Worry, fear, insecurity, anxiety – all of these can be part of our experience as creative people – along with the emotional, spiritual and – hopefully – financial rewards.
Of course, people who are not artists or actively creative worry and have these kinds of challenges also, but the high sensitivity and intensity of creative people tends to make these moods more prominent.
It can help enhance creative thinking and expression to understand and deal with these feelings.
“A tendency to worry goes hand in hand with higher intelligence.”
An article about a research paper notes:
“Increasingly psychologists are recognising the strengths of anxious people. For example, there’s research showing that people more prone to anxiety are quicker to detect threats and better at lie detection.
“Now Alexander Penney and his colleagues have conducted a survey of over 100 students and they report that a tendency to worry goes hand in hand with higher intelligence…
“The key finding was that after controlling for the influence of test anxiety and current mood, the students who reported a general habit of worrying more (e.g. they agreed with survey statements like ‘I am always worrying about something’) and/or ruminating more (e.g. they said they tended to think about their sadness, or think ‘what am doing to deserve this?’) also tended to score higher on the test of verbal intelligence, which was taken from the well-known Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale.”
Quotes and image are from post: Is being a worrier a sign of intelligence?
Being highly sensitive and creative probably increases our vulnerability to anxiety.
Psychologists Eric Maisel and Elaine Aron, among others, affirm this.
I’m sure that has been the case for me, and I have had varying degrees of anxiety for most of my life. Getting older (and eating more healthy foods etc) has definitely helped, and now I am usually more calm and at ease than not.
Part of my motivation in researching and creating my series of sites is to better understand a variety of social and psychological issues that affect talent development and creativity – including the issue of mood challenges like anxiety: how it affects us, and what we can do about it.
“Anxiety is the great silencer of the creative person.” Eric Maisel, PhD
One form of anxiety is so-called writer’s block.
This video is a scene with Nicolas Cage as screenwriter ‘Charlie Kaufman’ in the movie “Adaptation” (by the real screenwriter Charlie Kaufman).
It’s a great film about the kinds of insecurities, anxieties and distractions that can so often affect us as creative people.
Therapist and creativity coach Eric Maisel, PhD notes there are many different kinds of anxiety around creative expression, with different symptoms including confusion and a “weakness of mind and body” and persistent worry.
But, he says, “one of the most common anxiety reactions is a phobic reaction… many cases of creative blockage — perhaps most — are phobic reactions to the creative encounter.
“These real, painful, persistent phobias affect many creative people and help us better understand why creative people are prone to addictions.”
From my post: Eric Maisel on anxiety and developing creativity.
His books include:
Mastering Creative Anxiety: 24 Lessons for Writers, Painters, Musicians, and Actors from America’s Foremost Creativity Coach. In this book he asks, “Are you creating less often than you would like? Are you avoiding your creative work altogether? Do you procrastinate? That’s anxiety.”
One of Eric Maisel’s multiple courses is A New Look at Mastering Creativity.
On a page for his course, he writes:
“In these 16 lessons I intend to describe many of the sources of anxiety in a creative person’s life and provide you with an anxiety mastery menu of strategies and techniques to manage that anxiety.
“The more you understand these sources of anxiety and build your anxiety management skills, the better you’ll be able to deal with the rigors of the creative process and the realities of the creative life.
“Anxiety is a feature of the human condition. It is a much larger feature than most people realize.
“A great deal of what we do in life we do in order to reduce our experience of anxiety or in order to avoid anxiety altogether.
“Our very human defensiveness is one of the primary ways that we try to avoid experiencing anxiety.”
Learn more about his courses on the page:
How to have a more successful creative life – Eric Maisel programs
Facing the Blank Page
Creativity coach Lisa Riley describes a common scene for many creative people facing a blank screen or page or canvas:
“So you’ve decided to get an early start, wake before the rest of the world begins their day and be productive. … You sit down in front of the computer facing the stark emptiness of your blank screen.
“You gaze for a moment and then take a few sips of coffee, waiting for the caffeine to kick in. … Nothing comes to mind.
“Your eyes conveniently notices the flashing email icon in the corner of your screen, suddenly drawn like a magnet, you decided to check your email.”
She points out, “If this sounds like a familiar scenario, well, you are not alone. Many of us have experienced this form of procrastination. Where we give into the rationalization that once these convenient distractions are completed and put to rest, we can create.
“When in reality, this is an indication of our own internal resistance to facing the act of producing something. Feelings of self-doubt, criticism and negative beliefs can produce anxiety around the creative process.”
From my article:
Procrastinating and Distracting Ourselves.
Photo of Lisa Riley from her article:
Highly Sensitive Personality and Creativity.
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Does anxiety affect creative people more?
Former anxiety sufferer and anxiety program developer Charles Linden writes that his research “shows us that anxiety sufferers all share a superior level of creative intellect.
