A creative’s guide to maintaining your mental health

There’s a scene in the film Matilda, where the protagonist stares at a wee bit of cereal and moves it with her mind. There’s also a scene in the same film where, put under pressure, she tries to move a glass of water but can’t do it.

Now, I’m not saying all creatives are telepathic six year olds, but sometimes when you do a job where you have to come up with creative solutions at a drop of a hat, it can do some damage to your old brainbox.

Sometime you are moving that cereal. Sometimes you are staring at that glass.

Move dat cheerio, my young creative

Now — I put a tweet out last week asking about this

“Writing a wee post about how being a ‘creative’ can be tough on your mental health. One thing that keeps me up at night is the phrase ‘we’ll know what we want when we see it’. Makes me feel anxious, inadequate and unvalued in one fell swoop. Anyone care to share experiences?”

Which got so many amazing and heartfelt responses but some got into a bit of client slagging. This isn’t meant to be that. In fact, I think agencies are more of the problem than clients, actually. But I’m talking about us creatives. Things we can use to help ourselves.

Being a commercial creative can be tough going. Your job is essentially solving problems that a company has realised they need help solving. It’s your speciality. You’re the expert. But ultimately it is your job and if you don’t come up with a solution — you’re made to feel like you’ve not done your job.

All round good guys

Sometimes you never get to see who buys or doesn’t buy your work. Sometimes the process your agency chooses means a cast of faceless folk decide whether your ideas live or die.

That can be pretty solitary and thankless sometimes.

You are often asking people’s opinions about something which has come straight from your brain and hoping that they like it enough to buy it. This is a massively lonely and tough thing to do day-in-day-out until you eventually quit. Which is what most people do.

And this is a guy who knows

I’m not ashamed to admit that this is all I’m good at. I was quite a weird wee guy growing up, and I’m quite a weird wee guy now. People either get me or they don’t, which I’m actually okay with. I’ve always seen the world a bit differently from everyone else — I see opportunities and connections to things other people sometimes don’t. And this job allows me to monetise my weird brain to some degree.

I like to think I’m a pretty positive and resilient guy, and my creative partner Jordan is cut from the same cloth. Chain mail.

We go again!

But when you’ve reached a point where you feel you can’t do your job because of pressure, deadlines, a tough brief, or another blocker then here’s some tips I try to follow to keep my sanity. Different things work for different people but I hope these help.


1. Be honest with yourself, share your anxiety with others.

Sometimes you can’t come up with that killer idea. That’s okay. If you work alone, I applaud you as I simply find that the creative process is futile when I try to do it alone. Other people build on ideas to help you see things about the problem you might not have. Share a half baked idea you aren’t sure about. Essentially just get where you are on paper at least and chat with someone — fresh eyes are good and that idea you think is rubbish might not be as rubbish as you think. Or maybe it is, but now at least you know.

My mantra in life is a phrase my dad use to say when he’d get lost in the car. He’d wind down the car window, ask a local for directions, then turn to me and say;

You’ll never get lost with a tongue in your head.

Saying that you don’t know is more powerful than pretending you do. Cheers da’.

2. Appreciate good work other people do, but don’t compare

I’m the most competitive man in the world and I can be pretty opinionated. Hence me being on medium dot com.

But you have to see the good in your own industry or the nagging doubt about ‘why you do this’ will set in and you will down tools and just freeze. Look at old ads you love. For me, I love long copy ads, crafted in a time when people actually read stuff brands said. Look at other great work around you, it’ll make you feel like the job you do can be really great. But don’t feel bad you didn’t make the ads you love. You will get there one day or get back there again.

3. Share ideas early

‘It’s quite embryonic’ is a phrase a senior copywriter I worked with used to say a lot. And I think it’s a good phrase because it’s a way of saying ‘bear with me I’m on a journey’. And creative ideas are a journey, you just don’t know when you’ll arrive at the destination.

4. Explain ideas to someone not in the bubble

My wife is a children’s nurse who cares for babies and kids with brain injuries and she also cares for me an awful lot. She likes and respects what I do, but ultimately sees more than most that no one is going to die if I can’t think about how to make a beer funny. But she also knows I really really care about what I do — so will tell me I’ll get there eventually and actually she thought the second script was quite funny.

5. Think about something else or do something you know makes you feel good about yourself

Imagine your page is that glass of water Matilda couldn’t move. No matter how long you stare at it, it’s not going anywhere. Get away from your computer, even get away from the pad. Going on long runs, or having a long shower works for me to take my mind off of intense deadlines. It’s such a cliche, but it’s one for a reason, a watched pot never boils. Get your mind off the task in hand and try to relax. Bung on Headspace. Watch a film you know from your childhood. Do something that makes you feel like you and remind yourself that you are good and you’ve got this.

You got this, probably.

Studio Something is a creative agency on a mission, a mission to create one of the best companies in the world, by making things people genuinely like. This is a year of learning for us, If you would like to tell us why we are wrong, how we can improve, what we are doing right or if you too want to go on this mission. emailus. tweet us. Get on our mailing list. Whatever, just say hello.