top of page
  • Writer's pictureKralingen

You as the Storyteller - Artists and Creative Anxiety

Why are artists more prone to creative anxiety and even burnout symptoms than others? It's simple really, artists are both more vulnerable in their characters, as well as putting themselves in more vulnerable positions. It may sound strange, but from a psychical perspective, artists experience the same as soldiers, policemen or health workers with trauma: they have been put in a situation where there body makes a lot of stress hormones. In the artists case, this is often voluntary, although never fully. So, today, let's look at how vulnerability works with artists in a way that non-artists can learn from too.

All artists have one thing in common: they absorb a lot of the world around them. In a bit of a clinical description one could say that 'input is output': the more inspiration flows in, the more art flows out. The less clinical description of this vulnerability is thus that artists can easily step in a vulnerable state. They are vulnerable in quite a literal way therefore and can adopt a state of mind where they are open and aware to what the world around them is doing and feeling.

Think of the poet: he or she absorbs negative, often heart-breaking things about life, and transforms it into a series of words that contain beauty. That's the mechanism: you allow yourself to be vulnerable to the negative, and transform this energy into something positive.

At least, in theory. In practice, when artists are not at their best and don't have their affairs in order to an extent that they can give themselves fully to their art, a lot of problems tend to arise on that output side. This is the same for non-artists of course, however due to the increased vulnerable state that artists willingly and unwillingly are in, these problems tend to compound. The result can be things like writer's block, the tendency to cut yourself off, frustrated and aggressive behavior, substance abuse... you name it, artists have done it.

The idea is of course to overcome all of this, and as such succeed as an artist. Yet this is harder than it sounds. What makes it harder is that this vulnerability is extra pronounced at a specific moment: when they release their art or perform it. It's a double-edged sword: something that an artist is compelled to do naturally - seek out an expressive moment in which they are vulnerable to the judgement of others and can 'overcome' their fears - can be both exhilarating and devastating. Sometimes both at the same time. They experience stage frights, pre-release anxieties or other comparable stresses.

Of course it is not the same as traumas that soldiers or doctors experience, but the body does do the same as in those situations: it produces a lot of stress hormones. If the outcome is successful, these can be turned into endorphins. If the outcome is not, the stress remains. As a side note, this is also the reason why for instance many musicians drink heavily after a concert, they have so much adrenaline that they need a 'downer' that balances the 'upper'. I'm not saying it is good or bad, I'm just saying it as it is. For artists and non-artists alike, when you've experience high stress situations, whether they come from your own artistic challenges or the outside world, the search for 'downers' is real and very strong. We also hope that we can grab the healthy downers (sleep, exercise, meditation, therapy etc.) but in many circumstances this doesn't always work.

And to add to the problem... artists who are open to their context, and as such are extra vulnerable at releases or performances, will naturally be picking up on a lot of the emotions around them that come from others. Cheers or boos, we feel them. This happens both consciously and subconsciously. In the conscious variant an artist can then translate these energies into their own art. This process is known as letting the 'muse', 'universal energy' or 'divine inspiration' flow through you in those moments, which you then mold into something with a personal artistic touch. That's the upside. The downside is that artists can absorb negative emotions as much as positive ones. And because of their built-in vulnerability, they can become a big conduit of bad feelings, which can lead to self-destructive behaviors. That output of that 'muse' flowing through them basically turns sour, at least for a while. If an artist is not prepared mentally for this, both from others and themselves, things could end up badly in the long run. Believe me I know, especially as a musician, I've been there.

What this teaches us is simple: if the - usually quite stressful, impactful and more often than not, negative - input doesn't lead to positive artistic output, the artist can, and usually will turn sour. This mechanism is heightened when the artists purposefully looks for vulnerable situations to test his or her abilities.

In the input side, this is unique to artists, since they create their own create 'stress' purposefully to advance their skill and art. The output side when this fails is the same as that of non-artists: we look for 'downers', hopefully healthy ones.

Fortunately these days the relationship with artists has changed in society. No longer do we see artists as outliers because we value creativity higher than we did in older days. Today we see artists more as relatively normal people, albeit with an extra sensitive side, who are easier to reach and better to understand than before. This creative side is valued much higher than before as well, especially in business, where people in the past tended to look down on it. This means as a society we have a better overall acceptance of the vulnerabilities of artists. We also have much better tools at our disposal to deal with them. The whole mindfulness movement with all of its meditation, yoga, acceptance and openness to feelings is such an example, next to scientific leaps we are making in better understanding our emotions, as well as the business world being less afraid of our vulnerable sides these days. So if you are an artist or have a strong artistic side, just having this extra awareness is already a huge step into alleviating anxiety. Accept and nurture this side of you, and you'll be fine.

My tip? Get your day-to-day affairs in order. We're under enough stress already coming from within ourselves and from this noisy outside world... and maybe that is a tip that works for all of us, artist or non-artists alike.

Love, as always,


bottom of page