Living and Creating: Fear Is Not A Disease

What we call fear may really be excitement: emotional and physiological arousal.

Eric MaiselCreativity coach and author Eric Maisel, PhD notes it can sometimes be hard to distinguish nervous tension from anxiety or fear:

“Part of the confusion is that ‘life energy’ in the form of hormones like adrenaline are necessary, so it is easy to confuse ‘enthusiasm’ with ‘anxiety,’ since both have a real (and similar) hormonal edge to them.”

See more quotes in my article Agitation or Not – Eric Maisel on Calm and Creativity.

Jennifer Lawrence GoldenGlobes2014One example  of this may be Jennifer Lawrence, who won a 2014 Golden Globe for the movie “American Hustle.”

She said in her acceptance speech, “I don’t know why it’s so terrifying; it’s obviously a good thing. I don’t know why I’m so scared. I don’t know why I’m shaking so much.”

She joked to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (which confers the awards), “Don’t ever do this again.”

Backstage, she commented about her “shaky” speech: “I need to catch up on my drinking. I think that’s why I was so manic. Normally I have time to have a glass of wine… That’s not a good answer.”

As with many other performers, part of what makes Lawrence such a dynamic and popular actor is her emotional intensity.

But a number of people with exceptional abilities have used drugs, alcohol and other substances to deal with their intensity and sensitivity.

See my article Addiction and Creative People.

Stage fright?

Jennifer Lawrence may also have been experiencing stage fright, like many actors, musicians and other entertainers.

See links at the bottom to related articles with more information and resources to deal with stage fright, public speaking fear and other forms of anxiety.

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“Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.” James Thurber

Ben Stiller stars in and directed a movie version of Thurber’s famous story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

Ben Stiller in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty-mtnA writer summarizes the story as being about “an ordinary man with an extraordinarily active imagination” who embarks “on a globe-trotting adventure that ultimately trumps anything in his daydreams.”

That adventure involves many challenges and demands for a much higher level of courage than Mitty needed in his office job. Although he was trying to muster the courage to ask a co-worker on a date – that can be fearful, for sure.

Stiller comments about his own choices as well as the story:

“At a certain point, you want to be taking chances. That’s when you’re having the most vital experiences.”

[Ben Stiller: The Journeys That Changed His Life, by Shawna Malcom, Parade mag., Dec 21, 2013.]

In another interview, Stiller makes an interesting comment about creative expression:

“This movie relates to me personally. It’s where I am in my life right now. When you’re in the world of creating things you’re constantly trying to get somewhere where you haven’t been. And that’s the dilemma Walter faces.”

[‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,’ and the public one of Ben Stiller, By Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times Dec 14, 2013.]

[Photo from]

“Life is about courage and going into the unknown.” Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) in the movie.

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fear - captured in old structures by AlicePopkornThis image is titled “fear – captured in old structures” by AlicePopkorn. Her caption reads:

“If we are honest with ourselves, most of us will have to admit that we live out our lives in an ocean of fear.  J.Kabat-Zinn

“Look at little children, they are living in the present moment with joy – and that is the key – you should be like little children again…”

[One of many books by Jon Kabat-Zinn: “Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness.”]

As children, we may have experience fear often – being scared or something more intense.

There are several elements of this image that I like: for one, the skull reminds me of Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) celebrations – I know very little about the traditions, but they do not seem to include the fear of death prevalent in much of Western culture.

And “fear of death” can also apply to “death” of creative endeavors, to unrealized dreams and talents, lost relationships, and other aspects of our lives – not just physical mortality.

Also, the female figure is in a sense “brought to her knees” – which can happen to us when “assaulted” by strong feelings like fear, anxiety, existential dread – yet she is, at the same time, making an active movement, and also facing the skull (her fear?) – rather than hiding from it.

How do you relate to fear and anxiety?

Jack Lemmon“Failure seldom stops you. What stops you is the fear of failure.”
Jack Lemmon

Fear is a simple label for a variety of experiences from mild discomfort to real terror, sometimes helpful for personal growth and creative work, but at other times or in more intense forms like anxiety, limiting or destructive.

