“Anxiety is the great silencer of the creative person.” Eric Maisel, PhD
One form of anxiety is so-called writer’s block. This photo is 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:
Fearless Creating: A Step-By-Step Guide to Starting and Completing Your Work of Art.
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.”
His site: ericmaisel.com
Here is a video clip of Nicolas Cage in “Adaptation”:
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 guest article (on my site): Highly Sensitive Personality and Creativity.
Does anxiety affect creative and sensitive 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 highly sensitive probably increases our vulnerability to anxiety. 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.
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, Elaine 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.
Courage – Fear – Anxiety
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.”
From my book Developing Multiple Talents: The personal side of creative expression.
Rather than offer a “quick fix” or “sound bite” suggestion for dealing with anxiety – not that there is such a thing – I suggest you search here on Psych Central, and look through the collection of Articles on relieving anxiety on my Anxiety Relief Solutions site.
Do you have any experience with managing anxiety, and thus helping your creative expression?
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Last reviewed: 18 Apr 2013