Stress Management

How Creativity Can Reduce Stress and Increase Productivity

This blog was originally posted on the International Association of Women blog.

Is there an activity that you lose yourself in? You completely immerse yourself in it, could do it for hours without getting bored, and you lose track of time. Think of that activity now. When was the last time you set aside time for it?

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As working women, we might find ourselves trying to do everything by ourselves to the point where we come home exhausted at the end of the day. It can be very difficult to find balance so we can create the lifestyle we desire. Balance implies there are equal parts of everything. I prefer to think of it in terms of work life synergy. When all of the areas of your life are working together then you will find that you feel more fulfilled and less stressed. Thinking of it in these terms also gives you the flexibility and permission to focus more attention on different areas at different times depending on what is happening in your life.

Hobbies are a component of work life synergy because they allow us to enter “flow state.” Positive psychology defines flow state as “an optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.”

The Benefits of Entering The Flow State

It is important to enter into a flow state because it is a time that:

  • we gain clarity around our goals;

  • we optimize our concentration and focus;

  • we feel rewarded by the activities we are participating in;

  • we let go of self-consciousness;

  • we lose track of time;

  • we can provide ourselves with instant feedback on our own progress;

  • we are confident that our skills align with our goals or that we are capable of developing our skills the more we practice;

  • we lack awareness of our physical needs; and

  • the activity has our undivided attention.

What Activities Can I Participate in to Help Me Enter The Flow State?

Activities that help you enter a flow state have two components: they are high-skill, high-challenge situations.

Examples of these activities include:

  • Sports

  • Dancing

  • Involvement in creative arts and other hobbies

How Can Using Creativity to Enter The Flow State Reduce Stress?

In a recent study, that looked at the impact creating art had on cortisol levels in 40 participants they found that 75% of participants experienced decrease cortisol levels after just 45 minutes of art making. Cortisol is a hormone that is secreted by the body when we are under a lot of stress.

At the end of the study, participants were asked to comment on their experience. The participants described the art-making session as “relaxing, enjoyable, helpful for learning about new aspects of self, freeing from constraints, an evolving process of initial struggle to later resolution and about flow and losing themselves in the work.”

How Can I Enter The Flow State More Regularly?

The key is to make time for hobbies that are high-skill, high-challenge situations. If you are a busy professional and trying to juggle everything on your own then you might find yourself putting your hobbies off until the weekend. I used to do the same thing.

One of my hobbies is photography. I used to set aside two or three hours on the weekends to practice photography. I also had a photography class on my to-do list for years before I actually took it. What I found was that instead of feeling like it was a recreational activity, it started to feel like work. I was stressed about the weather, and carrying all of my equipment around with me, and fitting in all of the other things I wanted to do over the weekend so I would be ready to go back to work on Monday morning. It was stressful so I stopped doing it even though there was a point when I loved it.

I decided if I was going to continue to enjoy this hobby then I needed to do it every day, so I made it a habit similar to going to work Monday through Friday. I started waking up thirty minutes earlier each day and going for a walk so I could take photos. I went on a new walk each day or at least a different route so I would be able to look at the neighborhood from a new perspective. I found I was more energized in the mornings and less likely to snooze my alarm. The other thing that happened: I was more present and productive at work that day because I wasn’t rushing in to work or worrying about being late.

Take a look at your schedule. How can you set aside just 30 minutes a day to do something you love?

Do You Perceive Stress As Negative Or Positive

There are three main factors to consider when determining whether or not you view stress as negative or positive.

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By the time most executives reach out to me to work together they are using the words “stressed,” “overwhelmed,” “trapped,” “demands,” and “pressure” to describe their current situation.

They have been coping with stress most of their career. The problem is, it has become negative stress instead of positive stress, which leaves them feeling like they are no longer in control of their situations.

Entrepreneurs, CEOs, business owners, startup founders, and other leaders are typically in those roles because they have perceived stress as positive for most of their lives. They look at a stressful situation as a problem to solve and they thrive on solutions.

These stressful situations can become negative most often during major transitions in business such as periods of rapid growth or liquidity events. Initially, it can be seen as a positive event because it means your company is growing and seeing success, but the deeper you get into the strategy the more important it becomes for you to evaluate your stress response to what is happening.

Click here to find the three questions you can ask yourself to assess how you are going to respond to an upcoming stressful event.