10 ways to use your creativity to beat worry and anxiety

Worry is the misuse of imagination.

We worry about things we can control, things we cannot control, things that have happened, things we think might happen, things we would like to happen and everything in between. We feel as only if we worry enough, the scary thing might never happen.

In this process, we create our own, scary parallel universes and we spend a vast amount of times in there. In the meantime, life goes on, opportunities, ideas, and people pass us by. Our anxiety makes us myopic and stuck in old ways of thinking.

Here’s the thing, though. We are all endlessly creative. You can misuse your creativity or not create at all, but you cannot diminish your inherent creative ability and potential. Also, you can only focus on one line of thinking at the time: you can either create or misuse the creativity, but you cannot do both at the same time.

If we can then redirect our creativity, we can do something more productive. Find new ideas, solutions, and stop worrying so much.

Let’s get started.

1. Write the worst case scenario

There are a few benefits to this practice.

If you write a really good worst case scenario, you can sell it to Woody Allen as the idea for his next movie. :)

Then, most of the worst case scenarios are not even that scary. Say you have a problem with your car. What’s the worst case scenario? You’ll take it to the shop, they’ll figure out what is wrong, get back to you with feedback and pricing. The worst case scenario is that you don’t have enough money to pay to fix the car, in which case you will have to wait a bit and rely on friends, bicycle and public transportation, which many people do every day. Very often we are anxious because our current situation doesn’t look like the way we think it should. But when we really see what is the absolute worst outcome, it is often not as horrendous as we project.

Additionally, most of the worst case scenarios are unlikely to happen. You would probably have to NOT take any action in a really long time to allow for the worst case scenario to unravel fully. You will have to let things get super bad and the situation to become practically unsolvable. Are you really gonna sit and watch your life falling apart? I don’t think so. You will call someone. You will think of some solutions. You will figure it out.

As Danielle Laporte says:

“Worst case scenarios are liberating.”

In order to feel liberated, though, you need to write your worst case scenario down.

Exercise #1:

What is making you anxious right now?
What is the worst possible outcome of that situation? Be as creative and specific as possible. Include numerous juicy details.
How would the worst possible outcome affect you? How will you feel? What would you have to do? Would you be able to survive?
What can you do to help the worst possible outcome develop as quickly as possible? (Hint: don’t do that!)
How likely is the worst possible outcome? Is there still a chance that things won’t go as bad?
How do you feel after this exercise?

2. Write the best case scenario

“When faced with a lion and an apple tree, a human being will notice… a lion.”

That’s how our brain is wired, that is how we survived for thousands of years. Nowadays still, most of us have a superpower of observing a situation and defining exactly why it sucks within 2 seconds. We are masters in pointing to flaws in everyone and everything. But when we only see the worst, we become anxious and paralyzed.

Instead of explaining why the situation is bad and how it will get worse, try another approach. Write the best case scenario. This will help you see things differently and come up with creative solutions.

If your job sucks, I bet you can rant for hours about why it is so. But what kind of job do you want instead? What is your best case career scenario? Maybe your place is a mess, but how would it look like at its best? Maybe you do not want the present state of affairs, but what do you want instead? Define.

It is easy to criticize and define what you do not want. Unfortunately, focusing on what you hate will only bring more of that. Best case scenario will open your mind to the new possibilities and new actions. You will know where to focus and the anxiety will dissolve.

Exercise #2:

What is making you anxious right now?

What is really annoying about that situation? (Here allow yourself to bitch and vent.)

OK, how would this situation have to be different for you to feel good about it? What would have to change? What would have to be true? What do you actually want? (At this point, don’t stress about how hard it’s going to be to change this situation into something better, focus only on what you DO want.)

What are the specific actions you can do to bring the current situation little closer to the best case scenario? Name at least 3.

Can you do one specific action today?

How do you feel after this exercise?

