Creative Anxiety Relief
Updated: Jul 27, 2020
For those of us in a creative job (and who isn't these days) anxiety is part of the work. Creative expression always comes with vulnerability: you open yourself and your work up to the judgement of others. Naturally this creates anxiety. That's why many creative people are more prone to depression and burnout. In this blog we explain why that's okay and how it can be used as a force for good.
In today's world we are all producers of our own content. Whether we post things on social media or produce things like vlogs, music, film, blogs, books or other works of art and communication, we have unprecedented access to spreading our material to other people. Those of us who work in the performing arts know that anxiety is part of that game. We learn to embrace it, we know it never goes away (even after a thousand performances I still get nervous as hell, maybe even more...) and we teach ourselves how this anxiety can be used to enhance our creative output.
Yet many people who do creative work in this modern age are not used to this kind of vulnerability. For them the negative effects of it - such as writer's block, short depressions after the work is finished and anxiety before posting or performing - are new and very scary.
Those of us who are used to this situation already know that this fear will subside when you actually just do it. But those who have never dealt with it before can be caught off guard by all forms of creative anxiety. This can lead to burnout symptoms and depression, mostly related to setting (too) high expectations.
To reduce stress and anxiety in the creative fields we need to teach more people about how hard it can be to truly express yourself. It's not an easy path to choose. The road to creative mastery is full of peril and confrontation with ones' weaknesses. You open yourself up to criticism from others and there will always be unfair points made. Even worse, you set yourself up to unfair criticism towards yourself.
The trick is to keep doing it, sometimes at a slower pace than you might want, and always keep your expectations low. Rome was not build in a day. But, it was build. That's the point really: by being vulnerable you learn how to become strong. You purposely go this road to make yourself stronger, or else there would be no point suffering through the anxiety.
There positives ultimately outweigh the negatives. By being vulnerable and showing how you overcome challenges, people will start to relate to your work, even the most critical ones. It's a paradox: the more you acknowledge the vulnerability, the more people will applaud you and the more success you are likely to get. Storytelling and creative expression are about embracing change and friction, not avoiding it. The journey itself is the goal. If it were about sticking that head in the sand, it would be boring!
So to all people who cope with creative anxiety I say this: accept it, it will never really go away. If you get stuck, lower your expectations and go Kaizen: one step at a time. If you feel down or frustrated, remember that having those feelings and conquering them is the whole point!
True strength is in showing and embracing your vulnerable side. That's what people will remember and appreciate.
Take it easy. If you want to know more about anxiety, depression and overcoming stress or burnout, of course you check out my book Restart.
And as always, love.
Rogier van Kralingen