I’ll admit this first, I’m not an expert on anxiety. While I do get stressed occasionally, I don’t suffer from anxiety in any chronic way. However, I recently read a book about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or CBT)[Amazon] and found some mindset techniques useful for dealing with my own household stress, such as sharing my creative work.
My creative work. I’ve put my heart and soul into it and the thought of someone disliking it tears me apart. Especially if I’m awaiting feedback from someone I respect.
The reason for anxiety is because back in the cave people days, you needed to be ready in case a sabertooth tiger jumps out of the bush and attacks you. In that situation, anxiety raises your heart rate, heightens your senses, and speeds up your breathing to help you stay alert.
Today, anxiety is still useful when you get caught in tiger territory, however, it’s not that useful when you’re sitting safely at home contemplating publishing your work. While the triggers are different, the reaction within you is much the same.
In the moments before, during, or after you’ve shared your creative work, you may feel your body firing up, preparing yourself for danger. But there’s no real danger. Yes, there is a possibility that your work will be negatively received, but it’s not a tiger, you’ll survive. These types of false alarms can cause you to panic, pull back, and hide your work from the world.
To do that is a disservice to yourself and the world. You’re preventing yourself from growth, both personally and in your craft, and you’re robbing an audience of a chance to discover you.
Okay, so here we are. Anxiety is a real barrier. Yet, with patience, practice, and the right frame of mind, you can overcome it by countering those reactive thoughts that trigger anxiety, which is what CBT is all about.
There are two types of reactive thoughts:
First are the thoughts you have when you jump to conclusions:
- They will all hate my work.
- They will laugh in my face.
- They will make fun of me to their friends.
- Someone will hate a passage and I’ll get canceled.
These types of thoughts lead you to the worst-case scenarios, catastrophes. The likelihood of someone reading your work and reacting in such a way is unlikely. Can it happen? Yes, it’s possible. But it’s equally likely that they’ll love your work, congratulate you, and share it positively. In either case, the reaction of others is not something you can control.
Accept it! Once you put it out there, it’s out of your hands.
To combat the negative thoughts, remind yourself that you’re merely jumping to an unlikely conclusion. You’ll feel pressure to hide your work, but hang onto it — push through — and share it, submit it, publish it. The more you practice going through this process of sticking with it, the less scary it will feel. Especially when you see nobody’s laughing at you.
Another thought that may flash in your mind and cause panic is that of misplaced responsibility. These thoughts cause guilty feelings about what you’ve created.
- My career would be more successful if I wasn’t working on this novel.
- I’d have better relationships with my friends if they didn’t think I was going to write about them.
- I should’ve been taking care of my family instead of writing. Even though they are fine, I know they are resentful.
This type of thinking starts in childhood when parents or other adults blame or shame you for unrealistic expectations. Statements like “raising you is the reason we’re poor,” may have caused you to feel that the unhappiness or displeasure of others is your fault. That can certainly induce anxiety later in life and halt you from sharing or pursuing your creativity.
Much like how you handle thoughts where you jump to conclusions, to counter your thoughts on misplaced responsibility, you must accept that other people’s expectations of your work are their business, not yours. Then acknowledge that your writing is something that you do for yourself. It’s not harming anyone, it’s done in your own well-deserved time, and it’s an expression of who you are. There’s no pressure. It’s doesn’t have to win the Nobel Prize, spark a revolution, or cure cancer for it to be meaningful.
Should you need to, speak to those you care about or those who are dependent on you and explain how much writing means. They’d likely support that or at least, you would have started a conversation to build a healthier relationship.
Know that even if your boss confronts you about your personal projects, you can show him your performance report, or if your family is in need, you can take a break from what you are doing to help them. But they’re fine. Everyone is fine. All these issues are thoughts and are not real — when they become real, you’ll deal with them then.
Dealing with anxiety takes time and if you are feeling very overwhelmed, a professional, like a clinical counselor, can really help. With that being said, I encourage you to keep creating for the love of it, even when faced with the fear and stress of sharing your work.
Understanding the sudden thoughts that trigger your anxiety is the first step to countering them. At any stage where you find yourself jumping to conclusions or taking on misplaced responsibilities — stop, breathe deeply — accept that you’re only in control of yourself, counter the unrealistic expectations, and push through. It might never be easy, but it’ll get easier. Good luck!
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