But fear does show up for all of us at times, even for those who are accomplished and talented.

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Comfort Zone

Vanessa Hudgens in Gimme Shelter“I don’t like being stagnant. I want to continue to grow and just be better at what I do, and the only way to do that is to keep stepping outside of your comfort zone.”

Vanessa Hudgens   []

[Photo from – Caption: “I think a truly transformational character is something that every actor dreams of being able to do.” – Vanessa, Gimme Shelter Premiere at Heartland Film Festival.]

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Michelle WilliamsMichelle Williams commented about working with Ryan Gosling in “Blue Valentine” that when director Derek Cianfrance wanted them to improvise and “surprise” him with their acting, rather than simply following a script, she felt a lot of fear:

“I mean, it’s exciting when you catch yourself in the moment and realize you’re not thinking and words are coming out of your mouth and you’ve never done that before. And I feel like I grew so much. But it never stopped being terrifying.”

[From Michelle Williams, Ryan Gosling ad-lib on ‘Blue Valentine’, by Glenn Whipp, Los Angeles Times January 5, 2011.]

In our interview for her movie “Halloween H20” (1998), I asked Williams whether she enjoys the experience of fear and seeks it in park rides or scary movies or anything else, and she joked, “I do it every day driving in Los Angeles.”

She noted that the fear element of the movie was part of its appeal: “I think that’s what is great about this film is that it’s a rush. And it’s pure, unadulterated, fabulous escapism. And we all need that.”

Part of being creative

Natalie PortmanNatalie Portman once commented:

“Fear is intrinsic to everything you do as a creative person.

“You’re constantly putting yourself up there to be trashed. If I thought about it too much, I’d just be crippled. I’d rather create.”   [Los Angeles Times Oct 15, 2009]

From post: Developing creativity – some quotes on fear

Many years ago, she talked about experiencing stage fright – a variety of fear or anxiety that many people have at times, including actors and other performers, as well as public speakers.

“When I was little, I was so uninhibited I could do anything in front of people, but now I have terrible stage fright. I’d love to do a play, but I have nightmares about missing lines onstage…”

“The anxiety I now feel about acting has nothing to do with movies, though — it’s just a part of getting older. You become aware of your body changing and of the fact that people are judging you — and you’re really aware of that when you’re in the public eye.”  [LA Times, approx. 1997]

Embracing terror

Alan Alda wrote in an article of his, “When I’m faced with a kind of character I’ve never tried before, the fear can rise to the level of terror.

“But, it’s a terror I look forward to, and I don’t like to take on a part unless it scares me a little. I’ve found a tremendous value in this kind of fear… I don’t just scare myself with playacting. I scare myself in the rest of my life, too.” From article How to Be a Nervous Wreck.

Sandra Bullock in Gravity

A number of other actors talk about not only dealing with fear, but using it in positive ways.

“I don’t do anything anymore that feels safe. If it doesn’t scare the crap out of you, then you’re not doing the right thing.” Sandra Bullock

[This quote by Bullock is one I have used in a number of articles, including: Artistic confidence – Embracing fear and discomfort as an actor.]

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Fear and creating

Robert MaurerRobert Maurer, PhD, a UCLA clinical psychologist, has interviewed many successful actors, writers and other creative people, and researched social and neuropsychological aspects of achievement and creative expression for many years.

An article about him said, “Maurer tries to teach writers to accept fear as a natural part of the creative process. He tries to get writers to lose their fear of failure and of taking risks.”

Maurer notes, “If you find the right relationship, does fear go away? No. You publish your first novel, does that make fear go away? No. So your skill at being able to nourish yourself and give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them is your single greatest attribute as an artist and as a human being.”

From Writers can use fear to advantage, by Victor Inzunza

Maurer notes that even thinking creatively can induce fear:

“Innovation triggers the alarm mechanism in the amygdala section of the brain that’s known as the fight-or-flight response.

“More simply put, the thought of change ignites fear… It effectively shuts down all nonessential brain functions, including creative thinking.”

