Dealing with Anxiety in my Creative Life

In the past couple of days, I’ve been particularly focused on overcoming anxiety and fear about my creative life. However, without a solid definition of what fear is, it kind of feels like I’m dealing with a nebulous blob of unpleasantness. What does ‘fear’ actually mean?

noun: Fear
1. an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

Thanks, Google. Now to adapt this general definition to what I’m specifically afraid of.

noun: Lillian’s Fear
1. an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that allowing myself to express my creativity is likely to cause pain.

Photo credit: Joel Marsh Garland

Okay, now I’m going to break it down even further. Why do I believe that my creativity is likely to cause me pain?

  • I won’t be perfect right away.
  • I might tap into deep emotions that disturb me.
  • I might do something I feel good about and share it and then have to deal with unknown consequences.
  • It’s not safe to take action and change.
  • I might get rejected.
  • If I do express myself creatively in the ways I’ve already thought of, I’ll need to move on to new unknown ways of expressing myself.
  • Other people will know more about my creative capabilities and expect more from me, which will necessitate more growth and change.
  • I’ll be threatened by people who disregard my creativity and value their own more highly.
  • I’ll realize that my idols are people too and lose that safe fantasy of the creative person as other.
  • I’ll be held accountable for my actions as opposed to living in my safe ‘one day I will’ world of ideas.

A lot of what I wrote above has to do with the pain of change and moving into the unknown or losing a sense of safety. Those pain points can’t be avoided if I want to keep living a healthy full life, and I do.

It’s possible that it won’t be as tough to deal with that kind of pain as I strengthen my creative muscle and resilience over time. Maybe that’s how overcoming fear feels. I’ll likely open myself up to new challenges along the way and with my newfound strength overcome bigger obstacles and push through new levels of fear.

The first step is to accept my fears, express myself creatively anyway, and trust that everything will be okay.

Being Happy While Facing Fear

When you’re committed to overcoming fear, you’re signing up to challenge yourself and push past your comfort zone. This is no easy task. It comes with plenty of agonizing, trepidation, sweat, and possibly tears. However being in a constant state of stress as a by-product of facing fear is a recipe for burnout and not a good long-term plan.

This past Friday I was walking down the staircase of my NYC apartment in a bit of a funk. Now usually when I take the stairs I fervently wish not to run into anyone. It’s awkward, the staircase isn’t that wide and then I feel pressured by their tempo as they walk, do we have one flight between us? Two? Are they gaining on me? Etc…

So my initial reaction that morning as I was joined by a neighbor on the staircase was Ah! Another human. Wince. Are they going to talk to me?! Then I thought hey wouldn’t this be a good moment to practice facing fear and say hello?

I did and lucky for me this guy was in a GREAT mood. Picture an older Russian man with a light accent. I said hey, how are you? He said ‘good, Happy Friday!’ I said ‘yes, indeed!’ He went on to say the following as we made our way down to the lobby:

‘But every day is happy for me. You can do it. Happiness is a choice. It’s not easy, but you tell your mind what to think about. You can write a list of all the things that make you happy and then all the things that don’t, and cross off the things that don’t and you’re not allowed to think about those things. Only think of the good things. Be happy for your health, your beauty, your boyfriend. It’s not easy but you can do it. It’s the truth!’


What?! Is this guy real or a psychic angel dropped down to help me out in a moment of need? No, but seriously it was exactly what I needed to hear in that moment to lift me out of my self-absorbed (if not justified) funk. Plus I LOVE lists and I’m definitely going to try his suggestion.

I waited a moment in front of the building untangling my headphones to listen to a podcast as he walked away ahead of me. When I looked up again a few seconds later he had disappeared, but his words are burned into my memory.

It’s been four days since I had that conversation with him but since then when I feel down I remind myself in a slight Russian accent ‘happiness is a choice.’ Somehow remembering that makes it easier to shrug off unhappy thoughts and brightens the path towards facing my fears. Happiness is a choice, and when I choose it life gets a little less scary.


Overcoming Fear, One Moment at a Time

Facing fear is necessary for me right now, I have to do it in order to continue growing and thriving. What is the point of life but to thrive while living it? Easily said.

When my boyfriend and I first started living together in NYC three years ago, I was always getting startled by his presence in the apartment. He’d turn around the corner and I’d jump externally but also my heart would jump up into my throat. Do you know that feeling? Ugh. Rollercoaster status but without the thrill of the drop.

My boyfriend is definitely not scary, he’s slightly taller than me, handsome, and really quiet. I’m the loud one. Nonetheless, it was starting to make him feel somewhat self-conscious because every time he turned the corner I was frightened. We adopted tactics to avoid the scare; he’d say ‘I’m entering the room now’ whenever he was coming into a room I was already in. This helped me a lot but admittedly wasn’t practical and certainly not a long term solution.

One evening I entered our pitch black bedroom and was completely surprised to find him in our bed, sleeping. I screamed at the top of my lungs because I was so startled. I woke him up and he shot up out of bed and screamed at the top of his lungs, which only made me scream even louder. When he clutched his chest in pain we realized enough was enough.

Obviously, it’s terrible to walk into a room where someone is peacefully sleeping and scream. He thought something terrible was happening, as anyone would. I have no idea why I was so startled that evening. It’s not logical to me but fear really isn’t a rational emotion.

We needed a new tactic that didn’t involve him announcing his presence because he can’t do that when he’s asleep – unless he developed some crazy lucid dreaming technique. So, now I peek around the corner before I enter a room to assess where he is.

I’m happy to say I have adjusted to living with a partner and have had no fearful reactions to his entering a room, or sleeping peacefully, in about 2 years or so.

photo credit: Joel Marsh Garland

I suspect that a lot of the fears I have are similarly ridiculous and by catering to them I’m causing myself (and possibly others) undue stress and pain. Facing fear is necessary to continue to grow in my relationships, profession, and life generally. Dealing with anxiety, performance anxiety, fear of flying, fear of intimacy, it isn’t going to be easy, but my prediction is my day-to-day life (as well as that of those around me) will be vastly more complete (and less alarming) as a result. Time to let go.