Have you ever noticed that so many creative people struggle with mental health issues like anxiety? Throughout history, social scientists have suspected that there may be a connection between anxiety and creativity. However, only in the past few decades has a growing body of scientific research identified a possible link between creativity and mental illness.
One of the first key studies, which found that creative people had an unusually high number of mood disorders, reviewed individuals in creative fields like literature and the arts. Researchers found that people working in creative fields, including dancers, photographers and authors, were 8 percent more likely to live with bipolar disorder. Writers alone were 121 percent more likely to suffer from the condition! Researchers also found that people in creative positions were more likely to have relatives with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, which shows that there may be a genetic trigger for both creativity and mental illness.
In 1987, Dr. Nancy Andreason of the University of Iowa found that a sample of creative writers had significantly higher levels of bipolar disorder. Then in 1994, a study that examined about 60 female writers’ mental health showed that the writers had significantly higher rates of depression, mania, panic attacks, or generalized anxiety compared to the control group.
More recently, a 2015 study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience found that genetic factors that raise the risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are found more often in people in creative professions. Painters, musicians, writers, and dancers were, on average, 25 percent more likely to carry the gene than less creative professionals like farmers, manual laborers, and salespeople.
(However, some skeptics still question the direct link between anxiety and creativity. Research tends to be limited because it is difficult to define creativity and to replicate it in the lab. Also, they argue that while a connection may exist between these two traits, one is not necessarily causing the other. There are plenty of people who are exceptionally creative who don’t battle anxiety or other mental health issues.)
Reason For The Connection
The main reason for the connection between anxiety and creativity is imagination. The dichotomy lies in the fact that the same brain that conjures up inventive paintings, poetry, and music can also get trapped in repetitive thoughts and dreadful worries. According to an expert at Evergray Digital Media, these individuals use their imagination to visualize something before it happens, whether it’s a piece of art or an issue (whether real or made up) that frightens them to cause feelings of great concern and panic. People with both traits also tend to overthink and overanalyze everything, which can make them more anxious and even neurotic at times. Interestingly, dwelling on one’s fears might be the very root of creativity and problem solving.
What To Do If You Have Anxious Creative Kids
So, what should you do if your kids are the anxious creative types? Of course, it is always a good idea to seek professional help so your children can be properly evaluated. If everything checks out and they just tend to have shaky nerves, it may be important to help your children learn how to channel their anxious energy into a creative project or hobby.
Once we learn what is actually going on, we can give them the tools to start using their imagination as a way to minimize their anxiety. According to Dennis Palumbo of Psychology Today, some artists are able to channel their anxiety in the right places to their creative benefit. Creativity comes from expression, and some of the most powerful forms of expression result from struggles. “To be truly in the eye of the emotional storm, to create from a state of anxiety, is to surrender any fantasy of perspective. In fact, in the purest sense, it’s the ultimate act of creative surrender from which, out of the crucible of your deepest pain, you might discover a joyful, wonderful surprise.”
Here are 7 ways to help your children transform their anxiety into creativity:
- From a young age, offer them a variety of creative art activities at home like painting, drawing, poetry, sculpture, dance, and music to make their imagination come alive.
- Sign them up for a variety of classes, camps, and other activities in the arts so they can discover where their talents and passions lie.
- Look for creative activities that combine mindfulness and art, such as mindful coloring and expressive yoga.
- Turn mundane moments into creative ones in the car, at the store, or while waiting in the doctor’s office. For example, play games like making up stories or songs about what they observe around them.
- Encourage them to keep a journal of their thoughts, ideas, and concerns.
- Keep an open line of communication so they will talk about what scares them. This will help them be able to turn those fears into something positive.
- Teach them to accept their anxiety as part of who they are, and to focus on the positive ways it impacts their life, such as getting their creative juices flowing.
How do your children channel their anxiety into a creative activity?