I am smack in the middle of my last semester. The stress of tests and final projects are bogging me down and my creativity isn’t doing it’s job.
Because this represents the 800th incarnation of this recurring nightmare, I have been able to evaluate my feelings. What I have are the following thoughts:
“Holy crap, I’m going to fail this class if I don’t hurry and submit something. I really don’t want to take this horrible class again, so I better have… well, anything will work at this point.”
“I can’t believe they are charging me nearly $1,000 for this. Getting through this class will earn me not one, not two, but three whole ‘credit hours!’ A seemingly arbitrary number serving as the arcane currency of long-dead sociopaths — masters in young adult anxiety. Three measly credits are also wildly unrepresentative of the immense anxiety I now lament.
In related news, I also have the these competing thoughts:
“Holy crap, if I don’t work on my story/blog/editing I will never do it. And if I miss one day, I’ll never write again, because I have no discipline. They’ll find my body slumped over my typewriter, most certainly naked.
The dismal remnants of a once glorious collection of Pringles™ tubes and Toll House cookie dough tubs will be strewn about the room.
Five stacks of unfinished manuscript pages will compete for space on my cluttered desktop, the way bad cholesterol clogs the lining of my cold, empty, heart.”
These thoughts are, at best, unproductive. The problem is, both trains of thought run in unison. Rather than succumbing to either paradigm, I decided to blow off my writing goals and chose to ditch all homework. Instead, I began researching how stress impacts creativity.
Your body sucks when you’re stressed.
Increased heart rate:
Remember the last time your brain shut down because you had to use the restroom so bad you thought you would die? Probably not your most creative moment. Your heart was pounding, even if you didn’t notice, because it’s a sign of stress.
Arousal of the sympathetic nervous system:
This means launching into action and your fight or flight response kicks in. Your mind and body begin working together to make sure you can either slay the problem, or run away screaming from the enemy.
Reduced activity in the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS):
PNS mean relaxation. If this part of your system is sitting on the bench most of the time, rather than playing in the game, it could begin forgetting how to play correctly. I was especially concerned to learn that men could have real-life man problems if the PNS starts to suck. Chronic stress in men can cause erectile dysfunction or impotence. Now, you don’t have to have a Ph.D in psychology to know that I can’t be creative if I’m worried about… not being able to stand at attention.
Women are not immune:
Stress can mess up your family reunions (when uncle T.O.M. and aunt Flo come to visit). Women are also at risk of having less regular and more painful family reunions. How could you possibly be creative during that?
Stress makes your muscles tighten because the body wants to help guard against threats. A billion years ago, people fought animals and I can assume that was pretty stressful. Even though stress is mental, your body doesn’t know you’re not being chased by a man-eating wooly mammoth. Stress induced muscle tension can lead to headaches as severe as migraines. Have you ever tried to be creative with a migraine?
Increased Breathing Rate:
If you have asthma or emphysema, breathing poorly is a no-no. Stress can change a person’s breathing pattern. Lesson? Stress makes creating anything impossible because hyperventilation and panic attacks don’t leave much room for controlled use of a paint brush.
Trying to be creative while stressed is hard but not impossible. The right amount of stress may get you to produce results, but it will probably not be your best work.