“Doing nothing often leads to the very best kind of something.” – Christopher Robin
Today is Saturday, but it is a different Saturday. Today is a Do Nothing Day…leave the teleworking and the homeschooling behind. Okay, so technically January 16th is Nothing Day, but that doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate it today. Don’t plan on being productive today. Just plan on being…you may find that by slowing down and doing nothing that you actually discover something. Of course, doing nothing doesn’t mean just sitting in silence like a mystical monk on top of the mountain somewhere. But it also doesn’t mean that what you are doing has to be for purposes of anything other than you enjoy it and can relax.
According to a study conducted in 2014 by the American Psychological Association (APA), 77% of the people surveyed reported regularly feeling stressed. An almost equal percentage of 73% reported experiencing psychological symptoms caused by stress. Half of those responding reported experiencing a negative impact to their personal and professional lives. The cost to employers for stress related health care or missed work is over $300 billion (American Institute of Stress, 2016). Stress is an epidemic plaguing many Americans. It can affect their relationships, their work, and their health. However, through making small “c” type creative endeavors part of their daily routine, an individual can see a positive return on their emotional well-being that can lead not only to a lessening of stress levels, but also prevention.
When we are stressed, the body goes into protection mode. Our blood pressure rises, heart beats faster, and our senses become more alert. According to Abbott (1998), “our hormones can also rise the levels of fat, sugar, and cholesterol in the bloodstream” (para. 5). When we are stressed, it can affect our mood and interactions with other people such as being short-tempered and irritable. It can also lead to sleep disturbances, constant colds, and in some extreme cases: death. Overall, being in a constant state of stress is unhealthy for us physically as well as emotionally.
According to Runco (2014), “[c]reativity can help the individual maintain both psychological and physical health” (pg. 110). While many creatives face a stigma of the “mad genius” where the creative is believed to be so immersed in creative work to the point that they let their mental and physical health suffer, that example has more to do with manic type states and does not actually categorize every creative. Actually, creativity can help to alleviate stress and build a more positive mood. Nicol and Long found that music hobbyists with low levels of stress were among the group that had the highest amount of creativity (Runco, 2014). Creative endeavors are one way to cope with the buildup of emotions that need to be let loose.
Maslow (1971) also describes a need for creativity as being part of his Hierarchy of Needs. Creativity is part of the highest tier of the pyramid because creativity is part of what is needed for the individual to reach that stage of Self-Actualization. Artist and author, Julia Cameron (2002) refers to this as “discovering a sense of perspective”. She recounts the story of a woman named Sarah who was described by many to be high-strung, crazy, and nervous. This woman went from therapist to therapist, treatment to treatment. It wasn’t until she began to use creativity tools as part of her daily routine that she began to find balance in her life.
A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that people who do small creative projects report feeling happier and more relaxed (Lewis, 2016). According to the study, “[i]ntervention designs are still relatively rare in creative research […], but research suggests that art-making interventions can reduce stress and anxiety” (Conner, DeYoung, & Silvia, 2016, pg. 2). In fact, the study found that the effects of small creative endeavors, small “c” tasks, could induce states of “flourishing”, as described by CsikszenItmihalyi theory of flow states. These states were recorded as lasting longer, up to a day longer, than the time the participant invested into the activity. If emotions can have an effect on levels of creativity (Runco, 2014), then it makes sense that the inverse is also true where engaging in creative endeavors can have a similar effect on emotions resulting in a more positive mood and therefore reducing stress levels.
Stress Reduction Strategies
One suggestion on how to beat stress is to play music; however, music alone is not enough to beat stress. Researchers from the Stanford School of Medicine found that when played in conjunction with stress-reduction techniques, stress levels dropped for the participants in their study. They found that upbeat music was also the best selection to play during the activity (Harrar, 1999). A study of the relation of knitting towards stress reduction stated that many people choose hobbies as a way to reduce stress because these types of activities can provide a distraction from the stressor and also provide the individual with a feeling of control in the situation (Utsch, 2007). While avoiding a problem is not healthy, immersing the self into an activity like knitting can induce a feeling of concentration that allows for a more mindful and present sense of being. There may also be connections to Csikszentmilhalyi’s concept of flow and Torrance’s studies of Japanese satori (Runco, 2014). Similarly to knitting, baking is another small creative activity that can provide focus and control (Lewis, 2016).
Journaling and creative writing are another method for relieving stress and contributing to positive mood building. Building on the work of Maslow’s self-actualization, researchers have found that if an individual participated in positive-writing, this was followed by an increase in mood and well-being. The study also found that writing created an outlet for solving problems and working through difficult experiences. In addition to affecting mood, there was also a documented increase in immune function as well (Lowe, 2006). As was mentioned in the work of Lowe (2007), positive-writing can increase mood and well-being. However, it is also important to record moments of triumph or success. Dr. Stacy Shaw Welch, Director of the Anxiety and Stress Reduction Center of Seattle recommends keeping a folder of past successes and referring to that folder when struggling or feeling anxious about a current project. By doing this, it can lay waste to the internal squelchers that distract us from believing that we are capable of accomplishing our goals (Weiner, 2007). According to Runco (2014), it is important to not only stimulate a good mood, but also to know why one is in a good mood. Therefore, it is important to keep notes or some type of journaling for reflection purposes as well as being able to analyze what task or routine was being completed that lead to the good mood.
Runco (2014) also suggests as creative tools the idea of shifting the perspective of a problem so you can see it from another angle or turning it upside down. The benefits of looking at something from a new angle is that it can inspire renewed interest in the problem which can generate new ideas and it also can change the perspective enough that new ideas will be generated because things will no longer be looked at as obstacles. A major way of changing your perspective may be leaving the problem entirely, taking a break and trying something new or even traveling. Runco (2014) states that traveling produces excitement as it can be stimulating. This change in mood can facilitate creativity as well as help people to be more grounded. They may even produce those aha moments because the individual is no longer so focused on the thing that was stressing them that they are finally able to think clearly.
So how will you spend your day? Will you pack it full of to-do lists? Or will you take a moment to savor the opportunity to find balance and center your being?
Abbott, I. O. (1998). Practical strategies for reducing stress. Practical Lawyer, 44(8), 63-74. Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/274310495?accountid=10559 .
American Institute of Stress. (2016). Daily life. Retrieved from www.stress,org/daily-life .
Conner, T.S., DeYoung, C.G., & Silvia, P.J. (2016). Everyday creative activity as a path to flourishing. In The Journal of Positive Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2016.1257049
Cameron, J. (2002). Walking in this world: the practical art of creativity. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam.
Harrar, S. (1999). Got pain? Got the blues? Try the music cure. Prevention, 51, 100-105+. Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/212668450?accountid=10559 .
Lewis, D. (2016 November 29). Feeling Down? Scientists say cooking and baking could help you feel better. In Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/feeling-down-scientists-say-cooking-andbaking-may-help-you-feel-better-180961223/ .
Lowe, G. (2006). Health-related effects of creative and expressive writing. Health Education, 106(1), 60-70. Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/214706253?accountid=10559 .
Maslow, A.H. (1971). The further reaches of human nature. New York, NY: Penguin Compass.
Runco, M.A. (2014). Creativity. Theories and themes: research, development, and practice (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Utsch, H. (2007). Knitting and stress reduction (Order No. 3250730). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (304742173). Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/304742173?accountid=10559
Weiner, L. (2007). Yes, you’re stressed…but what are you doing about it? Shape, 26, 138-146. Retrieved from http://www.library.drexel.edu/cgi-bin/r.cgi/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/195288526?accountid=10559 .