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A Maker’s Antidote to Fear

Wellbeing that calls for a healthy dose of doing

When the going gets tough, it’s hard for me to change my mind. Myopic, tunnel vision and close-mindedness are all symptoms of my being overwhelmed. But in a silver lining of our current cultural revolution, I’ve taken solace from quite a few wise teachers who’ve been liberally sharing their practices of gratitude, hope, and compassion to usher in a sea change.

Yet, even when these practices lead me to lighter and more connected places lately, I’m still uneasy. 

I wake up too early. The mornings are unusually filled with hesitation. And with all that mental processing going on behind the scenes, it’s deeply exhausting. I’ve become more vulnerable to the quick hits of dopamine that come with passively scanning my news and media, keeping busy, and scavenging for treats. They’ve been less effective than usual though. As even my most reliable soul balm (tuning into stories where I can ride along in another hero’s journey) fails to consistently hold my attention and warm my heart, I realized something — 

I have to get out of my head. My antidote to fear is most often active. In actually doing something physical — feet moving, pen to paper — the tides turn. The work begins to flow, and all the things feel better. In charting this change in course, I remembered that my antidote for fear has another key ingredient: 

Creativity.

Perhaps this recipe will work for you too. If you’re looking for your own creative cocktail, allow me to bring some science into the mix. Theories of cognition tell us that creative activity empowers us with choice and decision-making that reduce depression and isolation. Quick wins also earn us a dopamine hit. And just by writing notes we care about, we can boost our CD4 + lymphocytes to strengthen our immune systems.

The dopamine trip can be a slippery slope though. As we get excited in anticipation of a fabulous future, thinking about all the wonderful ‘what-ifs,’ this gives us that quick dopamine hit. A quick boost will not sustain us though. Careful, consistent actions are more impactful (and less exciting), of course. When we create habitual practices, we chip away at long-term goals, which in turn reduce stress and generate a slew of healthy neurotransmitters to nourish our sense of wellbeing.

There’s an additional proactive dimension to the creativity in self-directed work as well — 

Particularly when connected to the outreach of mission-driven endeavors, doing the work that’s bigger than ourselves is a key to fulfillment, a path to the deep satisfaction we crave. Of course, we want to be successful. Accomplishment through shared experiences is where we really build lasting bonds and sustained growth.

We’ll inevitably work through significant losses though, and some of us will find a counterbalance in creativity. We’ll take our time and turn it into something new, something meaningful. It matters because it moves us to connect more deeply. We take this spark and create a moment to support others, to cultivate community. 

Our current cultural moment is not what we’d expected. It’s so much more. We have new jobs to be done, new challenges, and new opportunities. And yet, change is uncomfortable. As innovators, our competence and creative confidence give us an advantage. We have tools to dig deeply into problems, better understand potential, invest in creative outcomes, and lead with opportunities for more people to contribute to our collective challenges. Let’s get creative with this conversation.

“When you know, teach. When you get, give.”
Maya Angelou

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