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Anxiety and creativity

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When I’m stuck in a bottomless pit of anxiety, trying to be creative seems like an impossible task.

The swirl of whatever story I’m telling myself seems inescapable. The same thought either repeats or gets even worse than the previous thought. It can be miserable.

The truth is that I am being creative, it’s just that every bit of creativity I have is being used to prove that I’m miserable and that the worst possible outcomes of a situation are the most likely. In fact, I’m writing a whole novel in my head about how miserable I’m going to continue to be. It has incredible detail, and the plotting is so exquisite it seems 100% real to me.

Just think about how much creativity it takes to ignore every positive piece of evidence about yourself and create an argument for your own failures. It’s like you’re the prosecuting attorney at your own trial.

There are lots of strategies that help: meditation, looking at pictures of sleeping tapirs or taking a long walk with my wife, to name just three. But, the best way forward for me is getting started on the work.

This often means just working with the anxiety. Writing it down or singing it or giving it to a character instead of myself. If I can define the story as real, but just one part of who I am it seems much more manageable. For me, writing it down is the first step in moving through it. If I can externalize it a little bit, it becomes less all-consuming.

T.S. Eliot said that “anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity.” Your anxiety is the spring you drink from to fuel your creativity, but you can quickly drown in that spring if you can’t stop drinking long enough to breathe.

Take a breath and get started. Start with an action that expresses your anxiety, but then allow for other realities to exist.

Use your imagination to solve your problems if you can, but if you can’t, use it to escape from them for a while.

The first step in telling a new story is realizing that there are other stories that can be told.

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