Have you ever had a situation wherein you were so stressed that your brain just seemed to stop working? The world is filled with stressful situations – often which cannot be avoided.
It is a common occurrence, especially at school and at work. An assignment is due at midnight and you’re nowhere near finished. You need to pitch an idea to the CEO and you’re only on your first slide of the presentation deck. Or perhaps you’re a writer who can’t seem to come up with the perfect ending for your book, and the draft is due tomorrow.
Challenging situations can actually be beneficial for an individual – but only to a certain extent. It hones your analytical thinking skills and you can train yourself to not succumb to panic. However, it can also be detrimental to health if it happens too often. It leads to burnout and fatigue.
Stress depletes productivity. It blocks us from thinking outside the box. It takes up the energy for us to think clearly. Missing a deadline or the fear of fumbling a client pitch can cause anxiety levels to shoot up and no work gets done.
How To Stay Creative Even When Stressed
Here are techniques on how to keep the flow going, even if you are in an unpleasant environment.
1. Take a Break
This is often the best and simplest solution. Take a breather and just step away for a moment. It gives the mind a chance to recuperate. We are often caught up on our tasks that the moment we get stuck, we get frustrated. We feel like a failure and get embarrassed that we cannot do a task successfully. A human can only do so much productive work in a day. The quality of work degrades after focusing on the task for a few hours.
Engage in an activity that will take your mind off the task for a while. A study shows that you are more likely to generate creative thoughts when doing habitual tasks. Go on a walk. Take a shower. Do the dishes. This lets your mind wander into a “stream of consciousness” wherein experts believe it helps generate new ideas.
2. Create a Conducive Environment that promotes psychological safety
The environment you work in has a huge impact on creativity. That is why psychological safety is an important factor. This is a condition wherein an individual won’t be humiliated for speaking up with questions, concerns, and ideas.
There are four stages of psychological safety based on Timothy Clark’s book:
- Inclusion safety: Nobody in the team is excluded. They are comfortable being present and have a sense of belongingness in the team.
- Learner safety: Questions are allowed from everyone. Members should be able to ask for help and admit mistakes.
- Contributor safety: Members are welcome to share their own ideas and opinions. Nobody should be attacked for sharing a thought.
- Challenger safety: Ideas can be questioned but in a respectful way.
Non-conducive work environments can mean less productive output. Make sure to put in place psychological safety training to have a happier and safer workplace.
3. Be Mindful of Work-Life Balance
Aside from taking a break, it is important to practice work-life balance. You might be taking your work too seriously that you don’t allow yourself to enjoy things outside of work. When individuals are drained, creative abilities also take a dip.
Having a good work-life balance can increase your mental space. A clear mind is also a mind that can generate creative thoughts. Blending aspects of work and personal life can also be helpful. You can draw inspiration from personal experiences and incorporate it into your work.
4. Practice Deep Breathing and Relaxation Techniques
Deep breathing calms down the nervous system. There are also a lot of meditation guides that you can learn which can help reduce the stress and anxiety you feel.
Some types of relaxation techniques are:
- Autogenic relaxation: repeating words in your mind that will help you relax. It also included imagining a peaceful place and focusing on slowing your heart rate.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: focus on tensing and relaxing muscle groups.
- Visualization: forming mental images and using other senses such as smell, sound, and touch.
This just doesn’t end with deep breathing and meditation. You can try yoga, massages, and even a quick workout could even relax you. Exercise will make your body produce happy hormones and reduce stress. After an hour or so, you can jump right back to your task and hopefully feel refreshed.
5. Collaborate and Seek Feedback
Sometimes fresh eyes are all we need. Stress can cause tunnel vision, which blinds us to see that sometimes the solution is really simple. We need to see things from a different angle or perspective, as we often only look at them in one dimension.
Next time that you are stuck on something you’re working on, don’t be afraid to seek guidance from someone else. Be prepared for constructive criticism and don’t let this add more stress to yourself. Be open to suggestions and handle them with grace. They could mention feedback that will spark creativity back into your veins.
6. Creative Outlet
Aside from doing habitual tasks, you can also try another creative outlet. Try to grab a piece of paper and jot down every single thought that comes to mind. This can help declutter the mind and eliminate unnecessary thoughts at the back of your headspace. You can also use this to organize your thoughts and make a mind map to connect your ideas.
Other creatives outlets can be:
- Drawing or doodling
- Knitting or crocheting
Work on your hobby when you’re feeling stumped. Or perhaps even start a new one! This can help your mind recover from the stress of the other activity you’re doing.
The world is full of constant demands and pressure. The pressure can come from external factors, or can even be just thoughts from your own mind. As humans, we deal with stress in different ways. We also have different creative outlets. What’s important is we listen to ourselves and experiment with what techniques work for us.
In a company setting, employers can reduce stress levels by learning how to create psychological safety in the workplace. A safe space to work can do wonders for a team. It also promotes a good working culture that produces superb results.
As an individual, train yourself on how to deal with stressful situations. Know when to stop working and give yourself a chance to unwind. Remember, creativity is the highest when your mind feels free.