The Creativity of Worry


Worry Creativity

 

While reading Karen Thompson Walker's The Dreamers, I came across the quote, "Worry is a kind of creativity," and it really made me think about worry in a different way. Sure, worrying can be a soul-crushing nightmare at times, but it is kind of cool that I can imagine so many things in my mind that have never (and likely will never) happen. 

I've always been a worrier (that's what we used to refer to it as back in the day before "anxiety" became a buzzword), and I've always considered it to be a mostly negative trait. Yes, worry has helped me be prepared in some cases, but, for the most part, worrying has wasted my time and drained my energy. Often, things I worry about don't happen or, if they do, I often find that, no matter how terrible the situation, the worrying had actually felt (or made it) worse. 

Most of us, particularly those with anxiety, know that worrying isn't usually helpful. It causes tons of unnecessary stress. It creates pain where there need not be any. It has negative effects on your body. Excessive worrying can cause anxiety attacks, lead to harmful, self-soothing habits, and have serious impacts on the body. Plus, worrying is often irrational, and knowing it's irrational and still being unable to quell it can be immensely frustrating and distressing. Point is: worrying isn't great. But Walker's quote made me think that maybe it isn't all bad. 

Over the years, I've found lots of ways to cope with worry (some healthy, some not-so-much), but even when I manage my worry to the best of my ability, it's there. I'd like to think one day I'll get to a worry-free state of living but, based on the past 35 years, I'm not holding my breath. So reading Walker's quote oddly made me feel a bit more at peace with my worry. It made me realize that, for decades, I've been making up stories in my head of all the things that could go wrong in a given situation. Was this useful? No. Has it harmed me in a variety of ways? Yes. But, still: it's pretty fascinating to think of all the situations I've imagined. And, useless as worry has often been to me, reading this quote made me think that maybe, just maybe, it actually has some sort of value. 

Now, I'm never going to argue that worrying is something we should all do more of because it makes us more creative. Worrying isn't some creative exercise I want to practice. But, if I'm going to worry (like it or not), why not focus on the oddly positive element of creativity tucked in the folds of anxiety? If I'm going to worry, why not stop resisting it so much (shout out to all the worriers worrying about worrying too much!) and just see what happens if I see it as a side effect of creativity?

I hate the "tortured artist" trope, but just because something is bad doesn't mean it's not true, and, based on personal experience (and quite a few studies, it seems), a lot of creative people are worriers. Whether they're creative because they worry or they worry because they're creative is hard to say, but worry seems to be a pretty common thread among a lot of creative people. Van Gogh once wrote, "I am unable to describe exactly what is the matter with me. Now and then there are horrible fits of anxiety, apparently without cause, or otherwise a feeling of emptiness and fatigue in the head … at times I have attacks of melancholy and of atrocious remorse." I mean, SAME. 

The reason so many creatives — including myself — are worriers has a lot to do with one thing: imagination. On one hand, we can imagine things to write or draw or paint or sing, but, on the flip side, we can also imagine all of the horrific things that could go wrong in any situation. I'm not saying that all creatives do this, but it seems like it's pretty common. Anxiety and creativity seem to be linked in a lot of people. Does it have to be this way? Maybe not. But that doesn't mean it isn't this way for a lot of people, and, from what I've learned, this link between the two has been around forever. As Laura Swinton wrote in this article on anxiety and creativity,


“Anxiety is a qualification of dreaming spirit,” wrote Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Noting that it’s a somewhat different emotion from plain, old, destructive ‘fear’, Kierkegaard thought of anxiety as the inevitable ‘dizziness’ that accompanied any creative leap. Anxiety, he wrote, is the result of freedom, a signifier of the ‘possibility of possibility’ – where fear is definite, anxiety is open-ended and ambiguous. It’s an idea that resonates – about a century later, T.S. Eliot described anxiety as ‘the handmaiden of creativity’. Whether anxiety is an aid to creativity or the price of entry, the two seem to be linked.

Within a creative imagination, anything can happen. Wonderful things. Horrific things. It's all there – all the possibilities. "Possibility," unlike worry, is generally seen as a positive term, but too much of anything (and the possibilities are endless in a creative mind) can be very bad. While I wish the link between possibility and worry didn't exist (I'd love to be worry-free!), I do appreciate the fact that there's a yin-yang element to the imagination. Yes, worry can be awful and oppressive and downright debilitating (especially when in a season of change, as I am right now), but the imagination – the very thing that also causes worry – can also be amazing and eye-opening and inspiring. 

