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6 Ways to Stay Creative During Anxious Times

Anxiety can be a creativity crippler. With the massive disclaimer that we're not formally trained to tackle this topic, we're going give you some on-the-ground experience in working through this issue to keep your creative juices flowing when you feel like the dam is plugged, the well is dry, or everything is overflowing.

1. Break out of a predefined work format.

We've trained ourselves to make work appear a certain way, and it often looks like word counts, number of days "having written," hours practiced, etc. Instead, consider this story. I was recently in a conversation about a project that I've been working on for months. This project seemed forever on my "to-do" list, but always hanging out. I couldn't figure out the lack of movement, until through this conversation, it hit me. I would sit to work on the project, without giving it proper attention in my downtime. The project didn't have enough thinking time when I wasn't directly trying to move ahead with it, like I do with many of my stories. I'll often dwell on character, plot, and twists when I walk, shower, and drive. When I finally stopped forcing the work, and simply began going for walks to think about the project, I was able to see a way through. Walking didn't feel like it fit the "work" mold, but it was thinking work that needed to be done for the project to be successful.

2. Tackle a new creative format.

If we're feeling anxious, pushing ourselves into a new situation can seem especially daunting. Yet, distraction is often helpful for forgetting the pit in our stomachs or the magnified issues in our brains. If writing in your home office isn’t happening, maybe it’s time to try something new. Have you tried an online writing group? One that's timed with silent writing can be an easy step into the process. How about something you'd like to try, but in a low stakes format? Perhaps attempting the prompt for a writing competition, but rather than submitting it for judging, submit it to a beta reader for feedback when you feel up to it? Or, try a no-stakes hobby. Personally, I love picking up my guitar with no expectation. My guitar is for me, and me aone. I'm not in a band, no one has to hear me play, and I don't submit music anywhere. It's a perfect downtime hobby from my writing.

3. Forgo the outline and try free-writing.

Free-writing can be as easy as it is hard if we're type-A controllers, but the key here is to let go of perfection, and actually let go. Don't free-write into a notebook; instead, grab single sheet of paper that you can throw away later. This might trick your brain into thinking, "anything really does go," and put to paper whatever comes next, and next, and next. Gibberish is fine, and sometimes without realizing it, you might surprise yourself! Who knows? Your anxious brain might be hiding a gem of a sentence or paragraph in there, destined to be unearthed during this meditative state.

4. Seek out other creatives in your community.

One of anxiety's hindrances is that it can create a state of seeming paradoxical paralysis. You feel like you can't sit still, and yet, the urge to do anything productive is severely limited. Seeking out likeminded artistic individuals can feel like moving a mountain, so start small. If in-person isn't on your immediate agenda, open up social media. What are your favorites up to? What's happening on an inspiring blog? Do you feel well enough to sit in a cafe to write or compose? Sometimes, having the ability to be the introvert who can simultaneously work and people-watch is enough to spark creativity.

5. Engage with your favorite creative material.

Go back to where it all began. What's your favorite movie? What always makes you laugh so hard that your belly hurts? Cry a good cry? Which album stirs your soul? Do you have a book that's dog-eared from ages of love? Pick up a familiar, inspirational, or a well-loved piece, and take some time to sit with it. Think about why it holds a special place for you. Identify those elements. Which, if any, are important enough to translate into your own work? Do they spark a need to free-write? If so, see #3.

6. Change your location to fit your need.

Go to the source. Are you a reader/writer? Head to a local bookstore and surround yourself with mounds of inspiration. Musician? Try a music store full of vinyl crates, or pick up a new instrument. Photographer/painter? How about finding some gorgeous new scenery? Don't worry about packing your tools on this trip, but immersing yourself in the experience. Take home the memories today, and see what tomorrow brings.

Right now can be all about baby steps. We are, after all, only trying to keep that creative spark. The hope is to maintain the creative flow, which can in turn, alleviate some of the anxiety. It's funny how it happens, when you find yourself plugging away, and all of a sudden, you have this wonderful distractor to all the world's negativity...

Be well, friends.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a United States-based suicide prevention network of over 160 crisis centers that provides 24/7 service via a toll-free hotline with the number 1-800-273-8255. It is available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

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Unknown member
Dec 21, 2023

This was a great read! We all need to shift away from our norm.

I’ll be hosting an art fundraiser for a fellow artist who could honestly use a break. I’d love to be able to connect with anyone open to donating their artwork. It could be digital, too. The theme is humanity, and artists are instructed to create a piece that evokes the ideas of humanity. It allows for the creativity this post suggests.

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