We are part of an amazingly creative generation. Advances in technology have made it easier than ever to express ourselves through our favorite artistic mediums. Social media has given us an instant platform to share our creations with the world around us. Yet, all this creative freedom sometimes has surprising side effects for our mental and spiritual health. Our passion for creating can sometimes shift into anxiety and depression.
Last week, singer-songwriter John Mark McMillan released a new song, and talked about his struggles with anxiety in a Facebook post.
Anxiety. I try to control my world and since that is SUPREMELY not possible… I get anxiety. … Not to be irresponsible or dismissive, but I’m realizing when I “let go” of my ideals and ego, I also become much better at holding onto what I actually have – And that’s beautiful.
Whether you are a musician, photographer, painter or any other type of artist, in this digital age you might find some potential pitfalls that can rob the joy from your creativity.
Here are four ways creativity can lead to anxiety.
We compare our creativity to others’.
The internet provides us with nearly limitless sources of creative inspiration. We can find thousands of gorgeous photographs shared on Instagram, album upon album of inspirational songs on Bandcamp or pages of cutting edge graphic design shared on Dribbble. At the touch of a button, the creative genius of our entire generation can be pulled up on your phone.
When the playing field is so large, sharing your art with others can be intimidating. For example, if you’re a photographer on Instagram, your photos are part of an average 52 million uploads each day. Or if you produce original video content, your YouTube upload is tossed in with an average 300 hours of footage uploaded every minute.
Our constant exposure to others’ talent can be inspiring, but if we’re not careful it can lead to anxiety. Sometimes we’re tempted to compare our creativity to that of the most popular artists online. When that happens, our quest for inspiration can turn into jealousy. We can experience despair as we start to wonder why our art isn’t as popular or celebrated by others.
Worst of all, we can become so intimidated by the skills and success of others that we completely give up on our own art. Unhealthy comparison not only robs our joy, it can kill our creativity altogether.
We create with ulterior motives.
Creativity isn’t just a means to an end. The process of expressing ourselves through art should be an end unto itself.
Anxiety can creep into our minds if we don’t spend enough time creating simply for the sake of creating. When art is fueled by ulterior motives, it undermines the authenticity of our work. If your efforts are fueled primarily by the desire to impress others, become famous or make money—you will most likely experience anxiety.
Even if you do find fame and fortune, personal fulfillment can still remain elusive. Marilyn Monroe once said, “Fame doesn’t fulfill you. It warms you a bit, but that warmth is temporary.”
That’s not to say we shouldn’t have tangible goals for our work, especially for those of us who are creative professionals. Regardless, whether you are a professional or hobbyist, make sure that you have healthy motives for creating. Make sure you find joy in the process itself. Otherwise, you might find yourself paralyzed with anxiety.
We don’t stay true to ourselves.
Creativity is at its best when we express ourselves in a genuine way. Our God-given gifts, talents, and unique experiences all combine to create art that speaks to who we are as individuals. Trying to be something other than ourselves betrays this authenticity. It also opens the door to frustration, anxiety, and a crisis of identity.
Sometimes, when we see particular creative trends or certain successful artists it can be tempting to force unnecessary changes on our creative pursuits. When inspiration turns into imitation our art becomes hollow. We sacrifice genuine, spontaneous self-expression for cold, calculated pandering. We drop the deep, personal satisfaction of genuine creativity as we grasp at the fleeting vapors of approval.
Imitation may bring success, but a square peg can only be shoved in a round hole for so long before it starts to wear out. Don’t allow yourself to slip into an identity crisis. As the great William Shakespeare said, “This above all; to thine own self be true”.
We place our identity in our creativity.
The ultimate source of creative anxiety comes when we attach our sense of self-worth to our creative talents. When we desperately seek approval of our art, it’s often because that’s the only way we can feel validated; it’s the only way we can feel valued.
Instagram likes, Facebook shares, YouTube subscribers—they can make or break our self-esteem when we place our identity in our art. If we don’t get the approval we seek, we end up feeling like a failure.
When this happens in the life of a believer, it’s a sign that our creativity has become idolatry. It’s a sign that we’ve taken a gift from God and turned it into a substitute for him. If we place our hope in anything other than the goodness and love of our Creator, we are on a collision course with disappointment.
Instead, when we realize that our identity is secure in Christ, we are free from the shackles of creative anxiety. When we find our identity in the amazing grace of God, we don’t need to chase popularity. We find joy in our Savior, which gives us the freedom to enjoy creativity and self-expression.
If you’ve felt lately like your creative pursuits are bringing you anxiety instead of joy, take some time to examine your heart. Is unhealthy comparison crushing your spirits? Are your motives in the right place? Are you trying to be something you’re not? Or have you attached your entire sense of self-worth to your talents?
If so, pray that God would help you return to the simple pleasure of the creative process. Pray that He would help you find contentment in the gifts and talents He has given you. Pray that your creativity would not be a source of anxiety, but a catalyst for deep joy and satisfaction.