“This may not be experienced as academic prowess, [but] as a distinct range of both physical and mental attributes effecting creativity, emotional sensitivity and clarity, eccentricity, creative energy and drive…”
From article Creative intellect as a marker for genetic predisposition to high anxiety conditions, by Charles Linden.
Being a highly sensitive person – and anxious
Psychologist Elaine Aron thinks “high sensitivity increases the impact of all emotionally tinged events, making childhood trauma particularly scarring.”
In her book The Highly Sensitive Child, Dr. Aron notes that some sensitive adolescents may drink and use drugs to try to overcome anxiety or depression through self-medication.
From my article Sensitive to anxiety.
Writer Deborah Ward comments, “Because highly sensitive people absorb so much stimulation from their environment, we are more susceptible to these feelings of anxiety.
“A recent study showed that people with a more sensitive ‘startle’ reflex, that is, highly sensitive people, are more susceptible to anxiety disorders because we have different genes than others, making it harder for us to deal with emotional arousal.”
From her Psychology Today article Coping with Anxiety as an HSP.
Another article on this topic notes:
“Fear is all around us. You feel it when you watch the news, of course. How can you not? Everything seems to be chaos. That’s when you’re aware of the fear, it’s in your face and incontrovertible. What about all the fear that’s impacting you without your awareness or knowledge? …
“Depression, anxiety, mood elevating drugs, suicide, road rage, escalating senseless violence and crime, these are symptoms of an ever-increasing breakdown in our energy fields due to the vibration of fear. We don’t even notice it because it is the norm.
“For those who are highly sensitive or empaths, this is even more of an issue, and it’s not just fear, it’s people’s worries, thoughts, anger, depression, sadness. You can be taking it on from people, television, the air, etc, but not know that it’s not all you.”
From article The increasing impact of fear on your life may surprise you if you are a Highly Sensitive Person, by AnnaMariah “Carolyn” Nau & Virginia Brown, BioElectric Shield Company.
Some Tips to Relieve Anxiety and Worry
Robert Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy writes in his book The Worry Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Worry from Stopping You that “38 percent of people say they worry every day, and more than 19 million Americans are chronic worriers.”
Leahy offers six simple tips you can use to cope with stress and anxiety:
1. Identify productive and unproductive worry
First, determine whether your worries will help you find practical solutions to a dilemma. If “yes, my worries can be constructive,” write a to-do list with explicit steps to help solve the problem.
If the answer is “no, my worries are not helping me,” use some of the techniques below to help deal with unproductive worries.
2. Keep an appointment with your worries
Write down your unproductive worries throughout the day and set aside a chunk of time, say 6 to 6:30 p.m., dedicated specifically to thinking about them. By 6, “you may find you’re not interested in those worries anymore,” Leahy says.
“Many people find that what they thought they needed an answer to earlier, they don’t care about later in the day.”
3. Learn to accept uncertainty
Worriers have a hard time accepting they can never have complete control in their lives. Leahy says that quietly repeating a worry for 20 minutes (“I may never fall asleep” or “I could lose my job”) reduces its power.
“Most people get bored by their worries and don’t even make it to 20 minutes,” he notes.
See the other tips in the article Why We Worry by Victoria Stern – which also includes excerpts from The Worry Domains Questionnaire, a self-test on how much you worry, and about what.
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Courage, Fear, Anxiety and creative people
There are many kinds of discomfort related to anxiety – some mild, some requiring change, even intervention or therapy, or at least greater self-care.
In her article Discovering the Gifted Ex-Child, Stephanie S. Tolan writes about one highly talented person with a common form of anxiety: stage fright.
She writes: “Barbra Streisand, whose abilities are not only obvious and far from norms but also wide-ranging, is criticized for perfectionism, for demanding too much from those she works with.
“Her well-known discomfort with public performance may come in part from the seemingly paradoxical self-esteem problems that often come with extraordinary gifts.”
Many of the personal, inner aspects of creative talent can challenge us in ways that demand facing fears and limitations and moving beyond our comfort zones. And many forms of creative expression may require at times a high degree of courage.
In an HBO documentary about making movies, actor Charlize Theron commented about courage when she noted, “There is no formula that works. There is no guarantee.
“But as far as making choices on material, I just kind of think, well, it has nothing to do with me, so why not just go for it?
“That’s why, when people say, Why don’t you make safer choices, I say What is a safe choice? There really isn’t a safe choice in this industry.
“You never have a guarantee whether it’s going to work or not. And it takes a lot of courage to do that.
“So you better make sure, if it doesn’t work, that you walk away with something else, and that is the knowledge that you did it for a good reason.”
Rather than offer a “quick fix” or “sound bite” suggestion for dealing with anxiety – not that there is such a thing – I suggest you browse posts on anxiety and stress, and look through the collection of Articles on relieving anxiety on my Anxiety Relief Solutions site.
Programs, books, articles and sites to improve your emotional wellbeing.