What Walker's quote made realize is that worry, while terrible at times, is at least interesting. Would I trade my creativity for a worry-free life? Some days the answer would most certainly be yes. But when I take a step back and consider it more objectively, I don't know. There's just so much wonder and pure joy that comes from creativity that I just don't know if I could give it up, even if sometimes my anxiety is so dizzying that I wonder if I'll ever regain my balance.

What do you think? Do you find worry and creativity to be linked? Do you think they always have to go hand-in-hand? I've personally never experienced creativity without worry (nor have I ever met a creative person who wasn't a worrier), but maybe they don't have to be tied to one another? Part of me thinks embracing the connection between worry and creativity isn't great (is it glorifying worrying in some way?), but, as a worrier, I know that worrying isn't always a choice, so why not try to find the good in it? I'd love to know what you think! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! 

 

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New Year, Same You?: In Praise of Positive Choices

 

Positively Present - Celebrate Positive Choices

 

When something really great happens — you get accepted to the school of your choice, you publish a book, you land the great job, you find love, you make the team, you get the A, you choose a new career path, you give birth to a human person — celebrating is easy. People around you get excited for you and, even if you're filled with uncertainty ('cause change, however positive, can be scary!), you likely feel some sort of positive feelings about having worked hard to accomplish something.

But, unless you're some kind of amazing superstar, these big "wins" are probably not an everyday occurrence. In fact, they might happen only a few times in your lifetime! While I'm all for celebrating life's big, exciting moments, I think we could all benefit from turning a little celebratory attention to the little, everyday wins. This is especially true at the start of a new year when you're probably trying to: (a) keep up with positive progress made last year, (b) start making positive progress this year 'cause last year was a bust, (c) maintain some combination of the A and B, or (d) come to terms with the fact that it's a new year and you better find a way to get your act together before a new decade comes along! 

No matter how you feel about new years, there's always a bit of pressure associated with the start, with those twelve months of possibility stretching out before you. Resolutions or not, we all hope that this year will be better than last year (or, if last year was a great one, hope that this year will live up to it). We're all eyes ahead, focused on what we want to do or achieve in the weeks to come. Many of us are trying to better ourselves, to make choices that will be more aligned with who we want to be in the future. The beginning of each year offers such hope to be a better version of ourselves, and, while that hope can propel some of us into positive action, it can also make an awful lot of us feel like we're already failing at the year, even just a few days in. 

Personally, I had grand ideas for my post-holiday self. The end of the year is always my busiest, both personally and professionally, so I often find myself saying that "X will be different in the New Year" or "In January, I'm going to tackle Y." Not surprisingly, we're a week in and few things have changed dramatically from the time when the calendar read 2018. Change, at least for me, tends to happen slowly, and frequently it's only when I reflect back on things that I realize how much progress I've made. 

I frequently face a "new year, same me" frustration, growing angry at myself for not making all of the picture perfect choices I swore I would make once that calendar page had turned. But yesterday, after chastising myself for a not-so-great choice I made, I found myself mumbling, "I wonder how many good choices you make every single day and don't even think about."

And that little sentence stopped me in my tracks. How many positive choices do I make all the time without even thinking about them? How many changes have I made, over time, that I don't even think about praising myself for because they've become habits? While mulling over these questions, I recognized quite a few good choices I've made recently that a previous version of myself might not have made, like...

  • I didn't pick up my book and read for hours in the middle of a workday 
  • I didn't say the not-very-nice, judgmental thing that came to mind 
  • I didn't sleep in, neglecting the dog until much too late in the morning
  • I didn't order pizza when I had a perfectly good meal in the fridge
  • I didn't forget to take medicine and a rest when I got a headache
  • I didn't skip writing in my gratitude journal, which brings me joy
  • I didn't go down to the corner store and pick up a bottle of wine
  • I didn't put off vacuuming even though I really wanted to
  • I didn't send a call to voicemail and avoid the conversation
  • I didn't leave the bed unmade (which always makes me unsettled)
  • I didn't delete the email and avoid my editing tasks
  • I didn't conclude that I could skip this week's blog post
  • I didn't turn down an opportunity to help a friend in need
  • I didn't consume an entire bag of candy mindlessly
  • I didn't neglect my daily yoga practice, even while very tired
  • I didn't allow myself to smoke cigarettes like I used to 
  • I didn't leave dirty dishes stacked up in the kitchen sink
  • I didn't throw plastic in the trashcan instead of the recycling bin
  • I didn't lose my patience with the incessantly yapping dog
  • I didn't ignore the spreadsheets, despite the boredom they bring
  • I didn't buy that thing I really don't need but really wanted

These are just a few of the good choices I've made recently, most of them made without thinking twice about them. This list isn't meant to be, Woohoo! Look at me and all I've done right! It's meant to show you that, despite the plethora of not-great choices I've made so far this year, I've also made a lot of good choices too!