3. Help someone else

Anxiety will make us feel miserable, lost, confused, frustrated, overwhelmed and often HELPLESS. It will suck our power and make us believe that our efforts cannot produce any difference. But here’s the trick. When you feel helpless, help someone else. Outwit your anxiety. It will tell you that you have no power, but you can prove it wrong. You are powerful and smart. In fact, you have enough resources and abilities that you can afford to give to others. It doesn’t have to be anything radical. You can wash the dishes for your roommate. Proofread your colleague’s report. Make tea for your boyfriend. Do the groceries for your parents. Donate $5 to Wikipedia or Khan Academy or whomever else you want. Possibilities are endless but one thing is certain: helping someone will make you feel useful and powerful. Before you know it, you will pull yourself out of the anxious spiral.

Exercise #3:

List 5 people or organizations whom you could help today.

List 5 ways in which you could help them.

Can you help at least one person/ organization today? (Of course, you can.)

If you do it (which I hope you will), answer the questions.

How did it feel to help someone?

How did the act of helping impact the anxiety?

4. Use the mantra: “Nothing bad is happening”.

“Nothing bad is happening.”

The very thing that bugs you, drives you nuts and makes you anxious… doesn’t have to be bad. Yes, it might be annoying, weird, uncomfortable, discordant with your plans, completely new, but certainly not BAD. This mantra will help you identify the emotions more accurately and see the situation differently. The staple of stoicism is the idea that situations are neither good or bad, but out thinking makes them so. When we train ourselves to re-frame our experiences, all of a sudden we become able to see the hidden gifts in what we consider undesirable. In “Obstacle is the Way” Ryan Holiday argues how every time when we encounter the obstacle or hardship, we are actually called to practice our virtues: patience, diligence, compassion, endurance, flexibility, acceptance. Nothing bad is happening. You are only challenged in a different way.

Exercise #4:

What is happening in your life right now that is causing you anxiety?

Write “NOTHING BAD IS HAPPENING” 5 times. (This is not a joke. Do it.)

So if nothing bad is happening, what IS happening? Something scary? Something new? Something unexpected? Something uncomfortable? Something challenging?

What virtues are you called to practice in this situation?

Can you find just a little bit more ________(fill in the blank with the virtues from the previous answer) today?

How do you feel after doing this exercise?

5. Action!

Now when we know it, there is no time giving ourselves hard time. It’s time for action. One small, focused, smartly directed action has the potential to dissolve our anxiety in no time. When we’re anxious we’re in our heads. When we take action, we have no time for that.

In “Return to Love” Marianne Williamson mentions how people often tell her that they are so worried about the hunger in the world, injustice, wars and other problems. “What are you doing about it? Did you donate money to help these causes? Did you help people in your neighborhood?” Marianne would ask them.

Your worry is not productive. Your action is. In the words of Joan Baez:

“Action is an antidote to despair.”

Exercise #5:

What is making you anxious right now?

What are you avoiding to do? What are you procrastinating on? What are you only worrying about, but taking no action?

What can you do about the situation within the next hour? List 3–5 specific things.

No more questions. Do it. Be quick and focused.

How do you feel now? How has taking action influenced your anxiety?

6. Choose higher thoughts

But the good news is that we can consciously choose to change our thoughts. We can stop the crazy train of thoughts, wait and embrace a brand new set of thoughts. Thoughts that make us feel better. Powerful thoughts. Higher thoughts. All it takes is a bit of mindfulness and creativity. It is a practice.

Our thoughts follow each other. You have one though. Then another one. Then another one. What is between the two thoughts? A tiny gap. A pause. Deepak Chopra calls this gap a field of infinite possibilities because an infinite number of potential new thoughts can pop up after the gap. However, despite infinite possibilities, the thoughts that will pop up are the thoughts that we are thinking frequently. Our minds are economical machines. They don’t want to think and create too much. Our minds like to use what they have. They recycle the old, familiar (and most often negative) thoughts. This exercise will reverse the inertia of our minds.

Exercise #6:

Isolate a thought that makes you anxious. (For example: “I don’t have time to finish this report.”)

