Web designers have a unique, fun occupation that combines many moments of good stress, like meeting a deadline with an amazing layout you are proud of, as well as bad stress, like dealing with a difficult client. Most designers are attracted to the job because they thrive on creativity, autonomy, and artistic vision.
While advertising agencies and web design firms are known for their laid-back, creative cultures, there’s a darker side to these types of environments, too. When it’s crunch time on a pitch, work/life balance goes out the window and you might be at your desk from daybreak to well past midnight. When that pitch gets out the door and wins new business, it’s common to celebrate with another late night, possibly fueled by alcohol. When the frequency of these negative events causes bad stress that begins to outweigh the moments of good stress, a web designer’s stress levels can become toxic and lead to burnout.
The Basics Of Stress
As evolved beings, we need stress to survive. Stress is an important part of our neurological regulation that activates the flight or fight hormones. The sensation of stress tells us when to flee from a dangerous situation, when to hunt for food, and when to hide from predators. Luckily we don’t hide from many predators as modern humans, but we still need stress to find motivation, happiness, and fulfillment in our lives. When negative stress overwhelms good stress, it can impact our physical and mental health.
When Web Designers Experience Chronic Stress
Web designers who are overworked, overstressed, and burned out can become depressed and anxious. When work/life balance tips the scale on the working end, as it does in many ad agencies and design firms, a web designer can develop health problems. It’s not uncommon for web designers under stress to repeatedly catch viruses and colds due to a weakened immune system. Stress can impact your long-term health as well. Chronic stress can cause digestive problems, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
The Daily Stressors Of Web Designers
Although many web designers are attracted to the autonomy and flexibility of the job, the independent nature of the work can be isolating. Social relationships and connections are vital to both mental and physical health. When these connections are missing after a twelve-hour day working on a layout, a web designer may be left feeling lonely and in need of conversation. Over time, this type of isolation and loneliness can lead to depression. Isolation is also unhealthy for designers because many creative, intelligent people need outside stimuli to keep their ideas and inspiration flowing.
Web design culture can be intense – long workdays mean missed hours of sleep, nutrition from the vending machine, and an unused gym membership. When there’s no time for self-care, a cycle begins that keeps you more and more stressed and more and more unwell. Unfortunately, the environments in which designers work often frown on taking time away from a project to perform these critical self-care tasks.
Imposter Syndrome And Rejection
Designers are often intelligent overachievers who are prone to internalize their performance and success. This puts designers at risk for “imposter syndrome,” the name for the feeling that a person may have that they are a fraud and don’t deserve their accomplishments. Design culture is often a vacillation between criticism and praise, a jumble of experiences that can challenge a designer’s feelings of self-worth.
Unlike many other professions, the nature of a designer’s work is reliant on rejection. In order to achieve the best possible end product, multiple phases of feedback need to be incorporated into designs. This can be challenging for designers who are sensitive to negative feedback. Although negative feedback can ultimately lead to great work, it can also chip away at a designer’s self-esteem.
Inadequate Coping Tools
Web designers are stressed, losing sleep, and eating poorly. If there’s so little room for basic self-care in designer culture, there certainly isn’t time for a therapy appointment where a designer can learn helpful coping tools. Many designers turn to alcohol or drugs to self-medicate, the unhealthiest way to handle the stress. Ad agency and design firm culture often perpetuate this problematic behavior with happy hours and open bars.
Ultimately, designers all want to produce the highest quality work in a way that transforms words, feelings, emotions, and ideas into visual elements. The stress of a deadline, the anxiety of a new client, and the exhilaration of a project completion keep designers doing what they do. Having a career in web design will never be free from stress, but there are some work environments that provoke unhealthy amounts of negative stress that overshadows the happiness that can be found in good design work.