What feels like the biggest obstacle to doing your creative work and caring for your health?
Lack of support?
Time management tools?
Possibly. But, there’s one root cause I want to emphasize: anxiety.
It’s an under-examined—yet resolvable—roadblock.
Anxiety prevents us from engaging with our creativity and our health.
Often, we try to think our way out of our problems:
We put time and energy into research and education because we don’t feel ready or capable. Hint: we are.
We seek productivity and time management tips. We give ourselves unnecessary labels (like “lazy”). In reality, we’re trying to do too much, or are fighting our healthy instinct to treat ourselves self-compassionately.
We pay experts to tell us what to do. I believe that we can trust our creative instincts and paths. Support people help, but only you can empower yourself.
We give up. We engage in all-or-nothing thinking (which the field of psychology calls a “cognitive distortion”). We toss up our hands and call creativity and health impossible at this phase in life (I see this one a lot with busy parents!).
Anxiety is an “overthinking problem” and a series of known (though unwanted and unpleasant) bodily sensations. Often these reinforce one another in a feedback loop.
But, let’s not start by judging ourselves for having moderate- or high-level anxiety. It’s common. It’s human nature to want to feel good. Instinctually, we run away from discomfort, and resort to comfort.
Plus, we live in a culture that celebrates the mind and neglects the mind/body connection:
- We eat unhealthy food on the go because that’s what’s sold to us.
- We sleep fitfully because we’re overworked and don’t have a village to support us.
- We spend too much time hunched over our computers and smartphones because we’re expected to be constantly available (and we get a dopamine hit from checking our messages).
- We drink multiple cups of coffee without a glass of water in sight, to keep up with our tasks (which are often unrealistic cultural expectations [AKA keeping up with the Joneses].)
All of these habits are known to increase anxiety, and to reinforce a tired and wired state. They’re cultural problems, not personal failings. Nonetheless, we need to find a way to cope with them until things more fully change.
I want to emphasize this point: if you struggle with anxiety, you may struggle with being embodied.
On top of that, exercise’s physical effects mimic anxiety—increased heart rate, shortness of breath, sweating, muscle tension, shakiness, lightheadedness, and more. So, you may interpret those normal, healthy exercise effects as evidence that something’s not right and that you can’t handle exercise. This makes it hard to start and maintain enough healthy movement in your life, and to be embodied generally.
I believe that the solutions are the same, whether we’re struggling with our creative process or our health goals. Continue reading