Spilling the tea on anxiety: two creative directors’ candid account of their mental health journeys

“We are confident, outspoken and independent women, yet we both cry in the toilet at work.”

12 October 2021

Trigger warning: This article may be upsetting to those struggling with anxiety.

Hi, we’re Loren and Bronwyn, a creative director team at MullenLowe Group UK. We love idea-driven ads, falling down TikTok rabbit holes for “research” and using humour as a defence mechanism for our anxiety. As long-time associates of anxiety, we’re inspired to see the world finally start to discuss the importance of emotional and mental health beyond an awareness month or free yoga at work. Thanks to brave trailblazers like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka, we’re seeing a societal shift in terms of normalising what were issues we once had to quietly contend with. We hope by talking about our own experiences here, we can shine a little light of hope for those coming to terms with their own anxiety and open the discussion within our industry.

First off, let’s talk about our personal experiences with the big A.

Bron: My whole life I’ve been what my mum described as a worrier. I come from a big family and I was always worrying about my siblings or my parents. This resulted in a catastrophic panic attack when I was 13. I didn’t know what it was so I got rushed to the hospital. I was told there was nothing wrong but for the following three years I suffered constant panic attacks, depression and a fear of living and dying. FUN! Only when I was diagnosed did I start to heal. I think knowing what I had had a name and that I wasn’t going crazy was the biggest part of my recovery.

Loren: My dad is 6ft 7. I come from a family of giant humans. So from the day I graced the earth at a whopping 10lb6, I was set to look different to those around me. This led to years of sticking out like a sore thumb and hunching down to fit in. I think I suffered from anxiety as an early teen, I just didn’t know what it was. Fast forward to 25, at work one day, writing scripts for a butter brand, I had a catastrophic panic attack which landed me in bed for weeks and forced me to take time off from work. Nowadays, through meds, meditation, therapy and talking openly and honestly, I, for the most part, have my mental health under control..

So how have you coped with it?

Bron: At 17, I moved to Italy for university and I noticed that changing my surroundings and keeping my mind stimulated really helped. Coping for me now involves less dramatic measures like ensuring I eat well, get enough sleep and exercise. I know it sounds obvious but doing all those things is hugely important. I can see the signs of my anxiety bubbling too. When that happens I try to talk about it with someone, a therapist or a friend and prioritise self-care.

Loren: Medication. That was the first step. Without it my brain was too foggy to see clearly and start the journey to accepting my anxiety and living with it.

“I used to think it was all about working late and starting early. Now I don’t accept that as the only way to be productive and show I care.”

Bronwyn Sweeney

Do you have triggers now?

Bron: Oddly my anxiety surfaces at moments when I’m calm – I think because it knows it can get away with it. But I know now that not sleeping well or drinking too much can trigger it. That’s why I think it’s so important to prioritise our own health in our industry. I used to think it was all about working late and starting early. Now I don’t accept that as the only way to be productive and show I care. I know my creativity is at its peak when I feel good. So I don’t feel bad leaving work on time or setting boundaries that mean I’m not sacrificing my own mental health for a social post.

Loren: Where do we begin? Waiting in queues, traffic, long Zoom calls, thinking about death, deadlines, if I think about the universe for too long, when a friend doesn’t text me back. The list goes on, but we always have a choice with how we react to any stimulus. In any situation where I am overthinking or worrying, I ask myself: “What rationale do I have for those feelings?” It helps.

But does it affect your work?

Bron: I think I’m lucky that work has always been a bit of a safe haven for me. Probably because I work with a friend, and also know it’s just advertising. We’re not saving lives. However, I will say that after getting promoted to CD, I did feel like a Lean In cliché when the imposter syndrome immediately came knocking. I had to remind myself that I’ve worked really hard to be where I am and that just because I haven’t seen many creative directors who look or act like me doesn’t mean I don’t deserve it.

Loren: Yes. But, anxiety can fuel my day to day in a positive way. Like Bron, work has always been a place of control, and I feel safest there. Which is probably opposite to how a lot of people feel. I count myself lucky that MullenLowe Group UK is the best place to work (they didn’t pay me to say that) and I genuinely love my job.

Working together, how do you support one another during these times?

Bron: Just getting to work with one of my best friends every day feels like support enough. But we’re also just supremely honest with each other. Support for me is about giving each other time or talking through it.

Loren: Being a part of a creative team is a relationship like no other. Not many people can understand what it is like having a partner at work. What we benefit from is being completely honest with each other. It all comes back to talking and communication. Talking aloud makes the mental ruminations of anxiety lessen.

“Talking aloud makes the mental ruminations of anxiety lessen.”

Loren Cook

Have you read anything that really helped?

Bron: I read a book years ago that explained how anxiety and panic are, at their core, chemical. I learned to accept that often feelings are a chemical reaction inside and will pass. I’m also reading a book right now called The Untethered Soul, which basically teaches you that you are not your thoughts. It’s quite spiritual and philosophical but roll with it, the main points are super helpful.

Loren: I listen to audiobooks. I find self-help books a little tedious, but love throwing myself into a book as a distraction from overthinking. I love nothing more than listening to Stephen Fry read Sherlock Holmes, it soothes me more than meditation.

Any final words of advice?

Bron: I’ve now lived with anxiety longer than without it. If you’re struggling, trust me when I say, it will pass. Know that you are not alone. And just to cover the absolute basics: eat, sleep, exercise and get off your phone as often as you can. Second, understand that the voice in your head is not really you, some of us just become addicted to anxiety and can’t imagine life without it. Lastly, working at a place that supports the mental health of its staff beyond free yoga classes is incredibly helpful. I know we don’t all have that luxury, but the more we insist on that I hope it will become the norm.

Loren: Things will get better. The feeling is temporary. You are in control. Now say that to yourself in the mirror.

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Further Info

Mental health charity Mind offers advice and support to those suffering with anxiety via its website and Infoline.

About the Author

Bronwyn Sweeney and Loren Cook

Bronwyn Sweeney and Loren Cook are a creative director team at MullenLowe Group UK, with campaigns under their belts for Dunelm, Sloggi, Bayer and Art Fund. They also co-curate the Instagram page asbos_sos, highlighting ridiculous product shots found on Asos.

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