We’ve all had passing moments of “writer’s block” or other times when we struggle to create or understand something new. But what about when anxiety blocks creativity for an extended period of time?
Creative people are more prone to anxiety in general. They live with both the gift and curse of an active imagination.
We can conjure up amazing, positive ideas and creations but our imaginations can also bring forth creativity-limiting anxiety. Essentially, it’s our creativity that ends up blocking our creativity!
It’s true that there are several ways in which anxiety can block creativity. Fortunately, it is also true that we can use our anxiety not only to get past these blocks but as fuel to drive our creativity to new heights.
Ways Anxiety Can Block Creativity
Anxiety can cause both mental and physical paralysis.
When we are in an extreme and/or extended state of anxiety, our mental energy is all focused on trying to “survive”. Our mental resources normally used for creating have been used for our response to whatever we feel is threatening us.
Anxiety can also physically “paralyze” us. This usually happens as a result of hyperventilation, when our bodies slow down blood flow to certain parts of our bodies in order to maintain our carbon dioxide levels.
When we are in a frozen mental or physical state, our ability to create is not a priority.
Perfectionism is a form of anxiety where we set unrealistically high expectations for ourselves and our accomplishments.
We believe that everything we do needs to be done perfectly and often believe that others expect perfection from us as well.
If we have anxiety around creating something perfectly, we likely won’t attempt to create anything at all.
Brain fog occurs when we have excessive amounts of stress hormones that stay in our bodies for too long. These hormones include; cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine.
Excess exposure to these hormones exhaust the brain and create “foggy’ thinking. Our ability to focus and create under this circumstance becomes limited.
Fear of Rejection
Related to performance anxiety, fear of rejection can block the creative process.
For many creative types, the anxiety over people rejecting their work is greater than their need to create. Because they are so invested in other’s perceptions of the outcome, they choose to not create anything at all to avoid any rejection.
Overcoming Anxiety Blocks
A good place to start overcoming your creative blocks is to recognize that creative people generally tend to be more anxious. Why is this? Because of our enhanced ability to imagine.
To create something, one must envision it before it exists. Whether it is a painting, a song, or a book of poetry, we first must have the idea in our minds before our creation comes to life.
If you experience blocks around creating due to anxious fear, it’s important to acknowledge and accept that your anxiety is based on what you are imagining as a possible future outcome.
Once we can accept that our anxious imaginings of the future are the product of the same imagination from which our creations are born, our fears lose their power.
It is also a good idea to take steps to lessen your anxiety symptoms.
If you are suffering from paralysis or brain fog, consider increasing the amount of exercise you get, try meditating or ask your health care practitioner about any possible deficiencies that could be contributing to your symptoms.
Somatic trauma healing is also another avenue to check out when looking for ways to manage and diminish anxiety symptoms. For some great information on regulating your nervous system, check out Sukie Baxter and her videos on YouTube.
Using Anxiety to Fuel Your Creativity
Once we are able to accept our anxiety as part of our creativity and imagination, why not take things to the next level and try to use that anxiety as fuel for our creativity?
Dr. Rollo May, American Existential Psychologist, author of Love and Will (1969), believed that it is exactly what we are anxious about that should fuel our creations.
He told us that humans are the only creatures that are aware of their inevitable death. This awareness causes us anxiety. For some people, the anxiety is worse than for others. Regardless of its severity, this anxiety is both normal and useful.
He theorized that this anxiety could and should be used as a “stimulus stored toward creativity”. He believed, that ultimately, we are all scared that we will not make the most of our lives and will never experience real joy before we die.
He urged people to think of anxiety as an encouragement to have courage and create something before our time on earth runs out. Using our knowledge and talents to create something useful or beautiful and launching it into the world, is the only way to experience true joy.
To follow Dr. May’s lead is to embrace anxiety as a resource. We need to view our shaking fingers and irrational fears as a signal to get writing or painting, or even to have that difficult conversation we have been avoiding.
Anxiety is not a sign to curl up and stop. It’s a sign to move ahead.
Whether or not we identify our mortality as the source of our anxiety, we can still use our anxious energy and apply it to creating something new.
Often during times of high anxiety, the last thing we feel like doing is creating, so we don’t. What if instead of freezing, we force ourselves to open a new document and start writing? Or we get out our paints and see what appears on the canvas?
The goal is not to create a masterpiece, but to push through the blockage and transform that anxious energy into fuel. The more times we can do this, the easier and more automatic the process will become.