"Creating and using a ceremony or ritual is a simple but powerful way to reduce your anxiety. For many people lowering the lights, lighting candles, putting on soothing music, and in other ways ceremonially creating a calming environment helps significantly.

"One particularly useful ceremony is one that you create to mark the movement from ordinary life to creating time. You might use an incantation like 'I am completely stopping' in a ritual or ceremonial way to help you move from the rush of everyday life to the quiet of your creative work, repeating it a few times so that you actually do stop, grow quiet, and move calmly and effortlessly into the trance of working.

"The simplest and no doubt oldest sort of calming ritual involves the use of a good-luck charm. Soprano Lily Pons, for instance, would cut off a piece of the stage curtain to hold onto before each performance. Luciano Pavarotti, plagued by performance anxiety, looked for a bent nail backstage and reputedly would not go on unless he found one. Naturally, bent nails were placed everywhere backstage so as to avoid cancellations!

"As Douglas Hunt explained in No More Fears, 'The simple faith that a good-luck charm will carry one through is a time-honored way to handle anxiety. Often faith in an object lowers anxiety and fear and things consequently go better. Superstitions may seem out of place in modern society but if not carried to extremes they can be viable techniques for self-control.'

"Repeated rituals can also have a soothing effect on one's nerves. In The Bright Lights: A Theatre Life actress Marian Seldes explained, 'There is a ritual in the dressing room, private for some, gregarious for others. The look of the room, the temperature, where each article of clothing is set — yours and the character's — mementos from other plays. A different robe for the theater. Special towels, soap, cologne. Brushes and combs. The actual tubes or sticks of makeup.' Many elements and practices combine to produce this soothing pre-performance ritual.

"You can create your own rituals and ceremonies out of these same sorts of elements and practices, setting up your writing space or your painting studio with objects that hold symbolic meaning for you, preparing yourself to write or paint in a certain ceremonial way, and turning to your creative work in the context of the ceremonies and rituals you create for yourself. Your ritual ceremony might be as simple as lighting a candle or repeating an affirmation or as involved as creating a Japanese tea ceremony. Experiment and discover for yourself what rituals and ceremonies work for you to reduce your anxiety."