If you want to stay creative, good mental health is key. Any supposed link between creative genius and insanity is an outdated trope, research shows. And when mental stressors go up, creativity drops. We lose the confidence to take risks and the focus to let things flow.
There’s no denying since the pandemic the world’s turning at a more stressed and fearful pace. We’ve been flooded with reports of how our mental health is in jeopardy. However, the steps that safeguard your mental health also keep you a focused, creative and divergent thinker. They are simpler than you think.
- Social nourishment
Stimulation from human connection sparks creative thought. According to the Un-loneliness Project, loneliness and social isolation damage mental health and increase the risk of death by 30 percent. But mindlessly reaching out is not the answer. The people you connect with can have a good or bad impact. Hanging with the ones who enrich and support you, the people most of us think of as our “chosen family” is essential. When stress is high, keep the often more neurotic family connections with their draining dynamics at a distance.
To slash stress and stay creative if working from home draw a clear line between work and family responsibilities. Take breaks to focus on yourself without distractions from immediate family.
Feel the frustration of boredom from social isolation, it can morph into outside-the-box, creative ideas
But the lack of social connection we now face is not creativity’s kiss of death. Joey Camire, who maintains innovation strategies at Google, has said if you let yourself feel the frustration of boredom from social isolation, it can morph into outside-the-box, creative ideas. Teenagers are the experts here so let boredom spur your inner adolescent to rebel. You’ll likely be flooded with novel thoughts and new approaches. The release of negative feelings will also calm you.
- Regular sleep
To stoke your brain’s creative fires, keep it well-rested and refreshed. Sleep deprivation disrupts brain chemistry so much you can’t think straight. A few days can make you feel like a basketcase. Emotions become hypersensitive and drain the confidence needed for creative risk.
Sleep also turns short-term learning into long-term skills, integrating and processing memory, subconscious ideas, and insights. All are essential for creative thought. Good sleep hygiene means regular hours in an environment that supports quality shut-eye. Read John Migues’ great primer on the benefits of sleep hygiene in this new normal for help.
- Challenge your brain
Reduced sensory input’s negative impact on mental health has been well documented. But “use it or lose it,” applies to a healthy and creative mind as well as physical muscles. Take up puzzles, crosswords, or brush up on your high school French or Spanish. Not a touch typist? Maybe now’s the time to master the skill.
In her book, What to Do if You’ve Lost Your Creativity, Jennifer Kosak offers tips like meditation, vision boards and even yelling back at the inner critic to enhance creative thought. Her collection of blogs, Unfold and Begin, is a goldmine of what to do to get out of a creative rut.
- Eat for Health
Just watch the episode on fast food in Netflix’s new series, History 101, to see how our 21st Century diet harms our mind and body. It kills concentration and drains energy, both crucial for creative work.
I've worked out a diet that keeps me mentally balanced, focused and, most days, in the creative groove, focused on unprocessed foods, no additives or preservatives and plenty of whole grains and legumes.
- Keep Moving
The link between exercise and mental health was detailed three decades ago, by William Morgan, and Stephen Goldston. Walking activates parts of your brain needed for convergent thinking, the type that finds fresh solutions. But it also promotes divergent thinking, the wide-ranging, open-ended thought patterns that are the bedrock of much creativity.
- Manage stress
Successful workplaces integrated meditation into their work plans to reduce stress before the pandemic. It’s even more important now. Many online apps, (Headspace and Insight Timer are two of my favorites) can help you relax and meditate. Pick one or mix up a bunch, whatever works best for you.
Hide your face from Zoom’s view to tone down performance pressure and free your imagination
Fight Zoom fatigue, the exhaustion from a lack of social cues and stress from that “constant gaze” at team members with mini-breaks. Avoid multitasking. Hide your face from Zoom’s view to tone down performance pressure and free your imagination. Another great way to cool stress jets and support creative flow is through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, an easy therapy technique that challenges automatic thinking patterns.
At the top of your how to stay sane and creative list put, “remember to breathe.” Most of us forget how. Robert Roy Britt has written an excellent piece on the value of breathing that offers different breathing techniques.
Few folks can stay creative without new experiences indefinitely. But this is not a “new forever.” Though life has narrowed during this “new normal for now” there are many escapes to replenish your perspective. Performance venues have adapted so what once stirred your creative juices live are often online. And a good book, a great film, or the sound of beautiful music can take you on a holiday to faraway places, even if they’re just in your mind’s eye.