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Turning Anxiety Into Creativity

| Aimee O'Grady

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, as many as 40 million adults over the age of 18 are affected by anxiety disorders, or 18% of the population. While the statistics are startling, people who experience anxiety can adopt methods to better manage the disorder and even use it to their advantage.

Nearly everyone has been there. A looming deadline coupled with a creative block can open the door to stress and feelings of anxiety. Time and Stress Coach, Julie Gray says “humans are the only animal to speed up when they become anxious, rather than stop and consider their surroundings.” When feelings of anxiety occur, rather than race to the finish line, one should regard it as a reminder to slow down and move forward more deliberately through the creative process. In the end, the results will speak for themselves. A better understanding of anxiety can assist with this progression.

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For our ancestors, anxiety acted as a prod to be aware of potential risks. “When you are walking alone in a dark alley, anxiety levels rise. It is a way for you to be vigilant about your surroundings that may pose a threat to you,” says Gray. “But when anxiety rears its head related to deadlines and work-related issues, it is a false alarm. A deadline or project cannot be the source of anxiety, because your feelings about it change in the moment,” she says. “When you begin to feel anxious, that is actually the best time to take a pause. Put the work down, take a walk, and leave it for a little bit. Your best work will not be produced in a state of anxiety, and in most cases, anxiety is fleeting.”

Anxiety can also be a strong motivator. In situations with perceived threats, one is motivated to change their surroundings to protect themselves. When perceived threats are, in reality, overwhelming workloads or deadlines, one should anticipate the feelings of anxiety. Simply by acknowledging that you may become anxious by being overloaded, the debilitating power of anxiety is weakened.

From a biological perspective, stress, and the accompanying anxiety, increases levels of endorphins, serotonin and dopamine, which aid in relaxation and can help one think more clearly. It is from this state of relaxation, brought on by stress, that people can make better, thought out plans, or enter their creative flow.

Most creative people have their flow. In some cases, that flow comes as deadlines approach, but the creative flow is independent of any feelings of anxiety. Creative individuals are cautioned not to buy into feelings of anxiety since “deadlines are only a perceived threat that pose no actual threat at all,” says Gray.

Whether you are authoring a novel needed by your editor, putting the final pieces to a commissioned quilt, or refining the chorus of an original piece with the concert weeks away, when the creator answers the call of anxiety, the art suffers. Remember that anxiety has its evolutionary purpose, however in today’s world, it is often misplaced.