Stress can be one of the fastest things to damper our creativity. Whether it’s a troubled relationship, financial crisis, illness or a stressful job, these situations tend to zap our emotional and mental energy hindering our creative flow.
Stress signals the body that there is a threat or danger, despite if it is a project deadline or an argument with our partner. Not knowing the difference the fight-or-flight response gets triggered and floods the body with all sorts of hormones. This disrupts the rational part of our brains, leaving us vulnerable to negative thinking or perceiving the situation in its worse case scenario (ie. I’m the worse writer and will never succeed). This perspective can block the flow of creative ideas or solutions.
Another consequence of stress on creativity is during the fight-or flight response we become tunnel-visioned. Our brains are programmed to focus on the crisis at hand, which narrows our ability to see multiple viewpoints of a problem, an essential ingredient in the creative process.
Part of the reason we are less productive in our creativity is while under stress, we are more susceptible to getting stuck in a loop when solving a problem. An article in the New York Times talks about a study that was conducted on chronically-stressed rats. The results revealed how stress significantly affected decision-making capabilities.
“…regions of the brain associated with executive decision-making and goal-directed behaviors had shriveled… the rodents were now cognitively predisposed to keep doing the same things over and over…‘Behaviors become habitual faster in stressed animals than in the controls, and worse, the stressed animals can’t shift back to goal-directed behaviors when that would be the better approach,’ Dr. Sousa said. ‘I call this a vicious circle.’”
This may explain why under stressful conditions we get fixated on re-working a specific detail of a project. Instead of recognizing that something isn’t working and exploring other options, we get stuck in a loop versus completing the task and moving on to the next.
One of the main objectives in warding off the effects of stress on creativity is to find ways to counter act the fight-or-flight response. Here are some simple tips:
Calming the body
It’s important to bring the body down to a calmer state. Be aware of your breathing on a regular bases. Is your breathing deep (from the stomach) or shallow (from the upper chest)? Under stress we tend to have short, shallow breaths. One of the ways to calm the body is to take a few deep breaths when you’re feeling stressed. Another way to disrupt the stress response and calm the body is practicing any meditation or Yoga. These methods force us to be still and in the present moment.
Take a break
Recognize when you’re stuck in a loop of negative thinking. You may need to modify how you are responding to the situation. Find ways to clear your mind and shift your mindset to be more positive. This might mean stepping back from the project or taking a walk to get out of an overwhelming environment.
Stay away from ridge thinking
When under stress, your expectations can become black and white. Trust in your own creativity and utilize your gifts. Part of being creative is that you are adaptable to change and are open to a multitude of ways to solve a problem.
Learning the skills to better manage stress so that is doesn’t have a major affect on your creativity is the most proactive way of protecting and preserve your ability to create. It is also part of surviving the challenges of living a creative life.