Understanding Creative Anxiety

by Barbara Martin

in How to Tips, Motivation & Inspiration

As Eric Maisel explains in his expert creativity manual Coaching the Artist Within, anxiety can be a tricky thing for creative people. Sometimes fear serves as a valuable alert, sometimes as a false alarm. But how can you tell the difference? And what can you do about it?

Symptoms of Anxiety
First of all, you must learn to recognize how you feel physically when you are anxious. Quite often we make excuses rather than admit to anxiety. How often do you tell yourself you are bored, hungry (my favorite), too tired, not feeling good, just can’t sit still, etc. rather than admit you are feeling anxious about the task at hand? With a little practice you can learn to recognize your body’s response to anxiety for what it is.

Find the Root of Your Anxiety
Know that the anxiety is telling you to pay attention. Something is making you anxious and stopping you, so what is it? If you are not really too hungry, too tired, too bored, too you-name-it, what is the real reason you are hesitating or stopping or blocking? It’s much easier to accept it at face value and stop what you are doing than to consider the cause behind it.

So pay attention and examine this until you feel you have discovered the deeper reason. Quite often the real reason is not what we think at first, so take a little time to untangle the reasoning.

Once you have identified the real reason behind your anxiety, you will be able to predict your trigger(s) and also prepare yourself for experiencing this anxiety next time it happens.

Rational or Irrational Fear
Equally important, you can evaluate this fear on its merits. Is it a helpful fear, preventing you from doing something unwise? Or is it a false fear, based on unrealistic or irrational assumptions?

For me, as a writer, sending off a query letter is like perching on the edge of the abyss with only one toe left hanging onto the crumbling cliff. But seriously, what is the worst that can happen? If they say no, how is that different from never having sent it at all? Well, of course there is a difference, but should it preclude sending it off in the first place?

If my anxiety is based in being insufficiently prepared and not wanting to embarrass myself, that is one thing. But if it is based on not wanting to be rejected when I think my idea is worthy and a good fit, and I am blindly assuming they will never accept any kind of query from me ever because they have never published my work so far even though I have never sent them anything and even though I have no concrete reason to think they will not evaluate it objectively just as they would any other query, well that is something else. There is a real difference between a well considered, carefully researched, finely crafted query letter and the embarrassing, slap dash, “hey dude whazzup” query. Understanding the difference is key.

Handling Your Creative Fears
Lastly, what will you do when you face your anxiety? Stop in your tracks? Turn tail and run? Practice a little extra self care and do one extra proof-read before hitting send? Stand tall and breathe deeply and do it anyway? How will you respond? Think about this ahead of time so you will be ready to cope with your anxiety or fear when the next time comes. And you know it will!

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Eileen July 7, 2009 at 11:37 am

I hear ya on this. It can be really hard to just sit with any emotion, instead of trying to self-medicate or swirl it into something else. And identifying rational vs irrational…ie is this fear based on reality or a story I am telling myself?

A constant practice! :)


Barbara Martin July 7, 2009 at 12:00 pm

It is hard. Sometimes using the two chair “talk to yourself” exercise can help…

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