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Managing Anxiety as a Creative

Managing Anxiety as a Creative

This is a subject I had planned to talk about for a while, and with what our world is facing with COVID-19 right now, I thought this would be a good week to share.

Maybe you don't experience regular anxiety like myself, but from what I've witnessed with my artist friends, it's something that is common among creatives in general. Maybe it's because we are are more sensitive, observant, or empathetic than others. I don't know! But I'm here to talk about it. 

This is not something I have mastered, but after working for myself for nearly five years, I have had time to implement some strategies to help me squash that anxiety. I've done this because I've simply had to in order to stay in business. If I let my thoughts get the better of me, it's easier for my self-confidence to crumble, and thus deadlines aren't meant or projects I was once inspired about can fall apart (not client work, more the ones I do for myself). And remaining free of self-doubt, or at least understanding how to accept and address it, is for me, key to reducing my anxiety. 

Below, I'm going to share two of my own most common anxieties and strategies to combat them. I also asked you guys what YOUR tips are for managing anxiety, so I've compiled them at the end, too! 

Anxiety caused by Overwhelm

Overwhelm is a nasty beast and it can show its face in many ways: overwhelmed by your own big goals, how much work you have to do, or a lack of work to do or lack of direction. Overwhelm from how much I want to do is probably my biggest problem when it comes to my own anxiety. Sometimes I just feel like I'll never get everything I want to get done, done.  

My #1 tip for tackling larger goals is to always break them down into much smaller tasks. Minuscule tasks, even, that may seem silly to write out. Create a paper list of every single task involved with your big goal, and enjoy scratching off each little thing. Even if it only takes 5 minutes to do that task, you will feel productive. And, to me, being productive is the antidote to overwhelm

If you're overwhelmed by a lack of work to do, whether that is client work or you're in a creative rut, there is always something you can do in place of those things. Organize your office and art supplies, your bookkeeping, take an online class. If you need more income in place of that work, brainstorm some ideas for how you can make money that week. This actually can be a luxury, to have that time to get really organized in your business or learn and try something new. 

Accepting that you may not achieve all of your life's goals is a tough one. There is just so much we want to do. But accepting that even if you can't accomplish everything throughout your life, you will and HAVE accomplished something. And acceptance of that is incredibly freeing. Write a quick list of everything you have done in the last week, year, or five years. You will see the progress written right in front of you! 

Anxiety caused by Self-Doubt

For me, overcoming self-doubt is something I have faced constantly. And I think that the more you do it, the more naturally confident you become. There's always something out there that can rattle your self-confidence and at unexpected moments. But if you have the tools to combat those moments, they aren't as powerful. 

For example, if I see someone doing something "better" than I'm doing it, I'll start to feel a little sad. I'll think, "They are way ahead of me! Who am I to try and top that?" Or worse, if I tell myself that I'll never be able to catch up with them. After that split second, I can take a moment to tell myself that I don't have to do things better than them. I just have to do things my own, unique way.

I'm sure you hear so many people in our industry saying right now that there is "room for everyone". When my self-doubt creeps in, I don't believe that. When my highest self hears it, I know it's true. Because I know that NOT believing it, can make it true. If you believe that there isn't room for you, there will never be room for you because you won't take the proactive steps to make it happen for yourself. 

If you're doubting yourself, write down the fears surrounding those doubts. When you can pinpoint the fears, you can see that they usually aren't rational. And if they are feeling rational, you have the tools to navigate them.  

Here's an example of a thought process deciphered: 

Seeing someone "better" -> Fear that I'm not good enough -> Good enough for what or who exactly? -> Really a fear of not being good enough for myself -> Understanding that I am putting these expectations on myself, and I get to decide how I feel about myself -> I'm now equipped to better handle those specific doubts because I know I have the control here. 

What are some other proactive ways you can combat self-doubt? Again, take a look at how far you've come and write it down. Or build upon the skill that you feel you're lacking. Looking back at my early art, I sometimes can't believe the things I've done since. But even if it wasn't perfect (and still isn't!), I kept going. I kept going because I love painting. So remember why you do what you do, and don't let yourself, others, or any thoughts you're manufacturing stop you.

[A note here, if anxiety is overwhelming your daily life, seek professional help if needed. I love going to talk therapy!]

Your Tips for Managing Anxiety

I loved hearing your suggestions. These past few weeks have been stressful to say the least and unfortunately looks like it will be for some time. But there are simple things we can do to take care of ourselves, right now. Thank you for sharing with us! 

• Make a color chart of your paints
• Go for a walk
• Try a new skill, like baking or playing an instrument
• Doodle or create freely, without any guidelines 
• Take a break from the news 
• Pet your dog or cat or walk them outside 
• Stick to your routine or create new rituals 
• Text or call a fellow creative 
• Meditate
• Listen to calming music
• Cardio
• Do a mindless, calming task like organizing or the dishes
• Taking a breath
• Prescribed medication 
• A break from Instagram
• Create for FUN!

I loved this idea from Tamara Arcilla: "Anxiety and overwhelm almost always go hand in hand for me. The first thing I usually do is a giant "brain dump". I grab a sheet of paper and write down everything on my mind. I don't try to make any sense of it, if it pops in my head I write it down on the page, anywhere on the page, I write and write until nothing else pops in my head (sometimes I have to grab more than one page).

Once its all on the page and sitting in front of me I no longer have the panic that I'm forgetting something and suddenly it is all quantifiable. That alone takes a bulk of the Anxiety away because now I can begin making sense of it all.

The next step is usually going through and highlighting the ones that are the most urgent or time sensitive. Sometimes that's enough, other times I rewrite things into more organized lists or into my planning systems. "

These next few weeks...

Throughout this uncertain time, I plan to be here continuing with my weekly post series to help you grow and sustain your art businesses. If you're not already on my email list, I'll be sharing some more free resources there this week (like a 30-day portfolio prompt!). Thanks for being here with me, and we will get through this together!

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to serve as professional health advice. Please seek guidance from a qualified professional if needed. 

Mar 19, 2020

P.S. Your list is help, for I do some of them and others I’ll try but can’t promise myself.
Joan

joan canning
Mar 19, 2020

Thank you for wonderful email. Anxiety/Panic attacks I’m usually all over the place when it come to my art. I unfortunately say Yes to people to do a specific art piece before thinking it over. Any suggestions. Have learned some copping skills, but when I’m sort of passed the point and reside on my own, I’d have help . Perfectionism is my Nemesis. Looking forward to the prompts. I do feel better when I either sketch, paint or art doodle intricately then I’m calm and I can zone out the rest of the world. Take care, stay healthy.

joan canning
Mar 19, 2020

Great Article! This is what I needed to read this week!
Thanks! Very helpful!

jackie
Mar 18, 2020

Really could relate to all that you mentioned.
Helps knowing that others can feel this way.
I have felt overwhelmed for sometime now and feel frustrated and going round in circles not getting anywhere.
Thanks for your information.

Lian Lewis
Mar 18, 2020

This was beyond comforting to read. I think as artists, we are definitely very sensitive to our surroundings and can feel everything. Thank you so much for sharing and for sharing all the wonderful tips provided too. It’s nice knowing we’re all in this together and we can be here together.

Tiffani

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