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How Stress and Worry Can Fuel Creativity

Inspiration can be found everywhere. While we at Design.org are big proponents of operating out of love rather than fear, and maintaining a positive instead of a negative focus, we also have to acknowledge that creativity can be inspired by and born from dark, sad, or “down” feelings as well. In this post, I’ll discuss how stress and worry can fuel creativity, and how you can take advantage of that (without letting the negative feelings overwhelm you).

The downsides of stress and worry

Let me just start off by clarifying: I’m not saying that it’s okay for you to feel stressed and worried all the time. Chronic stress can have many long-term negative effects, like:

  • Heart problems
  • Problems with blood vessels
  • Raised risk for heart attack or stroke
  • Inflammation
  • High cholesterol
  • Increased risk of diabetes

So yes, chronic stress is definitely something to avoid.

That said, none of us is going to avoid stress and worry completely. With pressure put on us by work, relationships, personal expectations, religious or community responsibilities, and more, we are all bound to go through periods of high stress and worry. Many people actually worry so much that it turns into a struggle with an anxiety disorder (around 18% of the adult population in any given year, in fact, struggles with anxiety).

But because we can’t avoid stress and worry completely, the best thing to do is to learn how to handle those negative feelings in a positive way. One thing you can do is use your stress and worry to fuel your creativity.

How stress and worry can fuel creativity

How exactly does this work, and how can you make it work for you? Here are some ways stress and worry fuel creativity, along with ideas of how to apply it in your own life.

Pressure solves problems.

The pressure that accompanies stress and worry can actually put your brain into problem-solving mode. As the worry and stress kick in and your brain starts to perceive the situation as dangerous or threatening, it starts to look for ways to get you out of it. In this way, stress and worry can spark creative thinking and brainstorming.

What are you stressed or worried about? What creative solutions can you come up with to solve those problems?

Negative emotions can fuel art.

Negative emotions are part of the human experience, and they deserve to be explored and depicted in creative works. Some of the most famous books, paintings, songs, etc. are centered around negative thoughts, feelings, or experiences.

Whatever you are stressed or worried about, allow yourself to feel the feelings and channel them into your creative efforts. Don’t think you have to wait until you’re “feeling better” to create; you can create now.

Nervous energy can get you moving.

Feeling stressed or worried can send your body into a version of “fight or flight” mode. One way to get out of this is to start doing something—anything! The best solutions, however, involve movement. Movement allows your body to become more present, realizing the reality around you instead of the perceived danger. 

This can fuel creativity in a few ways. For one, your nervous energy might drive you to start working with your hands, which is a surefire way to get your creative energy going. Additionally, movement can wake up different parts of the brain and allow you to think more clearly, which can help you come to creative solutions. Some of the best ideas I’ve had have come to me while I’m doing something else: yardwork, exercising, or even just taking a quick walk around the block. 

Imagination is powerful.

Stress and worry often occur as the result of imagining a negative future. We don’t know how something is going to turn out, and it’s easy to imagine the worst. 

Why not use your imagination to get creative? Play out the worst-case scenarios you are imagining in your head when you feel stressed or worried. What would happen? How would people respond? What would you do? Rather than trying not to think about these negative things, embrace the imaginative thoughts. Stretch your thinking. Go deeper. See how far your imagination can take you. If writing helps, write these imagined scenes down. (If you’re a writer, they could be a killer start to a great story!)

Time crunches aren’t always bad.

Many creatives experience stress and worry over deadlines. As “free thinkers,” some creatives find that the restrictive nature of deadlines can sometimes feel rigid or harsh. 

That said, I know a lot of creatives who feel like they do better work under a time crunch. When a deadline is fast approaching and you’re stressed about meeting it, you don’t have time to overthink things or second guess your creative impulses. You just go for it! And many times, that’s exactly what results in a creative mind’s best work. 

Learn for the future.

Stress and worry can teach you a lot about yourself, if you’re paying attention. Use your stressful experiences as learning experiences. Think about:

  • How you work in a crisis
  • How you handle pressure
  • Who you turn to for help
  • What makes you feel better or more productive
  • What brought on the stress in the first place
  • How the stress affected you physically
  • What helped inspire your creativity during that stressful time

If you can figure out how to learn from your stress and worry, your creativity will benefit in both the short and long term. 

While I certainly don’t recommend stress or worry as long-term creativity strategies, they don’t have to completely derail your creativity either. In fact, stress and worry can fuel your creativity, add depth or new meaning to your creative works, and teach you important lessons about yourself, your emotions, your work habits, and how to find future success.

In short, don’t stress or worry about your stress and worry. They don’t have to be your enemies. You can put them to work for you and use them to your advantage. And you and your creative work will be all the better for it.  

“Create happy” in your life, with Design.org.

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