We may be, in many ways, a nation divided, but there’s at least one point we can all agree on: Navigating a pandemic has been stressful.
It has also required an abundance of creative problem-solving. But here’s the catch: Chronic stress—the kind that arises from fear and fuels anxiety and exhaustion—squelches creativity, studies suggest. From there, a downward spiral begins, because, as research also shows, being creative can diminish stress.
In short, more chronic stress leads to less creativity, which can result in more stress.
Here we offer four ways to break the cycle and spur your creative side—diminishing chronic stress and enhancing your quality of life.
Get off your duff. Exercise and creativity seem to go hand in hand, as researchers have found in studies such as this one. Even simple, everyday movement such as going for a walk or even just getting up from your desk and moving around is linked with greater innovation. The jury is still out as to why that is, but we do know that exercise literally resculpts your brain, leading to improved memory and other cognitive benefits, possibly including imaginative thought, says neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki of New York University. Plus, exercise is a proven stress reliever, which means it can remove barriers to creativity.
Go outside. Creativity can be hard to measure, but research backs up what we intuitively know: Spending time outdoors, especially in nature-heavy (versus urban) environments, can reduce stress levels and foster creative thinking. Committing to regular alfresco excursions can be a game-changer.
Eat more fruits and veggies. A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found a positive correlation between the amount of produce 405 young adults consumed over the course of 13 days and their levels of curiosity and creativity. Aim for at least one full serving of fruits or vegetables at every meal and snack time.
Embrace boredom. One benefit of the pandemic is that it slowed a lot of us down by removing our usual activities. Such downtime can lead to boredom, which is actually a breeding ground for creativity, studies show. Take advantage of this truth by turning off all screens (if your phone is too strong a temptation, try this time-locking container) and just doing nothing for a bit. You may be surprised at what your brain comes up with to relieve the tedium.