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Do Anxious People Tend to Be Creative?

Because studies consistently show a connection between artists and mental health issues, scientists have recently posed this question: Do anxious people tend to be creative?

There’s no denying that creativity can produce anxiety. When we’re staring at a blank screen or empty canvas, we’re pressured to do something that’s never been done before. And we can imagine what sorts of reactions people will have to our work. 

Creativity is, in fact, inexorably connected with anxiety. They’re a package deal. So why is this the case? It might help to first look at the definition for anxiety. 

What is Anxiety?

If you look at your brain on a purely neurological level, it is full of circuit connections called synapses. There are also structures that protrude like the branches of a tree called dendrites and axons. When the synapses are firing correctly and the dendrites and axons are connecting, everything is hunky dory. 

Anxiety occurs when the chemical interplay is thrown off for some reason.  The brain releases stress hormones which trigger an emotional response in the body and mind. This reaction is a leftover remnant from our cave-dwelling days that kept us attuned to danger. It’s what initiates the ‘fight or flight’ response.

Garden variety anxiety still serves its purpose. It flairs up in moments when we are truly threatened – such as avoiding a car accident or saving a kitten from a fire. The problem is, for some folks with anxiety disorders, the chemicals release in a more non-sensical fashion. Sufferers become consumed with excessive worry, invasive irrational feelings, and negative thoughts.  

In some cases, this sort of anxiety may be the result of surviving trauma. But for many others, high levels of anxiety are simply hardwired into the nervous system. These are people who struggle with anxiety disorders.

What Is Creativity?

Meanwhile, creativity is usually defined as a process of coming up with new concepts or ideas. Creativity encourages us to look at the world in a different way. This enables us to solve a problem or produce something of beauty. It often requires that the creator maintain multiple perspectives.

Pure creativity is the stuff of childhood. It lives in imagination – which is unadulterated in a child. Think for a moment about your own childhood. Did you create freely and without worry about what others would think? How simple was it to slip into imaginary worlds and experience them as very real – even when you knew they weren’t? 

You were inherently processing information from a different angle than the rest of the world.

Why Are Anxiety and Creativity So Seriously Bonded?

Scientists are only now beginning to look at the link between creativity and anxiety disorders. It’s difficult to ascertain a specific answer as to why they’re linked. However, it seems that having anxiety and being creative both involve deep thought processing. 

In the act of producing something new, the brain must process different pieces of information. Then it has to organize them into a workable outcome. This is also the case for problem-solving. And since the anxious brain is in a perpetual state of solving a perceived problem, it must explore a multitude of options and angles in order to understand what works and what doesn’t.

So in that regard, anxiety is helpful for creative folks. 

Where the trap lies here for those with anxiety disorders though is in the inability to release from obsession and worry. They process the same information over and over in a loop and begin to ruminate on the problem at hand. There is no ability to move forward and they become paralyzed in analysis. They are effectively stuck.  

The Creativity Roller Coaster

Being any kind of artist isn’t a walk in the park. Putting yourself out there is risky. Artists must tolerate a variety of difficult emotions from fear to frustration, disappointment to desperation. To succeed, you must be able to resist the urge to doubt yourself or give up. It’s clearly not a path for the weak of heart. 

Yet, when you understand that complicated feelings are to be expected – and, more importantly, that they pass – it becomes easier to slog through them. Very much in the same way that those with anxiety disorders learn to experience difficult feelings and work with them (rather than against them) to keep moving forward. 

So Then Do Anxious People Tend to Be Creative?

It appears so. This is not to say, of course, that all anxious people are creative. Nor does it imply that they are more creative than those who don’t struggle with anxiety. 

There IS research though that shows a link between creative people and mental health struggles. Anxiety, in particular, has a higher prevalence among creative folks than the general population. So if you’re a creative person who struggles with an anxiety disorder, just know that you’re not alone! 

That anxiety may, in fact, be giving you an advantage when it comes to the creative mind. There are always two sides to every coin. 

Does Your Anxious Child Thrive on Creativity?

If you’re the parent of an emotional young artist, the fact that anxious people tend to be creative probably comes as no surprise to you.  

So if your child is struggling to find her/his/their way in the conventional education system, it’s time to look into the benefits of an arts-integrated education. 

Contact us today to schedule a tour of our arts academy middle- or high school. And give your creative child a chance to truly shine. 


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