How Can Anxiety Catalyze More than Paralyze Creative Courage?


I was an anxious boy, quiet, often distracted to daydream and doodle. The lovely Ms. Goodman scolded me at six years old for connecting the dots. My pencil was linking the bubbles in my science textbook illustration while my eyes watched the birds outside my classroom window. The entertaining Ms. Leach reprimanded me at twelve years old for doodling in my homework’s margins. Repeatedly.

I know now what that tow-headed boy wanted, and it wasn’t sitting in a classroom.
I sought sanctuary in the woods and books, in sketch pads and notepads. I’m not ashamed to say that my favorite days were sick days, alone with pads, pencils, vinyl records, and books.

I’m not interested in psychoanalyzing why I was anxious, or why I still can be. I’m interested in taking the stigma out of anxiety and in wondering about the link between anxiety and the courage to create. And I’m wondering about your take. 


One, because something smells like the pursuit of superficial happiness and peace these days.

Psychologists distinguish between hedonic happiness (the kind that brings us fleeting pleasure) and eudaimonic happiness (the kind that comes from meeting challenges and developing what’s best in us and each other). Ironically, guess what kind of happiness most science studies have been measuring to tell us what makes us happy? Yep, the hedonic flavor. At least according to young researcher Samsun Knight at bigthink.

That something that pursues this fleeting happiness refuses to acknowledge fear, shame, guilt, and especially anxiety – what we and psychologists have called “negative emotions.”

And that impulse to escape into superficiality can hold us back.

Two, because in an age of disruption that we’re in these days there’s a natural impulse to seek order, stability, “normalcy,” what seems on the surface like “happiness” and “peace.”

And from that impulse, we can fall back on a kind of order that takes us back to the status quo.

Or we can do something else. We can create something bold that moves us personally and collectively forward.

We need your creative, innovative boldness. We need it in the studios and studies, the board rooms and classrooms.

Three, because there’s a curious dance between anxiety and courage, and I want more of us to learn the dance steps that help us be bold.

Four, because maybe anxiety doesn’t have to paralyze our biological impulse to view and do things in new ways; it could catalyze it.

Artist Chris Victor told me this:

I find [anxiety] can be a great source of energy once I am aware of the anxiety and realize that I have a choice in how I respond to feeling it. For me, full acceptance of the anxiety is the first step. Otherwise I’m in a kind of fight or flight state that is stressful and reactive and totally unhelpful.

Elephant Journal columnist, teacher, and Yoga Freedom founder Michelle Margaret told me this:

A certain amount of stress is necessary for creation to occur. You have to care enough to explore a topic, to express your ideas in artistic form. Of course, too much anxiety, like too much anything, is debilitating. Personally, when I feel anxious, I journal, stream-of-consciousness style, to get to the root of my worries. Once the overwhelm has subsided, I can use my milder angst to write something (like an essay or poem) that others might want to read. I can only hope that my own anxiety and desire to get the ideas on the page will connect with the reader. 

 And Leigh Ann Simmons, writer, Integrative Health Coach, and professor at the Duke University School of Nursing, reminded me:

Anxiety fuels the “what if’s” of life, which are great fodder. When you are creating a story, the anxious fears you have about what might happen can be transformed into your character’s next adventure or the subject of your next poem. And without the dizziness of your mind’s sometimes irrational thoughts the same stories likely never would have been told. It takes a little neurosis at times for creativity with wild abandon. 

Five, because in that creating is a deeper kind of joy that fleeting happiness can’t reach. (I think I have more to say about this soon.)

That’s why. At least that’s what I’m wondering.

How can anxiety catalyze more than paralyze creative courage?

I’m opening the conversation. I have more to say and wonder aloud about in the coming weeks. But I want your take, your stories, your experiences and resources.

How have you taken the stigma out of anxiety and let it fuel your creativity? How has it fueled your creative boldness? Share your perspective here.

Thanks for running with me,


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