Habits and Self-Care Rituals for Dealing With Career Anxiety
Uncertainty can invite opportunity, surprise, and joy, but it can also cause anxiety in our careers and creative work. “It’s hard to create anchors when we are all floating,” noted Esther Perel in her CreativeMornings talk.
Facing the unknown and times of crisis highlights that complete control over our careers and lives may be elusive, and sometimes a routine can help us create an anchor. As writer Annie Dillard wrote in her book The Writing Life, “A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labour with both hands at sections of time.”
The wonderful thing about a scaffold is that it can look different for everyone, and in difficult times, it’s important to find what works for you. You might need to lean on routines and keep busy during this time, be it out of financial necessity, or for a sense of control when everything feels uncontrollable. You may need to step away, rest, and reset. You may need to slow down and move productivity and creativity to the background, and instead focus on the people around you, what you need, and simply surviving. You may need to lean into the emotion, to feel the loss, to thrash around, to inspect the confusion and grief.
There is no single right way. After hearing from the generous, kind, and curious people of CreativeGuild on how they navigate career anxiety, we collected the various habits, rituals, and self-care practices that help provide a scaffold for their days and careers — even if it’s just temporary.
Develop a routine, but don’t be afraid to mix it up.
Los Angeles-based attorney and writer Chris Jones shared, “Managing the tension between adventure and routine is one of life’s continuous jobs. A few elements are critical for my well being: I exercise regularly, meditate morning and night, practice morning pages over coffee inspired by Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, and write down three self-affirmations every morning and three things I’m grateful for at the end of each day.“
While I’m super consistent with my self-care, I also recognize when I need to mix it up with something new.” — Chris Jones
“Being stuck can be a very fruitful experience,” adds New York City-based illustrator Thoka Maer. “Acknowledging it as early as possible can save you a bunch of time and once you do, mix it up. Do something you usually don’t do or don’t do often enough. Eat ice cream at 9am in the bathtub, learn coding, learn how to wrap a present.”
Give yourself some “me time.”
“Comparing yourself to other people can take a toll on your self-worth, so it’s important to take the time to do other things if you can, such as finding creative ways to volunteer, shares San Francisco based illustrator and artist Sophie Lee. "When you give yourself to others in service, you get back another type of energy, and this can help to see the world and your work in a different light.”
Take time to close your eyes and just breathe or do things that take your mind off the work.” — Sophie Lee
Vienna-based art director and graphic designer Julia Weithaler gave another helpful perspective: “The other thing I do is try to get enough ‘me time.’ This time is just for myself. It’s when I exercise, sit down to listen to podcasts and draw something, or even just spend a day on the couch binging on some series. If I have to deal with a lot of people and different energies I get very exhausted and I really need that time to recharge.”
Be okay with the cliché.
Elif Gürbüz, a London-based designer and creative director, encourages us to do the things that make us happy and bring us peace. “I know it’s a cliche, but I love to meditate. It helps me become a calmer, happier person in general. But in the context of creativity, training my mind to be more introspective and focused helps me get into the flow state much more easily.“
It’s really a gift to have a peaceful mind where it doesn’t feel like going into a battlefield every time I go to work.” — Elif Gürbüz
Embrace failure and imperfection with the 80/20 principle.
For Johannesburg -based sketchnoter Roy Blumenthal, embracing failure is a valuable mindset: “When it comes to mitigated anxiety in my work as a sketchnoter, I use a modified version of the 80/20 principle: I assume that 80% of what I draw will be rubbish and 20% will be usable. The secret to using this tool is to acknowledge that while I’m drawing, I don’t know which group any particular drawing will fall into. Essentially, my 80/20 split is a trick to release myself from making critical judgments of the work while I’m working.”
Giving myself permission to fail gives me space to succeed.” — Roy Blumenthal
Make time for your labor of love.
“Having hobbies is incredibly underestimated. In creative work, we put too much pressure on our jobs for personal creative fulfillment. This may or may not be the case, but having a safe and neutral space to be playful is very healthy for ourselves and our careers,” emphasizes Elif.
