Dealing with fear and anxiety

4 years ago by

Written by Sarah Ritchie, AM-Insider

StudioLand is a tough environment. It’s quite conceivable that at various times you will feel a sense of fear or anxiety at work (or because of work). Your heartbeat quickens, your breathing gets shorter, and your mind races as you feel your work start to smother you.

Fear can be a very powerful motivator, but it can also be destructive; it exists in the good times as well as the bad; and it can hit account managers or creatives at any level of his or her career.

Types of fears

The most common types of fear (or causes of anxiety) that you may feel, working in an agency, could include:

  • Public speaking — especially during presentations and pitches to large or small groups of your colleagues or clients. Practice makes perfect, so take any opportunity you can to speak, in spite of the fear you may feel.
  • Performance — the feeling that you don’t know what you’re doing or that you cannot handle your workload, and you feel totally overwhelmed. Ask enough questions until you feel confident to at least make an attempt; and if workload is a real issue, talk with your manager about ways to help you cope better and spread the load.
  • Failure — that you will make a mistake and let your agency or client down and cost your agency a lot of money. You and every single one of your colleagues will make mistakes. Relax into that thought, learn as much as you can, and then just do it.
  • People — whereby some people (such as colleagues or clients) intimidate you to the point where you feel inferior and scared to be around them. Work on building your confidence and the realisation that you are a smart, talented individual with a lot to offer. Let them kick and scream and carry on while you concentrate on your own game plan.
  • Pressure — an inability to handle the waves of deadlines and demands which make you feel like you are out of control and drowning. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Just make sure you have all your bites in the right chronological order, then concentrate on each bite rather than looking up at the whole elephant.
  • Getting fired — unless there is real-life evidence that you are headed for termination, this fear usually stems from simmering insecurity and the inability to put certain situations into perspective. It also suggests that you are not confident that you can produce good work, or build strong relationships with your team — both of which should be individually addressed.
  • Not being current or falling behind — this is a common fear in an industry that is changing rapidly. Take the opportunity to learn new skills whenever you can (short courses, workshops, online courses, in-house training, etc).
  • Lacking in talent — stop playing the comparison game with your colleagues. Identify your strengths and seek out more opportunities to use them. Become the go-to person for specialised information, creative ideas or smart advice.


10 tips for dealing with fear and anxiety

  • Figure out your fear. Human beings have two innately-wired fears: the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling. This means that all other fears are learned fears — that any fear you may have will be based on a past life experience that stimulated your fear at some point. If you really want to deal with your fear you need to name it and bring it to the light. Only then can you work on making that fear extinct.
  • Tell the truth. This can be tough, but it’s an essential first step. If you have made a mistake, own up to it; if you don’t know how to do something, admit this to your manager or colleague and ask for help. Being transparent and truthful (to yourself and others) is often an easy way that fear and anxiety can start to be released. Revealing your situation to someone else will allow you the mental space to then figure out how to fix your mistake, or simply get the job done.
  • Manage your expectations. You were hired because you showed potential, not because you were perfect. Whilst management would love everything to go like clockwork and be perfect 24/7, they know this is an unrealistic expectation to place on staff. If you are holding those same, unrealistic expectations, you need to let them go. That doesn’t mean lowering your standards, but it does mean understanding that ‘perfect’ may well be attainable, but it’s not always sustainable (or even required).
  • Change your perspective. When you live inside your head, you tend to only see situations from one point of view. This mono-perspective can cause you to live so cautiously and with such constraint that you end up not really living at all. For example, what you may regard as failure, others would see as an opportunity to learn and get better; what you regard as suffocating pressure, others would see as an opportunity to shine and impress. Try stepping outside of your fear to see if there is another vantage point (you may need to borrow someone else’s perspective to help you do this).
  • Take a breath and relax. It’s easy to get wound up into a tight ball when all you are doing is focusing on pumping out the work. Your body was not designed to sustain a level of ‘high octane’ stress and productivity on an ongoing basis, and this type of relentless intensity can cause anxiety to build. Learn to create a balance within your work day and give yourself time to stop, breathe and re-group.
  • It’s not life and death. Fortunately there are unlikely to be any life and death situations in StudioLand, so if you make a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. Once you understand that, you can stop worrying about what may or may not happen, and just concentrate on doing the best job that you can possibly and realistically do.
  • Act with confidence. “Feel the fear and do it anyway” is a popular phrase. You may be feeling anxious or fearful about something specific, but just push that fear down, put on a brave exterior, and stride out with confidence. Action often conquers fear, where the more you act, the more you will feel your fear lessen and then melt away.
  • Fighting a fear of the unknown. A common reason why we feel fear is because a ‘fear of the unknown’ is underpinning our thoughts and emotions. The best way to conquer this is to learn all you can about the thing that is bothering you. For example, if you are fearful that you are under-performing and not meeting your monthly budget targets, the worst thing you can do is to bury your head in the sand and pretend that there is no problem. You need to shed as much light on the situation as you can: let your manager know what’s happening, run the numbers to see where the revenue is falling down, and then work out a strategy to try and combat the backward slide.
  • Set goals. If you are currently coping with a fear, overcoming it may not be as simple as turning a light switch on and off, so try setting yourself some goals. Imagine how life will be after you’ve reached your goals, and then plan the steps you will take to get there. Start with a few small, attainable goals — they should be slightly challenging, but not overwhelming. Think of these goals as ‘early wins’. For example, if you have a fear of public speaking, make sure you put your name down to say something at your next team meeting. Taking one step at a time will help build your confidence and keep you moving forward.
  • Get outside help. If you are dealing with a fear (or fears) that just won’t go away, or if you are constantly feeling anxious, then you may need to get professional help (especially if those fears are holding you back in your career).

Sarah Ritchie has been in the design and agency world for 25 years. Originally a graphic designer, Sarah has also worked as a design teacher, agency account manager, and now enjoys a wonderful life in recruitment for agencies. Sarah is also the Founder of AM-Insider — a website full of tips, tricks and resources to build account management superstars!


Image credit:


Up Next...

Porto Design Summer School, 5th Edition, July 2017—applications open

Details, Porto street signs and student projects, top left: Stevie Summers, AUSTRALIA  / bottom right: Tyler Johnston, USA / Josh Peter, USA New Zealand designer and typographer Catherine Griffiths will be a tutor alongside Hamish Muir and Andrew Howard at the Porto Design Summer School taking place in Northern Portugal in July. Applications are welcome from students, academics and design professionals,…

More from 'Graphic Design'...

A man you need to know: Robert Coupland Harding, Part IV

Written by Kelly Gilchrist Earlier articles in this series are available here: Part I, Part II, Part III To undertake a project the size of Typo is an outstanding feat by today’s standard; to produce an eight to twelve page, detailed, comprehensive, virtually error free, journal, essentially single-handedly every month; Robert Coupland Harding was a workaholic. He was…