Anxiety, and How to Do the Thing Anyway [mental health]

Anxiety and Art

There are few things more utterly debilitating than a serious case of anxiety. Even now, I quite honestly have no idea what to write for this article and the idea of doing so ties a massive knot in my gut. By the time these words reach your eyes, dear Paper Demon members, I doubt I'll even remember the original text that occupied their space after nervously writing and rewriting this opening paragraph half a dozen times.

Now, I wouldn't normally admit something like that; my writing process is just that, a process, and those who read this article don't need to know how uncertain I was starting it, or how many words I've deleted out of some sense of shame, nagging perfectionism, and crippling doubt and fear at doing a poor job communicating my ideas. They just need to see the—relatively polished—end result.

But the thing is, those nagging fears, those doubts, and perhaps most of all, that pervasive sense of dread and apparent certainty that whatever I create will be terrible; it's not limited to my writing these articles. It rears its head and blocks my path every time I try to motivate myself to draw, to post my art on the site, to comment on someone's art, and even when I want to chat with you all in the Discord.

And I know I'm not alone in that. Anxiety seems to be a common roadblock for a lot of Paper Demon members. So today we're talking about that. Specifically, I'd like to examine how anxiety can prevent a person from making art and participating in our art-sharing community here, and how to counter one's anxiety and be awesome in spite of it.

It May Stick Around...But it Does Get Better

Alright, let's get the bad news out of the way first. Generally speaking, anxiety is like a bad smell; it's unwanted but often likes to stick around. Mind, I'm not a medical professional of any sort, so please don't interpret anything said here as medical advice, and remember everyone is unique, as is everyone's specific situation. All that said, anxiety tends to be a long-lasting, if often unwanted companion to many.

It's important to remember this, because it's a struggle one may have to keep wrestling with indefinitely, which can be incredibly tiring to say the least. But I think it's a struggle we can learn to win, not just sometimes, but consistently, with practice.

Which leads us right into the good news: it can and will get better, bit by bit, if you make a conscious effort to fight it. Fighting your own anxiety is a skill, and like any other skill, it can be learned and practiced gradually, so the more you practice it the better you get, until eventually, you can look your anxiety in the eye and calmly tell it to get out of your way, then just walk right past.

How Anxiety Stops Us from Contributing

Paper Demon has the distinct advantage of offering a platform where social anxieties can be somewhat curbed by the fact that it's an online community that allows you to engage and share with others while staying comfortable in your own home. Of course, this hardly means anxiety can't still be an enormous roadblock to overcome even in virtual communities. Whether you're posting your art, commenting on someone else's, or if you've written a message in the PD discord and still haven't hit “enter” yet because you're nervous, there are a million and one ways anxiety can make it difficult to participate.

Picture this: you just finished a piece of art you're really proud of, and you're excited to show it to others and see what they think. You open up the form to submit art on PD, upload your image, and start filling out all the details. You move on, write your tags, choose your galleries, and...that's it, all ready to post! You hover your mouse cursor over the “submit” button.

Suddenly, you can't move. You're caught between your desire to share your work and an intense urge to close the window and forget all about it. You start worrying people are going to hate your work, or nobody will comment and you'll feel silly for posting it. Or perhaps everyone will hate it so much that the entire PD community will form a mob, complete with torches and pitchforks, figure out where you live, and surround your home while loudly informing you that each and every one of your deepest fears and insecurities has come true. That's a perfectly rational fear that could plausibly come to pass, right?

Obviously the notion of something that elaborate and specific happening because of a single piece of art (which is probably better than you think) is ridiculous, and in general, worries about being hated or disliked aren't very rational either, and the vast majority of the time they're not very likely to come to pass, but these concerns feel incredibly real and debilitating when in the midst of an anxious moment like the one described above, and as such, they need to be recognized, addressed, and confronted.

Don't Pause, Don't Wait, Just Hit the Button

When it comes to facing your anxieties and pushing past them, speed can be your best friend. The basic rule at play here is that anxiety tends to intensify when you let it fester. If you act immediately, you can get the thing done before the anxiety has half a chance to stop you. In the scenario above? Hit the submit button the instant you even consider doing it. In a nutshell, acting on impulse—while not always the best idea in every situation—can sometimes be used to “hack” your way around your own anxiety.

Alternately, you can counter your anxiety with positive self-talk. Self-talk basically refers to your internal mental chatter; basically the things you think absent-mindedly, your unconscious beliefs and biases combined with conscious thought. Self talk can be both positive and negative, and anxiety often causes a lot of negative self-talk to circulate in your brain. When you think things like “they're all going to hate me if I do x,” that's negative self-thought. If you can catch yourself thinking these things, you can make a conscious choice to counter it with positive self-talk.

For instance, “everyone will hate me if I post this art” becomes “maybe people will like this piece. I'll be happier if I just post it.” Likewise, thoughts like “I want to chat with members in the discord but worry I won't fit in” becomes, “I should go say hi in the discord, I bet I'll get along just fine with everyone and maybe make some friends!”

You're Not Alone

And finally...just remember that if you struggle with engaging due to anxiety, you're hardly alone. There are quite a few of us here (if we didn't think there were plenty of anxious people on PD, I wouldn't be writing this article!), and I'm not the only one you could get tips, tricks, and support from when it comes to confronting your anxiety.

Furthermore, you’re protected by the rules too. Paper Demon’s code of conduct expressly forbids bullying and harassment. It most likely won’t ever happen to you, and if it ever did, the staff would take your side and your would-be bully would be dealt with swiftly and decisively, so you can focus less on worrying and more on participating.


So in other words, you're in good company, so try not to worry too much. We understand, and we're here to listen if you need it. Stay awesome, Paper Demon!