The Anxiety of Creating and Not Creating

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. If something is about to make us anxious we deny that it is happening, make ourselves sick so that we can concentrate on our sickness, get angry at our mate so as to have something else to focus on, and so on. We are very tricky creatures in this regard.

We are also very wonderful creatures who have it in us to create. “Creativity” is the word we use for our desire to make use of our inner resources, employ our imagination, knit together our thoughts and our feelings into beautiful things like songs, quilts, or novels, and feel like the hero of our own story. It is the way that we make manifest our potential, make use of our intelligence, and embrace what we love.

When we create, we feel whole, useful, and devoted. Unfortunately, we often also feel anxious as we create or contemplate creating. There are many reasons for this. We get anxious because we fear we may fail, because we fear we may disappoint ourselves, because the work can be extremely hard, because the marketplace may criticize us and reject us, and so on. We want to create, because that is a wonderful thing, but we also don’t want to create, so as to spare ourselves all this anxiety. That is the simple, profound dilemma that millions of people find themselves in.

The solution is very simple to say although much harder to put into practice. In order to create and to deal with all the anxiety that comes with creating, you must acknowledge and accept that anxiety is part of the process, demand of yourself that you will learn—and really practice!—anxiety-management skills so that you are equal to mastering the anxiety that arises, and get on with your creating and your anxiety management. It is too big a shame not to create if creating is what you long to do and there is no reason for you not to create if “all” that is standing in the way is your quite human, very ordinary experience of anxiety. The thing to do is to become an anxiety expert and get on with your creating!

Pick your next creative project or return to your current creative project with a new willingness to accept the reality of anxiety. To help reduce your experience of anxiety, remember to breathe deeply, speak positively to yourself, and affirm that your creative life matters to you. If some anxiety remains, create anyway!

Find out about upcoming programs with Eric Maisel at Kripalu.

This article is excerpted with permission from Mastering Creative Anxiety, © 2011, by Eric Maisel.

Eric Maisel, PhD, is a creativity coach, therapist, and author of more than 50 books who founded the profession of creativity coaching.

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