Creative Anxiety is, unfortunately, a word that can be found on the internet more than often, however, what are we talking about when we talk about anxiety?
What is anxiety? The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.Basically we call anxiety a natural response from our bodies to stress, a feeling of fear or angst about what’s to come, an event or activity that makes you nervous, worried or uneasy. Sometimes it can occur when there are no obvious stressors.
Yet anxiety is also our own system of alarm: “when an individual faces potentially harmful or worrying triggers, feelings of anxiety are not only normal but necessary for survival”, quoting this article from Medical News Today.
Now that we know what we are talking about, let’s jump into our concerns.
Disclaimer: I’m not a mental health professional nor a person who treats anxiety. I deal with anxiety myself and all written here are fully my opinions, experiences, and research on the topic in books or online; every source is linked below. If you feel anxiety is something that compromises many aspects of your life, please talk to a professional for advice.
Are creatives overall anxious people?
We all have this romanticized idea of the tormented artist: our strongest references from art and success come from stories dated hundreds of years ago, being our major influences people like us who struggled with their emotions and found a way to express themselves and release their ache through a painting, a song, a book or any other form art you believe possible. Or how would you categorize somehow Van Gogh, Edgar Allan Poe or even Yayoi Kusama? Yes their minds were brilliant, even though their lives were disturbing and many of them suffered not only anxiety, yet other major mental issues, which led some scientists to wonder if creativity and mental illnesses were linked.
We artists tend to work with emotions more than, perhaps, other types of creators and this is the reason why we are prone to be anxious. Anxiety is necessary on a good dose to enrich our creative process, yet too much anxiety develops a state of inaction that “protect us” from failure.
Anxiety and creativity
In my experience, anxiety is a fair part of my creative journey, given the fact that when I am creating I am as well exposing myself to millions of options, possibilities, topics, media, influences, emotions…
“I want this to be done”, “I want this to be flawless”, “I want to make this right”, “I want it to work”
It might be a little too much and being overwhelmed usually leads me to feel anxious. Many questions I ask myself before I start an illustration, I shoot a picture, I write an article or take part on a creative activity are:
-Can I do this?
-Will this be good enough?
-Is this going to be original?
-Will it be liked?
-Am I such a good artist as I think I am?
I normally get lost in a train of thought that leads most of the time to inaction (and sometimes to life crisis, because I’m a big overthinker and can be a huge drama queen when I want to) which is normally followed by guilt and the question “Why didn’t I do anything?”
When I embark on a project, full of creative energy, curiosity, enthusiasm and hyperactivity, fear and anxiety always come along. Being for so long involved in creative activities and working on fields where creativity is a recurrent topic, you might think I’ve developed some sort of thick skin for these issues. Although it is true, all these questions might always be in the background yet, some days it’s easier to shut them and tell them to go away than others.
I think that happens to everyone.
I would define creative anxiety as the stress and insecurity you get at the time (or before) of taking part in an activity that requires your creative skills. Anxiety is itself a defense mechanism, like fear, and therefore it only wants to protect us from the consequences of the simple act of doing.
How do I cope with the moments I’m most vulnerable and let anxiety and fear take the lead?
Coping with creative anxiety
Anxiety can be a double edged sword: it can either help you move forward or keep you stuck and paralyzed. Creativity and anxiety share a commonality: possibility. When we create, we push the boundaries of the norm of what’s acceptable, we experiment with ideas and dismantle the boxes imposed by family and society in order to reach the realm of possibility. Similarly, anxiety is the reaction some of us experience in the face of potentiality and possibility. We become anxious when we know little or nothing about something, as a way to defend ourselves in the face of the big unknown. Creativity is brought forth by embracing the unknown. This is the crucial point when you are presented with the opportunity to choose: remain “protected” by your anxiety and stay stuck, plunge into the unknown, or use anxiety as transportation to your creative place.
-”Keys to Creativity: Using anxiety to Create” Diana C. Pitaro, Psychcentral.com
How to make anxiety something positive for our work as creatives? I share with you some of the things that have worked for me every time I feel anxiety appears.
-Accept it. You’re anxious, this is your situation right now. Think about what triggers these negative thoughts or emotions and talk them out or write them down. Journaling is one of my favourite techniques to unwind and take some distance to see things with a little more of perspective.
-Recognize the cues. In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about cues that trigger habits: has anxiety become a regular visitor? Take a look at when, where and what triggers your anxiety. Maybe you spend too much time on social media comparing your art to others, maybe you tell yourself it’s too difficult and you can do it, perhaps it’s a conversation you had with a certain person that put you off from creating. Recognize the triggers and make a plan to stop them from happening again.
-Give yourself some credit. You’re not only a wonderful human being but also a really creative person; it’s only this time, it’s only this moment. You’ve achieved so much and have so much potential. Give yourself some credit for everything you’ve already done and repeat with me “I can make this sh*t happen and everyone just go fly a f*cking kite”
–Create because it’s fun. Pursue projects, do things like nobody’s watching. Create because it’s fun, because it’s for you and it’s what makes you happy and will make you feel better. There are no rights or wrongs in creativity or art (and who tells you so, eff him/her)* so go make art as you please, be my guest and let’s enjoy our time here.
What do you do when you feel anxious at the time of creating? Do you have any tips for us?
*Someone’s feeling sassy today, lol!
Sources that helped me write this article:
The American Psychological Association
Medical News Today
How to cope with anxiety?
The dark side of creativity
Creativity and schizotypy from the neuroscience perspective
The real link between creativity and mental illness
Creativity can cause anxiety
Keys to creativity: Using anxiety to create