At the beginning of 2020, comedian Aishwarya Mohanraj had a humble following of 30,000 on Instagram. This was after she got a little boost from her time as a contestant on Amazon Prime Video’s Comicstaan. By the end of the year, that figure stood at 3,00,000. This 10x jump can largely be attributed to the introduction of Instagram reels in August 2020. Mohanraj is just one of the thousands of creators who hit pay-dirt on the platform. Supriya Joshi jumped from 10,000 followers to 1,00,000 on the back of her makeup tutorials. Similarly, YouTuber Jagjyot Singh found success in a much shorter period of time on Instagram. “It took me just a year to hit 100k on Instagram,” he said. “I started uploading towards the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022 and that same year I hit the number.”
But there’s a dark side to Reels stardom. Between the constant pressure to churn out content every single day, the demands of the content-hungry algorithm, and the entitlement of (an admittedly small section) of parasocially-bonded fans, it’s no walk in the park. In recent years, growing social awareness about the importance of mental health and the phenomenon of burnout has started a much-needed conversation—is this practice sustainable?
It’s no secret that the Instagram algorithm rewards creators who upload material on the platform at breakneck speed. Being consistent means constantly coming up with new ideas, often not even giving them enough time to take a fully-formed shape. Comedian and creator Mohd Anas is one of the creators who has been speaking out about the potential for burnout. He makes sure to take frequent breaks from the constant rigmarole of pushing out content.
“The algorithm definitely favours consistency,” says Anas. “It’s very real and it’s a major anxiety point for most if not all the creators. That is something that I try to be cognizant of. I know that this is how I am supposed to do things on this platform—by being consistent.”
Anas knows that the app rewards regular posters, but he still doesn’t play by the rules and his reasons are twofold. “I really like spending time with the stuff that I make. On top of that it’s very exhausting to shoot and then edit for six to eight hours every day,” he said.
Sakshi Shivdasani, one of the bigger content creators in the country, tries to post five to six times a week. She agrees that it’s extremely taxing to come up with original ideas on the daily. “Sometimes I just want to have an organic conversation with someone and not look at everything from a content perspective,” she said.
Content creators are expected to do a wide variety of jobs and juggle many hats. Where corporations have entire departments dedicated to the write, shoot and edit process, a content creator is a one-man army more often than not. This pressure manifests itself in various ways.
“I face burnout every month,” said Saumya Sahni, who goes by mrsholmes221b on Instagram and has 71,000 people tuning in daily for relatable content about parents, relationships and corporate life. “I feel like I’m not doing enough. Even though I’m trying so hard to make content every day, there are days when my mental health comes in the way of my creativity.”
According to a 2020 report by inspire.me, a Norwegian influencer marketing platform, 47% of the 350 global influencers surveyed admitted that their career choice had a negative impact on their mental and physical health. Later.com, a social media management platform, surveyed over 600 content creators and discovered that 43% experience social media burnout—a form of online fatigue that can happen when you spend too much time on social networks, as reported by clinical psychologist Dr. Michaela Dunbar—on a monthly or quarterly basis, with an additional 29% struggling daily or weekly. They also reported that 39% of creators feel unhealthy pressure to grow their following.
All this leaves comedy content creators walking a tightrope. Despite all its negatives, short-form content creation is becoming an increasingly essential skill. Two months after TikTok was banned in India, Instagram Reels swooped in to capitalise on the creators and consumers of short-form content. As mentioned above, Indian comedians and content creators saw a surge in their following with new eyes consuming their content every day.
Comedians and creators Urjita Wani and Mohd Anas—who have collaborated on sketches as well—also used reels to their advantage and grew their own community of sketch-comedy enthusiasts. “It definitely helped in increasing my numbers,” Wani told us. “People who didn’t know who I was got to see my content.”
“I saw a lot more success in a shorter span of time,” Jagjyot Singh who runs the channel Aapka Jags on YouTube told DeadAnt. Singh, whose YouTube channel got a big boost during the COVID-19 lockdown, took six years to reach the 1,00,000 subscriber milestone on the video-streaming website. On Instagram, thanks to Reels, he passed that milestone within a year.
