By Douglas Eby
There can be many varieties and levels of insecurity, self-criticism, stress and anxiety that can relate to being talented and creative.
“I still have pretty much the same fears I had as a kid. I’m not sure I’d want to give them up; a lot of these insecurities fuel the movies I make.”
From article: Gifted, Talented, Creative, Anxious.
“No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
For many gifted and creative people, this “blessed unrest” may also help maintain the kind of chronic arousal that leads to harmful stress reactions.
One of the more prominent researchers in the field, Kenneth R. Pelletier, Ph.D. (Director of the Psychosomatic Medicine Clinic in Berkeley) says that stress is a key factor in moving from a state of relative health to a manifest disorder.
He makes a distinction between two kinds of stress: short-term and long-term.
Short-term — which we share with other biological organisms — is a natural function of dealing with threatening situations, such as finding yourself at a branch on the freeway and not knowing which way to turn; you deal with it, and then there’s a period of relaxation, a return to a baseline level of functioning.
The long-term kind is the problem: stresses around job, family, emotional conflicts, money difficulties and vague but ever present problems and worries with no end point, no clear resolution — the kind of nonspecific general arousal that continues without the balancing return to a stable baseline condition.
For many gifted and talented people, the intensity and level of excitability typical of giftedness may help incite this kind of chronic arousal.
In his Theory of Positive Disintegration, clinical and research psychiatrist and psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski described five independent areas of psychic excitability or high sensitivity which can lead to reactions often identified as neurosis or some other dysfunction.
Describing this theory in a paper in Mensa Research Journal (Fall, 1989), Karen Nelson noted that Dabrowski found that the most gifted and creative individuals he worked with, during times of crisis “exhibited so-called neurotic symptoms – intense inner conflict, feelings of inferiority toward their own ideals, feelings of inadequacy, shame and guilt, and existential anxiety and despair..
“They had evolved beyond the societal norm and experienced great pain in their awareness of their differences from the norm.”
Also see article Theory of Positive Disintegration as a Model of Personality Development For Exceptional Individuals, by Elizabeth Mika.
For more articles and other resources see the page: Dabrowski / advanced development.
Performing a role as an actor may elicit many reactions that increase stress and anxiety.
In a magazine interview, Mira Sorvino (winner of Academy Award as best supporting actress for “Mighty Aphrodite”) commented on how demanding it was to portray some aspects of Marilyn Monroe (in “Norma Jean & Marilyn” on HBO, 1996):
“Playing those suicidal scenes was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Emotionally, they ripped me apart. I walked around for days after with echoes of horror in my head.”
[Buzz magazine, May 1996]
[Related post, including some of the mental health challenges of the iconic star: Marilyn Monroe: Her complex Inner Life]
More strategies to relieve stress and anxiety
n an interview about his book Mastering Creative Anxiety, creativity coach and psychologist Eric Maisel, PhD comments on why artists may be more vulnerable:
“First of all, so much is on the line. For someone who’s self-identified as a writer, painter, composer, scientist, inventor, and so on, [their] identity and ego are wrapped up in how well [they create] – and when what we do matters that much, we naturally get anxious.”
Dr. Maisel notes that in his book Mastering Creative Anxiety, he presents “a menu of twenty-two effective anxiety management tools, enough tools that everyone can find at least one or two that will work well.
“The simplest is to remember to breathe; a few deep cleansing breaths can do wonders for reducing anxiety.
“The most important anxiety management tool is probably cognitive work, where you change the things you say to yourself, turning anxious thoughts into calmer, more productive thoughts.
“And creating a lifestyle that supports calmness is also very important: if the way you live your life produces a lot of anxiety, that’s a tremendous extra burden on your nervous system.”
Stress may be in great part a matter of how we relate to the burden of our lists. And to our sense of time.
Writing in their newsletter (Mind/Body Health, Volume V, Number 1, 1996, The Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge) David Sobel, MD and Robert Ornstein, PhD, note that “the way we think about time determines the way we experience it. We’re waiting in line and time drags. While dancing in the moonlight, driving on a twisty road or listening to favorite music, time seems to expand, the experience feels timeless.
