Tuesday, January 12, 2021

 How Stress Effects Creativity         

...And Why Some Thrive While others Falter Under Pressure?

by Rhonda Frankhouser

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Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

A Letter to My Writer’s Soul

RE: Your Long Absence

My dearest, darling muse,

It’s been nearly a year since you left me. I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve missed your snark and light-hearted wit. The freedom and adventure you once instilled in me has withered, leaving my soul collapsed around sadness and fear.

I pray each day that the stress radiating from every avenue of life will subside and give you a fighting chance to break through, but this world we now live in is not the same world of my youth. The hate, anger, blame, sickness, and division is beyond repressive. It’s downright destructive, and I’ll never forgive that it keeps you a severed arms’ distance from me.

Until such time as you are freed to grace my mind again, I promise to do my part. I will gather adventures for fodder; transform angst into character; become a barrier to negativity, and remember my many blessings amid the devastation.

I want you to know that I am ever thankful for our past together — and ever hopeful for a blissful reunion one day soon. But mostly, I want you to know that I forgive you for disappearing. Sometimes, I wish I could do the same.



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Photo by Ryan Snaadt on Unsplash

So, let’s talk about this very touchy subject. How does stress effect the Creative — and why is it different for every person?

Recently, I had a conversation with an esteemed writer about the effect stress has on creative individuals. It baffled us both how some thrive while others falter under various types of pressure. As you can probably tell by reading my letter above, I’m definitely a member the latter group under stress that relates to family, livelihood, and health, while stress derived from competition ignites an engine of creativity inside of me.

After our conversation, I did a little research into this phenomenon. I spent a half hour of my life — which at the time I felt I truly did not have to spare, watching the YouTube Video by Dr. Joe Dispenza, entitled Living in SURVIVAL vs. Living in CREATION.

Survival vs. Creation — It’s worth the time to watch!

In that blessed half hour, I learned exactly how devastating unmanaged stress can be on our mind, body, and soul. I never realized allowing these emotions to rule your inner world could create disorganized thought and even physical illness.

According to Dr. Dispenza, when we enter Survival state or Animal state, stress hormones throw us into an incoherent, emergency mode — seeking shelter from the onslaught of negativity and damaging stress hormones. In this environment, we become more matter than energy, and creation takes a back seat to survival.
The good news is, with a conscious effort to attend to your own self care and positive mindfulness, you can develop the ability to believe in a brighter future, rather than dwelling on the dismal past. He termed this the Divine state or Creative state, which broadens our focus and opens awareness.
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Photo by Erik Brolin on Unsplash

I never knew a short walk, or a few, mindful moments of silence, could redirect mismanaged stress, stifling the physical and emotional consequences of overactive stress hormones.

Who knew we had that much control, controlling the uncontrollable? So, is that the difference why some creatives thrive in the Divine state while others, like me, are stuck just trying to Survive.

Listening to Dr. Dispenza’s explanation made me understand a whole lot more about the phenomenon called STRESS, but I still read on. Because that’s what writers do…

Daniel Kunitz, in his article Why Creative People Need Stress in their Lives, states that stress is just another type of stimuli for our psyche to manage. Not all stress should be thought of as negative. It can be a driving force for success or a weight that drags you down, depending on how it’s buffered or perceived.

He further relays how different levels of stress effect the creative.

1. Extreme levels — undermines all creativity. It’s best to give yourself permission to relax until it passes.

2. Moderate levels — can either bring on inspiration or procrastination depending on how a person handles it. Most productive creatives operate best in the moderate level.

3. Low levels — finds most creatives feeling stagnant and uninspired.

Personally, I’d never thought of stress in those terms. It’s always been this repressive energy created from my lack of control, or sadness over a situation, that holds me down until I can’t focus on anything other than the negativity.

Much like Dr. Dispenza, Kunitz’ view of stress levels has given me permission, for the first time ever, to be still and quiet when there are too many sources of negativity working against me. When life gets overwhelming, it’s okay to disconnect and find a happy place. Take a walk, go for a coffee, and expect nothing from myself but to breathe.

