When I was a child, I had an endless imagination. I’m sure you did, too. I never grew tired of drawing, painting, and making up entire worlds in my head. With my entire neighborhood as my stage, I boldly explored every inch of it and never grew bored. As I transformed into a teenager and an adult, I kept my creativity and continued to paint and draw. My mind always wandered in class and I never had a shortage of questions about the universe, or potential solutions to the world’s problems.
That is, until my mid-20s or so. Immersed in my day-to-day desk job, I noticed that I didn’t have the love of art that I once had. My comedy writing had become stale. My endless ideas on everything I wanted to do in life had vanished. I no longer pondered the universe’s biggest mysteries, nor could my inquisitive brain find any solutions. I thought maybe this is just what it was to be an adult, to be older, to be responsible. Missing my creativity, however, I dug deeper into why I no longer felt like I could create. That’s when I found the secret culprit behind the sudden disappearance of my imagination: stress.
Stress is sneaky
Once it became apparent that stress was the cause of my creative hiatus, I started thinking about how I could possibly be that stressed. I didn’t feel overly stressed a lot. Well, sometimes. Well, I guess every week. There were lots of deadlines and a bit of an unsavory work dynamic. It was my first “real” job and it had taken me a while to adjust to sitting in an office all day. That was all behind me, though. I shouldn’t feel that stressed. It’s just a job.
Then I thought about all the areas where stress had been a part of my life outside of my job. Relationships, family dynamics, health concerns, school. I had been through a bit of a stress wringer for the better part of a decade by that time, yet I had not learned the art of relieving stress. Even though there were just lots of constant little stressors all the time, as opposed to one or two big stressors, these had snowballed and bogged me down. After confronting where my stress was coming from, I took inventory and realized that I was exhausted, weak, and worn down from the stress. And slowly but surely, my creativity and my dreams had started to die so stress could replace them.
Tackling stress when you can’t take a break
Okay, so I’ve been a little stressed for a while, I thought to myself, it’s not like I can just take a 6-month hiatus off of work to relax or anything. I guess this really is what happens to people when they get older. For a while, I thought about how there wasn’t much I could do about it. Then one day, I thought about how you always have a choice in life. Giving up is saying there’s no choice, but taking control back of your life is by knowing there’s a choice and choosing.
You know what you should do when you’re chronically stressed and you work in a stressful environment and you can’t afford to quit? You choose to not be stressed. I know, I know. This sounds incredibly unrealistic and stupid, but I’m being serious. Stop inviting stress into your life. Value yourself and prioritize your health and say no to stress. Yes, just like DARE. Because stress is basically a drug and we’re all wildly addicted to it.
When you decide that you’ll no longer allow stress in your life, you’ll see that almost everyone in your life is addicted to it. Some of it is legit, like having kids, and some of it is manufactured. Actually, a lot of it is manufactured. And the worst part? We try to drag everyone else into stressed-out states with us. A lot of my tips for stepping back from stress can be found on my article on productivity because surprise! it’s hard to be productive when you’re stressed. Here’s the gist: don’t force yourself to sit at your desk for a full 40 hours a week if you don’t need to, don’t be a slave to your smartphone, and stop going to so many dang meetings/answering so many emails all the time.
Ok, I have stepped away from the stress – now what?
Congrats! You have made the first step on your road to recovery. This is not an overnight process. In fact, this is a constant process that will involve building habits for your stress and fostering your creativity. After saying no to stress, your job will be to simply rest. Rest as much as you can in any way that feels right. Do nothing. For many nights during my recovery process, I spent my time after work in my underwear drinking wine as part of my experiment with Pantsdrunk. It was great. I did literally nothing. I learned how to use a jade roller and cuddled with my cat. Like many, I thought about writing a novel but didn’t. I made excuses not to go out drinking with friends, and I loved every minute of it. My body needed it. Your body needs that, too.
The important thing about rest is to not attach shame to it. As mentioned in some of my other articles, we like to be productive. We become uneasy when we are not producing results, or when spending time with seemingly fruitless passion. Do you know what’s not going to get done if you don’t learn how to rest and relax? Literally any of your dreams. If you don’t find ways to relax and rest and find solutions for your pent-up stress now, it will only get harder as time goes along. Make a habit to check in with yourself and decide when it’s time to take a break for yourself.
One day after several weeks of doing nothing, I got up from my couch and finally felt inspired to do SOMETHING. Thus ended my time of rest and started my time of creative endeavors.
Dip your toes into creativity
Doing something after a really long time of not doing it is scary. Even riding bikes! When we were once good at something, that shame can come back that we’re not as good as we used to be. That might be true, but what if we’re not? What if we’re just as good at that thing as when we stopped doing it? Or what if we have a different perspective now? Or what if it’s just more fun now? I’m talking mostly about creative endeavors, of course, and they can be scary to try out. The same shame about rest can bubble up as well – the time spent learning new skills can feel unproductive. Creativity, however, is never unproductive. It literally feeds your soul and spirit, uplifts you, and inspires you. Is that not what life is all about?
If you’re ready to get back on the creativity wagon, a good way to do it is to dip your toe back in and find something you really enjoy. Even if you’ve never done it before, or maybe if you have. Even if you’re bad at it. Do it anyway. Find something that interests you, and set aside a few times a week to work on it for a set period of time. This structure will help you get in the habit of prioritizing your interests and passions and make it feel manageable, particularly if your life has been nothing but work and social obligations for years. If you’re not feeling into it, try it anyway. Creativity can be like exercise. Sometimes you don’t feel like working on it, but when you’re done, you find yourself energized.
You’re getting into the habit of doing something creative a few times a week – that’s great. Maybe you’re liking what you’re working on, maybe you’re not. You should, however, hopefully, be feeling inspired and like your brain is firing back up again. Creativity is so crucially important to every aspect of your life. I can’t imagine living my life without my creativity again – can you? It’s something you need to take care of and foster. Continue keeping the habit of creating, and creating without judgment. Want to try something new? Do it. Foster creativity within yourself. Doodle in meetings. Pick up a recorder. Become a Soundcloud rapper. Wherever the wind takes you, go for it. You will never, ever regret creative endeavors. You will, however, regret all those times you let stress win.