“The trick, as Gandhi said, is to be ‘always on vacation’ where nothing hurries us, but a lot happens.”
Wellness researcher Stephan Rechtschaffen, MD (New Age Journal, June, 1996) points out that most people “don’t realize that the sort of time pressure we feel in our lives is a peculiarity of recent history. Keeping precise time is a social invention, and it’s only about a hundred years old.”
He notes it is very difficult and anxiety-inducing for most people to slow down: “It’s not just outside pressure, or social entrainment, that makes us feel guilty and nervous if we’re not being ‘productive.’ It is hard for most of us to simply sit still and do nothing but be in the present moment because there’s something in the present moment we’re trying to escape.. ‘feeling’ itself…”
He concludes that awareness is a key:
“Just being conscious of our ability to shift our rhythms within the fabric of a frenetic society will make our hours less anxious, our days less stressful, and our lives more complete.”
I’m sure that has been the case for me, and I have had varying degrees of anxiety for most of my life.
Elaine Aron, PhD thinks “high sensitivity increases the impact of all emotionally tinged events, making childhood trauma particularly scarring.”
[From post: Sensitive to anxiety]
[Photo – Tea worry by qousqous – also used in my article Dealing With Stress To Be More Creative.]
Part of my motivation in researching and creating my series of sites is to better understand a variety of social and psychological issues that affect talent development and creativity – including the issue of health challenges like stress and anxiety: how they affect us, and what we can do about it.
Another aspect of personality, especially for gifted and creative people, is intensity.
Nicole Kidman has made comments that can apply to other artists:
“You live with a lot of complicated emotions as an actor, and they whirl around you and create havoc at times. And yet, as an actor you’re consciously and unconsciously allowing that to happen.
“It’s my choice, and I would rather do it this way than live to be 100. .. Or rather than choosing not to exist within life’s extremities. I’m willing to fly close to the flame.”
To finish up, some advice from one of the greatest creative minds:
“It is also good every so often to go away and relax a little for when you come back to your work your judgment will be better, since to remain constantly at work causes you to deceive yourself.”
Leonardo da Vinci, 1503
Self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci from post: What is our rush? Freeing yourself from pressure.
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Suggested books :
Duane Elgin. Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich
Stress Free for Good. “Dr. Fred Luskin and Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier spent years at the Stanford University School of Medicine developing ten proven skills for eliminating the stress, anxiety, and pain that occur in daily life.”
Mastering Creative Anxiety: 24 Lessons for Writers, Painters, Musicians, and Actors from America’s Foremost Creativity Coach, by Eric Maisel, PhD. – ‘In his decades as a psychotherapist and creativity coach, Eric Maisel has found a common thread behind what often gets labeled “writer’s block,” “procrastination,” or “stage fright.”
“It’s the particular anxiety that, paradoxically, keeps creators from doing, completing, or sharing the work they are driven toward. This “creative anxiety” can take the form of avoiding the work, declaring it not good enough, or failing to market it — and it can cripple creators for decades, even lifetimes.
“But Maisel has learned what sets successful creators apart. He shares these strategies here, including artist-specific stress management; how to work despite bruised egos, day jobs, and other inevitable frustrations; and what not to do to deal with anxiety.
“Implementing these 24 lessons replaces the pain of not creating with the profound rewards of free artistic self-expression.” [Amazon.com]
Also see article: The Stress Key, By Eric Maisel, Ph.D. – Creating and living the artist’s life can produce a lot of stress, but if you shift from feeling that your work is a demand, to an opportunity that feels enjoyable, it will not be stressful.
One of my related articles: Multiple Passions and Talents But Potential Burnout – Many multitalented people feel inspired and energized to pursue a variety of creative projects, often at the same time. One potential downside is physical and emotional burnout.
Martha Graham quote is from post: Keep the Channel Open To Be Creative.
Author: Douglas Eby, M.A./Psychology, is a writer, researcher and online publisher on the psychology of creative expression and personal growth.
He is creator of The Creative Mind series of sites
and author of the book
Developing Multiple Talents: The personal side of creative expression.
See many more Mental and Emotional Health articles.