Which thought (or a couple of thoughts) naturally come after that? It is important to remember that a single thought rarely makes us anxious. A crazy train of follow-up thoughts does. (For the example from above, it could be: “It’s my fault that I ran out of time. I never get the help that I need but my boss still expects me to finish everything on my own. This sucks. I will not be able to get enough sleep tonight.”)

Pause for a moment. How do you feel after the train of anxious thoughts?

Now, tell your mind that you don’t like the direction your thoughts are going to and that you want to choose higher thoughts. Come up with 3 higher, more optimistic and powerful thoughts that can follow the initial one. (Example: “Let me think of how much I have done and how much I have left, so I can make a better plan.” Or: “I can ask someone to help me.” Or: “Let me turn off my phone and focus like crazy for 30 minutes.” Or: “Let me make a basic version that can be submitted and I can add later.”)

How do these new thoughts feel? Were you able to come up with some creative, useful solutions?

7. Make peace with your demons

The first thing to do is to step aside. In “Untethered Soul” Michael Singer says that when you feel disturbed, the best question to ask is not: “What should I do?”, but rather “Who am I that notices this?”. Let’s put it this way. In your head, there is a person (a gremlin) that makes drama. But drama would have no effect if there was no one listening and believing. And that is YOU. Your consciousness. The real you. In any moment you can claim your power back. You can choose not to buy into your inner roommate’s chatter.

There are many ways to do that (some of which are contained in questions below). I thought about this problem for many years and came up with several creative solutions. But the way suggested by Liz Gilbert really struck a cord for me. She said that the best outcome of her painful period of divorce was making peace with her inner roommate. They were in a war for years and when things got really bad, Liz asked her inner roommate to make a peace.

“We’re not going to operate against each other anymore… We have to put down the weapons. We have to put down the old complaints. We have to put down the perfectionism. We have to put down the judgement. We have to put this stuff away because we’re doing such tremendous harm to this poor being, Liz, who has to carry this war around within her,”

said Gilbert in her interview for On Being. Isn’t that powerful? We can outwit the inner voice, we can play games with it, yell at it, and so on. But eventually, we have to create (and recreate) peace. That’s a sustainable way to live.

Exercise #7:

What is your inner roommate saying about the situation? Why is he/she anxious?

Ask him/her what is she trying to protect you from.

Ask him/her what is her biggest fear for you.

Explain to him/her why the situation is not as bad as it seems. (Exercise #6 could help with that.)

Now ask her if it would be possible for you two to make peace, even temporarily.

How do you feel after doing this exercise?

8. Accept

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi

Wow. Let’s just take a moment to stand in awe of Rumi’s beautiful words.

Then, let’s answer a couple of questions.

Exercise #8:

Who are the guests that have visited your house today?

What did they bring? How were they behaving?

How did you feel?

What are these guests trying to teach you?

Can you write a short blessing and a note of gratitude for today’s visitors?

How do you feel after doing this exercise?

9. Travel to the future

Most of the things that seem crucial today won’t matter one year from now. Most won’t matter even a few months from now. Why are we then spending such vast amounts of energy on minutiae? When did we become so myopic? This exercise will make you travel to the future and see your worries with respect to the larger picture of your life.

Exercise #9:

Imagine entering your own house 20 years from now. What do you see? Describe the scene.

Now remind your 20-year older self of the particular matter that concerns you today. What is your 20-year older self saying? Does he/she care?

Ask your 20-year older self what would be an ideal solution for the situation you’re facing today. What would he/she do? (Remember, he/she has 20 additional years of life experience. He/she probably solved that problem already.)

Thank your 20-year older self for the advice. You might come again in a similar situation.

How do you feel after doing this exercise?

10. Turn your anxiety into an art form

Exercise #10:

Ask your anxiety in which form it wants to be manifested. What did it say?

Make your sketch/painting/comic/hysterical poem/story/whatever works. (Feel free to share it in the comment below.)

How do you feel after this exercise?

In conclusion

Before you go

Engineer, researcher, creator, obsessed with lists of 10 ideas.

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