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EMDR or exposure? How to realign your (creative) alarm bells

Updated: Jan 24

After a burnout, a creative depression or in stressful times all together, your body's alarm bells can be a little too sensitive. In other words, they go off too quickly, sparking feelings of anxiety. This can be very, very unpleasant. But however terrible the feeling, it is not something to be too worried about. It is just something that needs to be re-tuned. Today we discuss two ways to do this: exposure and EMDR, so you have a better sense of what to do and which to choose, or even combine the both of them, to heal your (creative) anxieties.

About stress hormones

Stress, restlessness, anxiety... it's mostly about the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone is actually really important for our lives. It triggers us to get moving in the morning, makes us take action in moments that pose danger, and helps us fight the common cold, is behind your creative drive, and has many other useful functions. It's a positive hormone!

These days however, our minds and bodies often don't get enough downtown anymore. We are constantly triggered by the electronic world, our jobs, the expectations of modern life and family, or the creative stress we put on ourselves. Our mind basically doesn't get the chance to wind down, unless we become very mindful of all the noise that comes towards us.

What happens if we don't, is that we start to overproduce cortisol. The amount of stress hormones go from healthy to unhealthy. And this leads to a situation where our anxiety alarm bells are too finely tuned. They simply go off too quickly. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, short fuses and even panic attacks. There are many ways to reduce the causes of your anxieties, such as embracing the martial arts, taking walks, doing breathing techniques and other methods discussed in the book Restart. The ones we'd like to discuss today, are the ones focused on the alarm bell itself: EMDR and exposure.

Anxiety Exposure

Reducing sensitivity can be done through exposure to your anxiety triggers. Just an example: say your trigger is a busy supermarket. Your cortisol levels go up when you can't process what's going on around you, so you start to experience anxiety. If you keep exposing yourself to busy supermarkets, than over time your anxiety will drop until at one point it is gone. This is a very unpleasant yet very effective way to go about reducing anxiety. Prolonged exposure means you might even be able to completely eliminate your trigger forever. One thing you need to know about exposure is that you shouldn't move too fast. For instance, I've always had a bit of a fear of flying. In my high anxiety period I decided to expose myself and fly to Australia, which meant two flights and almost 24 hours in an airplane. That was simply too much, I hit panic-attack-central basically. Instead it would have been better to built the flight times up over time. The best advice I can give you in these cases is to work with a therapist as well or someone who can coach you through the exposure, so you can built up quicker and more effectively then I did! Weirdly enough, the same thing can be said about facing your creative anxieties. Very often, we get stuck because we experience creative resistance (source: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield), a state in which we tell ourselves all kinds of excuses why we are failing creatively, that ultimately stop us from working, makes us disconnect from creative allies and creates anxiety every time we think of our creative work. Just like in that supermarket, you can alleviate this resistance by slowly building up your body of work. In other words, don't feel bad about yourself when you didn't write that novel or recorded that album in one single day! But do try to do a little bit every day. Expose yourself to the creative anxiety.

EMDR Therapy Another option is EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), a method that exposes you to a specific trauma in your past through two hour sessions that basically 'reset' your mind. This is done through eye movement direction that allows certain parts of the brain to be accessed and the fears in those parts removed by talking about them while in this 'eye-moving' state. This therapy is highly effective in many cases. The effectiveness does vary though, depending on how specific a trauma or fear is. It is most effective when used to treat the effects of very specific moments of trauma or very specific fears. It can be useful for general anxiety disorders too, but it's results vary per person. But the most important thing you readers might want to know about this technique, is that although maybe not traumatic, it's highly effective in getting right of your creative fears as well!

There you have it. Exposure or EMDR are two great ways to deal with anxieties. There are more of course, which we will discuss on these pages, but this might already give you a good nudge into the right direction for recovery. Take it easy as always, And love,

(Check out the book Restart here and check out my book The Whole Story - The Ultimate Guide to Storytelling here !!!)

Rogier van Kralingen


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