The downside of a creative mind During Anxiety
Anxiety sufferers tend to have a creative mind. Most of the anxiety we experience is self created. A lot of people don’t like hearing that this truth. While it’s true that our fear response kicks in automatically when we react to a perceived danger, most of the suffering we go through is self created through our reaction to the automatic fear response.
I don’t believe fear causes suffering, I believe the suffering happens when we perceive and behave in a way which turns the initial fear we feel into a personal problem. We turn it into a nightmare. This is how suffering is born. It’s not the actual fight or flight response that causes us to suffer, because it’s a safety mechanism built into us to keep us protected and alive. It’s how we respond to this initial fear response that determines if or not we’ll create unnecessary suffering for ourselves.
The more creative and emotionally sensitive we are, the more likely it is we’re to turn the initial fear response into a problem. One of my anxiety mentors, Charles Linden, says that anxiety is itself a disorder of the emotion of fear. When we respond to the initial fear with a worrisome reaction, when our over-active imagination gets involved and we start to think worst case scenario thoughts, we turn it into a problem, into a disorder. Thus anxiety is a self created disorder that comes into existence by responding in a counterproductive to the fight or flight response.
I’ll give you 2 example to clarify things.
Imagine Steve (fictional character) is walking home after work one night and a stray dog jumps out in front of him from a dark alley and starts barking like mad.
Steve’s fight or flight response automatically kicks in to action and he runs away out of sight from the dog. After experiencing all of the physical sensations which is perfectly normal and expected in a stressful situation, his body starts the process of calming down because the perceived threat is no longer present in his environment. His brain gets this message and then actives the relaxation response which eventually returns his body to harmonious functioning.
When he gets back home, Steve tells his wife about the incident. Evidently, Steve is still shook up from the experience because it takes a bit of time before adrenaline drains out of the bloodstream and flows back into the adrenal gland. However, he knows the way he’s feeling makes sense so he brushes it off and sits down to a meal his wife has made for him, allowing his nervous system to calm down while he enjoys the rest of his evening with his wife.
Example # 2
Jane is relaxing in the bath reading one of her favourite comedy books after a stressful day in the office. From some strange and unknown reason, she starts to feel on edge. Her heart is racing, her palms are sweaty and she feels dizzy… Oh my god, what the hell is this? Could I be having a heart attack? Naturally, more fear is activated because she is perceiving her anxiety symptoms to be dangerous. She is unaware that she’s experiencing anxiety, so her overactive imagination rushes to the conclusion that she must be having a heart attack.
In absolute shock and horror, Jane calls for the emergency services and a little while later, is rushed off to hospital. After having done tests, she discovers that she isn’t having a heart attack after all, and that what she’s actually experiencing are the symptoms of stress. As a consequence, she starts to calm down but sitting in the back of her mind is the thought about why she suffered from a panic attack when she was perfectly safe and relaxed in the comfort of her own bath. Even worse, she has the thought about it happening again and starts to panic. Now she is even more horrified than before. The experience she had was truly horrific and she certainly doesn’t want to feel that way again. What if I pass out? What if I feel like that again in the bath tub and pass out? What if my body breaks down? What if I have a heart attack?
In the first example, Steve understood what he experienced was totally normal and expected. He knew the reason why he was shook up and panicky – the barking dog jumping out at him. He didn’t worry about his heart giving up even when it was pounding in his chest. His didn’t overthink and worry about how he was feeling. He knew that if he responded to it in a non-fearful manner and went about his day, his fear levels would return to a normal level, and they did
In the second example, Jane didn’t have a clue why she was feeling the way she was. Her immediate reaction to the anxiety sensations were absolute terror. “Oh my god, what the hell is this?” What if I’m having a heart attack?” Jane’s imagination went into complete overdrive. She was imagining all of the worst-case scenarios. Because of responding to this experience in a fearful manner, she experienced more fear because fear feeds off fear. She has put herself into a disorder because she has believed in her worst case scenario thoughts produced by her creative mind. Even though she’s been reassured by the nurse that her heart is fine, she is still worrying that what she’s experiencing might lead to a heart attack.
Can you relate to this? I know I certainly can. How many times have you been told by a doctor or a health practitioner that your heart is healthy and still you think that you might drop down dead of a heart attack? Many times did I talk myself into thinking that I was going to die from anxiety, thanks to my over-active imagination.
This doesn’t mean we are crazy, far from it. All this means is that we have a very powerful and creative mind. Powerful enough to produce these bizarre and disturbing thoughts. You see, when we perceive these worst-case scenario thoughts as a problem, when we take them seriously and think they are posing a threat to our existence, which is what happens when our irrational part of our minds kick in, our brains are getting the signal that we are in danger and so adrenaline is released into the body activating or fight or flight. When we give our thoughts credit, we experience more of the worst-case scenario thought and thus more anxiety.
Understanding is always the KEY
When we understand that these worst-case scenario thoughts are just a product of an over-active mind during the fear response, then we can allow ourselves to not get so worked up by them. As Marie Curie once said, “nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
Worst-case scenario thoughts are activated when we are in the fight or flight because the cognitive part of the brain kicks in after the initial fear response. These thoughts are designed to help us in that they assess possible risks. “What if X happens?” “How will I deal with X happening?” etc etc.
