I was lying face down in a dimly lit room, listening to the sounds of a harpsichord or sitar or something equally soothing, willing myself to be soothed. I’d been looking forward to this massage all week. I’d finally convinced myself that I deserved it and that I would not, under any circumstances, regret the expense. It wasn’t regret that followed me into the room, but a sticky cloud of anxiety.
Why did I drink coffee before my appointment? And why, why, why did I get on Facebook? I should have known better than to start my day wading through negative stories.
My monkey mind was going apeshit, bouncing around the room, pulling in every worry from the past week and pointing a finger of doom toward any future plans.
I tried to focus on the real fingers kneading the knots from my neck, but I was too jumpy. And every minute that ticked by (at a cost of $1.67) began snowballing toward a full-blown panic attack.
Desperate to focus my mind, I landed on a favorite mantra:
Breathing in, I know that I am breathing.
Breathing out, I smile.
Breathing in, perfect moment.
Breathing out, only moment.
I reminded myself that peace is found only in the present moment. Still, my mind put up a helluva fight. It kept shoving me out of the present moment with a force that was actually impressive; it was racing, juggling, worrying, projecting, and catastrophizing while I lay there in discomfort thinking why now? Why have a freak-out when I’m naked and vulnerable in a room with a stranger who keeps asking me if I’m comfortable?
For a good fifteen minutes I fought the urge to make up some reason to leave. I could say I was sick. I left the oven on. I forgot to walk the dog. And she would say something kind, or snarky, or argumentative. As I spun this out, it occurred to me that I was creating dialogue. I could make a scene or make this experience into a scene. And that thought–I can write about this!–is what finally made me relax. I shifted from a participant in my thoughts to an observer of them.
This is the gift of creativity.
Creativity is defined as the ability to transcend traditional ideas and to create new meanings or interpretations. It allows us to perceive the world in new ways, to make connections between seemingly unrelated events, and to generate solutions.
As someone who’s had a long relationship with anxiety, I’m interested in the dynamic between anxiety and creativity. It’s said that there’s a fine line between excitement and fear; in the same way, anxiety and creativity are, I believe, made up of the same electrical current that’s either flowing or stuck.
Anxiety is a result of unexpressed creativity.
So what can you do when your outlook becomes constricted and uncomfortable?
Here are three ways to loosen up and shift distracting negative mental chatter into artistic expression:
Let your imagination be hyperactive, as long as it plays nice. There’s nothing wrong with having an excess of mental energy. Just don’t allow mean, bullying, nasty thoughts to take over. Redirect your “what-ifs” into positive, surprising, joyful outcomes.
Identify why you feel naked and vulnerable, then dare yourself to express it.Creative expression has a way of cutting fear off at the knees which, if it doesn’t destroy it, at least makes it smaller. And a weird thing happens when you strip away embarrassment and secrecy—instead of making you an outcast, vulnerability actually connects you to others.
Always be curious. Asking questions gives the overactive mind something to do. If you look closely enough, there’s always some rabbit hole to go down. For example, why is there a “u” in curious but not curiosity? Why did curiosity kill the cat? Isn’t it curious that “curiouser” is a real word? Put your brain to work on this. You may become annoyed, but you won’t be anxious.
And if none of that works to get your creativity flowing, go get a massage. (It worked for me.)