How Creatives Can Fight Inspiration Killers Like Stress and Fear

Dawn Bevier

Don’t let the Coronavirus destroy your creativity

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We all lead stressful lives. This stress arises from many things, such as work, bills, or strained personal relationships.

However, with the deadly threat of the coronavirus and the plethora of changes (almost all of them negative) that we’re being forced to endure to stay safe and healthy, our stress levels can rise to monumental proportions.

Many people have been laid off of their jobs due to “social isolationism,” particularly workers in places such as airlines, restaurants, bars, clubs, coffee shops, or any other place where human gathering inevitably occurs. Since social interaction is at a minimum and their services are no longer needed, they find themselves either temporarily or permanently out of a job.

Parents have had to take off work, many times without pay, to watch their children when daycares and schools shut down.

Adults with elderly loved ones or those with high susceptibility to the virus experience a heightened sense of worry.

Financial stress. Health worries. Radical change. Lost feelings of stability, structure, and security all combine to make us one blathering bumbling ball of stress.

And if you’re in the creative industry, such as advertising, writing, or any other professional where imagination is at a premium, you may find that your artistic abilities seem to have left the building as well. Here's why.

The Reasons Stress Inhibits Creativity

There’s a reason your artistic talents and creative faculties have been abducted: your brain.

There are significant changes in our brain that occur when we have overwhelming stress.

On the site Writing and Wellness, they mention a 2005 study where people had to complete a simple word association activity. Before the activity, participants had either watched a scene from Shrek or a stressful clip from the war movie Saving Private Ryan.

The results from the word association activity show that the participants who watched “Shrek” were 39% more accurate than those who watched the war clip.

And if this small instance of stress affects brain functioning, what is it saying about the impact that an international pandemic can have on an individual’s ability to be innovative and original?

In a Forbes article titled “Fear Shrinks Your Brain and Makes You Less Creative,” the author talks with neuroscientist Dr. Wendy Suzuki, who explains just what happens to our creativity when fear and stress peak.

Suzuki states that stress and fear shrink the hippocampus, which is “critical for long-term memory” and “implicated in [the production of ] creativity and imagination.”

She goes on to state the true definition of imagination is “taking those things you have in your memory and putting them together in a new way.” So it’s easy to see that when these two cognitive abilities are diminished, so are an artist’s most fundamental resources.

To put in simpler terms, stress expert Cynthia Ackrill says our brain goes into “primitive survival mode” when under stress and, as a result, “your brain hijacks blood from your more rational, creative regions to fuel the physiology of ‘fight or flight.’”

How You Can Wage War on Stress and Rekindle Your Creative Juices

If your stress stems from fear of the virus itself:

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends a number of things you can do to put stress in its proper place, especially in regard to fear and anxiety over the actual virus itself. Some of the things they mention?

  • Lay off the 24-hour coronavirus reading and viewing marathon. Make yourself aware of basic preventative techniques against the virus and then turn off the information overload. It’ll only serve to heighten your fears.
  • Express your concerns and worries about the virus to others. Sometimes just verbalizing your concerns and listening to other perspectives can lower your stress level.

If your stress stems from financial concerns or other unexpected changes precipitated by the virus:

  • Keep things in perspective. This situation is temporary, and even though you may not know how long it may take to get back to a state of normalcy, it will return. Most of you will resume your jobs and, if the worst happens and the epidemic causes job loss, you will recover. Think of all the things you have overcome, and as the old saying goes, “This too will pass.” I know it sounds like a platitude, but it’s not.

For example, last June my husband lost his six-figure job and was out of work for seven months. We had hard times and I felt on many days that things would never get better. But they did.

About two months ago, he got a new job. We’re still adjusting to finances and other issues related to his new job, but the point is that “we made it through.” And so will you.

  • Create some sort of routine amidst the chaos of the situation. With all the sudden changes resulting from the pandemic, creating new routines can decrease stress. Make a schedule of sorts, even if you’re still working from home. Perhaps you set a scheduled time for writing (most writers know this works great already), but what about setting a time for things such as daily chores, meditation, exercise, or even family activities?

Career coach and writer, Marty Nemko, explains the importance of routine on relieving stress when he states that “modern life, increasingly defined by unpredictability, can be anxiety-provoking, and routines provide an anchor of predictability.”

  • Practice gratitude. Again, it may sound a bit trite, but remembering all the blessings you have even in the midst of upheaval can work to lessen your stress. Just as the brain can shut down creative functions when under extreme duress, gratitude works to counteract these forces.

Positive Psychology states that a state of gratitude causes our brain to “[release] dopamine and serotonin, the two crucial neurotransmitters responsible for our emotions…They enhance our mood immediately, making us feel happy from the inside.”

So in these trying times, try to remember the important things. You may have lost your job, but someone else may have just lost a loved one. You may have unpaid bills, but someone has just received a deadly medical diagnosis. Your kids at home may be driving you crazy, but at least they’re healthy and safe.

Keeping a gratitude journal can be especially beneficial during times when it feels your world is falling apart.

Writing itself is a form of emotional release and writing positive things down gives us a permanent reminder of the fact that there are always things for which to be grateful.

  • Give your body what it needs. Besides physically ridding yourself of pent-up negative energy, exercise provides “brain benefits” in much the same way that practicing gratitude does.

Harvard Health states :

“Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol” and “[produces] endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.”

In the same way, proper nutrition can also help alleviate stress. Web MD cites a number of foods that work as “stress-busters:” They include foods that contain complex carbs, foods high in vitamin C and potassium, leafy greens, fish, and even almonds, which contain vitamin E to boost your immune system.

  • Indulge your senses. We all know of certain things that trigger the happiness centers in our brains: a scented candle, some hot tea, our favorite music, a long steamy bath with fragrant essential oils (my personal favorite). Use these things to help elevate your mood.

The Bottom Line:

We don’t have a lot of control over this global crisis that has taken our world by storm. But small measures, when added together, work to create a barrier that can protect us from drowning in a sea of stress and hopelessness.

And when we decrease this stress, we increase the ability for our artistic, creative nature to return home to us. And we want it to come knocking, because, after all, we’ve got that great novel to write or that viral article to compose.

Best of luck. Stay safe and harness those creative juices once again.

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Sanford, NC
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