Stress and Creativity

Stress - CreativityThough the following is primarily intended for authors most will apply to all walks-of-life and professions.

In modern society ‘stress’ is a much used word; some may consider it overused. Nevertheless, it is a recognised psychological/medical condition that a majority will suffer or have suffered with at some stage in their life.

The following is not intended to be a dialogue upon the various possible meanings, concepts or understandings of stress. The aim is simply to provide some comprehension of how stress may impact upon creativity no matter which field the reader may work within.

What is stress?

‘Pressure; mental or emotional strain.’ (Little Oxford English Dictionary)

Synonyms: ‘Strain, pressure, tension, worry, anxiety.’ (Little Oxford English Dictionary)

Most will undoubtedly concur. However, it should never be assumed one person’s concept is identical to another’s. Each person is unique and may well use the term to define differing circumstances.

‘Stress is body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat.’ (Unknown)

As a rule, most consider stress to be harmful but sometimes it can have a positive impact. Provided not excessive, it can help perform under pressure and also motivate. For example: It can keep someone focused when undertaking something like a talk/presentation. It can motivate study/research when the individual would prefer to be doing something else. Etc. But it should be understood if the stress is constant it can take a serious toll.

What causes stress?

Naturally, to large extent, this tends to be personal however, there are some generally accepted causes. The following are just some examples and are in no particular order:

  • Finances.
  • Relationships.
  • Health.
  • Career.
  • Fear.
  • Responsibilities.
  • Emotions.
  • Negative thinking.
  • Etc.

In some instances, these may not apply to the individual themselves but to those they care about, upon whose behalf they are concerned and anxious.

What conditions may result?

  • Depression.
  • Tiredness.
  • Poor concentration.
  • Lack/loss of interest.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Comfort eating.
  • Drinking.
  • Drug use.
  • Etc.

Of course this is by no means an exhaustive list. Many other conditions may result and can be personal to the individual.

What impact may stress have upon creativity?

As previously mentioned this is primarily aimed at authors consequently, the following is based upon that understanding. That does not mean it will not apply to others. Again the following is by no means exhaustive and in no particular order.

  • Loss of interest in the work to hand.
  • Inability to concentrate.
  • Slapdash writing: grammar; context; dialogue; etc.
  • Lack of attention to detail: plot; character development; world building; etc.
  • Undermining, negative viewpoint: constantly considering the work is poor quality.
  • Over critical: nothing ever right.
  • Overwhelming desire to abandon project but at the same time feeling guilty at the thought.
  • Etc.

The combined result may lead to some degree of depression; to be a creative who feels they cannot create is truly a frustrating and serious condition. They may well be aware of what is happening but feel unable to prevent the outcome. There may also be occasions when a person will not recognise their condition, simply attributing how they feel to: tiredness; over exertion; busy lifestyle; multi-tasking; etc. Of course, it is possible these are the causes but if they persist without respite it can become very serious.

Can stress be utilised in the creative process?

In many instances stress can, and frequently does, have a negative impact upon an individual’s creativity. However, as with most things there are exceptions to the ‘rule’. For example: Some artist’s stress/depression is considered to have had a beneficial impact upon their art. Some had their ‘Blue’; ‘Dark’; Surreal’, ‘Abstract’; ‘Fantasy’ periods that critics have acclaimed long after their demise.

Authors can, as with all life events, utilise their stress in their writing. Most books are about people and the events they encounter and face. About the conflicts and ‘stresses’ of life. ‘Write what you know.’ is a maxim often heard. Though, naturally, an author uses their imagination their writing will have a ‘truer’ ring if they call upon their own experiences or those of others who they have contact with. In addition, as already mentioned, stress can act as a motivator and keep a person focused.

In essence, authors need to try and understand what is happening to them and to turn that into material for their writing. Perhaps, initially, it will simply be a matter of making notes that detail how they are feeling and how their physical and mental systems are responding. It is possible, such an activity may even help them break the psychological barrier stress often creates.

How may stress be dealt with?

Just a selection of ideas. Again by no means exhaustive.

  • Examine the underlying circumstances to see if anything may be done about them. And, it there is – do it.
  • Accept the circumstance if it cannot be changed. Though some degree of the ‘stress’ may remain acceptance can help alleviate its intensity.
  • Adhere to any commitments made. This provides a degree of motivation that can help overcome some of the effects of stress.
  • Break usual routine: change when things done; go out; visit new places; etc. A change of scene or routine often refreshes and stimulates.
  • Exercise: A gentle walk is frequently beneficial though sometimes something more aggressive is needed. Exercise helps circulation that usually helps stimulate the brains activity.
  • Talk the situation through with a trusted person: relative; friend; colleague; etc.
  • Self-discipline: Perseverance will often result in a break through, though it may prove difficult to start with. Achieving any goal will result in a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction which in their turn may break the impact of the stress.
  • Try to channel the stress into creating something different: adopt a different approach to the work in hand; put the work in hand to one side and commence a new one.


Stress, though usually viewed as negative is not always so.

When stress hits, try to understand the underlying cause. If possible, change the circumstance but if it cannot be changed try and accept and work through it.

Persevere: pushing through and achieving a set goal, no matter how small, can be liberating and lead to a lighter sense of being.

Try and channel the stress into either furthering the work in hand or by creating something new. Seeing something positive coming out of it provides an upbeat sense of achievement.

Understand, as with all situations, the problem resulting in the stress will eventually dissipate.

There is a lot more that may be said but, as already stated, this is not intended to be an intensive, all-encompassing dialogue on stress.

3 thoughts on “Stress and Creativity

  1. Great post. I think creative people need to look after their stress levels, though I agree it can be invaluable for writing purposes. Becoming more self aware helps, but it takes a lot of practice, like any worthwhile change.

    Liked by 1 person

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