Anxiety and Creative Work

There seems to be a common storyline surrounding creative roles and poor mental health. That storyline is often romanticised into an expression of hidden, artistic depths. In reality, artists, creatives and designers are also human beings with lives, friends, partners and pets. Mental health is something that is picking up more recognition nowadays but it’s been neglected publicly for a long time and for sufferers of mental health issues, this meant that you were forced to suffer in silence. While attitudes and awareness are improving in relation to mental health, I feel that the romantic idea of the emotionally suffering artist is still a part of our social narrative.

It often seems that creative roles are more susceptible to mental health issues. Arguably this is because a great deal of creative work relies upon a considerable amount of reflection on humanistic emotional triggers (storytelling, portraying characters, advertisements, book illustrations etc.). That being said, the more obvious part of this problem is that creative work tends to open up a feeling of being judged by others in a very intimate and personal way. However, this is still the case in more quantitative or logic-led roles. People in non-creativity centred jobs will still face times in their career where they are required to use their creativity at work, whether it is for building a presentation or contributing ideas in a project meeting. These kinds of tasks will often trigger panic in people, as well as proclamations such as, ‘I’m just not a creative person!’.

My own experience relates to this, as a person who has transitioned from a career in Marketing to a career in Design. Previously, my role had elements that were especially creative as well as areas that were more data driven or analytical, for example. As mentioned above, even speaking up in meeting where new ideas are being exchanged can be enough to generate a feeling of vulnerability in everyday life. In creativity-centred roles, this vulnerability becomes as necessary as day is for night. In my role now, I often don’t personally market and sell my designs because I am working with agents. This relieves me of a large part of marketing, sales and distribution responsibilities but it does narrow my focus on a constant turnaround of creative work. In these situations, you are open to vulnerability all day long.

I used to have black and white views about how people expressed their emotions at work. Since starting my freelance design career, I would never judge anyone who finds themselves having to dive out of their building for a coffee and a cry. As time has gone on, I’ve been forced to seek medical and professional support in order to better understand how to look after my mental health, as part of my professional development (and survival!). We often undertake courses in ‘Health and Safety’ awareness when we start new jobs but there is rarely anyone supporting mental health in the same way that we would with first aid. This is probably because mental health tends to develop slowly into chronic conditions, as opposed to suddenly with acute presentations. In my own experience, my problems crept up so slowly that I almost left it too long to reach out for any support.

Now that I have been empowered by a gradual recovery, fuelled with awareness and support, I’m aware that there’s a lot of fellow creatives that might be putting off their own self care. Even if you are not in a creative role but you’re in a relationship with someone who is or you work with sometime that fits the bill, my own honest explanation might help you reconsider your existing viewpoint of mental health issues as a reaction to work based stress. My daily requirement of creativity led to vulnerability and my vulnerability led to stress and my stress less to anxiety and chronic insomnia. If I had simply spoken up and reached out to others at the ‘vulnerability’ stage, I would have had a significantly higher chance of resolving my issues before they reached a serious situation.

I hope that if you relate to anything I’ve said, you take time to reach out to your GP or even a trusted friend. Taking this small step will help you to start getting back to a place of balance and to somewhere where you can be creatively vulnerable in a healthy way. If you’re already doing this and want to reach out for support or solidarity, or if you have any questions on anything I’ve mentioned, feel free to ping me an email.