By Ellen Buikema
Returning to the United States after more than two years of wandering through Mexico was a great joy, even in pandemic times. Living once again in a country where I had a good grasp of the language and general culture provided a relief I didn’t anticipate. I discovered that the life of a gypsy is not good for me. I needed a home base more than I knew.
Within a month of our return, my hubby discovered that he’d require back surgery to alleviate a “strangled” sciatic nerve, followed by a dental emergency for me. Next came a race to obtain the plethora of documents required by the state to be worthy of a driver’s license before my birthday, which approached with lightning speed. And, we needed to find a permanent place to live.
I couldn’t think beyond what felt like moment-to-moment emergencies. I was pretty much flailing at the end of this whirlwind.
Grasping for prose and finding nothing but critters
I turned to writing to sort myself out, plunking down in front of my PC, and attempting to focus on what to write next. Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement. A jumping spider appeared to have taken up residence on top of my workspace while I’d ignored my computer for several consecutive days.
Another, slightly larger jumping spider scurried around the other side of my PC. We regarded each other. It pumped two front legs up and down. I blew a bit of air in the spider’s direction. It hurried away. The smaller spider on the other side of my computer repeated the stare-off and leg-pumping maneuver.
They won that round.
Note to self: Raise moving higher on the priority list!
Meanwhile, I focused on breathing and really examined this stress roadblock. My research turned up some interesting information.
Not all stress is felt equally.
Negative stressors wall off your creative mind, allowing fear and stress to smite the ability to be creative.
Common effects of negative stress on mood are:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Lack of motivation
I was saddled with all six! It was time to find a way out of this quagmire.
Reaching for control
While stuck in a difficult situation, finding activities that provide control helps people cope. Everyone needs to feel some sense of control.
Finding control through creative cookery
Baking is aces for stress relief, and it provides an inexpensive reward. We can control what we make. During quarantine many people, myself included, devoted time and energy to creative cooking and/or therapy baking, like the sourdough craze.
I became adept at making vegetarian curry dishes.
Other ways to stop the stress tailspin
- Slow the heart rate using four-square breathing. Inhale through the nose to the count of four, hold to the count of four, exhale through the mouth to the count of four, hold to the count of four. Repeat as necessary.
- Get enough sleep. You know you’re not getting enough sleep if your mood is negatively affected. You may not think there is enough time in the day to get everything done, but sleep deprivation makes the brain wonky. (I've found meditation can help bridge the sleep gap.)
- Schedule some relaxation time. Dance, watch something fun, call a friend, book a massage, read a good book, listen to music.
- Learn to say "no." Or at least say, “Let me get back to you on that. It sounds intriguing.”
Beneficial stress may jump-start your creativity
Positive stress helps with:
- Developing and transforming ideas
- Generating alternative possibilities to solve problems
- Executing those ideas to transform dreams into reality
- Redirecting and focusing the mind and keep from overthinking
Three different kinds of positive stress and their connection to creativity
- Task-Switching Stress
Recent studies show that frequently changing gears causes a different view of a task. This rearranges the thought process, nurturing creativity, avoiding the rigid thinking that happens when you focus too long on the same thing.
Changing the subject refreshes your view, and it's a great cure for writers’ block.
2. Meaningful Stress
Two stress conditions known to nurture creativity are “on an expedition” where work is low-pressure but highly meaningful, and “on a mission” with high-pressure, high-meaning work.
When people achieve meaningful goals, they feel good and are inspired to carry on. Perception of the stress people are under determines the relationship between stress and creativity.
If you can set or follow goals that have meaning, that positive stress may help you see a novel answer.
3. Deadline Stress
Small doses of stress like multi-tasking projects or having tight deadlines, sometimes produce great ideas because they spark the brain to power through to specific goals.
Some people thrive on this one, procrastinating until there is little time left. A time-sensitive environment can force focus and wall off any distractions.
If you can’t find enough time in the day, try these suggestions from Entrepreneur.com: 5 Ways to Carve Out More Creative Time for Yourself.
Now it's your turn. Which type of stress helps you in your work? Do you think that the right stress can bring out the best in us? Please share your stress tips with us down in the comments!
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Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents and a series of chapter books for children with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works In Progress are, The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and Crystal Memories, YA fantasy.