Is There A Mental Health Crisis In The NFT Space?
Amidst all the hype, volatility and toxic positivity, we could be in the midst of a mental health epidemic.
In the days leading up to my first auction, I felt my chest begin to constrict, tightening as the clock ticked closer to the scheduled start time.
When that time came, and the first few hours of the 24-hour auction ticked by without a single bid, my breaths became shorter, the pained feeling in my chest increasing with each passing moment.
Eventually, the first bid was placed, and though it offered temporary relief, that pressure in my chest didn’t fully abate. In fact, it continued building up to, and beyond, the end of the auction, all the way into the next day when a second auction began.
What started as a mild tightness grew into a pressure so great that by the third day, I felt like someone was standing on my chest, and all I could do to keep functioning was take deep, drawn-out breaths that seemed as though they never quite managed to fill my lungs.
I thought I could hold out, that relief would come once the sales were over. Perhaps that would’ve been true if the auctions were my only stressors that week, if they’d existed inside a vacuum of an otherwise tranquil, stressless existence. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that, and that’s how, halfway through my set of five auctions, I found myself pulling over to the side of the highway in rush-hour traffic, my face streaked in tears trying not to hyperventilate.
What was it that brought me to the brink of a panic attack?
I’d never really suffered from this kind of anxiety before, and though it was perhaps a series of accumulative stressors, it was undoubtedly the auctions that pushed me over the edge. With each successive auction, the pressure built until it forced its way out in a flurry of tears and panicked inhalations.
Am I alone in this? Am I the only one freaking out over the sale of intangible assets in a burgeoning and unstable industry?
The state of mental health in the NFT space is a hazy one. In an industry characterised by its obfuscation of identity and lack of IRL interactions, it can be difficult to judge all that goes on behind the scenes. Whilst some research has been done into the mental health effects of crypto, research into the effects of NFTs is lacking.
Anecdotally though, it’s not a stretch to say that there’s a number of unhealthy aspects to the NFT space, and that somewhere, out of view, there are others like me.
In the days after my side-of-the-highway episode, I tried to dissect what exactly led me to that point. First was the pressure to achieve ‘success’ as is defined by the space, second was the fast pace of this mile-a-minute industry, and third was the financial pressure and the nature of instability inherent to NFTs.
In a space so consumed by the admonition to go ‘to the moon’ – one that doggedly insists that ‘We’re All Gonna Make It’, it’s hard not to get swept up in the pressure to succeed.
Success equals demand, popularity, and market volume. It’s a metric of a project’s worth, and for many creators, it’s difficult to divorce the worth of a project from the worth of the creator themselves.
As promising as NFTs are, the truth is that we’re not all going to make it.
Markets go up and down, projects achieve varying degrees of success, and fortunes turn on a dime. The pressure placed upon every project to succeed is unrealistic at best, and damaging at worst. With all this expectation, and so much potentially at stake, there’s very little room for creators to make mistakes, with backlash from ‘investors’ becoming, at times, incredibly vitriolic.
At the same time, the drive of a creator to make something emotionally and artistically meaningful is almost the antithesis of the capitalist impulse to churn out products in a way that drives economic growth. Art, when made as a response to financial or social expectations of success is often produced at the expense of its soul. Once art becomes a product, it loses the very thing that makes it art.
With this is mind, the pressure for an NFT project to ‘succeed’ can cause an enormous rift within a creator. Are they making an NFT out of the joy of creation, or are they trying to capitalise on the success of the industry as a result of their own and others’ expectations?
Couple that with the tendency to compare oneself and one’s work with more established, well-known projects, and it’s not hard to understand why someone like me might be overwhelmed by anxiety in the face of this pressure.
The Pace of the Industry
It’s often said that a day in Web3 is equivalent to a month in the ‘real world’, and in my experience, that’s pretty accurate. In such an exciting new field, one that’s consumed by ever-changing market trends, the pressure to keep up is ever-present.
I’ve spoken to many people within the community about their mental health. Many of them – even the ones that expressed positive effects – spoke of poor sleep. Rather than recognising sleep-deprivation as a serious threat to our mental health, the prevailing rhetoric speaks of this behaviour somewhere between a sheepish confession and a badge of honour.
The truth of the matter is that this fast-paced, sleep-when-I’m-dead approach is mentally and physically unsustainable. Sleep deprivation and prolonged screen time have been linked to anxiety, depression and a laundry list of other mental and physical health concerns.
The need to jump on the latest trends, be ahead of the curve and keep up with this around the clock is too much for anyone’s psyche to bear for any considerable length of time.
One of the most challenging aspects of the NFT space is its instability.
Some may be able to ride that wave with ease, but for others, the constant rise and fall of cryptocurrencies, and with it the value of their NFTs, is a recipe for disaster. In such a volatile space, enormous sums of money can be gained and lost in a heartbeat. Aside from the traditional stock market, I can’t think of any other industry that’s so consistently inconsistent.
It’s well-documented that stressful and unstable environments are an affront to a healthy mental state, and when creators or collectors attempt to make a living from this industry, it takes an incredibly fortified mind not to succumb to these tensions.
When TerraLuna crashed in May, a list of mental health support lines was pinned to the top of its subreddit. Despite admonitions to never invest more than one can afford to lose, it’s no secret that many are looking at crypto and NFTs as a get-rich-quick scheme. For some, it’s even seen as a way out of poverty – a golden ticket that promises a better life for them and their families.
However, what happens when the market crashes? When that golden ticket not only doesn’t deliver, but wipes out your savings?
The high-risk, high-reward nature of blockchain can have dire effects when taken too seriously. For some, it can be outright addictive – more and more links are being made between crypto trading and problem gambling.
Even for those without addictive tendancies, the volatility of the industry affects any and all who invest. When the market drops, so does the value of our NFTs, and even for the most stable-minded among us, it can be difficult not to feel disappointed at best, and outright panicked at worst.
We Need to Talk About It
Don’t get me wrong, there’s so many wonderful, uplifting and nourishing aspects to this space – and that’s exactly why I care about protecting it.
Many of you reading this are here out of a passion and desire to contribute positively to the NFT space, as well as a belief in the future of the technology.
How can we best look after eachother to ensure we don’t burn out?
We need to cast a spotlight on these threats to our mental health, and create a culture that’s better equipped to counteract them. These three issues discussed are detrimental enough on their own, but what compounds their effects is the reticence to talk about mental health within the industry.
As much as I love this community, there’s a prevailing practice of toxic positivity that tends to choke out legitimate concerns for the space and the people within it.
In a market so heavily influenced by hype, it can be easy to get caught up in the dogged insistence that everything is fine, that we’re all going to make it, and that each and every project is going to the moon – but the insistence that any concern, doubt or question should be written off as FUD is inherently dangerous.
We have to remember that behind the computers, driving all of this forward is the precious human mind – the most valuable asset any of us own. A healthy industry, and a healthy mind, can’t be maintained until we create room for our concerns to be voiced, and until we instigate conversations that centre on our individual and collective wellbeing.