- I watch television.
- I spend too much time on the web.
- I start some sort of unnecessary but suddenly urgent home improvement project.
- I eat white flour and sugar.
- I stay up too late.
- I pace and complain that it’s all too hard
- I read way too much of the newspaper
- I talk on the phone for the whole evening
Any of these sound familiar to you?
Anxiety is tough. It’s what makes us play just one more game of sudoku on the computer, or have just one more glass of wine, or decide that we must absolutely clean out and organize that closet now! (By the way, if the last one describes you, feel free to come over to my house any time you feel anxious.) Anxiety is one of those absolute creativity blockers. I know people (several actually) who’ve lost years of writing time by promising themselves that tomorrow night is the night they turn off the television and write again.
What we’re doing is emotional self-medicating. Anxiety is one of those leftover primal fears. It’s worrying about a hypothetical future where we can’t possibly know the outcome no matter if it’s twenty years from now (I’m going to run out of money and be a bag lady) or 20 seconds from now (I’m going to sit at the piano and not be able to come up with a song that doesn’t suck.) Anxiety is a hard emotion to sit with and so often we distract ourselves with things useless to our creative selves. The problem with emotional self-medicating is it doesn’t really cure the problem. Sure, anxiety disappears momentarily as you get caught up in voting for your favorite dancing pair so they don’t get sent home next week, but as soon as you turn back toward Act II of your play which really isn’t working, all the anxiety washes over you again.
The truth though is if we wait for the anxiety to dissipate completely without ever journeying into whatever is making us anxious in the first place, we will never fell better. You won’t feel less anxious about writing by spending your evenings reading other people’s work. You won’t feel comfortable shooting a short film by watching a John Hughes marathon on tv. You have to get your feet wet, your hands dirty and you have to be scared for a little while. That’s all there is too it.
And while you’re wading into that anxiety by taking small steps, a funny thing usually occurs. The anxiety calms down. Maybe not immediately, and maybe not the first time you try it. Little by little though, you’re brain realizes you can do it, you can take those small steps because you are taking small steps and it’s not horrible. You can’t think your way out of it, you just have to do it. Anxious or not, there comes a time where you take a deep breath and dive in.