Mastering Creative Anxiety

Many anxieties arise as you attempt to create anything: a painting, a new recipe, a home business, or a solution to a personal problem. There is the anxiety associated with going into the unknown, with relinquishing control, with making choices—innumerable anxieties arise as you endeavor to create, whether that creation is something as grand as a novel or as everyday as a new filing system or new décor for your living room.

In order to deal with all the anxiety that comes with creating, you must acknowledge and accept that anxiety is part of the process, demand of yourself that you will learn—and really practice!—some anxiety management skills, and get on with your creating and your anxiety management. Here are some excellent everyday anxiety management tools.

1. Attitude choice

You can choose to be made anxious by every new opinion you hear or you can choose to keep your own counsel. You can choose to approach life anxiously or you can choose to approach it calmly.  It is a matter of flipping an internal switch—one that you control.

2. Improved appraising

Incorrectly appraising situations as more important, more dangerous or more negative than they in fact are raises your anxiety level. You can significantly reduce your experience of anxiety by refusing to appraise situations as catastrophically negative.

3. Lifestyle support

Your lifestyle supports calmness or it doesn’t. When you rush less, create fewer unnecessary pressures and stressors, get sufficient rest and exercise, eat a healthy diet, take time to relax, include love and friendship, and live in balance, then you reduce your experience of anxiety. How much harder will it be to deal with the creative anxiety in your life if your very lifestyle is producing its own magnum of anxiety?

4. Behavioral changes

What you actually do when you feel anxious makes a big difference. If a ten-minute shower or a twenty-minute walk can do as good a job of reducing your anxiety as watching another hour of televised golf or smoking several cigarettes, isn’t it the behavior to choose? There are many time-wasting, unhealthy, and dispiriting ways to manage anxiety—and many efficient, healthy, and uplifting ways, too.

5. Deep breathing

The simplest anxiety management technique is deep breathing. By stopping to deeply breathe (5 seconds on the inhale, 5 seconds on the exhale) you stop your racing mind and alert your body to the fact that you want to be calmer. Begin to incorporate deep breaths into your daily routine, especially at those times when you think about and turn to your creative projects.

6. Cognitive work

Changing the way you think is probably the most useful and powerful anti-anxiety strategy. You can do this straightforwardly by 1) noticing what you are saying to yourself; 2) disputing the self-talk that makes you anxious or does not serve you; and 3) substituting more affirmative, positive or useful self-talk. This three-step process really works if you will practice it and commit to it.

7. Incanting

A variation on the last two strategies is to use them together and to “drop” a useful cognition into a deep breath, thinking “half” the thought as you inhale and “half” the thought as you exhale. Incantations that can reduce your experience of anxiety include “I am perfectly calm” or “I trust my resources.” Experiment with some short phrases that, when dropped into a deep breath, help you quell your anxious feelings.

8. Physical relaxation techniques

Physical relaxation techniques include such simple procedures as rubbing your shoulder and such elaborate procedures as “progressive relaxation techniques” where you slowly relax each part of your body in turn. Doing something physically soothing can prove really useful in the moment to help you calm yourself and when used in combination with your cognitive practice.

9. Mindfulness techniques

Meditation and other mindfulness practices that help you take charge of your thoughts and get a grip on your mind can prove very useful as part of your anxiety management program. The better a job you do of releasing those thoughts and replacing them with more affirmative ones, the less you will experience anxiety.

10. Guided imagery

Guided imagery is a technique where you guide yourself to calmness by mentally picturing a calming image or a series of images. You might picture yourself on a blanket by the beach, walking by a lake, or swinging on a porch swing. Determine what images calm you by trying out various images and then actually bring them to mind when you are feeling anxious.

11. Disidentification techniques

“Disidentification” is the core idea of the branch of psychotherapy known as psychosynthesis. Rather than attaching too much significance to a passing thought, feeling, worry, or doubt, you remind yourself that you are larger than and different from all the stray, temporal events that seem so important in the moment. For example, you stop saying “I’m anxious” and begin to say, “I’m having a passing feeling of anxiety.” By making these linguistic changes you fundamentally reduce your experience of anxiety.

12. Ceremonies and rituals

Creating and using a ceremony or ritual is a simple but powerful way to reduce your experience of anxiety. For many people lowering the lights, lighting candles, putting on soothing music and in other ways ceremonially creating a calming environment helps significantly. Learn to ceremonially move from the rush of everyday life to the quiet of your creative work, whether that work may be.

13. Reorienting techniques

If your mind starts to focus on some anxiety-producing thought or situation or if you feel yourself becoming too wary, watchful and vigilant, one thing you can do is to consciously turn your attention in another direction and reorient yourself away from your anxious thoughts and toward a more neutral stimulus.

14. Discharge techniques

Anxiety and stress build up in the body and techniques that vent that stress can prove very useful. For example, one discharge technique that actors learn to employ to reduce their experience of anxiety before a performance is to “silently scream”—to make the facial gestures and whole body intentions that go with uttering a good cleansing scream without actually uttering any sound.

If you intend to create, whether it’s building a home business, writing a novel, or experiencing everyday life more deeply, get ready for anxiety. It is coming! You can handle it beautifully if you use the simple tools I’ve just described and turn yourself into an anxiety management expert.

Profile image for Eric Maisel, Ph.D.
Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is America’s foremost creativity coach and is widely known as the creativity expert. His most recent book is Mastering Creative Anxiety. # # # Based on the book Mastering Creative Anxiety © 2011 by Eric Maisel. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.

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