If you're like me and you're feeling a bit let down by the new year, unsure if you'll be able to live up to your 2018 self's version of who you'd be this year, I highly recommend writing a list of your own. Especially if you're working on New Year's resolutions (or if you've already broken them), writing down a list of positive choices you've made — even if they seem silly or obvious, like brushing your teeth or going to work — can really help you reframe the start of the year for you. 

A new year is a great time to make changes, make resolutions, set intentions, etc., but don't let it be a time when you beat yourself up for all you're not yet doing, forgetting about all the positive choices you've made (or are currently making). We're all on different paths. What's positive for me might not be for you; what feels like a big accomplish for me might be effortless for you. So take some time this week to think about what you've been doing — particularly the things you've done so many times that you don't even think about them anymore — and celebrate them. Because, when you think about it, all of those big wins in life — the moments we celebrate with fervor and festivity, confetti and congratulations — are really only possible because of all of the little wins we take for granted. 

 

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5 Ways to Prepare for 2019 (+ GIVEAWAY!)

 

Positively Present - EDM 2019

 

The end of the year is upon us, which means it's just about time for all of the articles about New Year's resolutions and "how to make the most of 2019" to come out! Personally I'm not a fan of resolutions, as they're often too broad and rarely stuck to, but I am all about prepping for the year to come. There's only so much you can really do to prepare since you never know what the year-to-come will have in store, but here are five of the ways I like to try to get it together in December so that the new year will feel like a fresh start! 

 

1. ASSESS 2018's HIGHS + LOWS

You'll find no shortage of recommendations to "reflect on the year" in get-ready-for-2019 articles, but reflection is popular advice for a reason. Many of us dart from year to year without pausing to think about what did -- or didn't -- work in the past. While I'm all about staying in the present, taking a bit of time to look back at the year and jot down the highs and lows (and perhaps some things you might want to do differently in the future) is one of the best ways to make sure the year to come is filled with positive, proactive choices. 


2. CLEAR OUT YOUR CLUTTER

Clearing clutter is often discussed a lot in the spring ("spring cleaning!" articles will abound), but there's something about getting rid of what you don't need (or haven't used all year) that is wonderfully satisfying. I like to keep a bin in my closet and whenever I come across something I'm not using or no longer enjoy, I toss it in there. I usually try to clear it out a few times of year, donating it to a local charity, but I like do an extra run-through at the end of the year, checking my drawers and boxes and making sure there's nothing that wouldn't be better suited with someone else. Clearing clutter feels great, but knowing that the things I'm no longer using will find a new home is also a great way to end the year!

 

3. PREPARE YOUR PLANNER

As you might know, each year I create the Every Day Matters diary (available in desk or pocket sizes!), and the getting planner organized for the year ahead is one of my must-do December tasks. I set aside some time to fill in all of the birthdays, special events, and holidays, and, as a little kindness to my future self, I'll often write little bits of encouragement for myself on random pages throughout the year. It's silly, but there's something about having all of the key dates already marked off in a planner that really makes me feel ready for the new year! 

 

4. DECLUTTER SOCIAL MEDIA

Clearing out clutter isn't just for physical things! At the end of each year, I like to go through my social media and look at the accounts I'm following. Have I gotten joy from them throughout the year? Did they provide me with information or insights? When I spot one of their posts in my feed, how does it make me feel? Most of us spend a ton of time on social media so it's important to make sure that the content we're consuming is content we want to consume. (I'd also recommend making a note in your planner to do this throughout the year so you don't spend months consuming content mindlessly!)

 

5. CHOOSE A 2019 FOCUS

Now, I know I said I'm not into resolutions, but I do find it useful to go into the new year with some sort of focus. In the past, I've chosen a word of the year, which can be a great way to have a general-but-attainable focus for the year, but if choosing a word isn't your thing (or a single word isn't enough for you), consider choosing a general focus for the new year. Maybe you want more family time in 2019. Maybe you want to zero in on career growth next year. Maybe you want to direct your attention to self-love. Whatever you feel you didn't get enough of in 2019, make that your focus for 2019 -- and write it down in your planner so you don't forget about it! 

 

Speaking of planners, my publisher is doing an awesome giveaway for you to win one of the 2019 Every Day Matters diaries! Check out the details below for how to enter! The diary is available in desk or pocket sizes, and you can see more about it in my YouTube video

 

EDM 2019 Diary

HOW TO ENTER

Enter by doing one (or all!) of the following. Each counts as an entry!   


GIVEAWAY DETAILS

  • Every follow / share counts as one entry
  • One winner will be chosen + notified on December 17, 2018
  • The winner will receive their choice of desk or pocket size diary