Combatting Anxiety with Creativity

By: Jayson Tripp, MD


Generalized anxiety disorder in its purest form is defined  as “an anxiety disorder characterized by chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to provoke it.” In other words, anxiety is your imagination running wild in a way that causes stress. Have you ever tried to use your imagination for multiple things at once? I have, and usually, rather than ending up with one beautiful product, I don’t end up finishing any of them. Why is this? Trying to work on two projects that require imaginative power (such as painting two different pictures) is difficult. The very act of imagining something takes an intensive amount of focus, which is why grounding strategies are so effective in counteracting anxiety disorder.

Creativity is one way to occupy imaginative focus and counteract stress. By turning your imagination towards something positive, you’re also turning it away from negative thinking and obsessive worry. As author Deepak Chopra  says, “The best use of imagination is creativity, the worst use of imagination is anxiety.”

 According to PsychCentral , “creativity helps us to express ourselves, our feelings, and our frustrations.” Expressing creativity allows you and I to process what we are feeling in a way that is less overwhelming and more digestible. You could say anxiety is like trying to eat an elephant whole, but when you slow down your thinking, you eat one bite at a time. Suddenly what felt impossible is being done, one step at a time.

So what are some creative ways to counteract over-active anxiety? As someone who struggles with severe anxiety disorder, there are quite a few ways I’ve learned to help calm it down. I’ve narrowed it down to just my top three favorites to share with you today.

  1. My personal favorite is called blind contour drawing. In a blind contour drawing, you find an object you would like to draw, grab a paper, and without looking at the paper, you do your best to draw the object you picked without ever looking at the paper. I love this exercise because it makes me laugh nearly every time, increasing dopamine to my brain, which offers additional mental health benefits. If you want an extra enjoyable experience, try it with some friends, in person or over video call for a good time.
  2. My second choice for fighting anxiety is painting. I love painting because there are so many variations and ways to do it. Watercolors look beautiful no matter what you do, even if you don’t know what you’re creating, and you can paint nearly anywhere. Acrylic paint is so vibrant and bold. Spray paint looks like art right out of the bottle because of those undefined lines. Don’t have paper? Paint your fingernails. Don’t want your fingernails painted? Paint the bottom of your shoe. Okay, maybe not the bottom of your shoe, but you get the idea. Painting is a great way to let your creativity flow regardless of your artistic skill.
  3. My final favorite coping mechanism is music. When my anxiety is active, I turn the music up and sing along. I’ll sing along to anything with words, it just helps me to take my mind off all the stress I feel. My family is very musical and most of us use it to help us improve how we are feeling, but we all express it differently. My younger sister dances, my mom plays piano, my uncle plays guitar, and my aunt writes musicals. As Elton John once said, “Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours.” However you choose to take part, music is an incredible tool to fight anxiety disorder.

Do you have other creative ways you cope with generalized anxiety disorder? Let us know in the comments below!

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*All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.