How Stress Affects Your Creativity

Stress and creativity do not get along.

Are you stressed right now? Don’t lie to me. If you aren’t currently on the edge of panic, you’ve been there before. Stress is a mood-ruining, soul-crushing, energy-zapping mind monster. Everyone hates it and does what they can to try getting rid of it.

How much thought have you put into how closely your stress and creativity are related? How does one affect the other? It depends on the type of stress – whether it’s negative or positive. Let’s look at the differences.

Negative stress leaves you unfocused, unproductive

When you’re negatively stressed, you don’t feel good. It’s hard to think. You might feel “foggy” or find it difficult to sit down and focus on one task even for a few minutes at a time. Stressed out writers are extremely unproductive, because they keep trying to come up with new ideas or make headway on projects when there’s no hope of getting any quality work done. Negative stress is a hostile environment for ideas. They avoid emerging from their hiding places until things calm down in your brain. Meaning, if you’re way too stressed out, you need to do some yoga or something. Seriously. Chill.

It also makes you physically tired

Physical fatigue pretty much means that even if you do manage to gather up some inspiration or motivation to actually get something done, you’re not very likely to actually do anything about it. Physically, your body starts whining that it wants a nap or pizza or to watch an entire season of Grey’s Anatomy for no reason. Physical and mental fatigue are linked, and stress rarely ambushes one without simultaneously damaging the other. So, again, you need your own personal way to cope here – exercise, or caffeine, or maybe a good night’s sleep.

Positive stress can be a good thing – in small amounts

Positive stress is that little buzz of adrenaline you feel when something’s due in a few hours and you have about 20 minutes left before you’re finished. It’s that rush of energy you feel as you’re writing out today’s to-do list. It’s a busy day ahead, but you’re not panicking – you’re ready. This is why, for some people, goals, schedules and deadlines are the driving forces behind productivity and achievement. A little stress is just what you need to get task X crossed off your list. Too much stress, though, can have the opposite effect – which is why managing it, as you’ve heard a thousand times, is extremely important.

How to manage your stress as a writer
  • Don’t take on more than you can handle. There’s a difference between hard work and intentionally burning yourself out.
  • Make time for writing, and for not writing. If you’ve met your writing goals for the day and don’t want to push yourself any further, don’t.
  • A little stress is a good thing, so make sure you’re always working toward some kind of goal, even if it’s small.
  • Be nice to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve fallen behind. Take a few deep breaths, sit down and do what needs to be done, as best you can.

Obviously I’d go into much more detail if this were anything other than a writing blog, but you get the idea. Stress and creativity are estranged relatives. There’s only so much they can tolerate each other before one of them has to leave. A little stress, you can handle that. Too much, and good luck meeting those writing goals this year … you’re going to need it.

Writing is stressful. Life is stressful enough without adding writing to the equation. BREATHE. I’m on your side here. If you’re in a creative slump, maybe this is why. Go talk to somebody. Delegate some tasks. Take a vacation. Or just close your eyes and breathe.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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