<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> RELAXED, RECHARGED, RESILIENT: STRESS MANAGEMENT FOR OPTIMAL CREATIVITY
Revista Recre@rte Nº3 Junio 2005 ISSN: 1699-1834                                 http://www.iacat.com/revista/recrearte/recrearte03.htm

 

RELAXED, RECHARGED, RESILIENT:

STRESS MANAGEMENT FOR OPTIMAL CREATIVITY

 

MARY ANN SMORRA

Professor of Education

Georgian Court University

 

Think about the last time you were on an airplane. Prior to take-off, the flight attendant's announcement probably asked caregivers to put the oxygen mask on themselves first, then on their children. In other words, “Take care of yourself so that you are conscious and able to take care of your child.”

Accordingly, we need to take of ourselves so we can nurture our own creativity. It's crucial to attend to our own stress and to practice self-care. We may experience any number of “stressors” inherent to our professional or personal life; the myriad of interactions that make up their day.

Creativity provides a challenging arena in which to balance stress levels. It's necessary to have the healthy energy to pursue the creative process. Concurrently, it's important not to immobilize ourselves with an overload of stressors that cannot be managed. The affective creative factors such as risk taking, curiosity, resistance to premature closure and an emotional presence to the problem are sensitive elements in our attitude and feelings about our own creativity.

The type of stress to which this article refers does not necessarily include life threatening events that uproot lives. Those types of events often need professional assistance. I'm referring to everyday pressures that upset, depress, or decrease optimum performance and enjoyment. This article takes a look at stress and concurrent management strategies for individuals to use alone or with others.

 

WHAT IS STRESS?

People perceive situations in different ways. The level of stress evoked in response to the same situation can vary. Therefore, what upsets one person to the point of distraction can simply ruffle another person's feathers.

Unfortunately, extremes in opposite directions, such as reacting too strongly or repressing a response, can lead to physical consequences.

We are likely to experience stress as either a beneficial or harmful presence. Some people might have experienced “good stress” as the feeling of high

anticipation that occurs 15 seconds before we are to address a new group

of participants in an exciting workshop. This type of stress takes other names

like motivation and challenge. That surge of energy we know how to control

 

can be interpreted as good stress.

The other type of stress is less optimistic. It is stress brought on by personal,

financial, or professional difficulties. This stress has an adverse effect on our

body. Think about an emotionally distressing situation. How did your body

react? What was your response to threat? What happened to your muscles,

blood pressure, pulse, skin, and breathing? These are all responses we are

aware of. There are a number of internal ways in which our body responds

that we are not aware of. These include suppression of the immune system,

rising of blood sugar, secretion of additional stomach acid. Such responses

put stress on the body. And…imagine if the situation doesn't even warrant it!

Sometimes our response to a situation is not proportionate to the actual level

of threat involved. For example, following a really intense schedule for an

undue length of time can evoke emotions akin to being robbed at gunpoint.

This type of reaction provokes undue bodily harm. Think about ways in which

we might we react to an innocuous situation as a “real and present danger”?

 

FEELING AND THINKING…MIND AND BODY

In the past, beliefs about thinking and feeling distinguished them as separate

entities. Current views mesh feeling and thinking. Mind and body form a

congruent whole. What has contributed to this view? Two prominent

neuroscience researchers, Antonio Damasio and Joseph LeDoux,

point to the mind-body connection. Damasio (1999) sees emotions as playing

a crucial role, assisting our bodies in maintaining life. LeDoux (1996)

proposes the replacement of the term cognitive science with the term, mind

science, suggesting that minds have emotions as well as thoughts.

Additionally, Pert (1997) illustrates the existence of emotion molecules

throughout the major organs of the body. Her groundbreaking work depicts

emotion molecules as peptides, communicating emotions throughout our

bodies. It is apparent that the mind-body connection sets the stage for the

emotions.

 

Unfortunately the mind-body connection also supports the fact that stress can

provoke physical outcomes. Stress can impact health, it can affect memory,

and it can influence our day to day functioning. Highly charged emotional

issues shift attention away from everyday events. Our moods prioritize tasks.

Human beings are disposed to promote and amplify pleasant feelings and to

diminish any undesirable internal situations (Mayer and Salovey, 1993).

What does this imply? What happens to individuals who are chronically

worried; who experience an excess amount of stress in their lives?

 

Emotional pathways can become entrenched. Like the cow path that

becomes a major highway, specific reactions can become the familiar course

for an individual. Therefore, an emotional outburst doesn't fit the given

scenario. The response to a potentially stressful situation becomes reactive

rather than proactive. Think about reactive responses in the classroom.

Becoming aware of what triggers emotional responses, and redirecting the

reaction can be helpful to emotional and physical well being (LeDoux, 1996).

 

STRESS STRATEGIES FOR NURTURING CREATIVITY

A number of strategies are popular in the literature. Among them are deep

breathing and exercise, staples of stress management. Several stress

management strategies follow. I invite you to try them… individually, or

with a group of participants, teams, or family members.

