How do we get over creative anxiety? The short answer is we don’t!

I appreciate that’s not what you want to hear. However, you can manage your creative anxiety through understanding what triggers your anxiety and why it make you feel and think like you do. The following article offers no quick fix for anxiety, that’s not it’s intention. It does however provide an opinion that could help you think about how to manage your anxiety in relation to your creative abilities!

I’m assuming you are either working in a creative industry, it’s a hobby, or you’re managing creative talent in some way. 

Creative people are more anxious than people in other professions—but they are also better at coping with challenges
Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence Study 2021

If you’re afraid or lack confidence in your creative ability, this goes to prove that you’re passion and belief in your creativity is hugely important to you. And just because you, or someone else may not like your final creation, this does not mean it isn’t good, doesn’t answer the brief, or won’t achieve what it needs to.

Creative passion and creative anxiety are intertwined – one results in the other. And we need to experience a little of both to be successful in our endeavours. However challenging that may be.

I am what they want me do be

Many people consider a creative to be a little out there, off-the-wall, quirky, deep and introverted. Well, I can agree with that – and it’s those qualities that help us create our best work.

Throughout my long career, these are the labels colleagues and clients have put upon me. And for various reasons, I never seem to disappoint.

I am all of these things, either subconsciously or consciously. And I have the ability to flip my behaviour and attitude to suit the moment. Occasionally I’m in control of this, but more often than not it’s my subconscious that decides how I’m going to be.

I use these labels from others to help me attain what I require and desire. I am what someone else believes I should be, and I’ve had a very rewarding and successful career on the back of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’ve always enjoyed being perceived in this way, and as I’m not totally in control of my feelings and anxieties, it certainly hasn’t been easy to be one thing or another. However, when I look back at all the things I’ve done; the pitches, meetings, confrontations and disagreements – my success and failures have all been heavily influenced by how I’ve match my behaviour with someone else’s viewpoint of ‘the typical creative’, combined with how well I’ve managed the anxiety this creates.

When you’re not being yourself, acting out a part, or having to force yourself to behave as others would expect, anxiety increases. Being comfortable with yourself, knowing what and who you are, is by far a better and easier option. Easier said than done, however if we can stop hiding behind the stereotypes of others, drop the facade, be ourselves, and build confidence in who we really are, we’ll be heading in the right direction to reduce stress, anxiety and worry.

Align confidence and risk

Creatives that always exude confidence, will never achieve their bestMindstein, 2022

I believe that creative confidence and risk are also aligned. And when I see a creative who is overly confident about their work and skills, I would assume they’re not taking enough risk in how they think or what they produce.

Creativity is about delivering the new, the unknown, the never before seen – when you’re working within these areas and attempting to create something that’s never been done before, how can you be completely confident that you’re going to get it right?

It is the continual need for the new and experimentation in the unknown that builds anxiety, knocks confidence and creates risk. Without these factors we wouldn’t be able to deliver original creative ideas.

If we can appreciate and learn how to manage our anxiety, confidence and risk, we’ll be better positioned to increase focus, develop deeper thinking, experiment without boundaries and ultimately, with time, patience and practice, be a better creative.

A creative problem should make your heart beat fasterMindstein, 2022

Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

Structured vs unstructured

I know many people who suffer and live with anxiety, but strangely the majority of these individuals I know from a professional, working capacity, and have some kind of creative purpose in life. But, when I look at all my close personal friends, not one of them works within a creative industry, they have no creative hobbies and I can confidently say have very little conceptual, design or visual creative ability. And none of them shows or expresses any form of anxiety. Yes, they may become anxious when making a wedding speech, have a sleepless night prior to doing a new black run on the ski slopes, or they may have anxiety management superpowers that I don’t know about. But as far as recognisable anxiety symptoms – nothing.

Why is that? I believe it’s to do with process. When process is present, it means there are rules. Rules provide guidance and direction and are based on many previous experiences. My friends work within structured processes, rules and boundaries – which provides them proven ways of doing things, fixed methods, achievable targets, and repeatable outcomes.

When we look at a creative and how they operate, things couldn’t be more different.

A creative deals with the unstructured, unknown, imaginary, unique and when they’re given any kind of process to follow, it’s equivalent to slapping on handcuffs or forcing them to put on a straight-jacket.

We’re not known for our ability to follow process and structure. We’re seen as rule breakers who deliberately avoid, ignore and break process. We cause mayhem and panic due to our complete disregard for ‘playing’ by the rules.

Colleagues and clients need to understand that this behaviour isn’t deliberate, and it certainly isn’t ever present – it’s simply the environment we need to create to enable us to think freely and creatively, without any unnecessary structure, boundaries and regulations.

I do believe that to be creative we need to be able to think without boundaries. It is however unfortunate that this way of working manufactures yet more anxiety for us. It also creates anxiety for the people who are having to direct and manage us!

Take control

If you suffer from creative anxiety, you will at some point in your life have to understand the reasons why it happens and learn how to manage it. This may well involve introducing techniques and exercises that positively influence your feelings, emotions and thoughts. To be successful, you’ll need to put aside time, be committed, honest with yourself and make it part of your creative thinking routine.

Creative anxiety will be an ongoing subject, and I’ll be bringing further thoughts and insights over the coming months.

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