078. Artists & Social Anxiety, Part 1 - Plein air painting as art therapy

Last weekend I finally brought my filming equipment with me for an afternoon of outdoor painting! I thought it might be nice to share the whole process, and hopefully encourage you to get out there! It's a lot of extra work to create these videos, but I really wanted to inspire others to try plein air painting, and show how peaceful it is.

I also wanted to talk a little about anxiety as an artist.

I've met dozens of artists who suffer from some form of anxiety, but I've noticed not a lot of professional artists talk about it.  I only recently started seeing artists address it in Instagram posts once in a while. Maybe due to social media, we are seeing these topics discussed more openly in the community, and I am thankful for that. I am not ashamed about my afflictions, rather I feel empowered to talk about it because I've seen the benefits of being true to myself.

I've been dealing with social anxiety my whole life, but never knew what it was until about two years ago. I just thought constant internal turmoil was normal and that someday it would stop - like if I pushed myself into social situations or lived a "normal" life. All the while, suffering in silence, wondering what was wrong with me.
It may sound crazy to live like this, but I grew up in a small town where no one talks about these things. And I'm not the only one. Not by far.

What is social anxiety? I'll quote here:

"All day, every day, life is like this. Fear. Apprehension. Avoidance. Pain. Anxiety about what you said. Fear that you said something wrong. Worry about others' disapproval. Afraid of rejection, of not fitting in. Anxious to enter a conversation, afraid you'll have nothing to talk about. Hiding what's wrong with you deep inside, putting up a defensive wall to protect your "secret". You are undergoing the daily, chronic trouble of living with this mental disorder we call social anxiety disorder.

Very few people understand the agonizing and traumatic depth of social anxiety disorder. Social anxiety makes people go inside themselves and try to "protect" this secret. Most people with social anxiety disorder try to hide it from others, especially from family and loved ones. There is fear that family members may find out they suffer from social anxiety, and then view them differently or outright reject them. This is almost never true, but the fear of this happening makes many people with social anxiety stay in their dark closet."
Source: https://socialanxietyinstitute.org/living-with-social-anxiety

Thankfully, my eyes were opened when I started streaming on Twitch in 2015, and met many others like myself. Once I knew what social anxiety was, I could finally start addressing it directly. I paid attention to what triggered me, and started to learn ways to reduce the anxiety during certain situations.

The hardest part was realizing my entire life was a trigger. My career, my social life, expectations by family and friends... it was all causing me extreme anxiety. On the outside I was "normal" - most people never knew anything was wrong because I am very good at hiding my problems. I was successful in what I was doing, but at the expense of my mental health.

The biggest change I needed to make was in my career. I realized that as either a designer or photographer (which is how I made my living), every single day I was putting myself into situations which majorly triggered my social anxiety.
Around the same time I was embracing my true passion, painting, and decided to take steps to make that my career. I am so thankful I have taken this path, as it is much more conducive to my natural comfort. I am not having to deal with people or social expectations every day. I am able to devote most hours of my day to growing my skill and sharing that passion with others.
 

So what does this have to do with plein air painting? 
Last year when I bought watercolors and stepped outside to paint for the first time, it was a revelation. Everything about it brought me joy and sent me to a place of peace and harmony with nature.
It became my medication.. my therapy.

Getting outside in the wilderness to paint is one thing, but when it comes to urban sketching and popular hiking trails, that's where it gets tricky for someone with social anxiety. Those are usually some of the most accessible places but the most populated. So sometimes the hardest part is making myself leave the house.

So in this video, I show you the steps I take to make it happen.

Once I'm out there, even though I am sometimes surrounded by large groups of people/pedestrians, my sketchbook is my shield. I can be in my own world, perfectly safe with my art. 

It's a way for me to be out in the world with more comfort.

I hope that any artist reading this who suffers from social anxiety will someday know what this comfort feels like. If you want to discuss it, please feel free to message me or leave a comment below <3