Anxiety and Graphic Design

For anyone who suffers with anxiety, you will know how hard it is to carry out simple daily tasks and interactions without your brain going into overdrive and turning against you.

Anxiety comes in many different guises; I don’t pretend to be an expert on the subject but I am certainly an expert on my own brain and its devious ways. Without expert help it can be difficult to gain control of negative thoughts and negative thought processes, however, we all have our outlets and ways to cope. We all suffer from self-doubt, being overly critical of ourselves and potentially stop ourselves from achieving our goals due to a lack of self-belief.

I visualise these thoughts as ants carrying messages to my brain, each ant has a little note that reads ‘you are rubbish’.

As a graphic designer, I need to have a lot of self-confidence, believe in my skills and abilities and more importantly convey that confidence and ability to my clients. Up until two years ago, when describing my work, I would use the word ‘just’ a lot. “Oh, I just combined these shapes and made a logo”, “I just played around with the images”. I didn’t feel confident to promote my work appropriately, then one day my dad told me that when I use the word ‘just’ it implies that the work I had created was easy, that no effort was put into it and that it was a simple task. It was only then that I fully realised what I had been doing. I had been underselling myself for a long time.

Anxiety convinces you that the bad thoughts you are having about yourself are also what other people are thinking about you, so as a form of self-preservation I would downplay everything I did so that no one could ever think I was over selling myself or being too confident in my abilities. Although I do still suffer with this now and again, I am now much better. Clients believe in me and through building relationships with clients I feel that I am providing a service that is benefiting their business and to receive praise for that makes me feel on top of the world.

I decided to conduct some research to find out whether there are any other graphic designers out there who also suffer with anxiety and confidence issues. I was overwhelmed with how many designers had shared their stories and just how common it is to be plagued with self-doubt. 

This is a quote from – an open and honest blog written by a designer who was struggling with achieving his goals due to anxiety:

“Having anxiety as a graphic designer is like being a pilot with a fear of heights. As a designer, you have to be an expert at creating and whittling down countless options to come up with the one that best communicates an idea or project. You also have to collaborate with clients, accept criticism and manage your time effectively.”

He later goes on to describe a scenario where he had a fear of trying screen printing, a goal of his, due to being afraid of failure. He dove straight in and faced his fears and describes the project as:  “a Petri dish for me to study my reaction to stress”.

That quote struck a chord with me. I decided about a year ago that I was going to confront these twisted thoughts and do everything that I was too scared to do and view it as a science project to see how I cope and react, just to see if I was capable of beating the bully that is my brain. Life is too short to be afraid, and especially too short to be afraid of things that haven’t even happened or may never happen.

I became self-employed, like I had wanted to do for years and never believed I could. I now feel like I have met myself for the first time.

It is ok to be afraid, we all get scared, but the key is to not allow that fear to win. Fear is weak compared to your own ability, intelligence and self-belief.

I now see fear as a reminder that I am pushing myself and breaking out of my comfort zone.

“If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.”

David Bowie

The confidence I have in my work allows me to embrace new angles, new techniques and to push myself into thinking differently. We can all beat the beast, we must believe in each other and support each other, we cannot do this alone.

When I look back on my personal projects over the years, I now see a frightened person, a person who doesn’t believe they can be better. I feel sorry for that person but I also appreciate that I had to be that person before I could become me.


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