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Does Stress Fuel or Hijack Creativity?

Adele singing

Depending on how we look at it, stress can both stimulate and disrupt creativity.

Many artists may use stressful situations and emotional turmoil in their creative work, but stress and emotions such as anxiety can interfere with creative thinking.

Musicians including John Mayer, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and many others have created “break-up” songs.

Adele said her whole album “21” was inspired by the break-up with her former partner.

According to research by professor Modupe Akinola of Columbia Business School and colleagues, negative mood-triggering situations and stress can in some ways enhance creative expression.

“Vincent van Gogh was said to have painted some of his best known works, such as Starry Night, after some of the most trying events in his life,” she says.

From my article Can stress and bad moods spur creativity?

Reframing stress

Creativity coach, author and psychologist Eric Maisel writes about how the creative life can be an ongoing source of stress – if we interpret or frame it as such.

He explains, “A stressor is anything, positive or negative, that makes a demand on us. Stress is our body’s physical and psychological reaction to those demands — on the physical level, it is a buildup of chemicals that keeps increasing as the stress persists.

“The stress buildup is the reaction, and the demand (or stressor) is the cause.”

But, he continues, “The demand can actually be positive.

“Imagine your editor calling you up and telling you that she wants a new book from you. That’s lovely — unless you can’t see how on earth you can fit writing it into your schedule. It is lovely to be wanted, but her call still creates a demand — and stress.”

Shifting how we respond can lead to experiencing stressors in another way.

Maisel writes, “We can normalize or even reframe many demands as opportunities, and when we do, the associated stress vanishes.”

From my article Eric Maisel on Dealing With Stress.

Stress takes energy

Cynthia Ackrill is a physician, stress expert, and leadership coach.

She says “Highly stressed individuals tend to be more irritable, less approachable, less open in their thinking, less creative, less empathetic, more easily triggered, or just plain too tired to inspire.”

From article Tips to combat work-related stress.

She also explains, “Stress throws your brain into primitive survival mode; it’s hardwired to react that way!

“In response, your brain hijacks blood from your more rational, creative regions to fuel the physiology of ‘fight or flight.’ ”

From Try These 3 Little Rituals to Combat Bigtime Stress.

Here is an excerpt from her online class on managing stress:

Learn more about the Stress is Optional Class with Cynthia Ackrill, MD.

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Does stress help or hinder you with your creative work?



Does Stress Fuel or Hijack Creativity?

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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Some excerpts from The Creative Mind are included in his newsletter .
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2019). Does Stress Fuel or Hijack Creativity?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 27 Mar 2019
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