How the Stress Response Kills Creativity and What To Do

How the Stress Response Kills Creativity and What To Do

When are you most creative? When have you had the BEST IDEA EVER?

Probably when you least expect to be having an idea at all. Cue the hot shower, the peace and quiet on the potty, or the post-coital calm. A friend of mine likes to drive, and she’s always brainstorming and problem solving a half hour into a multi-hour car ride starts. Personally, I like very calm, peaceful, sensory deprived environments; I’m like small cute woodland creature.. I like to gather all this information and data and then go back to the nest and process it, run things by others, and take my nutty-ideas back to the nest again for processing.

No matter how you like to do it, chances are you are not most creative when your emotional and mental energy is stressed. When I use the term “stressed” I mean that our emotional and cognitive systems are in survival mode and we feel threatened by something. Threats can be anything from a difference in values you have with another, to feeling unappreciated for the millionth time, to being fired from a job and wondering how we are are going to take care of our families. Lately, some of my stress deals with communication issues and Eldercare. Stress can be big, or small — stress is stress.

Feeling stressed and overwhelmed means that our body has initiated its fight or flight response — releasing the stress hormone, cortisol. The longer the stress hormone is in the body the longer it takes the body to return to neutral. That also means that the each bit of stress builds on the last — the hormone accumulates and accumulates — so petty nits can end up being giant dramas when our stress is consistent. 

When we are in fight or flight we are dealing with that mode, dealing with elevated levels of the stress hormone and we are literally being overwhelmed by it — that is what fight or flight IS. We focus on the object or person initiating that response in us and in managing that situation. We don’t focus on fun, and openness or novelty (hell no! novelty in a survival situation? Are you kidding?) or any other creative characteristic. Are you ready to brainstorm when you are stressed? No! Instead, we try to manage the situation and our feelings.

It’s too easy to say “don’t stress”. First, it’s ridiculous. Second, this isn’t the 1980’s. “Frankie say Relax” is dead.

Do you know how many times a member of my family yells to me about something, and I say “hey, you are angry” and they say “no, I’m not!” Like, uhhhhh…… YES, YOU ARE.

What to do:

  1. Apply some awareness: we need to admit to ourselves that we are stressed. We need to be aware of our feelings so we don’t push it away else it just comes back like a tsunami.
  2. Take some time to deal with stress and reduce it. Take some time to get some perspective and/or some distance from it.  Search on tips for reducing stress to see if anything resonates.

Then, go be creative.



Image: stress by bottled_void CC by 2.0

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