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Issue 35

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In this issue ~~

* Coping with Anxiety

* Creative Tip

* Wise Words

* Bookshelf

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Coping with Anxiety

A common malady that creatives -- and just about everyone, for that matter -- face is anxiety. As artists, we're continually up against the uncertainty of our muse showing up, and the possibility of being judged and rejected when it does. Even the potential of imminent success can make us apprehensive. To add to that, the world in general is changing at an accelerating pace, forcing us to deal with something new on an almost-daily basis. It can leave us feeling unsteady or ungrounded.

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines anxiety as "an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by ... doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one's capacity to cope with it."

Anxiety is a natural human reaction to life's stressful events, whether happy or unhappy. We may feel anxious before an exam as well as an opening night. Unlike fear, which has a definite focus, anxiety lacks a definable source; it's hard to put your finger on it. It may show up as agitation, nervous energy or the inability to focus.

But vague though it may be, anxiety can paralyze us into inaction. And for some, it can exacerbate into anxiety disorder or panic attacks. If that's the case, professional help is in order. For most of us, though, it's just garden variety anxiety from the normal stresses and challenges of daily life. But that "simple" anxiety is probably responsible for more of us falling short of our potential than anything else. Anxiety can be debilitating at worst and keep us frustrated at not achieving our goals at the least.

Anxiety may be a behavioral pattern learned from our parents. Many of us have been trained to use worry as a talisman to keep "evil spirits" away, and when we're feeling carefree, we may feel as though we've abandoned the sentry posts and something bad will happen. It may also result from being a people pleaser and fearing the loss of approval, from a desire to control our world, a fear of failure, or from feeling too much pressure and perhaps the inability to produce to the level expected of us.

Many of us have found ways to deal with our anxiety that are detrimental.

~ We may convince ourselves that we're incompetent, and then wallow in self-pity.

~ We may procrastinate.

~ We may take out our agitation by picking a fight with a loved one or the cashier at the supermarket.

~ We may worry about all the possible calamities that could occur.

~ We may find release in an addiction to food, drugs, alcohol, tobacco, sex or even my favorite, computer games.

These may temporarily alleviate the anxiety, but they don't get you any closer to your goals, and some are downright self-destructive. And to further compound the problem, anxiety may lead to headaches, insomnia and other physical symptoms that make it even harder for us to cope, resulting in a downward spiral.

But the good news is, there are lots of positive, healthful ways to alleviate anxiety.

~ Use relaxation techniques to calm and focus yourself. Meditate. Take a walk in nature. Play classical or New Age music, tapes of nature sounds, or relaxation tapes. Practice yoga, tai chi or chi gong. Precede your work session, or begin each day, with one of these to set new physical and emotional patterns.

~ Breathe. Use one of many available techniques, or just simply stop and focus on your inhale and exhale, ensuring that you breathe deeply into your belly. Scan your body for tension areas and breathe into them.

~ Take care of your body. Exercise produces mood-enhancing endorphins, curing a multitude of ills. Get a massage to relieve the buildup of daily tension and the resulting stiffness or pain. Take a warm bubble bath. Watch your diet. Make sure you're getting adequate nutrition, and eliminate caffeine and sugar. Take vitamins and mineral supplements, particularly minerals with a calming effect, like calcium and magnesium. Take time to relax.

~ Use affirmations or a mantra. My computer monitor is covered with stickies containing positive affirmations that counter the negative thoughts that make me anxious. And add to that by monitoring and changing your self-talk. Anxiety can result from a running commentary in our heads about all the disasters that could happen or how inadequate we are to the task at hand. Shift the inner conversation to a positive, self-supportive one.

~ Write out what's going on in your mind. Spill it out in stream-of-consciousness to quiet that persistent inner voice. Keep a journal to vent your feelings. Like Julia Cameron's morning pages, you can dump your anxieties onto the page, rather than carrying them around with you all day.

~ Use visualization. A favorite technique of mine is to imagine a screen and see myself walking through it, screening out the anxiety. Or visualize your completed project. You may even want to have a visual representation, such as a graphic of the cover of your book, a good review of previous work or a picture of yourself at a strong, confident moment.

~ If you're an addictive type, replace the negative addiction with a positive one, such as exercise, meditation or keeping your workspace meticulously organized.

