Nick Parker


The Anxiety Spike: Josh Leeman

The Anxiety Spike: Josh Leeman

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Nick Parker Sep 19, 2019

Quietly spoken and full of humility, Josh goes about his business like nothing really phases him. So I’ve been looking forward to opening him up to see if he experiences stress and anxiety anything like the rest of us.

Josh is a graphic designer with a soft spot for advertising. I had assumed he preferred to work with little direction, until recently when he approached me with the simple request of giving him some more time. As soon as he asked, I realised that I had been misinterpreting his autonomy as not requiring help. To which he explained as simply not wanting to be annoying.

That quick chat was an eye opener. Particularly as I begin exploring the creative psyche a little deeper and how different people express themselves under stress. Josh was kind enough to share some vulnerability with me as we explore what being stressed and anxious means to him.

Does being creative ever cause you to become anxious?

I think there is a definite link between creativity and anxiety. The process of creating something is usually done with the intention of it being judged or critiqued which would cause most people to be anxious about the result. When it is your livelihood or profession, there’s more on the line than just whether someone likes it or not. It has to be of a standard that will sell and in turn put food on your plate.

I can only speak from personal experience, but as someone that I don't think is naturally as creative as others, I sometimes feel like I’m in a world I don't belong in. I think the anxiousness that comes from that, that comes from feeling like an imposter, is what a lot of fellow creatives go through. There's a widely held theory that describes the process that creatives in advertising go though when a new brief lands on their desk. It goes like this:

1. This is awesome

2. This is tricky

3. This is shit

4. I am shit

5. This might be ok

6. This is awesome

It sums up the anxiety spike we all get followed by the sense of accomplishment and achievement when the creative process is complete. Step 6 is why we keep doing what we do.

How do you describe anxiety?

Anxiety, or it's less severe cousin anxiousness, is the feeling of "am I good enough?" "Am I right?" "Is what I'm doing correct?" "What does everyone else think of me / my work?"

I've had creatives tell me that even after many years of being at the top of their profession, they feel like the next job they get is the one where everyone will find out they're a fraud. These are highly awarded creatives with credentials and achievements most people would aspire to and they still think they're not actually creative. I think in terms of creativity, that is a solid example of the anxiety we all deal with every day.

Does feeling anxious effect your work positively or negatively?

I think it can do both. The old adage of pressure builds diamonds is true to a certain extent but I also think it is very subjective. Some people work well under pressure and let deadlines run down so they are forced to produce good work, and others need to feel like they are in control and on top of the task at hand so they don't get too anxious when they present it. Personally, I feel anxious about job security and producing a level of work that will keep me in gainful employment which I think will always be there. I am a relative novice in the world of design so expectations from my employers are tempered somewhat but I know that won't always be the case. I'm fortunate enough to be surrounded by people that make me feel comfortable when doing my work which is, I think, crucial to keeping my anxiety levels manageable.

Do you have any coping methods that help?

I think everyone has ways of managing their own anxiety. Some people drink a lot of coffee, others read a book. My partner will tell you I am yet to discover an effective way of managing it as she always knows straight away when I am stressed. It is certainly something I am working on regularly though and am slowly adopting the mantra that nothing is more important than your own wellbeing.

If something is weighing you down, stop what you're doing and ask for help. I recently undertook an intensive 12 week course which got the better of me at times, particularly towards the end when the entire coursework was due to be submitted. Looking back at it now, I don't know why I behaved the way I did. Yes it was important for my future and I obviously wanted to do well in it, but it wasn't worth straining relationships, depriving me of sleep and generally stressing my mind and body for. I put so much pressure on myself to do well that I couldn't see how much of a negative impact it was having on me and the people I care about.

Perspective is the key.