The Inverse Relationship between Intentional Creativity and Anxiety

From her own creative awakening, Shalagh Hogan knows that we can enjoy increased authenticity and self-trust as we prioritize our creative selves and practices. At this service Shalagh will consider how an increased sense of our integrity connects us to our life’s purpose, and this self-acceptance decreases our anxieties.

Shalagh Hogan (said Shay-la) is a writer and personal essayist, a blogger, an uber-creative, a member of the UUFE, mother to five-year-old Fiona and 13 year-old Eamon, and is married to former UUFE president Mark Peach. Her thrice weekly blog posts center around her self-development, self-esteem, creativity, and her family life.


For a long long time, I was an anxious Un-me, and plowed through my life on auto-pilot in an anxiety-riddled haze. I was an Uber-Creative in complete denial of my need for creativity. I was invisible to the world and myself and trusted neither. Only when I finally acknowledged and supported my inner creative with a lot of therapy and intentional creativity, did I begin to raise my self-esteem and lower my anxieties.

The modern day prophet Osho said,“When you love a person, all fear disappears. And when you are afraid, all love disappears.” If Love is creativity and Fear is anxiety, then Creativity is a living moment of truth, self-respect, and self-love while fear is the anxious anticipation of pain and self-abandonment. They are inversely related. If you increase one, you decrease the other.

In fact, it is a physically impossible to be both in authentic creative flow and to have an anxiety attack. We can not engage both our sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our fight or flight response, and our parasympathetic nervous system, what we use when we relax, eat, play, and create. Anxiety and Creativity are at opposite ends of the brain hallway.

Last Year after spending four months straight of creating daily, my continuous authenticity had proven that I did have enough time to create and I was a supportive and trustworthy parent to my creative inner child. My creative practice has grounded me and vanquished much of my anxiety. I even notice moments of anxiety phantom limb syndrome where, once I would have been anxious, I’m not now. Every day that I replace the inner slave-driving parent preaching art as impractical with the compassionate empowering parent who supports my creativity, I recreate self-trust and prove my word is good. Self-trust is the truest most important result of being our authentic creative selves.

So what is creativity? Creativity absolutely includes the expression of a person through writing, drawing, painting, dance, pottery, or music. And I also believe Creativity resides in our everyday choices. It’s there when we decide which way to walk our dog. It’s in what we eat and wear. It’s in the way we create relationships and decorate our houses and make our money. It is how we plan our daily lives and how we express our love to our family. When you listen to your inner wisdom, honor your power to choose, and connect these to your life, you are engaging in creativity.

So many people say, “Oh Shalagh, you are so creative” in a way that implies, “but I’m not”. But guess what, … there is no such thing as a non-creative person. The human race has always been comprised of makers. Before the industrial age, we all made our dwellings, our clothing, our dishes, and our food. Our lives were full of necessary making and manifesting. And when the world’s leaders dared to risk creatively putting new ideas together, empires and movements and ages were born. Every new thought we have as we connect our ideas is creativity in action and this is the very definition of evolution.

Somehow though we’ve come to believe that creativity is an elitist activity which only the most talented are allowed to perform. That you get to be called an artist only if your results are good enough. While art may be one result of creativity, this belief misdefines creativity as a result. Creativity is not a result but the process in which you engage your authentic self during a chosen task and your daily existence.

The author of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, wrote a marvelous book on Creativity called Big Magic, Living Beyond Fear which gifted me my value of creativity. On her Magic Lessons podcast, she interviewed renowned research scientist and Vulnerability expert Brene Brown, the author of Daring Greatly . Ms. Brown, my second big reading influence on this subject. Ms. Brown very eloquently said this about creativity, ”It is for me, the way I share my soul with the world. And without it, I am not OK. And without having access to everyone elses’, we are not OK. I have come to the conclusion that the only unique contribution that we will make in this world will be born of creativity.” And she further adds,”Unused creativity is not benign. It festers and becomes grief and resentment.”

