How to handle these common creative anxieties

How to Deal with Creative Anxiety

Does anyone else feel those butterflies start immediately when the first week of September hits? You might not actually be going back to school but fall always reminds us the holidays are right around the corner. For many of us in the creative world, the holidays signal the most stressful, anxiety-inducing projects are here. Vacations are over, Summer Fridays are in the rearview and it’s time to get back to business. As more work comes your way, deadlines pile up and many of us have similar creative anxieties. While this article is no substitute for real therapy, (seriously, talk to a professional if you’re extremely stressed!), we wanted to provide at least a little help during this time of year. ’Cause we’ve been there!

Anxiety Type: Impostor Syndrome

Why we get it: The business world is devoted to this fake hierarchical system of success, aka the “corporate ladder”, for example. The creative world is shoehorned into their hierarchical systems because they’re the ones who hire us. They dictate who’s creativity is better through creating arbitrary rewards and prizes, which causes us to believe that these ladder-like metrics mean everything in the creative field. If you don’t have a certain title, win a particular certificate, or get to work with a particular agency, you’re liable to start feeling like you’re “not good enough”. 

How to Deal: The self-critical lie of Impostor Syndrome (and that’s really all it is) is able to take over if we’re stuck in a rut, received some negative feedback, or are just telling ourselves the lie after comparing ourselves harshly against others in our field. So in order to deal with Impostor Syndrome, you need to dismantle the lie. Think instead of the successful wins you’ve had, either in the distant past or recent past, that absolutely prove you’re capable. If you’re having trouble, then ask a colleague to remind you of a project you did that wowed them. Once you realize you’ve fought hard and won in the past, you’ve learned from mistakes and still come out on top, or you’ve simply put your current work next to your oldest work, you can clearly see the proof: you are 1,000 percent capable of whatever you set your mind to because you have proven yourself time and time again. The lie of Impostor Syndrome simply holds no water in the face of your hard-earned proof.

Anxiety Type: Beginning a Challenging Project

Why we get it: Some projects are incredibly daunting on paper, especially if you feel like you don’t have all the necessary skills to complete them. The brief uses lots of jargon, the company has a long list of parameters or you’ve never worked in [insert any program] before—you name it, there is always a reason to suddenly clam up over a tough obstacle. We’re wired to have a stress response: fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. Depending on what type of person you are, there is a risk of self-sabotaging the project, too, just so you don’t have to go through the challenge itself. 

How to Deal: First, take a breath and realize you’ve been here before. Nothing you’ve succeeded at has ever been easy, so why is this project any different? Second, break down what fears are coming up for you about this project in particular. Third, take action against those fears so you can get them out of the way and back into creation mode. Taking action looks like asking many clarifying questions about the brief, asking the company to prioritize their “must-haves” and their “nice-to-haves”, and planning your time accordingly on what parts of the project need the most time. Once you face the specific reason for why you’re afraid, the fear will lose its power—you’ll find it’s really not all that scary once you talk it out. BTW, this is another great opportunity to talk it through with a trained therapist. Their advice will help you look at your fears more often and give you better tools to face them.

Anxiety Type: Comparison Loops

Why we get it: In today’s world of constant content feeds, we creatives are always looking at our neighbors’ successes. Though it can be inspiring, the opposite can also happen: our negative thoughts take us to a place where we truly believe “we’re not as good as everyone else”.

How to Deal: Similarly to how you deal with Impostor Syndrome, you need to remember that success is relative to the individual, no matter what society tells you. Sure it’s nice that people are given awards and honors for their work—and when they are, we celebrate those people. But there are other proactive actions you can take to squash ongoing comparison so you can focus more on your own success metrics. First, take a break from social media. Then, outline what success looks like for you personally. Finally, look at all the work you’ve done and decide where you want to go next in order to achieve a personal metric of success. For example, a metric of success might be that in three months you will have your own Etsy shop to drive a second source of income. That will generate a full, fun, highly personal project where you are no longer comparing yourself to others daily but working toward your own vision of successful creativity. Once you are clear on what makes you feel happy and successful, you’re less likely to compare yourself to others—because what you do is completely and uniquely all you! Instead, you’ll turn that instinct to compare into the instinct to appreciate and gain inspiration, which is a much healthier outcome for everyone in the creative world.

Anxiety Type: Fear of Rejection

Why we get it: This type of fear is rooted in the fear of the unknown. Add to it people-pleasing tendencies and negative self-talk and you have the perfect anxiety cocktail that causes unnecessary worry and self-doubt before we’ve even taken the first step toward putting ourselves out there.

How to Deal: The first step in getting over the fear of rejection is realizing that you only have control over half of any interaction with another person or company. You can only control your end of the communication, your presentations, your portfolio, your resume, and your case studies. Outside of what you can control lies all that unknown—which is ultimately not worth worrying about! Why? Because it is out of your control. For example, you spend all your time working on your illustration portfolio and how you will pitch yourself to a specific company. You send off the email and…receive nothing but crickets. Your instinct is to believe that you have been officially rejected. But there are about twenty other reasons why you didn’t get a response. Here are a few: The art director you wrote to was just laid off. Your email went to spam, thanks to the company’s firewall. Your email was received but the art director forgot to write you back when a huge deadline fell into her lap. All of these are plausible reasons for silence—and all of them are out of your control! The only thing left to do is for you to keep going. Keep reaching out. Find ways to meet people in person, or slide into their DM’s for a virtual chat. Take control of what you can and forget the rest. And if you do get rejected? It’s not a forever stamp on your ability, since your talents and capabilities improve over time. Nor is it the end of your career. There are always other clients in the sea.

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