So, again, it’s not these thoughts that are the problem. Suffering comes when we perceive these worst-case scenario thoughts as a problem. They become heavy and more meaningful. Once they become this way, we become lost in them, as if they have taken possession over us.
I used to doubt my creativity. I’ve always done creative things, but I still didn’t think I was that creative. It wasn’t until I realised and was told that anxiety was encouraged by an over-active imagination, that I then finally accepted that I had a fairly creative mind. Looking back now, some of the thoughts I used to have were completely insane. Having these thoughts used to scare me at first but I saw them from a healthier perspective which helped to remove a lot of fear I had towards my thoughts.
This is no exaggeration and I don’t want to come across as someone who’s bragging, but I definitely could of wrote a book with all the weird thoughts that popped up into my mind and I’m positive that you could to. Our mind is so powerful and creative that we literally believe we are experiencing our thoughts. At least this is what I did. We create our own nightmares from our imagination and then this becomes a reflection in our reality. Although the things we imagine don’t really happen, that’s how we are viewing the world. Our perceptions colour our experience of life. We don’t actually experience what we’re thinking as reality, but we go around in this state plagued with these thoughts and so our perception becomes that of the nightmare. It’s like we’re walking around with a pair of glasses that reflect the thought patterns we’re experiencing.
I remember once that I thought my whole family were murdered by people who broke in during the night. I thought I could see the murderers under my parents bed but in reality they were just clothes and boxes. It felt like a dream. It felt as if I was walking in this bubble of slow motion whilst I was in complete fear. Because I took the content of my mind as reality, I genuinely thought that family were about to be killed by this gang of murderers. After this, I started to think that the killers were wearing my families faces as masks… yes, this is how crazy and creative my brain can be. I told you I wasn’t exaggerating.
This is where most of the anxiety is stored… in our imagination.
However, the good news is there’s an upside to having a creative mind. What can we do with our creative, over-active imagination?
The Upside of a creative mind during anxiety
“The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety” – Deepak Chopra
It makes sense then to re-purpose our creative, over-active imagination and channel it through doing something creative. It doesn’t have to be anything massive to accomplish this and to feel satisfied creatively and emotionally.
The advice: Find something you’re passionate about. Break it down and focus on things you could do to entertain your creative mind.
“Steal from anywhere that resonates with your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul.” – Jim Jarmusch, American film director
Use these resources as a way to fuel your imagination and motivation to create.
There’s so much beauty and nostalgia in the world around us if only we just looked for it. Doing this, especially in the grips of anxiety will make us feel refreshed and renewed. The nostalgic part will make us feel connected to all of the things we used to love.
Because we have such an obsessive tendency to fixate on things, it’s more healthy and productive then, to focus on things that light us up. This is what I mean by the upside of a creative and obsessive mind.
Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like An Artist said: “Carry a notebook and pen with you wherever you go. Get used to pulling it out and jotting down your thoughts and observations. Copy your favourite passages out of books. Record overheard conversations. Doodle when you’re on the phone. Keep a scrapbook and cut and past things into it, or you can just take pictures of things with your camera phone.”
In other words, focus away from yourself and onto the world again. I promise you that your interests and passions are still there. They haven’t gone anywhere I can assure you. It might not seem natural and enjoyable when you first focus on your hobbies again, but the more often you focus on other things, the better you’ll get at breaking the habit of anxiety fixation. The more you give your attention to the things that interest you, the more likely it is that refreshed and revitalised feelings will break through again… your natural confidence and flow of creativity will have more space to flood in.
All that’s happened is we’ve become so absorbed by our anxious state that we’ve stop focusing on the things we once enjoyed doing on a daily basis.
When we are caught in the cycle of anxiety, the anxiety becomes are world. We become very good at focusing and zooming in on our predicament. The interests and passions which brought us to life, that ignited our fire, have become temporarily non-existent. Our creative and overactive mind has become invested in our disturbing thoughts and unpleasant sensations. The emotional fulfilment and creative satisfaction that we get has become obscured by the anxious energy that resides inside of us.
Now it’s time to fixate on the things we love so we can break the habit of focusing on our anxiety. However, it is important that we have a certain mindset whilst participating in engaging activities.
I’m sure you are aware that whenever you fixate on anxiety, you tend to experience more thoughts and sensations related to anxiety. This is because whatever has our dominant attention becomes our experience. In the same way that if you focused on an engaging book, your mind would start to conjure up imaginary scenarios related to the books content.
Find things that nourish your creativity and inspire you more often. Having hobbies was a key in helping me to heal from anxiety. Whenever I wasn’t absorbing myself in the things I enjoyed doing, I got bored and idle. This is another way that allows anxiety to creep in.
Like I mentioned earlier, you will still feel anxious when engaging in your hobbies. As long as you don’t get caught up in the anxiety by reacting to it with fear and resistance, the feelings will pass on through, allowing you to continue carrying on with what you were doing. Don’t beat yourself up if and when you do fall into the habit of reacting in a counterproductive way. It takes a while to change our habits, so don’t be put off by this.
Did you know that a lot of famous artists express their anxiety into their artwork? Expressing ourselves is a great way to awaken our creativity and to pour it into what we do. We can use our struggles in a positive and meaningful way by expressing our emotions through creative activities. Instead of letting our creative and over-active imagination empower anxiety, we can repurpose it.
I hope you have found this article helpful and interesting. What sort of activities do you like doing that makes your imagination come alive?
Until next time 🙂