From post: Disarming the brain’s fear response

[Photo above is from his site The Science of Excellence.]

Fear may be indispensable for creative expression

10,000 BC movie, 2008

“Fear is good,” Dr. Maurer has declared.

“As children, fear is a natural part of our lives, but as adults we view fear as a disease.

“It’s not a disease.

“Children say they are afraid or scared, but adults use the clinical terms anxiety or depression.

“A writer should not view fear as something bad, but as essentially doing something right.”

Robert Maurer is author of a book that, in part, helps deal with our fear alarm system: One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way.

Also see articles by Robert Maurer.

[Image: poster from ‘10,000 BC’ movie, 2008, from article Panic Attacks: Nature Out Of Context By Jen Crippen.]


Fear and anxiety may interfere with creativity

Another psychologist and creativity coach, Eric Maisel, PhD warns, “Only a small percentage of creative people work as often or as deeply as, by all rights, they might be expected to work.

“What stops them? Anxiety or some face of anxiety like doubt, worry, or fear. Anxiety is the great silencer of the creative person.”

[Above quotes are from my articles Fear and Creativity, and Eric Maisel on anxiety and developing creativity.

His books include:

Fearless Creating: A Step-By-Step Guide to Starting and Completing Your Work of Art.

Mastering Creative Anxiety: 24 Lessons for Writers, Painters, Musicians, and Actors from America’s Foremost Creativity Coach.

How to Create Fearlessly class

Dr. Maisel teaches an online class: “How to Create Fearlessly.” One of the “big ideas” of the class:

“Because creating is at least a little bit harder and scarier than some other things we might choose to do, like turning on the television or surfing the net, we are often resistant to getting started.

“Learn how to crack through that everyday resistance by using a variety of simple and effective cognitive, existential and physical techniques.”

Learn more about the class (part of the subscription program of The Academy for Optimal Living) at the site:

How to Create Fearlessly with Dr. Eric Maisel.

In his book Why Smart People Hurt: A Guide for the Bright, the Sensitive, and the Creative, he has a chapter on Thinking Anxiety, which includes this:

“People who perform tasks known to provoke anxiety are obliged to deal effectively with that anxiety if they want to perform that task well. Dancers, singers, actors, and other performers have to deal with performance anxiety.

“People who must fly for a living — including pilots and flight crews — have to deal with their fear of flying if that fear afflicts them.

“And people who think for a living or who regularly employ their brain must deal with the real, undeniable, and often severe anxiety of thinking.”

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Writers and fear

Mark Matousek“While the vast majority of writers, both amateur and professional, struggle with anxiety over their work, too little is understood about this occupational hazard.

“Many experience the common fears of not knowing where to start, how to structure their time, how to become comfortable with solitude, and not give up on their vision. Writers worry about not finding the right words to say exactly what they mean, how to deal with criticism, and how to put their work into the world. 

“The blank page, which Hemingway called ‘the white bull,’ threatens to charge them and leave them helpless in the fight to bring their writing into the world.

“By exploring the roots of our writing fear, from mere reluctance to writer’s block, Mark offers tools to help you neutralize self-sabotaging patterns in the creative process. Through self-inquiry and truth telling, you will learn to separate anxieties specific to writing from those garden-variety insecurities that have nothing to do with the writing life.”

> From description of the online course “Writing Through Fear” by Mark Matousek.

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More Self-Actualizing

In his article “Creativity in Self-Actualizing People,” personal growth leader Abraham Maslow wrote:

“It seemed to me that much boiled down to the relative absence of fear. They seemed to be less afraid of what other people would say or demand or laugh at… Perhaps more important, was their lack of fear of their insides, of their impulses, emotions, thoughts.”

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Beyoncé has commented about producing her self-titled album – especially her choice to package the album with videos:

“I was terrified. I was so scared. I already envisioned like the worst things that could happen. I was really nervous because this was a huge risk.

Beyonce“I took all of my insecurities, all of my doubts, all of my fears and everything I’ve learned over the 17 years and I applied it into this project.

