I have anxiety.
I’ve known this for years. The official diagnosis has helped me work through many fears and actions from my past. However, there’s one situation that I continue to struggle through — my work in a creative career.
I’ve always discussed this particular anxiety with my fellow creatives. We could never put our fingers on it, but it seemed we had similar worries and experiences. Now, thanks to a recently published paper on the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, there’s a name for it — creativity anxiety.
With the new discovery, researchers have found there’s evidence of anxiety that specifically relates to thinking creatively. It also points to ways that it may limit an individual’s creative potential. For those of us using our minds and spirits to form successful creative careers, this is intimidating.
But it’s also refreshing.
“We suspected there might be something specific about having to generate something new and creative that causes anxiety for lots of people, and that’s what these new findings tell us — that creativity really is special when it comes to anxiety,” Professor Ian Lyons, a lead researcher on the topic told CapitolCommunicator.
Creativity-specific or not, anxiety is a working memory killer. Our “working memory” is what helps us problem-solve, concentrate, multitask, and complete tasks. When these seemingly simple functions decrease, the weight of anxiety only increases.
As it increases, our deadlines, tasks, and the expectations of employers and clients remain. So, it’s critical creative professionals
1. Break apart your days into 24-hour segments
Of course, every day is broken-up in 24 hours. However, I’ve spent many days feeling like the week was already over. On Monday, I already felt the weight of the creative tasks I needed to perform Friday.
Recently, though, I escaped to the snowy mountains of New York. While there, I finally picked up a book that was recommended to me by a mentor years ago. Peace Is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh urges us to wake-up mindful of the day.
“Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand-new hours to live. What a precious gift! We have the capacity to live in a way that these twenty-four hours will bring peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others,” he wrote.
This has changed the way I enter into my creative working world every single day. I wake up knowing what I did or didn’t accomplish yesterday is gone. A new day has presented itself. It’s the one and the only day I have control over.
While my anxiety is still present, it doesn’t take control of my every thought because I’m focused only on the present. Allow yourself the same short 24-hour timespan to pull out of the ever-cycling creative world. Yes, there will be things you need to do tomorrow. And without the worries of today, you’ll be better able to process and accomplish them.
2. Improve your relationship with time
Anxiety is an attention-stealer. Unfortunately, when you’re working in a creative role, there’s little time to waste not focusing on your projects. Your brain needs to constantly create, edit, polish, and repeat.
So, when anxiety enters the mix, you likely find yourself daydreaming or worrying about the million other things you need to do today. Our smartphones have become enablers. They allow us to succumb to our distracted minds by skimming through social media or, if you’re like me, buying household items in bulk on the Amazon app.
Once you’re down a wormhole, the anxiety tornado spins faster. As it does, your capacity to think clearly and creatively decreases further — and you begin missing deadlines.
The key is to stop fearing time. Time is not your enemy, it’s how you spend it that begins the downward spiral in your creative career.
Be intentional with every moment by forcing yourself to stay in it. Set a time goal for a project or a step in it to be completed. Then, hold yourself accountable by setting a timer and placing your phone on do-not-disturb.
For me, do-not-disturb only goes so far because I’m a habit-checker. Every so many minutes I pick-up my phone solely out of habit — even when my timer is set. So, I have to take the extra step of putting it out of reach.
3. Acknowledge your strengths — often
When you’re facing anxiety or other mental disorders, there’s strength in getting out of bed each day. There’s strength in continuing to be there for your loved ones. And there’s especially strength in putting your creative mind to work.
But many parts of this illness will tell you your creativity isn’t good enough. It will belittle the work you’ve done compared to others in your field. When you’re in the thick of it, anxiety may even make you reconsider if you’ve chosen the right path for yourself.
The truth is, every day you do something that takes an immeasurable amount of mental and physical power. Remember, anxiety has the power to physically interrupt your capabilities. Still, you stand up and continue on.
Acknowledge your moments of strength throughout each day. Take a step back to admire the work you’ve completed, even if it’s not the final product. Share your work with a network of supporters prepared to build you up in that moment. Most of all, make the noise of every tiny step and accomplishment compete with the noise of your worries.