Like most creatives, I have a built-in guilt mechanism that kicks in when I’m not being productive — which of course, creates its own source of stress. Grasping the meaning of the stress levels, and understanding my own limits, has helped me cope with this guilt.


hypothesis also encouraged me to gently push myself toward the laptop, (which I am doing right now, btw). If I’m gracious with my trepidation and just allow my fingers to hover over the keys — maybe the door will wiggle open for my fun-loving writer’s soul to peek through? Maybe writing is the cure to repelling the sinister effects of anxiety? My own therapy, perhaps?

Here’s my short list of stressors to avoid in today’s bizarre environment.

· No more scroll hole on social media for hours on end

· No more news that show only negative stories

· No more political commercials which tell us nothing of how problems will be solved

I know, I know, everyone needs to be informed and be a part of the solution, but maybe we should all find a way to make things better by doing better things? Write something beautiful that gives readers hope for a brighter tomorrow. Paint, cook, draw to create lightness. If you have no energy to create, listen to music, read, breathe, but please, don’t dedicate hours of time you’ll never get back to things that are geared to cause upheaval.

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Photo by Brian Wertheim on Unsplash


But I digress. After all my research on stress as it relates to creativity, I’ve given myself permission to think of stress as another method of motivation. Life’s pressures force action, which require healing, and finally adaptation. Just as physical exercise is designed to break your muscles down, so you can rebuild into an even stronger being, maybe using stress as a positive can allow us to manipulate it into useful energy for change?

With a little direction and mindfulness, human beings can be amazing, adaptable creatures with the ability to transition through life, bouncing from one obstacle to another, to finally evolve into stronger, smarter, calmer versions of ourselves. After all that 2020 has put us through, I have no doubt our next evolution will be one for the ages.

Thanks for listening,

Rhonda Frankhouser

Award-Winning Author


Previously published on Kristine Raymond's blog and Medium.com, but I wanted to share with my Cowboy Kisses family. So sorry for the huge photos :-(

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Julie Lence said...

Hi Rhonda! I am the same way in that, if something needs my attention or is bothering me, the writing suffers until I fix it or deal with it. Your words are good reminder that we all need to unplug from time to time. Hugs!

Renaissance Women said...

I a truly glad you shared your 'stress' journey. There was a lot I related to and brought to mind the reason I started hiking and photographing my journeys. I look forward to what the fingers on the keys bring next. Doris

Robyn Echols said...

I agree with your ways to reduce unproductive stress. When I need to ramp up my creativity to get a book finished, I have to stay off social media except for bare minimum, and I try to stay away from negative news. My husband is a news program watcher -- says he's waiting to hear the weather -- so that sometimes is not always easy. I sometimes take my computer in the other room.

As for moderate stress -- that is how I get things done, particularly when it is a result of meeting my prior commitments. If I have no stress -- no deadlines -- I procrastinate and often use my time unproductively. When I get down to the wire, I'll push myself to stay focused on the project at hand, and stay up later to write where, without the stress of a deadline, I'd opt to read or quilt.

On the other hand, the outside stress -- situations over which I have little or no control -- I agree that can compress creativity into almost nothing. When we find ourselves facing those conditions, I think we have to alter our goals to be more manageable, strengthen our faith, and find activities that will provide a bit of relief and help us better face the challenge. You named several good possibilities.

Thanks for your post.

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

The letter to your Muse is so beautifully put. It's helpful to hear what other writers are going through. This past year my muse took a hike too. Writing became a chore instead of a pleasure, so I decided to put working on anything aside--maybe forever, I thought. Instead I felt the need to put my energy into my home and family, keeping us stocked up, fed well, and the house clean and organized. Miraculously my muse has wandered back, though there are so many distractions at the moment.
Daily walking has always helped me, and lately my instinct tells me to walk longer and faster. I just started reading a book called in Praise of Walking written by a neuroscientist. There is a chapter on Walking and Creativity, which I haven't gotten to yet or I'd share some insights! Thanks for this post, Rhonda.