~ Stay focused in the present and on your objective. Anxiety often comes from worrying about what will happen when we do what we're avoiding doing. Get back in touch with your love for what you're doing (or at least the advantages of getting it done), and focus on doing it, rather than on the future outcome. Keep in mind that most of our worries *never* manifest.

~ Prepare for whatever is making you anxious. When I first started teaching, I would overprepare to alleviate the anxiety that I might not have enough material or not anticipate all the questions about the material I was teaching. It helped. If you feel anxious when facing a project, you may need additional skills or preparation to build your self-confidence. Or simply take small steps and build. If you're afraid of speaking in front of a large group, start speaking in front of a mirror, then with one person, then a small group and so on.

~ See if there's a physical or outside cause, and alleviate it as best you can. Some possible causes are: noise, sensitivity to food or chemicals, caffeine, sugar and TV violence. Watching cop shows or the news first or last thing in the day can leave you feeling agitated.

~ Make a distinction between fear and excitement. They feel very much alike, and we tend to assume it's fear out of habit. Stop a minute and tune in to what you're feeling. If it's excitement, enjoy it and ride the wave!

~ Deal with it physiologically, using herbs and herbal teas such as chamomile, kava kava, motherwort or valerian, Bach Flower Remedies, homeopathics like Hyland's Calms Forte, self-hypnosis, biofeedback, "tapping" techniques such as Thought Field Therapy (TFT) or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), or even hold a touchstone or stuffed animal.

~ Push yourself through and take action. Often, when I sit down to write, I feel a little anxious and resistant. I start with simple tasks, such as setting up computer files or doing some research on the Internet. Once I get into it, I begin to enjoy the process, and the anxiety lifts.

~ Give yourself structure. This is particularly important if you work at home. It's easy to get caught up in distractions and avoid getting down to business, or to be faced with so many options that you don't know what to do first. Schedule specific time for your project, and put it in your day planner. Then treat it like a real appointment and do it!

~ Get support. Find a partner who you can call. A number of years ago, producing my first show was a terrifying experience. I made an arrangement with a mentor that I could call and leave a message on her answering machine when I was feeling scared or anxious. When I did, it alleviated some of the anxiety, and I was able to move forward with the tasks I needed to accomplish, rather than being paralyzed by it.

Remember, anxiety can have power over you only if you let it. Redirect the energy into your work. Use the adrenaline in a positive way. And keep your eye on the ball -- the goals you want to achieve. Let them empower you to move through the anxiety to completion of your projects and success!

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Creative Tip

If you tend to be a worrier, write your worries down on pieces of paper, then release them by ripping them up and burning or flushing them. Let them go. Repeat this ritual daily until you feel your worries no longer have a grip on you.

 

Wise Words

"You don't have to control your thoughts, you just have to stop letting them control you."

~ Dan Millman

"When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened."

~ Winston Churchill

"You can't expect to prevent negative feelings altogether. And you can't expect to experience positive feelings all the time...The Law of Emotional Choice directs us to acknowledge our feelings but also to refuse to get stuck in the negative ones."

~ Greg Anderson, The 22 Non-Negotiable Laws of Wellness


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Bookshelf

(click on the book or tape graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)

Stress-Free: Peaceful Affirmations to Relieve Anxiety and Help You Relax . . . Louise Hay (audiocassette)

You Can Choose To Be Happy: "Rise Above" Anxiety, Anger and Depression . . . Tom G. Stevens

Bach Flower Therapy: Theory and Practice . . . Mechthild Scheffer

Tapping the Healer Within Using Thought Field Therapy to Instantly Conquer Your Fears, Anxieties and Emotional Distress . . . Roger J. Callahan, PhD

The Relaxation Response . . . Herbert Benson, MD

The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook . . . Martha Davis, Matthew McKay, PhD and Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman

Deep Relaxation . . Nischala Devi (audiocassette)

Desktop Yoga: The Anytime, Anywhere Relaxation Program for Office Slaves, Internet Addicts, and Stressed-Out Students . . . Julie T. Lusk

Deep Relaxation . . . Robert Griswold (audiocassette)

Pocket Guide to Self-Hypnosis . . . Adam Burke

 

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© 2001 Sharon Good. All rights reserved.

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