Accept Your Fear to Break Free of Creativity Blocks

Image of a dark forest road with a green light in the distance. Over that is the quote, "Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings obliteration. I will face my fear and I will permit it to pass over me and through me." Dune, Frank Herbert

Fear and its cousin, anxiety, are sneaky. Most of the time, they are protective and helpful. They keep us safe. Fear is a reaction to a threat-related stimuli. It sets physical and behavioral responses in action so we can avoid or cope with that threat. The problem is that our mind and body react the same ways whether the threat is real, staged, or perceived.  And fear can be a creativity-killer.

How Your Body & Mind React

It can creep up on you or take you by surprise, but when fear strikes, your amygdala (a small organ in your mid-brain) sends out signals to prepare your body for fight, flight, or freeze. All these changes are nearly instantaneous, so we can save ourselves from the saber-tooth tiger or other immediate threats to our survival.


At the first sign of fear, the amygdala leaps into a rapid-fire response. It releases adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones). It increases breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. Unfortunately, it also increases sweating. It even changes how much blood is flowing to your heart and brain, so more goes to your arms and legs! 


Your amygdala also decreases the signals from the area of your brain that help with reasoning and judgment (cerebral cortex). Now you cannot rationalize that the threat is or isn’t real. This is why you scream when actors in haunted houses approach you. You know they aren’t an actual threat, but you cannot act from that knowledge once fear triggers your amygdala.

After Affects

The after affects of fear include the release of the chemical dopamine. Dopamine is the “pleasure” hormone. During staged fear, like that in a haunted house, on a roller-coaster, or at a horror movie, your amygdala goes into action. Once the danger is over, the amygdala releases the chemical dopamine, which elicits pleasure. For some people, this hit of dopamine is why they love doing or watching scary things. 

Perceived Fear

This is the fear we tell ourselves is all in our head. What we fear and how much we fear depends on the context and our experiences. So the list of potential fears is ginormous. Everyone experiences a perceived fear or two. But when it comes to creativity? Oy! The list includes: fear of being in front of an audience, fear of not being good enough, fear of being judged harshly, fear of taking the first step, fear of the blank page, and fear of rejection, failure, or success. And that’s just a small sample!

We tell ourselves it’s all in our head, in our mind, but these perceived fears set off the same reactions in our brain and our body as imminent danger does. Your reactions can be minor to major, but even the minor ones can slow or stop your creativity. Personally, I believe that both the belief that you are not creative and writer’s block are based on a perceived fear. Hey, I suffer from those kinds of fears, too.

For years, messages we must fight our fears surround us. We’re told to overcome our fears we must face them head-on aggressively. But our instinct to survive is strong. So fear fights back. That’s what it is supposed to do. It will beat the drum and kick and scream that you’re going to die. And you don’t want to eradicate all fear and put yourself in mortal peril. So how do you beat it? You accept it.

Accepting Your Fear

First, don’t think of your fear as something you have to fight. Recognize that it has a function. Elizabeth Gilbert, best-selling author of Eat Pray Love, says make room for your fear but don’t let it get into the driver’s seat. She welcomes it and talks to it like a loving mother. For example, she’ll say something like, “I see you fear. You’re doing a good job of warning me of potential danger, but I want you to know we’re going to do this anyway. Come along with me. Sit beside me. You’ll see it’s not so scary after all.”

If that’s too woo-woo for you, here are a few other recommendations.

Widen Your Definition of Creativity

If you think you aren’t creative, you don’t recognize all the things you do that are creative. Seriously. You solve problems every single day. Those solutions are often creative ideas you have “make do.” Just because they aren’t the next Picasso doesn’t mean they aren’t expressions of creativity. 

You don’t have to be a genius to be creative. You don’t have to be a creative genius to be successful.

Give yourself credit for the creative things you do. (For more on this read You Don’t Have to Be an Artist.)

Identify Your Fear

Sit down and think (or journal) about what you really think and feel when you say, “I’m not creative” or “I don’t have time for creativity” or “I’m not creating enough.” Perhaps you’re afraid you’re not creative. Or you’re afraid you’re not good enough at whatever art form you desire to do. Fear of failure and fear of success are common fears that disguise themselves as other things. 

You may be afraid of many things. That’s normal. But don’t tackle them all at once. Take them one at a time. Baby steps. You’ll get there.

Practice Gratitude

Fear is a good thing most of the time. Be thankful for the times it protects you. Be thankful it’s trying to protect you from your fears, whatever they are. Repeat until you can say it (silently or aloud) with sincerity.

Decide on a First Step

Whatever you’re afraid to do, you can decide to do it AND be afraid. It’s okay to be anxious or fearful.

Singers like Adele, Andre Bocelli, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, and Barbra Streisand all have confessed to having stage fright. Writers like Stephen King, Natalie Goldberg, Janet Evanovich have experienced fear of the blank page. Painters, musicians, all kinds of famous creatives have the same fears you do. The only difference is that they don’t let their fear stop them.

Don’t let your fear stop you. If the fear is big, look for the smallest step you can take toward your creative dream. 

Be afraid. Take back the steering wheel of your life. Do it anyway.

Your Path Doesn’t Have to Look Like Someone Else’s

If your fear is that you aren’t as good as (name your favorite creative), you seem to think your path must be the same as that person’s path. No, it doesn’t. 

We are all individuals with sometimes similar but always unique needs and responsibilities. Your path and mine are different. Your path now will differ from your path in five years. And that’s the way it should be.

If need someone’s permission to do it your way, I happily give you that permission. Find your own path. Learn at your pace. Practice at your pace. 

Find Joy in Your Creative Processes

If you aren’t enjoying your creative work, perhaps you’re focused on the wrong things. If you focus on earning money or becoming famous or writing a best-seller, re-consider your focus. Other people decide to spend money on your project or not. Other people determine fame. Other people determine best-sellers. No one can control the outcome of their creative project. 

The only thing you can control is the things you do. Success is doing one thing better today than yesterday.

Don’t think of it as “I have to be creative.” Allow yourself to enjoy what you’re doing. Call what you’re doing “experiments” or “playtime.” Have fun. 

Stay Afraid

White text on a dark blue background reads "Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What's important is the action. You don't have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow." Carrie Fisher

It might feel awkward at first, but the give yourself permission to be successful in ways you control, the more your imagination and fear play together. Accept your fear. Be grateful for its protection. The more you recognize and accept your fears, the more your imagination can play. The more your imagination plays, the more imaginative and creative you’ll be. 


5 Things You Never Knew About Fear 

The Biology of Fear

How to Unleash Your Creative Genius

10 Fears Holding You Back from Creativity and How to Beat Them


Top image by Dorothe from Pixabay

Second image by Shadhu Nishadhi from Pixabay

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