Stress and Creative Genius: The Playful Art of Push and Pull



Stress can inspire creative genius, especially when you are pushed into a corner and have to figure something out in a flash. This high-octane approach can work in small doses when it creeps up on you (see procrastination) but it’s not the best solution for long-term creative inspiration. Stress is especially challenging for sensitive folks, who quickly get burnt out and take a while to recover a sense of balance to get back in sync.

I believe there can be a balance between these two powerhouses, and it requires both playfulness and a willingness to find new ways to experiment with your creative genius. The other key ingredient is to take an honest look at how your stress triggers tie into your creative flow.

In some cases stress could get your creative ideas flowing through like a mountain river in spring time. Other intense situations can cause you to become really disconnected and feel out of your own body, almost like you are walking through oatmeal. When this happens, all the caffeine in the world isn’t going to help — you’ve simply left the building (so to speak).


An Easy Way to Look at Your Creative Behavior from Outside Yourself

To get a sense of where you are personally, it can help to put your thoughts down on paper and get out of your head. One approach is to journal about a particularly stressful day as it’s happening or once the day is over and you are back in a neutral space.

Write down your triggers, emotions, frustrations and possible solutions. Vent, rant, speculate, project — get it all out. Then, when you’ve had day or two away from the experience, review your notes to see things from a more detached perspective.


The Push and Pull of Stress Triggers

It’s important to know how you are using stress in your life. Some amount of stress is healthy (and part of daily life). Nothing much would get done in the world without the drive to improve, change or create. When stress is your only motivator to take action, or you FEEL like you need stress in your life to take action, that’s where things become unbalanced.

The notes from your exercise act as a great window into the truthful details about your experience in moment of actually feeling it. This “raw data” is where the truth lies, before your mind comes in to rationalize.

So in your review, does a particular trigger stand out? Does it get triggered often? Were you able to move past it easily, or did the stressful experience hang over you for hours, lingering and impacting your creativity or daily tasks?

On the flip side, did stress jolt you into action, pushing you past feelings of procrastination and doubt? Does this happen often? Any idea why you need to feel forced to create?



Take Rationality Out of the Picture, Just for a Moment

Although some of your triggers may not seem rational, they are an important part of how your subconscious reacts to stress. It also reveals the not-so-logical ways you may react that sabotage you instead of serve you.

For me, stress becomes really intense around expectations from others. For example, when something happens and I’m unable to meet a deadline I’ve set (even if it’s out of my control), I start to become very stressed out, disconnected from my physical body and stuck in my head. My mind is spinning trying to find a solution to fix the issue at hand quickly to get back on track, but sometimes there is just nothing that can be done. Computers break, people don’t provide what you need on time and folks change their minds — and I have no control over any of those factors.

What was really eye-opening for me was how these feelings trigger an intense physical reaction in my body, slowly gearing it up into overdrive making me feel stiff and tense. Once the stress trigger has passed, I feel very tired and spacey.

Now that I know it’s a common pattern for me, I’ve learned to walk away during a mentally stressful moment instead of continuing to push, grabbing some fresh air or listening to music and taking deep breaths. Then I can come back into my whole body instead of just my mindspace where I’m overthinking things.


Playing with your Creative Genius and Healthy Views of Stress

With a little time away from a situation I realize it’s not that bad and I usually come up with a creative way to work around the obstacle, regrouping with a much better attitude. My powerful desire of wanting to make sure I serve people in the way I have committed can be intense (and somewhat irrational) at times, but at least I now understand that it’s the trigger instead of judging myself for getting all spazzy.

Once you know more about how you use stress to create, or the tools you need to curb it and keep creativity flowing more smoothly, you are tuning into the playful art of push and pull that works for you. Then you can open up to the real-life changes that will create an effective bridge between stress and your creative genius.

Photo credit: Theirry Sanchez, Dierk Schaefer