Personally, I believe, Our repressed creativity results in our anxiety.

Having been raised by highly anxious parents who were also closet artists, I inherited my anxiety honestly. Anxiety was once my daily background hum. It tainted every task and decision I made. I even had an anxiety attack once while driving down here to decorate this sanctuary. An anxiety attack feels like a hole opening up below you as you struggle to not fall in. I believe the majority of the human race suffers from anxiety and most addiction problems manifest from this untreated anxiety. The symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder are worrying, restlessness, and lack of concentration. How many mind-reading, leg-jiggling, or control-freaking people do you know?
The Anxiety Disorders association of America says that Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. affecting 18% of the U.S. Population age 18 and older of which women are twice as likely to be affected. I suspect the numbers must be even higher and anxious parents make anxious children. Although anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment. Anxiety and Depression go hand in hand and the suffering spreads when hopelessness leads to suicide.
The sociological answer to how we earned our epidemic anxieties and the key to how to assuage them, lies in renowned author and behavioral research guru Brene Brown’s theories about Authenticity, Vulnerability and shame. From reading her book Daring Greatly, I now understand that we humans are pack animals hard-wired to live in communities. We need to band together both for our protection and our purpose. Our biggest fears come from thoughts of being outcast from our community causing either our actual death by starvation or our spiritual death from shame. If we avoid being authentic and vulnerable, we think we’ll survive but ironically, only through being visible and vulnerable as our authentic selves do we feel the actual connection to our community and ourselves.

In Daring Greatly, Ms. Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

The struggle that defines our humanity and creates our anxiety comes from our choice between belonging to our tribe by being our authentic vulnerable selves or faking it and fitting in. If we choose to be our true vulnerable selves, to belong to like-minds, to trust ourselves, and be accepted for who we truly are, we would feel loved, free, and happy. But our anxieties form when we choose instead to not be vulnerable and not be authentically us. When we listen to our fear whispering its lies that in order to survive, we need to sell out, and fit in, we become disconnected from authentic selves and our community, isolated and anxious. We may spend our lives never knowing we even had a choice.

In an article she wrote for Oprah.com, Brene Brown says this:

“…Fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging. I’ve discovered during the past decade of research, fitting in is assessing situations and groups of people, then twisting yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them. Belonging is something else entirely—it’s showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are—love of gourd painting, intense fear of public speaking and all.”
Many of us suffer from this split between who we are and who we present to the world in order to be accepted, But we’re not letting ourselves be known, and this kind of incongruent living is soul-sucking.”
This vulnerability of being truly yourself, whether you’re claiming your sexuality or creating your art or telling your Dad you’re just not the jock he wants you to be, is an extremely difficult and human process. If we choose to be visible and known for who we truly are, we will feel elevated and hopeful. As we dismiss our intuitions and mute our inner creative children, we betray and distrust ourselves. Our anxieties worsen the more we posture and perform for the approval of those who like our false offerings of ourselves. We then mistrust the world.

If inauthenticity causes anxiety and a distrust of yourself and others, how can you increase Self-trust and Self-esteem? By making a conscious choice to live as your truest self as opposed to who you think you should be. When you live intentionally and authentically, trusting your intuition to make the right choices for you, you create new outcomes with this intuition and witness yourself creating new results. You disprove the idea that it will always be this way and that you would die if you didn’t do it the same way you always have. This choice to change your routine takes creativity to navigate from choosing a desired result to applying a new method to your days to achieve the result. Setting a goal and witnessing yourself enacting it is very powerful stuff. Action leads to Courage as you prove you Can.

In 2016, I knew I needed to raise my low self-esteem and I spent a year with a new therapist working on the cognitive work of becoming aware of and refuting my favorite anxiety causing Cognitive Distortions which are, “it will always be this way” and “I will never be able to …”. But when I thought about the subject of my creativity, I noticed severe internal dissonance. My therapist and I recognized this as my inner child throwing tantrums for my not allowing her to play. After a couple months, I decided to just give her what she wanted.

