Is there a word for the feeling of that comes when faced with something new and you really have to push yourself hard to actually start and get into the flow of said task or situation? It seems to be the mental pressure or weight of some combination of dread, complacency and intimidation that causes a person to freeze. I suppose it could be described as generalized form of "writers block for life situations".

(Laziness is not the word, because it would suggest not wanting to start ;) )

I know what this feels like, but don't know how to express it, and it is highly frustrating!

  • It should be noted that some people will not feel this at all, some only a little, and some quite a bit, almost to the point of paralysis (if not actually to that point). There may well be a psychological term for this.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 2:46
  • 3
    Your combination of adjectives is so varied as to be somewhat contradictory. complacency has nothing in common with dread or intimidation. Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 8:07
  • The adjectives have something in common. They can stop you from starting a new thing. OP was trying to list some of the causes. OP also gave details in the question and eliminated some words.
    – ermanen
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 11:52
  • @HotLicks Psychologists call it anxiety, I call it Monday.
    – Mazura
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 23:02
  • 1
    If "laziness" is not a factor (and, based on personal experience with this issue, I agree that it is not) because it would "suggest not wanting to start" then "complacency" is also not a factor for consideration.
    – user98990
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 16:24

10 Answers 10


WORD FOR THE FEELING OF DREAD/COMPLACENCY THAT COMES WHEN STARTING SOMETHING NEW (some combination of dread, complacency and intimidation that causes a person to freeze--TAGS: [meaning] [word-choice] [adjectives] [vocabulary])

Due to the wording of your request all single-word answers must reference either the “intimidation” or the “inertia” factors of your request (INTIMIDATION aspect: trepidation; the newly-minted “archophobia”; INERTIA aspect: lassitude; enervation; torpor; neurasthenia), because no single word in the English language combines these divergent qualities.

Additionally, if "laziness" is not a factor (and, based on personal experience with this issue, I agree that it is not) because it would "suggest not wanting to start" then "complacency", the feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one's achievements, is also not a factor for consideration.

ENERVATION noun: 1. lack of vitality; "an enervation of mind greater than any fatigue" 2. serious weakening and loss of energy 3. the depletion or sapping of strength or energy;

Usage Note: Sometimes people mistakenly use enervate to mean "to invigorate" or "to excite" by assuming that this word is a close cousin of the verb energize. In fact enervate does not come from the same source as energize (Greek energos, "active"). It comes from Latin nervus, "sinew." Thus enervate means "to cause to become 'out of muscle'", that is, "to weaken or deplete of strength."; see The Free Dictionary enervation and Google enervation

While your official selection, “lassitude”, is certainly a gorgeous word, and both “lassitude” and “enervation” effectively evoke the weakness, diminished energy, and depleted vitality OP seeks, “enervation” possesses two qualities which, to my mind, recommend it over all other single words offered: 1. “enervation” includes the sense of dynamic process, of becoming or increasing, whereas all other suggestions describe a static condition, or feeling. 2. “enervation” possesses a verb and adjective form (ENERVATE verb: to weaken or destroy the strength or vitality; ENERVATING adjective: causing one to feel drained of energy or vitality) which would allow you to gracefully combine the “dreadful” aspect of your request with “enervation,” i.e., “the trepidation which enervates and saps the vigor necessary...” or "the enervating dread forestalling your initiative".


Trepidation would emphasize the fear and anxiety:


1 A feeling of fear or anxiety about something that may happen:


  • possibly, I don't feel it quite captures the paralysis involved though!
    – timhc22
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 1:34
  • @timhc22 Then apparently you have never encountered a crippling anxiety, personally.
    – Mazura
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 23:02

There is a phrase exactly for this situation: blank canvas paralysis.

It is a fairly new coinage and it is originated in painting where painters can't start painting and keep staring at the blank canvas; but it can be applied to any situation.

Whenever you are about to start something new, you risk ‘Blank Canvas Paralysis’, the inability to get started. It is frightening, frustrating and causes you to doubt yourself, but once recognized for what it is, it loses some of its power and you can find ways to deal with it.

However, it is not only painters who face the blank canvas. Everyone eventually faces its petrifying stare.


In a letter to his brother Theo, Van Gogh wrote:

Just slap anything on when you see a blank canvas staring you in the face like some imbecile. You don't know how paralyzing that is, that stare of a blank canvas is, which says to the painter, You can't do a thing. The canvas has an idiotic stare and mesmerises some painters so much that they turn into idiots themselves. Many painters are afraid in front of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the real, passionate painter who dares and who has broken the spell of `you can't' once and for all.