•  STOP LIGHT

This simple strategy is useful in a variety of settings. Its purpose is to slow

down and to redirect a reactive response to a stressful situation. It allows us

to be actors rather than reactors. The stoplight provides a visual cue to stop –

look- listen.

Red light……Stop reacting.

Yellow light…Look at the situation objectively. Take a few steps back. Take a

deep breath.

Green light….Listen to the inner voice that tells us what is the most

appropriate thing to do.

•  GUIDED IMAGERY

Daydreamers may be the most proficient in this strategy! Guided imagery

uses the imagination to “see” positive outcomes. Guided imagery has the

ability to decrease stress, promote confidence, and to provide a rehearsal for

success. A simple sequence proceeds from a relaxation exercise to the

guided imagery to a follow-up when the students use their images. Guided

imagery can be solely visualization or it can be multi-sensory. Steps for using

guided imagery follow.

 

1. Relaxation exercises: Allow a few minutes for a relaxation exercise prior to

beginning the guided imagery, i.e. progressive relaxation, relaxation

response, countdown.

•  Non-judgmental atmosphere: Create a supportive, non-judgmental

atmosphere where images are not analyzed or criticized.

•  Maximize concentration: Reduce distractions and choose a quiet time of day.

•  Plan verbal commands: Keep the cues simple and clearly stated.

•  Provide follow-up: Use a follow-up activity to process the guided

imagery experience.

An example of a brief guided imagery for setting the stage for creative

thinking is “ Tranquil Place ”. “Image a beautiful beach…. white and

shimmering in the gentle sun. You sit under a palm tree…see the sea in front

of you…smell the ocean breeze…feel the warmth of a benevolent sun…feel

at peace…” Try creating your own tranquil place imagery!

 

•  AFFIRMATIONS

Affirmations are positive statements intended to focus on goals, to build

confidence, or to quiet stressful thoughts. An affirmation uses a simple

format. An example is: “I use my creativity in a positive and productive way”;

“I am a creative being.” The affirmation is repeated in thought or writing a

number of times during the day.

The aim of affirmations is to help the individual think in a positive way about

him or herself, retraining those pathways that have been programmed for less

successful outcomes. Affirmations can facilitate a positive perception of

oneself and lower stress levels in doing so.

 

•  REFRAMING

Another strategy is reframing. This technique encourages an alternate and

hopeful perspective. A condition that evokes a high level of stress is

hopelessness. Hopelessness relates to the term, learned helplessness.

This basically means that students can be so stressed by their perceived

failure that they lose belief in their own abilities and power to make changes

in their lives (Sapolsky, 1998).

 

Trying to see things from a different perspective, in an alternate frame, can

help bring a sense of control. For example, the simple phrase “I can't do

that—I've never done it before” changed to “I don't have to be perfect, if I just

take it in manageable steps I can try to do it as well as I can.” Seeing a

perceived failure as a growth experience or an opportunity for growth

changes perspective.

Another reframing technique is the “lens of confidence.” When a situation

seems unwieldy, motivation is hampered by stress. Try stepping back and

looking through the lens of confidence. It means reframing things from the

vantage point of no fear of failure, coupled with the anticipation of success. It

clarifies the view of the circumstance. It's amazing how removing the threat

of failure can decrease the level of stress.

•  RAG DOLLS

Relieve the physical tension of stress by trying a few stress point strategies.

Where do you gather your stress? Is it in the jaw, the neck and shoulders,

the stomach? Try a simple tightening and loosening of these areas. This is

akin to Jacobson's progressive relaxation exercises. The jaw can simply be

a jaw drop, keep a check on the teeth to make sure they're not

touching. The neck and shoulders can be relieved by shrugs; bring the

shoulders up to the ears gently and slowly. Hold them there a couple of

seconds, then release, do it again. The stomach can be relaxed with tummy

tucks. Bring the stomach in tightly, hold it briefly then release. Doing any of

these exercises when you're tying to avoid an escalation of stressful feelings

works.

 

IN CONCLUSION

It's important to keep in mind the role that stress can play in learning. Each of

these strategies emphasizes the role that success plays in the management

of stress and concurrent nurturing of creativity. Keeping a “lens of confidence”

on the world helps to risk and pursue solutions to problems

… to recognize our gifts, increase self-efficacy and diminish feelings

of learned helplessness. Each individual deserves to be emotionally

present in order participate in the inspiring world of creative experience.

 

REFERENCES

Demasio, A. (1999 ). The feeling of what happens: Body and emotions in the making of consciousness . New York : Harcourt Brace.

LeDoux, J. (1996). The emotional brain: The mysterious underpinnings of emotional life. New York : Simon & Schuster.

Mayer, J.D. & Salovey, P. (1993). The intelligence of emotional intelligence. Intelligence ,17(4), 433-442.

Pert, C. (1997). Molecules of emotion: Why you feel the way you feel. New York : Scribner.

Sapolsky, R.M. (1998). Why zebras don't get ulcers. New York : W.H. Freeman.

 

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