Rational Creative Anxiety

by Barbara Martin

in How to Tips, Motivation & Inspiration

In his self-help creativity guide, Coaching the Artist Within, psychologist Eric Maisel devotes an entire chapter to Anxiety. Certainly some anxieties are rooted in the irrational, but creative people often experience reality-based, rational fears. What happens, for example, if we perform badly, or our book does not sell, or no gallery will represent us? These things matter!

Maisel makes the distinction this way:

“We get anxious when we fear that we are about to embark on something with potentially negative consequences for our mental, emotional, physical, existential or spiritual health. That is not irrational. That is the epitome of rationality.”

Anxiety or fear can prevent us from creating at our best and sometimes causes blocks, stopping us from creating at all. These fears can make us hesitate at the outset of a project or take a detour in the middle or fail to complete, and fear or anxiety can skew our decision-making in ways intended to protect us against bad consequences.

Fear as Gift or Curse
The trick here is to think things through enough to know whether the fear is a helpful “gift of fear” – saving us from ourselves and preventing us from doing something we really shouldn’t, or if instead it is a more destructive “curse of fear” and better acknowledged but ultimately ignored.

The Source of Fear
If you are feeling anxious, try to evaluate the perceived threat. Is it based on something concrete, or is it a figment of your imagination? Is it helpful to you, or is it a false alarm? If you allow a fear to stop you in your tracks automatically, as a knee-jerk reflex action, then you may be cutting yourself short unnecessarily.

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Christine Martell July 6, 2009 at 6:28 pm

Creative anxiety is sneaky and pervasive. Can sneak up on you, grab on and hold you while you aren’t looking. The line between real and perceived can be particularly fuzzy and strongly influenced by context. The line between gift and curse seems to move endlessly.

I think part of being successful as a creative is successfully negotiating a relationship with creative anxiety.

Barbara Martin July 7, 2009 at 12:01 pm

You are so right, Christine! If only practice could make perfect. LOL

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