In the beginning of 2017, I joined an online creative community challenge and indulged in 30 days of creating paper collage. Having really enjoyed that, I fearfully hosted my own Instagram challenge called Our Creative May and immediately followed that with creating art for the Index Card a Day, or #ICAD project, through June and July. This all led me to my completion of this year’s 100 day project posting 100 days in a row of sketches using pencil and pastels of everyday objects and, at the same time, I repeated my participation in the ICAD project. My 100 day project is on display in the entryway today.

As my devotion to my creativity increases, I continue to expand my self-trust and raise my self-esteem. I let go of my fear-exerted control and find out what I can make or think as I connect continually with my intuition listening to what I want and who I think I am. As these inner connections are made, a sense of integrity forms as I honor my innate creativity. I have a sense purpose and acceptance as I make sense of what I believe. I feel freedom and permission to risk more. And when I share what I’ve done, my connection with my community gives me that necessary sense of belonging. As I prove I can follow my inner voice and the world will not blow up, I begin to trust that being “unproductive”is a good thing. And when I allow for the opportunities, like creating this sermon, I find out what I think and I get to celebrate the accomplishment.
(Drink Water)

I am a Creativist and believe that creativism, the antithesis of consumerism, will help the world to heal and shift. Creativism is a state of mind that trusts the flow of life and the discovery of truth. That each person is already creative in their own ways of living and doing, they just need to discover, respect, and be mindful of this creative element in their lives. Creativism is the dedication to creating a flow and space within ourselves where we are responsible for our happiness and a dedication to creating beauty, trust, honesty, and abundance in the world as a community.

As children, we were quintessential creativists. We craved the understanding of ourselves through what we made. But perhaps some well-meaning adult declared we weren’t good at it and with our inner critics thus formed, and fearing the costs, we were no longer allowed to create. My 5th grade teacher Mrs. Shore told me she was just giving me “constructive” criticism on my book report, but it felt destructive. The light in our inner children’s souls is doused by this pragmatism and we’re stripped of our creative superpowers………… With unseen practical merit, creativity becomes an unnecessary activity and we’re prohibited from creating.

Having lost touch with our need to make, we become consumers. Consumerism doesn’t recognize happiness as something we create and find within ourselves but something we must acquire, buy, or steal, and something we can never have enough of. Consumerism values profits and destruction instead of creativity. By disallowing creativity and instead searching for ourselves in discount stores, we are left feeling crazed and hopeless.

I’m even more convinced today that our purpose in life is to discover our true nature, our most authentic self, and share it with the world. Because when we are lit-up from within, the world does shine brighter. We can offer more goodness, kindness and love when we each feel nourished from a deep soul-level. And as a mother, I cannot think of a more powerful way to show up for my children than by offering them my truest self that in turn gives them permission to be exactly who they are meant to be. When we are nourished, our loved ones flourish.
I use the term Creative Soul Living to describe how I live creatively and intentionally seek and share my life lessons. I proudly prioritize my creativity in all areas of my life, develop my self-trust, value authenticity, commit to self-care, am mindful and present, stay connected with my people, and aim to intuit my grandest vision of my purpose. Trusting and listening to my intuition has been the key to being my authentic self and tapping into the infinite power and joy that is creativity. And the key to quelling the anxieties I had suffered from most of my life. When we allow our intuition to come out in the way we cook, sing, parent, garden, knit, or write, our lives themselves become works of art.
As UUs, we gather in this room because we already value Creativism. We value and encourage contributions of beauty and support to our community and to the world. We may just need help in understanding and applying the concept of authenticity to our own lives: we may need permission to be ourselves. I grew my self-trust by committing to a conscious creative practice and proved I was worth showing up for. This is everyone’s first step in making a difference in the world. To change the world, we start from within.

 

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