How does stress impact our health and creativity? What is stress and how can we deal with it in healthy ways?
An article by The American Institute of Stress explains:
“Stress is not a useful term for scientists because it is such a highly subjective phenomenon that it defies definition.
“And if you can’t define stress, how can you possibly measure it?
“The term ‘stress’ as it is currently used was coined by Hans Selye in 1936, who defined it as ‘the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.’ …
“Any definition of stress should therefore also include good stress, or what Selye called eustress.
“For example, winning a race or election can be just as stressful as losing, or more so.
“A passionate kiss and contemplating what might follow is stressful, but hardly the same as having a root canal procedure.”
From article What is Stress?
Photo above is from article HeartMath Technology for Stress Relief and Emotional Balance.
Heidi Hanna, PhD is Executive Director of the American Institute of Stress, an integrative neuroscience researcher, a “former stressaholic” and provides many resources on understanding and mastering stress.
Dr. Hanna notes “one of the important things too for people to keep in mind is that there’s two different types of stress.
“A lot of people think about stress as being the extreme things that happen to us – you know, emergencies and losing a spouse or a loved one.
“And what’s interesting is that those really difficult, acute stressors… we’re pretty good at bouncing back from those situations.
“But what we see most of the issues coming from is actually everyday, nagging chronic stress like waking up in the morning and feeling like there’s not enough time to get it all done, or feeling like you don’t have the financial resources or the social support…”
See more, including videos, in article:
How To Master Stress – Resources by Heidi Hanna
Stress can be a convenient label for our reaction to many kinds of situations – such as having many projects.
As one author says:
“The relationship between stress and creativity is not a toxic one.
“In fact, small doses of stress — like juggling multiple projects or working under a tight deadline — are likely to produce the best ideas because they motivate your brain to work toward specific goals.”
The Surprising Relationship Between Stress and Creativity by Braden Becker.
[The image of Chinese acrobats is from my article Multitasking is really task-switching. Some people are good at it.]
But like other aspects of stress, people have different nervous systems and different capacities for handling multiple projects.
Yes, it can be necessary and even stimulating in positive ways, but too much is too much and we can get overwhelmed.
This can be especially true as a highly sensitive person, as many artists and other creative people are.
Being aware of when our nervous systems are getting “overloaded” and taking better care of ourselves can make our lives better and give more access to our creativity.
The stress response: fight or flight (or freeze)
The “fight-or-flight response (also called hyperarousal, or the acute stress response) is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.”
Fight-or-flight response, Wikipedia.
Adrenaline is “commonly known as the fight or flight hormone, and is produced by the adrenal glands after receiving a message from the brain that a stressful situation has presented itself.
“Adrenaline, along with norepinephrine, is largely responsible for the immediate reactions we feel when stressed.”
Adrenaline, Cortisol, Norepinephrine: The Three Major Stress Hormones, Explained, By Sarah Klein, HuffPost, 04/19/2013.
Some animals and people may respond to stress with a third strategy: freezing.
Many people face extreme situations like terrorist attacks and school shootings, but for most of us the stress in our lives is likely to come from much less violent situations. That doesn’t mean it is necessarily less harmful.
Have you ever seen a nature documentary of a lion attacking a herd of animals?
The animals – antelope, zebras, whatever – use their stress response to flee, then when the attack is over, they calm down quickly and return to grazing.
But we humans may stay over-aroused from stress for years.
Cheryl Arutt is a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, specializing in creative artist issues, trauma recovery, and fertility.
She notes: “Learning how to regulate internal states, how and when to use self-soothing techniques, and how to know when we are actually safe — these are key to emotional well-being for anyone, but for artists, they are especially useful.”
From her article Affect Regulation and the Creative Artist.
In our interview, she explains that “Learning soothing techniques – learning how not to have to keep going into fight or flight – allows us to use our whole brain, not just the survival reflexes.”
Mastering stress and anxiety – a collection of programs and other resources.