What feels like the biggest obstacle to doing your creative work and caring for your health?

A Root Cause of Creative Blocks + Health Struggles

What feels like the biggest obstacle to doing your creative work and caring for your health?

  • Overwhelm?

  • Exhaustion?

  • Procrastination?

  • Self-doubt?

  • 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.

What feels like the biggest obstacle to doing your creative work and caring for your health?

I believe that the solutions are the same, whether we’re struggling with our creative process or our health goals. 

10 Ways to Support Your Creativity + Wellbeing:

  1. First, care for the most basic building blocks of your wellbeing. Breathe deeply, get the water and food your body needs, and get enough sleep. You may be lost in your head, seeking solutions. Treat your mind and body as one.

  2. Find a short 1-, 5-, or 10-minute action that can be done mindfully. We’re looking to balance doing AND being, without additional distractions. Drink a glass of water slowly without multitasking. Go on a five minute walk around the block without your cell phone. This is often a helpful inroad, or beginner’s step, toward meditation practice.

  3. If you’re a meditator or are ready to start, meditate! Be willing to sit with the discomfort. It’s a powerful practice to be present with it, before trying to shed the discomfort, or seek solutions.

  4. Find a certainty anchor. Jonathan Fields defines a certainty anchor as “a practice or process that adds something known and reliable to your life when you may otherwise feel you’re spinning off in a million different directions. Rituals and routines can function as certainty anchors…” Is there a comforting ritual or habit you can return to or bolster?

  5. Use your support system. Talk to a friend who’ll remind you that goals take time and effort, not perfectionism! Let her or him reassure you that you’re doing enough and you are enough.

  6. Remind yourself of the long-term goal, but also tap into a short-term emotional reward. Michelle Segar’s research on behavior change shows that immediate emotional rewards trump long-term goals, like weight loss or better health. Remind yourself that, during or after an exercise session, you’ll feel strong, energized, or in a better mood. After you work on your creative pursuit, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, and shed the anxiety of procrastination. It feels good to take a small action in alignment with your goals.

  7. Try a less stimulating form of exercise. Walk in nature, do gentle yoga, or try a cardio method that builds in periodic breaks (or add in your own).

  8. Immediate health needs aside, begin again before you’re ready. I love this quote by Jerry Sternin: “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than think your way into a new way of acting.”

  9. Remind yourself that anxiety is a normal, healthy part of the creative process. Even more than knowing the reasons why we’re procrastinating, we have to trust that we can handle the anxious thoughts and bodily sensations.

  10. Continue to use positive self-talk, reframing, and/or relaxation techniques to maintain these coping skills and persevere.

Share a Comment: What helps you cope with anxiety?

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Photo Credits: Woman at waterfall by Tim Trad and sky by Annie Spratt via Unsplash.

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