The Good, The Bad, The Stress

NOTE: This is a guest post from my good friend Benjamin Cannon. Ben is the brains behind such companies as Spark Joy Music and Shine Indy. He is passionate about music and is an all around great guy. You can find him on the Spark Joy website, Facebook or Twitter.

Stress, Creativity, Create Your Art, Music, Art, Spark Joy

Stress can be one of the fastest things to halt our creativity. Whether it’s a troubled relationship, financial crisis, illness or a stressful job, these situations as a whole tend to damper our emotional and mental energy, hindering our creative flow.

When stress enters our world, it signals the body that there is a threat or danger, whether 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 worst case scenario (ie. I’m the worst writer and will never succeed). This perspective can block the flow of creative ideas or solutions.

Another consequence on creativity during the fight-or-flight response is that we get tunnel-vision. 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. This may explain why we get fixated on re-working a specific detail of a project when we are under stressful conditions. Instead of recognizing that something isn’t working and exploring other options, we get stuck in a vicious cycle instead of completing the task and moving on to the next.

Creative activity is an effective strategy against stress. #sparkjoymusic #createyourart Click To Tweet

It’s been explored and proven many times that relaxed people have an easier time being creative than their stressed-out counterparts. Recent research suggests that the reverse is also true: creative activity is an effective strategy against stress. The focus, emotional expression, and perspective that come through creative acts disrupt mental patterns of stress and anguish and help people lead more fulfilling lives.

Essentially, creativity and productivity, far from being opposed, go hand in hand. Productivity on meaningful work encourages engagement with that work, and this engagement fosters creativity. Studies show that journaling causes people to reflect on small victories that may otherwise be forgotten, and this provides a motivational boost, especially when enveloped in a long-term project.

This virtuous cycle helps explain one of the most mysterious elements of creativity: how it seems to come in waves, which often arrive unexpectedly. These creative moments may result from the relief of stress, feelings of focus, or reflections on productivity. By working to increase at least one of those elements, one can find those creative patches more frequently.

As strange as it sounds, creativity can become a habit that helps you discover a healthier you. Creativity is often a natural result of positive feelings, and when people are feeling more positive, they are more likely to be creative. But why would spending time being creative reduce stress? One possibility is that artistic work requires focus, and this prevents one from being preoccupied with stressful thoughts.

In this way, creativity acts in much the same way as meditation, in that it provides a mental space removed from one’s usual stressors.

Creativity can become a habit that helps you discover a healthier you. #sparkjoymusic #createyourart Click To Tweet

This has been shown to be the case in studies of the art therapy. Patients suffering from cancer and chronic illnesses find a welcome respite from their problems by engaging in creative work. Patients found that art filled occupational voids, distracted thoughts of illness, and reduced stress and anxiety.

One key value of engaging in focused, creative work is that it breaks one out of their normal thought patterns. Stress is as much a habit as it is an in-the-moment occurrence, and disrupting the cycle in which it occurs provides a chance to adjust.
The mental space afforded by creativity allows one to put thoughts and progress in perspective. So, keeping a work diary, for example, can help you celebrate the small wins in your work day. You can use the diary to plan your next steps, or you can nurture your own personal growth.

The diary practice hits both sides at once. Writing is itself a creative act and requires the sort of focus that can reduce stress. By reflecting on one’s day, one is reminded of moments of progress, and this nudges people toward creativity.

The good news in all of this is that people who want to reduce stress, be more productive, and find time to be creative may only need to choose one, and the rest will follow naturally. Furthermore, building good mental habits is a complex task, and being able to choose one thing to focus on is more manageable for many people than attempting to improve everything at once.

Lastly, creativity — often seen as something that you simply have or don’t — can be buried by stress or uncovered by finding mental space. While “be less stressed” is a difficult direction to follow, “write”, “paint”, or simply “reflect on your day” is a much easier action to take.


NOTE: This is a guest post from my good friend Benjamin Cannon. Ben is the brains behind such companies as Spark Joy Music and Shine Indy. He is passionate about music and is an all around great guy. You can find him on the Spark Joy website, Facebook or Twitter.

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Darren A. Cooper

Darren A. Cooper

I am a writer, musician, and creative telling stories through music. I create to challenge and inspire you to create your art. It's your life. Your art. What are you creating? #createyourart

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