How I Face my Greatest Creative Challenge: Anxiety

spring flowers anxietyI set myself the goal of publishing a blog post every week, by Wednesday at the latest. At 2:00 last Wednesday what was I doing? Putting the finishing touches on a post? Nope. I was playing Candy Crush like my life depended on it and daydreaming about the weekend. What kept me clicking on candies instead of writing the post I had planned? Laziness? Procrastination? I think it was more likely something that I often struggle with, something that keeps me from producing my best work.

Anxiety, my old friend, was back to lend me a not-so-helping hand.

When I thought about writing the post I felt my muscles tighten up and my stomach started to feel queasy. I played games as a way to avoid and escape the uncomfortable feelings. When this happens I often wonder, what am I so scared of? Nothing rational. There is no immediate danger inherent in me publishing a blog post. However, there are days when doing the dishes or even just getting out of bed seems scary. On those days trying to accomplish something creative – especially if it’s meant for an audience – feels monumentally difficult. So I cut myself some slack and continued crushing candies until my eyes crossed.

Unfortunately, this anxiety is the worst thing for my ambition and my creativity. It wants me to play safe so it keeps me thinking small and it swirls worries through my mind so that I can’t see what’s really important to me. I tricks me into thinking that I don’t want to create, or that I’m too tired, or that I don’t have any ideas. Sometimes it shows up as nausea or a headache, giving me one more reason to stay put. It’s very common when I’m writing, but it it also likes to rear up when I’m working on new art work. If I find I’m having to drag myself to the craft table, usually there’s some unresolved anxiety holding me back. If I don’t deal with it, I spend hours in bed or staring out the window feeling like I’m wasting my life. To put it mildly, it’s not fun.

So what do I do about it? My mission for this year it to create habits that keep anxiety from creeping into my creative life, my relationships, and my well-being, and I’m happy to report that, despite the occasional struggle, I’ve been more successful than ever. There’s still a long way to go, but here are 3 major things that have been helping:

spring flowers

Detailed to do lists

The more I need to think about what I’m going to do next, the more room there is for waffling, confusion, overwhelm and fear. If I write down my three biggest priorities for the day in order of importance it’s easier for me to focus and dive in. I also try to start with the hardest project, the one I most want to avoid. It’s much easier to overcome the anxiety early in the day when I have more energy and finishing these difficult tasks gives me such a sense of satisfaction that everything feels easier afterwards. In the case of last week’s blog post my bleary afternoon mind didn’t stand a chance.

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.” Rosa Parks

Self-compassion

I use a mindfulness bell on my phone. It rings at random times throughout the day and reminds me to check in with myself. When it goes off I try to muster up compassion for myself, no matter how anxious I’m feeling. Giving myself that little bit of love throughout the day helps me take the pressure off and feel better. I’ve learned that trying to fight the anxiety or push it away only makes it worse, so I try to be gentle with it, to sit with it, and to feel what is it trying to tell me. Maybe I feel anxious because I’m overworked and need a break, or maybe I haven’t done enough research to feel confident. Often I’m just trying to do something outside my comfort zone and so I have to be nice to myself, and super patient. If I berate myself and go on a guilt trip, it will be much harder to step outside my comfort zone again.

Plenty of exercise and sleep

I’ve always needed a lot of sleep. If I get less than 8 hours I have a hard time concentrating and if I want to do my best work I need at least 8.5. This is something that will differ for everyone, but it’s important to figure out how much you need to be at your best. When I’m tired I have a harder time making decisions and a much harder time showing myself compassion. I get frustrated a lot more easily and the fear grabs hold a lot quicker. The same seems to be true for exercise: when I move my body through yoga, dance, cycling, walking, dragon-boating, or swimming, it gets me out of my head and stops the spinning thoughts that bring me down. The more time I spend focused on my body rather than my thoughts, the clearer I can think and the better work I do.

To read more about how I deal with anxiety in my everyday life (it’s a big topic for me), check out my blog at livinglikewater.wordpress.com.

Does this ever happen to you? Do anxiety and fear hold you back from doing what you really love? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below to tell me about your experiences and what you do to feel better.

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