How many times have you been running around at work trying to meet a tight deadline and suddenly noticed your heart pumping faster, your head hurting, you are perhaps even feeling some stinging in your chest? How many times have you then decided to pop a couple of paracetamols, ignore it, and continue as is? Sound familiar? It sounds like fashion to me.
Charlies D. Spielberger, a late renowned New York psychologist and writer, quoted:
Anxiety seems to be the dominant fact – and is threatening to become the dominant cliché- of modern life.”
I believe this is what’s happening. The way that we work to the point of anxiety has been normalised over the years and more people accept the work pressure, without really understanding what anxiety does to you.
Researchers generally define anxiety as a feeling of tension, worries and physical changes such as headaches and high blood pressure, and further studies suggests that more serious cases of work stress could lead to a variety of anxiety disorders.
It does not come as a surprise that a stressful work schedule is known as one of the leading factors for anxiety, and I recognise this as the main source from my own experience with anxiety.
As a model I have been expected to be 100 places at once several times; You may have different castings at the same time, been booked for two/three shows that overlap each other, or you may simply be trying to catch a flight that you are never going to make because work finished late.
The adrenaline, excitement and commitment get you through it, but the consequences are stress, extreme tiredness and sometimes panic attacks. I have witnessed everyone from designers, to agents, to assistants, to photographers, go through similar pressure and I often do not think we recognise how significant and unhealthy if has become.
Times like fashion week where everyone is working around the clock under horrendous pressure, to make unrealistic deadlines, leaves us wondering why we do it.
Our Emotional Attachment to Fashion
I believe one of the reasons we take on this amount of work pressure, is connected to the emotional importance people attach to their work in fashion. For many people their creations and their work are their pride and joy, which makes it so much more than ‘just a piece of fabric’, and missing their deadlines means that they do not get to showcase their emotion, personality and passion. All these things are important and are somewhat incredible to have in your profession, but the issue is that this level of importance causes us to avoid listening to warnings of anxiety and stress.
The Continuity of a Hierarchical Attitude
Another reason for why we accept anxiety in the fashion industry, could have something to do with an outdated hierarchical attitude that dominates how things run. People over many decades have been treated so badly by someone in a higher position, making them feel entitled to pass that attitude on to someone else whenever they find themselves in a position of responsibility.
Even though the latest generation are slowly breaking down these norms, the subconscious justification people have of certain behaviour keeps it relevant to discuss. I wonder whether the way people are processing being treated so poorly, is by reassuring themselves that this is the way to success, and that it therefore should continue to be so? Some food for thought.
The Work-pressures Effect on our Judgement Skills
In some cases, it even seems like the work pressure and the tight deadlines somehow give the work more meaning and importance, as the pressure makes us dedicate all our time available to the task. When the stress and anxiety kick in due to the amount of work, our decision-making skills and situational awareness have shown to be affected. We will then not only struggle to make constructive decisions at work, but our ability to make judgement calls on when the work pressure becomes too much and how ourselves and others should be treated, diminishes.
It is not difficult to recognise that anxiety is greatly represented within the fashion industry, the difficulty lies in justifying the priority of our own mental wellbeing over the industry’s tight deadlines. Easing anxiety is not done by taking a coffee break now and then, but smaller things do make a difference as they give you a space to listen to yourself and reflect.
Give yourself breaks, make time for yourself, make time for an alternative stimulus such as a hobby or friends to take a bit more priority in your life, and most importantly; talk about it! Talk about your workload with friends, family, colleagues, a therapist, whomever you feel comfortable talking to – we are all going to be able to relate somehow.
At some point you will know when the pressure is worth the outcome, and you will be able to flush those paracetamols down the toilet and still find a way to outlive your creative passion, without having to neglect your mental health.