“It’s so important to have joy in our lives. This is what ultimately feeds back into our creativity. We need to, however, detach ourselves from the outcome, not focus on perfection and not be overly critical of ourselves. I think hobbies are great to experiment with, be productive, make mistakes, and practice flow. A learning mind stays fit and hobbies make us multi-layered thinkers and cultivate peripheral skills and interests that contribute to our main creative pursuits.”
Talk it out.
"It doesn’t need to be with anyone who’s fully into the matter, but just hearing things said out loud sometimes can turn on the light bulb,” says Thoka.
Talking it out is probably still one of the most efficient tools for me when dealing with anxiety or feeling stuck.“ — Thoka Maer
Create a personal slogan.
Roy shares a nourishing personal slogan and why it’s an anchor: “I measure everything I do against a personal slogan: ‘I live my art in prosperity and abundance.’ It serves as a guide towards my living a better life. If something doesn’t fulfill the slogan, chances are it’s not going to feel good to me.”
While it’s not vital that I feel good about every gig I do, I’ll move towards eliminating non-soul work from my roster. My personal slogan exists and serves as a guide towards my living a better life.” — Roy Blumenthal
Write a list.
For New York City-based photographer Bryon Summers, lists can serve as maps. “When I lose my sense of direction, I try to make a list of steps to complete the project. It’s like a map to help you see it through.”
“Jot down some positive reminders that work for you, as well as goals and accomplishments. Revisit them however often you need. Condition yourself to think forward and to be proactive, always,” adds Thoka Maer.
For Chris, celebrating the small wins is a helpful habit to push forward. “In a period of feeling stuck, I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and learned something that continues to ring in my soul: ‘Stuckness shouldn’t be avoided. It’s the psychic predecessor of all real understanding.’ If you’re stuck, congratulate yourself. You’re about to level up.”
Ask for what you’re worth.
“Illustration is notoriously underpaid and undervalued. Not even so much the artistic aspect of it but just the labor that goes into just a single image,“ says Thoka. "Currently the industry is in shambles and there are plenty of aspects factoring into this. To make a livable income in that field is no piece of cake and a very fragile state if you do. I’m happy and thankful whenever it works out and running many extra laps when it doesn’t.”
Remember it’s okay to rest, stop and reset.
“Every project wasn’t meant for us. If I miss an opportunity, I believe I didn’t go about it the right way or wasn’t prepared,” says Bryon.
Off-time is a must for Julia. “It’s okay to take a break and to let projects slide. Having off-time is super important for your brain and to stay happy, inspired, and motivated. So, if those feelings come, rather than freaking out, I try to accept them as a part of my personality, and I tell myself that it’s fine to take some time and just be a normal human being.“
“Movement and play are moments where I step away from work to do something fun and physically engaging,” shares Winston-Salem based speaker and social entrepreneur Holley M. Kholi-Murchison. “I love taking my dogs for long walks, cooking and exploring new foods with my wife, spending time in nature, and watching movies.”
When I take the time to unplug, I always return to my work with a new sense of inspiration and creative confidence.” — Holley M. Kholi-Murchison
Roy keeps track of his habits and rituals to manage his mental health. “I don’t regard depression as something that makes me a glum, moody, broken person. I regard it as a part of me that is there to teach me stuff. But I’m acutely aware that it’s a part of me that can destroy me, so I mitigate depression by exercising every day, in various ways. I use a bullet journal to track my habits. This means I can see on a page how well I’m doing. I track things like riding my bike, reading, learning German on Duolingo, ditching chocolate, ditching gluten, exercising, walking my two dogs. These are daily things. And I tend to do every single one of them, even on tough days.”
Celebrate your achievements.
“We are so quick to look at what we haven’t yet done or achieved and overlook how far we come. Make a list of things you know you’re good at, write down what you accomplished — even the small stuff — as often as you can to remind yourself how far you’ve come,“ adds Thoka.
Reflect on the big picture.
And lastly, Holley reminds us to zoom out to the whole when we’re feeling overwhelmed. “The reality is, you can’t take any of this with you when you’re gone — your portfolio, day job, side projects — so the point of it all for me isn’t to exhaust myself trying to build a body of work that eclipses my life, but to create a heart-centered body of work that embodies the fun, joy, and richness that I wish to cultivate in my life as a whole, while helping others do the same.”