Source: Vincent van Gogh. Letter to Theo van Gogh. Written October 1884 in Nuenen. Translated by Mrs. Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, edited by Robert Harrison, number 378. URL: http://webexhibits.org/vangogh/letter/14/378.htm.

  • 1
    The writer Mallarmé talked about this too, the dread of the page blanc.
    – David Pugh
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 16:23
  • Of course, this should not be confused with ordinary "writer's block", where the writer simply cannot think of a theme/framework for work, or part of one.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 23:05

Lassitude might approach the feeling of mental paralysis:

A state or feeling of weariness, diminished energy, or listlessness.

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition.

From etymonline.com:

early 15c., from Middle French lassitude (14c.),
from Latin lassitudinem (nominative lassitudo) "faintness, weariness,"
from lassus "faint, tired, weary,"
from PIE *led- "slow, weary" (source also of Old English læt "sluggish, slow;" see late (adj.)),
from root *le- "to let go, slacken"

  • I'm not sure why someone down-voted this, I feel it is the closest to what I am looking for so far, as according to dictionary.com it captures the sense of the 'oppressiveness' too. "weariness of body or mind from strain, oppressive climate, etc.; lack of energy; listlessness; languor."
    – timhc22
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 12:40
  • I'm wondering if there isn't actually a specific word in the English language for this. Would love it if someone could point out if there is a word in a different language!
    – timhc22
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 12:43
  • 1
    @timhc22 This word has nothing to do with "starting something new".
    – Mazura
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 23:04

Unless a specific preexisting term is identified, I believe the neologism archophobia is in order:


a morbid dread at the commencement of creative work


From the Greek ἄρχω meaning begin, make a beginning and φόβος, meaning panic flight, fear, object of terror

Liddell & Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon

Archophobia is to be distinguished from acrophobia--the fear of heights, and arachnophobia--the fear of spiders

If the focus is strictly on the newness, there are several closely related words for preexisting phobias:

Neophobia- Fear of anything new.
Cainophobia or Cainotophobia- Fear of newness, novelty.
Kainolophobia or Kainophobia- Fear of anything new, novelty.

According to Wikipedia, these preexisting phobias tend to describe a fear of changing from the normal, rather than the creative process.

  • 1
    If you Google "archophobia" you will find that it's an amazingly common misspelling of "acrophobia", and occasionally even "arachnophobia". It's also used in a few instances to mean a fear of governments/hierarchies.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 22:19
  • 'Neologism' means 'word newly accepted into the lexicon' (or at least, such examples are the only ones acceptable on ELU). I'd say this candidate is non-standard, and so not 'in order' (on ELU / to be recommended for general use). Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 10:23



  1. a : a state of mental and motor inactivity with partial or total insensibility b : a state of lowered physiological activity typically characterized by reduced metabolism, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature that occurs in varying degrees especially in hibernating and estivating animals

  2. : apathy, dullness

  • I like this one, but still don't feel it quite captures the oppressiveness of the situation!
    – timhc22
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 12:48

I have not a single word, but an expression: cold feet

"To “have cold feet” is to be too fearful to undertake or complete an action." --Wikipedia


Tim, there is a term "neurasthenia". It is more a medical diagnosis than what you are talking about, but I thought you might find it interesting. If you Wiki it, you will read about Buzz Aldrin suffering from it, with a meaning similar to Scott M's "lassitude" or Little Eva's "enervation", but you should know that Russian psychiatrists make a bigger deal of the term, with, I think, a somewhat different meaning. A neurasthenic is unlikely to make a good fist of starting a big project.

Ever thought about the people who love starting things, with a "new project buzz", but then never finish them? Equal and opposite?

  • At one time "neurasthenia" was a popular pseudonym for "chronic fatigue syndrome", and this is probably where it got the most "play".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 17:35
  • @HotLicks: I fancy it had yet a different meaning back in the 19th, the days of professional invalids having the vapours.
    – David Pugh
    Commented Apr 29, 2015 at 17:57

I think' Apprehension 'is a good word to define such feelings As an example: I was apprehensive about the outcome of the new project undertaken by me.


Transition shock: state of loss and disorientation predicated by a change in one's familiar environment that requires adjustment


Feelings of helplessness and withdrawal
Mood swings
Glazed stare
Physiological stress reactions
Getting "stuck" on one thing
Suicidal or fatalistic thoughts

metathesiophobia: unwarranted fear of breaking the routine

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