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Creative anxiety: what it is and how to battle it

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Having a creative outlet to express yourself, especially if you’re making money doing it, is a huge privilege. On its face, it seems like the ideal situation. Literally the definition of waking up every day and doing what you love. But there can also be a dark side: creative anxiety.

Turning your passion into something systematic — whether it’s paid, like my interior design work, or unpaid, like this blog — can often bring with it a lot of anxiety. Creative anxiety, to me, is an especially debilitating thing. What used to always bring you such joy suddenly feels like you’re constantly putting yourself up for judgment. Your palms sweat just at the thought of creation.

The self-doubt can also creep in. When I got my very first paid interior design project, the initial excitement quickly turned to, “oh shit, am I good enough for this?” I was worried that I wasn’t as skilled as the front I put up. Any second, I feared, my clients would discover that I wasn’t capable of giving them exactly what they want and need. Again, this leads to anxiety seeping into your creative process.

The pressure to create can also suck the fun out of it. Sometimes I even experience that with this blog, which I love doing with my whole heart. I put myself on a rigid timeline and push myself to perform. Push myself to type words that I had to extract from my brain like a goddamn wisdom tooth. Every once in a while, you just get burned out. Which, again, can lead to anxiety and self doubt.

do you struggle with creative anxiety?

Visual representation of creative anxiety, by Rachel Katstaller
“Navigating Anxiety” by Rachel Katstaller

This is completely normal. No matter how dope your career — or side hustle — is, there are going to be days where you don’t absolutely love it. But there are ways that you can ease your creative anxiety and all the bad side effects it brings with it.

Although I’m no seasoned expert in the creative field, I use a couple of these tactics to help me when I’m feeling blehh about my work.

use past projects to hype yourself up

Likely, you’re pretty fucking good at what you do. If you have passion for it, the skill probably follows. Use this as ammo to keep you going. If you’re experiencing self doubt, looking back at your previous work can help you to remind yourself what you’re capable of.

For me, this looks like reading some of my favorite blog posts I’ve written. Or looking back at a section of my Instagram feed that looks especially good. Sometimes even just walking around my home and seeing the design vision I was able to bring to life gives me some confidence.

Reflecting on past work can also help to remind you how much fun you can have with the process. And how satisfying it is bask in the glory of your work once it’s done. Sometimes, all you need is the permission to let yourself just have fun with it and stop stressing,

look around for inspiration

Whenever I’m stuck, whether it’s because of a creative block, anxiety, or lack of motivation, I seek inspiration. (This can be great for productive procrastination btw). Sometimes I go to my favorite blogs or Instagrams. Read some issues of Architectural Digest. Watch some interior design makeover show. Scroll through Pinterest. Even take a walk outside. You get the point.

When you revel in the talent of other people, or of the natural design outside, it can spark ideas in yourself. But it can also bring you the joy that likely got you interested in whatever you do in the first place.

It feels good to consume good creative content. Sometimes just reminding yourself of what’s out there and what is possible for you is the push you need to stop pouting, stop doubting, and just get the shit done.

express gratitude

Daily expressions of gratitude is a habit that I’ve welcomed into my daily life. It’s good for your all around wellbeing; it encourages you to notice — and even seek out — moments of good in your every day. But it can be especially useful to battle your creative anxiety.

Think about the fact that you have this gift, that you found a way to put it to use, and you might even make money doing it. (Or you’re well on your way to making money). That in itself is grounds for gratitude.

Approaching something with gratitude already on your mind can help to ease negative feelings significantly, whether it’s the doubt, anxiety, or weight of the pressure. If you approach it as a privilege to be able to create this great work, suddenly you value it as much as you used to, and your drive to create goes way up.

in conclusion: fuck creative anxiety

As someone who has struggled with extreme anxiety, it’s never any fun. But when it gets in the way of letting your express yourself, or gets in the way of making money, it’s a total fuck you to it.

I’ve found that these tactics truly do help. On top of taking a break when needed and connecting with people around you, especially other creatives, there is definitely a way to make sure your passion stays a passion. Not a burden.

There are tons of other people who’ve weighed in on coping mechanisms before. You can check out a few here and here. I’d love to hear how y’all deal with this anxiety in the comments below!

keep it creative, and
keep it homey, homies

Cover art by Purple Ponytail. Follow her on Instagram.

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