“But more than the music — I’m proud of myself as a woman… the biggest message is owning your imperfections and all the things that make you interesting, because I refuse to allow someone to put me in anyone’s box.”

The album was first released exclusively on iTunes, and sold more than 600,000 downloads in the first three days.

[From article: Beyoncé: New Album Sum of All My Fears, Insecurities, Doubts By TheImproper Staff, December 23rd, 2013.]

[Photo from]

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Coach and author Tama Kieves, a graduate with honors from Harvard Law School, left her career as “an overworked attorney” to follow her “soul’s haunting desire to become a writer.”

Tama KievesIn her book “Inspired and Unstoppable” she addresses challenges that many creative, high ability people may face, including uncertainty and fear. She writes:

“I would have saved a lot more time if I had less fear. I’d have paid attention to the moment in front of me, as though it offered me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or training course.”

Her book: Inspired and Unstoppable: Wildly Succeeding in Your Life’s Work!

See more quotes, plus a video and audio clip, in the post: Tama Kieves on inspired desire and new directions.

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from page

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us…”

Video: Los Angeles Acting Lesson: Anthony Meindl – A New Year’s Message

Anthony Meindl, a writer, director, producer, and Artistic Director of Anthony Meindl’s Actor Workshop, reads these quotes by Marianne Williamson.

The video is from his post:  A New Year’s Message For All of Us to Live By.

The quotes are from Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love.

Also read the quotes in the article: Living an extraordinary life – Robert White on audacious self-declaration.

Anthony Meindl is author of the books

Alphabet Soup for Grown-Ups: 26 Ways to Not Worry (Really!), Be Happy (Truly!), and Get Over Yourself (Finally!).

At Left Brain Turn Right: An Uncommon Path to Shutting Up Your Inner Critic, Giving Fear the Finger & Having an Amazing Life!


Related articles :

To Be More Creative Deal With Anxiety.

Using Fear and Anxiety to be More Creative.

How To Create More Confidently.

Talented, But Insecure – quotes by and about Taylor Swift, Will Smith, John Lennon, Emily Mortimer, Meryl Streep and other artists, plus psychologists Kenneth W. Christian and Anne Paris, Impostor Syndrome educator Valerie Young, and belief change expert Morty Lefkoe.

public speakingStage Fright and Fear of Public Speaking  – Many actors, musicians and other entertainers report they experience stage fright. But making a speech or public presentation can also produce so much performance anxiety you aren’t able to express your personality and creative ideas as well as you could without the fear, in more control of your emotions.

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Dealing With Stage Fright and Public Speaking Fear “Performance anxiety is an elephant-in-the-room sized issue for everyone who spends time on any kind of a stage.” Jennifer Hamady, “a voice coach and counselor specializing in technical and emotional issues that interfere with self-expression.”

Creativity coach Eric Maisel addresses perfectionism and creative anxiety. See more comments by psychologists, and video testimonials by people who have used the Undo Public Speaking Fear program.

Also includes my video with comments by Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway about feeling anxiety during their work on “Les Miserables.”

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Morty Lefkoe on how our strong feelings get conditioned
What causes anxiety and other negative emotions can result from the meaning we unconsciously attribute to events in life. And meaning can be changed. Morty Lefkoe, an expert on changing limiting beliefs, explains how classical conditioning can work against our emotional stability: “Very often we are plagued by repeated negative feelings in our life, such as fear, anger, guilt, anxiety, and sadness.” [Article includes video of Lefkoe at a TEDx presentation.]

Facing the Enemies Within – Courage and Fear, by Jim Rohn

Articles on relieving anxiety and stress.


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Originally posted 2011-01-07 19:48:18.


  1. […] Living and Creating: Fear Is Not A Disease What we call fear may really be excitement: emotional and physiological arousal. Creativity coach and author Eric Maisel, PhD notes it can sometimes be hard to distinguish nervous tension from anxiety or fear. … Natalie Portman once commented: “Fear is intrinsic to everything you do as a creative person. You’re constantly putting yourself up there to be trashed. If I thought about it too much, I’d just be crippled. I’d rather create.” […]

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