How To Channel Excess Anxiety Into Creativity

In times of emotional turmoil and duress, we often find ourselves dealing with what feels like an excess of anxious energy -- be it catalyzed by sadness, anger, frustration, the list goes on. This anxiety can weigh us down, or make us jittery and imbalanced. Regardless of its effect, anxiety often acts as a barricade to our true desires, holding us back from acting on our potential energy and getting to where we want to go.

After my marriage ended, I found myself drowning in such a wide range of emotions -- from sadness, to grief, to glimmers of freedom, and fear -- that I felt paralyzed. So, even though I was feeling things so intensely, I was unable to express any of my emotions productively.

Ironically, as a creative person, I found, for the first time in many years, that the myriad of feelings I was experiencing were somehow serving as a barrier to my creativity. Because I had all these conflicting, anxiety-driven thoughts and feelings, I simply didn't know how to re-channel them.

But in actuality, times of excess anxiety can be ripe opportunities for creative expression; they unleash your vulnerability and capacity for inventive thinking. Some of the greatest art has come from people being in their pinnacle moments of pain and anguish. But it only works if you learn how to channel this onslaught of emotion effectively.

Once I realized how the energy I had from my excess emotion was presenting itself in forms that were counterproductive to my own personal goals did I realize that returning to my creative pursuits became not merely a should but rather, a need. Here is what I learned about processing my emotions creatively:

1. Elevate your legs.

"Legs Up the Wall" (a variation of Viparita Karani) is a therapeutic yoga pose that not only rejuvenates the lower body, but also boosts circulation, combats insomnia and helps to ease tension. By elevating your legs, spreading your arms out like a cactus, and closing your eyes, you allow the spinning world to come to a halt.

Think about it: when the body is emotionally overwhelmed and anxious, it lacks the ability to send that signal to tell you to relax, rest and come to a necessary pause. That sense of pause is what allows the mind to flow and think productively and creatively. So this form of "active napping" teaches you that it's not only important to relax, but that it's actually necessary for your mental and physical health. Try doing this once a day for just 10 minutes.

Afterward, jot down any thoughts or feelings you had, if any, that might inspire some kind of creative expression or project. Keep a notebook nearby you at all times. With more clarity of mind, you may find more ideas flowing in and through you.

2. Eat healthy, even if it's the last thing you want to do.

When we're sad, anxious, stressed out, or angry turning to junk food is a natural inclination because carbs provide a quick serotonin lift and sugar provides a momentary endorphin rush, both of which our brain is craving.

Unfortunately, the boost is merely a quick fix, leaving us doubly sad, anxious, tense and/or angry in the end. So by making a concerted effort to eat a balanced diet (consisting of moderate amounts of complex carbs for mood stabilization), we are better equipped to face our emotions and exchange our junk-food proclivities for creative carousing.

3. Let yourself play.

Forcing creativity to flow typically does just the opposite. Consider removing that pressure by incorporating some playtime in your life. Do a puzzle, play a video game, attend a Zumba class, watch a movie, let yourself daydream! It can be anything, so long as it is fun, pleasurable, and provides you joy. The outcome may surprise you, increasing the joy in your life and recalibrating your creative innovation.

4. Do some creative cross-training.

Sometimes we feel blocked because we're too focused on ourselves, too obsessed with our emotions, and in some cases, too intent on achieving. This intense focus is productive in some cases, but when we're in an emotional rut, it can backfire by paralyzing us. By doing something creative beyond our typical "sport", we're still exercising our creativity but using different muscles, which not only shifts the focus but also alleviates the pressure we're putting on ourselves to "get better." For example, if you're a writer, try sketching for an hour or two. And if you're a guitarist, try writing a short story.

5. Take a long walk.

Some of the most renowned artists and writers attribute walking to spur creativity. Charles Dickens wrote, "If I could walk fast and far, I should just explode and perish," and Nietzche stated, "All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking."

In 2014, a Stanford study concluded that creative thinking is improved during walking and shortly thereafter. The act of movement stimulates the mind and the body while also simultaneously quieting the noise. Walking is in this way meditative because the act is repetitive and pattern-like, while also allowing for flow and processing.

So if you're feeling burdened or revved up by anxiety, try one or more of these tips to create some emotional space for yourself. It's in that space that the magic can happen ...

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