my productivity and creativity.

Shut off Netflix & Stop Scrolling Instagram.

We use social media and TV to escape the present reality we live in, and it’s blissful…. until it’s over and we realize that we’re worse off than when we started. I’ll be the first to say that I’m not afraid to binge watch (listen really) to a good TV series while editing hundreds of photos. However, when deadlines are looming and you’re most stressed, the stress is often due to the level of your productivity and the length of your to-do list. When we escape to entertainment our productivity takes a hit, our stress returns with a vengeance, and our minds feel muddled. Resist the urge to escape and instead crank up the music, listen to a podcast that inspires you, or repeat step one before returning to the task at hand.

Focus on What You Know.

Often, we can be paralyzed by the fear of what we don’t know. We don’t want to fail so we don’t even start; or we majorly freak ourselves out and don’t create our best work because we are so stressed by the things we don’t know. At the beginning of a photo shoot, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the client’s expectations (or our own) and the possibilities in front of us. What aperture should we shoot at? What is the lighting doing? Should we add artificial light? What does the client want? The list can go on and on, but in reality, we most likely already have the knowledge, tools, and skills we need to create something beautiful. When you feel overwhelmed, step back, take a breath, and focus on what you do know, because that’s what the client hired you for in the first place.

Keep Photographing.

When you feel uninspired, photograph anyway. When you feel tired and stressed, push through it, trust the knowledge you’ve gained, and photograph anyway. Some of the best work that I’ve created has been out of the times when I have least wanted to photograph but gave it my best effort anyway. When you look at your own work and feel like you hate it all, photograph anyway. You’ll come back later and realize it’s not so bad after all. Actually going out and photographing, regardless of how you feel about it, is the only thing that is going to help you improve and continue to make quality work. You’re not going to love something 100 percent of the time, it’s not always going to be fun, inspiring, or enjoyable, but perseverance really does pay off. If you want to be a great photographer, you’re going to have to force yourself to photograph when you least feel like it, during the times you feel the least creative.

Be Grateful.

I know this sounds like a silly thing to say because being stressed and feeling uninspired is not something anyone would consider fun! However, the difficult seasons cause us to grow the most. I think growth often looks like discontentment with areas that need to change combined with gratefulness for what we already have. It can feel a little like we’re on a child’s playground seesaw — trying to manage the balance of the two. In many ways, the “in-between” times in our lives are the seasons where we learn and grow the most.

Stress and inspiration are like waves, they will come and they will go, but I guess the point of this article is to tell you that you’re not alone — every successful artist and photographer has been where you are. We have all had to manage the stress of life on top of the stress of work, to push through creative droughts and continue to produce quality work. You’re not alone, the tension you feel is normal, and it will get better! In conclusion, take the time to feed your soul, to rest and rejuvenate; keep your focus on the task at hand; trust the knowledge you’ve gained; push through the work that isn’t fun; and, have a grateful heart for the blessings you’ve been given.

You got this!


  • Mary Brunst

    Mary Brunst, a portrait, wedding and editorial photographer, considers herself to be a smile-loving, adventurous soul. She is a go-getter, big dreamer, and a messy perfectionist. Photography for her is a way to focus on what is good and to cherish some of life's happiest moments. Mary loves getting to document life as it happens, creating images that reflect real life in a genuine and uncontrived way. She strives to create images that radiate authenticity and reflect the true personalities of those she is photographing. She is a current instructor in RMSP's Professional Intensive program and a 2010 Graduate of RMSP's Career Training Program and worked as a Summer Intensive teaching assistant in 2011. Mary finds sharing her passion for photography with others both fun and rewarding. She currently resides in Westminster, Maryland. Her work has been featured on The Knot, Grey Likes Weddings, United with Love, Mountainside Bride, Charm City Wed, Bayside Bride and other wedding blogs & publications.