When do you come up with your best ideas? When the kids are screaming; the food is burning; and your boss is annoying. Probably not.
More likely in the shower, on a long walk, or lying in bed — when you have time to relax and think.
While it’s intuitively obvious that stress doesn’t foster creativity, it may be surprising that the reverse seems to be true: Engaging in creative activity appears to help reduce stress.
Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile demonstrated both a decade ago when she persuaded 200 corporate employees to keep daily work diaries.
“When people were feeling more positive, they were more likely to be creative,” said Amabile, who wrote about the research in her 2011 book, “The Progress Principle.’’ “People were more likely to come up with a creative idea or solve a complex problem in a new way on those days, weeks, months when they were having the most positive affect.”
Conversely, workers who reported feeling fearful, angry, sad, frustrated, or stressed were less likely to come up with new ideas, she said. Bosses judged those who were commonly distressed as lacking in creativity.
Stress is destructive to creativity in part because it’s distracting, said Robert Epstein, a senior research psychologist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology in Vista, Calif. If you’re worried about being late to work, you’ll have less mental energy to generate a good idea on the commute there.
Both clearing the mind and focusing so intensely on something that you can’t think of anything else — such as when you’re being creative — reduces stress, said Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer for the Cleveland Clinic.
“For those people who focus on creativity — on creative writing or writing a poem or whatever it is — they’re absolutely consumed by that at the time they’re doing it,” he said. And that level of focus counters stress.
The bottom line? To boost your creativity, try limiting your stress, and one good way to help cut back on stress is to spend more time on creative pursuits.