Anxiety: A Doorway to Creativity

For most of my life I told myself that I didn’t have a creative bone in my body. What I actually meant by that is I lacked the skill to make something look like the object I was trying to copy. My drawings of animals still look as though a child drew them. For a long time I avoided any activity with the words art or creativity in the title. I feared the blank canvas. I could take classes and improve my ability to draw more accurately. But is that really the meaning of creativity?

A different perspective of creativity is intuitive art. It’s not about imitating or perfecting. Instead, it is about intuition and process, listening to what desires come from within. In front of the blank canvas I ask myself, “What color of paint am I drawn to? What shape do I want to make?” It is about giving space to what is within and allowing it to flow out. There is no right or wrong and no judgment of good or bad because it is not an imitation. There is more freedom and playfulness when I allow myself to make marks on a paper and see where the process takes me.

In a similar way, there are two approaches to living with the unknowns in our lives. When we encounter a situation that creates anxiety, like facing the blank canvas, we often move away from it because the tension feels too great. All the “what ifs” parade through the mind. “What if I don’t get it right? What if I look stupid? What if I don’t know what to do?” We doubt that we can achieve some undefined standard of “right”, or meet the challenge in the same way others would. We focus on imitating others rather than being still and curious, waiting to see what our inner authority would reveal. 

We may have learned as children not to trust our intuition and that to be vulnerable or authentic was not acceptable. In order to be safe we needed to follow the rules, imitate others, and create as much predictability in our world as possible to survive. As adults we may still live with the fear that our truest self will be rejected. So we try to control outcomes rather than welcome spontaneity and we choose certainty over curiosity. Anxiety can move us away from a sense of wonder because we imagine all the things that could go wrong and protect ourselves. 

If we view anxiety as a heightened awareness whenever we encounter something new and unfamiliar, we can welcome the experience as a door to new possibilities and growth. What if, when we feel the tension of the unknown, we stay in that moment instead of moving away? What if we allow time and space to listen to what is within us that is waiting to be expressed? What if we loosened our grip on the need to “get it right” and we viewed the situation with curiosity and playfulness? Anxiety can be the doorway to creativity if we see it as a moment ripe with potential. It requires us to trust that we all have the gift of creativity, of bringing our experiences, our thoughts, and our intuition to each situation and seeing where it takes us.

by Donna Scott, LCSW