Singh attributes this success to the short-form content that he was pushing out on the social media app. “It was mainly because I poured my energy into reels. On YouTube, shooting a video and editing would take anywhere between 3-4 weeks. Making a reel is definitely less time-consuming and allows me to push out more material which in turn keeps my followers engaged and also takes me to newer people,” he said.
This exponential rise in reach led to the added pressure of coming up with ideas on the go and keeping the growing audience engaged. This in turn affects the quality of content as well.
The average person works set hours each day doing assigned tasks, creators essentially work for themselves. This blurs the line between the professional and personal aspects of their lives. Sahni, who worked as a finance professional and dabbled in content creation previously, has taken the leap and is a freelance creator now. “There’s no boss that I have to report to anymore. So I prioritise my mental health over everything else,” she said. “There are periods when I will not post for 15-20 days straight. But then the guilt of “not being productive” kicks in and I eventually get back to it.”
“I think it’s very important that you treat it like a job,” said Shivdasani. Every day, she regales her 400,000 followers with her daily life updates and hilarious rants. “A lot of people including me got into it because we truly enjoy it. But it’s normal to feel burnt out no matter what career path you take,” she said. “You need to separate yourself from the content to have a more objective view of this. Every piece of mine doesn’t need to be a banger. Sometimes I’m playing the algorithm and I need to realise that. And sometimes you need to just accept that you need a break. Yes, your engagement will be affected but this is something that you need to do for yourself.”
That’s much easier said than done. The “out of sight out of mind” phenomenon couldn’t be truer for the reels market. And that’s not something a creator can afford to play dice with, given how fleeting online fame can be. With companies pouring in so much money to be advertised on the next big viral sensation’s Instagram feed, it’s easy to overlook the negative impacts. “Creators with large followings can draw brand work for their social media channels for as high as ₹8 lakh for a single reel,” Warren Viegas, CEO of LVC Comedy, said in an interview with The Tribune. Clearly, being a social media star is a double-edged sword. It brings you fame and money but it’s essential to put solid boundaries in place for your mental and physical health.
A lot of creators rely on trends for their daily material to avoid overworking themselves. But it’s not a sustainable practice according to Singh and Sahni. “Trend wala video bana kar followers badh jayenge, but then how are you going to sustain them?” said Singh. “Unko kuch original bhi toh dekhna hai.” “I don’t take part in trends unless I have some original takes or jokes to add on it,” added Sahni. “I’ve seen people rehash my content and it doesn’t sit right with me. So I don’t partake in it either.”
Shivdasani, on the other hand, looks at it differently. “There are some days when I do find myself scrolling through Instagram for some inspiration and to see what’s trending. Some people hate it. But how I look at it is, if your content is picking up and becoming a trend, it’s a compliment for the creator. At least I take it like that. But it’s very important to give credit wherever it’s due.”
Creators have found their own ways to deal with burnout and creativity blocks. Urjita Wani says that consuming content and switching off for a while helps her personally. “Maine Javed Akhtar sahab ka ek interview suna tha,” she said. “He says, ‘Writer ka riyaz hota hai padhna.’ So that’s what I do. Whenever I feel like I can’t think of something, I switch off and read or watch something.”
If your content is picking up and becoming a trend, it’s a compliment for the creator. At least I take it like that. But it’s very important to give credit wherever it’s due.Sakshi Shivdasani
Md Anas and Jagjyot Singh feel like collaborating with other creators and bouncing ideas off of each other is a great solution when you feel stuck. “I have my group of friends who I work with,” said Singh. “They help me with the writing and shooting as well from time to time. It helps in breaking the monotony of writing by yourself.”
“It’s always great to work with friends,” said Anas. “Sometimes I spend the whole day with Urjita (Wani) and Mohammed (Hussain). Shoot bhi karte hai, mazaak bhi karte hai. So it becomes a great creative space for us.”
“There’s no right way to deal with it,” added Singh. “But agar practically bolna hoga toh there’s only one thing you can do. Calm down for a while, meet with your loved ones and relax. Duniya badal nahi jayegi ek-do hafte mein agar reel nahi daala toh. (The world won’t change if you don’t post a reel for a week or two.)”